Gnome Chomsky, Where Art Thou?

The legend of the gnome creature has many versions. Some say that gnomes were originally made of ice, others sheaves of wheat while still others claim that gnomes were made from all of the earth’s elements. Gnomes are just another word for elf, imp, goblin, wizard, leprechaun or house brownie. The seven dwarves were gnomes. Rumpelstilkskin was a gnome. Santa himself is a kind of gnome. Below is a very evil version of Santa so don’t let the youngsters see this.

Gnomes have magical powers, but they are also capable of being tricky and mean. In the Brothers Grimm story of The Cobbler and the Elves, little naked men with long beards enter the impoverished cobbler’s shop in the middle of the night and skillfully finish one pair of unfinished shoes. The shoes “had small and even stitches, formed so perfectly that the cobbler knew he couldn’t have produced a better pair himself”.

The Elves from the Cobbler and the Elves

After many years of making the cobbler a wealthy man, the elves decide to take off and never return after the cobbler’s wife makes them a set of clothes. The reason they don’t return is they think they look too awesome in their new outfits to be working for free for a lousy cobbler. I can’t say that I disagree with them. They do look quite dapper.

the Elves and the Cobbler

The history of the garden gnome is taken from the folktales of Eastern and Western Europe. The claim to the title of manufacturer of the first garden gnome is hotly contested, but it’s possible that Baehr and Maresch, a Dresden ceramic and pewter beer stein company, produced the first ceramic gnomes, having them in their stock as early as 1841.

Below are images of Garden Gnomes that I found to be classic examples of the gnome “gnomenclature”. (sorry for that). Others are send ups of the classics that I think you’ll enjoy.

The Classic Gnome

The Classic Gnome

Mooning Gnome

Sean Connery Gnome - please take dictation Moneypenny

The Napping Gnome

The Jerry Garcia Gnome (not kidding, it's actually called this)

Baddy, the mod gnome

The Baddy is part of a new generation of Garden Gnomes and comes in many different colors.

Since I have no restraint, I’d like to add that I was looking for a Gnome Chompsky gnome, but all I found was a Noam Chomsky 70s rock van seen here. Really, this was enough. I’m good.

Gnome Chomsky Van

Why, I mean, where can you buy a garden gnome? You cannot swing a dead cat on the internet without hitting a gnome product. There is even a garden gnome club at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, which I find hard to believe, but it is true. Home Depot sells a handsome garden gnome for $40. In fact, there is nothing stopping you from filling your entire lawn with garden gnomes.

Please humor me by watching the garden gnome sequence from one of my favorite movies, Amelie. In the movie, Amelie asks her stewardess friend to take pictures of her father’s garden gnome while traveling from place to place around the world. Meanwhile, her father, who doesn’t know that the gnome has been taken, receives postcards featuring his gnome at the Parthenon, the Great Pyramids, the River Nile and numerous other tourist destinations.The father thinks he has gone completely mad. It’s pretty amusing.

…one hour later.

Hey, I did find a Gnome Chomsky gnome. I knew there had to be one. Ta da!

Gnome Chomsky


Dog Houses That Need Mortgages

I’m feeling rather guilty because my dog Penny doesn’t have a dog bed. She basically sleeps at my feet or on the ottoman where I want to put my feet.


I was hoping to find a little dog house bed for Penny and I discovered a whole world of dog houses and beds that were beautifully designed, pricey and fun to look at.

Pup Tent by Slade Architecure

Pup Tent by Slade Architecture

Slade Architecture’s Pup Tent is the brain child of design team Haynes and James Slade whose work has been exhibited in the Venice Biennale, the National Building Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, The German Architecture Museum and many other galleries and institutions in Europe, Asia and the United States. Dwell magazine featured the Pup Tent last February.

Tennis Ball Dog Bed

The tennis ball dog bed by Hugh Hayden Design is a delightful visual pun that also works well for a sleeping dog. Hayden’s dog beds come in two sizes, large for $850 and small for $400. Hayden is an architect, artist and designer from Dallas, Texas and is based in New York City. His own dog, Dorango, is his beloved Ibizan Hound. Hayden does not stop at making only dog beds out of recycled tennis balls, he makes an entire line of furniture.  Check out his tennis ball table which runs about $3000.

Tennis Ball Table by Hugh Hayden Design

At $850, a dog can live out her dreams of being a prima donna. Now your little Fifi can live and sleep in a dog bed called the Operetta Pet Lounge from Switch Modern.

Operetta Dog Lounge

I don’t know if a Great Dane would fit into these curved plywood beds, but Glenn Ross’ Vurv designs make me want to have a dog just so that I can have one in my house. The Ellipse Dog bed sells for $899 and the Curved bed sells for about $650.

Ellipse Dog Bed

Curved Dog Bed by Glenn Ross

Okay, so I hate to say it, but I can’t help myself and I know you’re waiting for it: Being in the dog house is no longer what it once was. With the new designs in dog beds, the only thing you’ll need is a mortgage. There.

Last but not least, I am going to give you an adorable sleeping puppy video. Nighty night.

Speakers Made of Old Newspapers and Dryer Lint

Normally, this is what I think of when I think of speakers.

Old Speakers

While these are made of wood and other materials typical of loudspeakers, I don’t notice them except when they stop working. No one bothers to say anything about them aesthetically. They are a sad, but necessary part of my home sound system. Fortunately, there is a whole world of speaker design out there that will surprise you.

My intention for writing this blog post is to show you the amazing speakers that an old friend of my husband’s, Ian Schneller, created. Not only are these speakers beautiful to look at, but they have been written about and praised by audiophiles the world over.

Big Horn Speakers by Ian Schneller

When I met Ian in the early nineties, he was in the legendary Chicago band Shrimp Boat with a few of our other friends. While still a band member, Ian started Specimen Products on Archer Avenue where he made his own guitars and audio equipment. He loved using found materials and incorporated the D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) aesthetic in ways that made everything he did wonderfully odd. Even the horn speakers seen here are made from old newsprint and dryer lint — very Ian. Andrew Bird, the musician, was one of his clients and later they became collaborators in the project Sonic Arboretum. After so many years of working in relative obscurity, it is great to see Ian’s work and genius recognized at last.

Sonic Arboretum at MCA in Chicago

Sonic Arboretum is a collaboration between composer / violinist Andrew Bird and sculptor / inventor Ian Schneller. It is a sonic installation consisting of a “forest” of plant-shaped audio horn speakers powered by custom-made tube amplifiers. These speakers and amps serve as a compositional garden for Bird who creates new site-specific compositions that play continuously as visitors meander and follow the music’s lead.Sonic Arboretum debuted at the Guggenheim Museum in 2010 and was exhibited at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in December of 2011.

Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller’s Sonic Arboretum from MCA Chicago on Vimeo.

Audiophilia Anyone?

To get into the mind of an audiophile, I suggest the podcast It not only makes the listener understand why this podcaster geeks out about recorded musical sound, but the reviewer also illustrates his words with a collection of music that spans many decades and genres. You will leave your earphones feeling smarter and ready to download old songs you had forgotten and new songs you can’t wait to hear again.

Heart Your Fruits and Veggies – Don’t Refrigerate!

The Korean artist Jihyun Ryou has done something simple, beautiful and smart in the world of food technology. You don’t have to plug anything in nor do you have to buy any preserving  or de-ripening chemicals.

Jihyun Ryou's food storage design

In her blog SaveFoodFromTheFridge, Ryou shows you that knowing a little something about the hydrocarbon ethylene, the hormone that is produced by certain fruits and vegetables that make them ripen and age, can work with other fruits and vegetables to slow the aging process. She also explains “chilling injury”, a result of what can happen to certain vegetables in the refrigerator. By creating Ryou’s simple designs in your own home, foods last longer and are safe from some of the negative effects of keeping plant foods in the refrigerator.

Keep Your carrots and leeks upright

“Bring your food in front of your eyes”.

Ryou’s art project is a celebration of the visual and practical. With these simple boxes she has created both an artistic work that is visually beautiful and provides a real function for the home and the environment. Accompanying her art/design project is a beautiful book that explains her process and is complete with charming sketches of her designs.

The Youtube video below is an interview with the artist. Watch this while I go and buy some wood and plexiglass to make some of these boxes myself.

A Yen for Zen: Japanese Soaking Tubs

I was in Munich about ten years ago and the bath store across the street from the hotel had a Japanese soaking tub in the window. My husband lived in Japan for a short time in the 80s and remarked that these deep wooden tubs were so fantastic he was surprised that they were not being sold in the states. The one pictured here is produced by Rapsel, an italian bath manufacture. It is modeled after a Japanese-style soaking tub, but because it is made in Italy, it is not a true Japanese, or Ofuro-style, tub.

Japanese Ofuro soaking tub


According the history of Japanese soaking tubs, they were not actually used to wash oneself, but to benefit from the rejuvenating experience of being immersed up to your chin in hot water. The aromatic woods that these tubs are made from provide a soothing bathing experience.

Geishas with Soaking tub

The traditional soaking tubs that are manufactured in Japan are aromatic cedar and hinoki woods of the finest quality and taken from vertical grained heartwood that is properly dried and free of defects. Cedar and hinoki woods have a citrus aroma similar to lemon.

Hinoki wood tub

There are many types of deep soaking tubs and ofuro-style tubs. Japanese tubs are made in Japan, ie. Chinese tubs are made in China and American tubs are made in the United Stares. If they are made of wood, they should be made only of coniferous wood (not teak, mahogany etc.). These tubs should be handmade, using techniques of wood joinery derived from traditional ship building. Only traditional methods that have been developed over the centuries guarantee performance, durability and authenticity.

Outdoor Ofuro-style soaking tub

Bartok designs is the leading manufacturer of Japanese soaking tubs world-wide. A basic tub can run about 250,000 yen or $3300. It is expensive, but oh-so-lovely.

Bartok design tub

Bury Me In An Airstream Trailer

Airstream Mobile Home

For years I have lusted after that brushed aluminum form of the Airstream trailer that was designed by Wally Byam in 1929. It has the old-world futuristic look that was determined in the nineteen twenties and thirties by inventors like Buckminster Fuller. In an effort to create the home and cars of the future, Fuller became famous for his eccentric and innovative housing designs such as the  Dymaxion Dwelling Machine and, his most known architectural feat, the Geodesic Dome. I can’t say for sure, but judging from the look of the original Airstream trailer — which was designed at the same time Fuller was concocting his streamlined buildings — I can see that Wally Byam’s structures were influenced by the innovations of his time.

Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Dwelling Machine

Epcot Center - Geodesic Dome

The Airstream trailer has been a mainstay of American design for decades. While it was designed in 1929, Byam’s trailer did not make it into production until 1932.  The Airstream, Inc. website gives a short history of the birth of the Airstream trailer:

In 1929, Wally Byam purchased a Model T Ford chassis,built a platform on it, towed it with his car to a campsite, and painstakingly erected a tent on it. The effort was tiresome and unpleasant, especially when it rained. Spurred on by his first wife Marion, Wally built a tear-drop-shaped permanent shelter on the platform that enclosed a small ice chest and
kerosene stove. He then published an article that ran under the headline, “How to Build a Trailer for One Hundred Dollars.” Readers wrote Wally for more detailed instruction plans, which he sold at a cost of one dollar each. The response was extraordinary, earning him more than $15,000. After building several trailers for friends in his backyard, “the neighbors started complaining that I was making too much noise,” Wally observed,
“so I went out and rented a building.” Airstream Trailer Company went into full production in 1932, when fewer than 48 trailer manufacturers were registered for business. Five years later, nearly 400 companies squared off against each other. Today, of those 400, only Airstream remains.

Now, over seven decades later, the Airstream trailer has become one of the most coveted Americana designs internationally. A vintage Airstream trailer can cost up to $70,000 depending on its condition.

The Airstream trailer was especially loved by designer Christopher Deam who gutted an Airstream for Wilsonart, a San Francisco-based laminate manufacturer, and remade the interior using their products. The project was so successful that it caught the attention of Airstream who asked Deam to upgrade and redesign the interiors of the company’s newest models. Below is a Ted Talks video of Christopher Deam’s design journey in an Airstream trailer.


While I don’t have an Airstream myself (sniff), I did see the most wonderful creative reuse of an Airstream trailer in Fayetteville, Arkansas last year. Grey Dog Vintage, owned and operated by Molly Clark, is a traveling vintage clothing boutique with its home base in Fayetteville.

Grey Dog Vintage Boutique

“I’ve always wanted to have a vintage boutique, but when we started looking for a location, I couldn’t find a space that I loved,” Clark told the Fayetteville Flyer. “So we decided to gut the Airstream, and turn it into a boutique. I’m really glad we did.”

Check out Grey Dog Vintage flickr page.

The Ups and Downs of Murphy Beds

Have you ever wondered who Murphy of the Murphy Bed is?  Okay, neither have I, but I am interested in Murphy Beds, or hide-a-beds, since they seem like they would fit so perfectly into contemporary home environments.  They are space efficient and the design lends itself to so many modern home aesthetics.  This is what I usually think of when I think of Murphy Beds.

Murphy Bed from the 1920's

But, the Murphy Bed has grown up and looks very different. Below are some of the newest designs in what was once seen only on the I Love Lucy show. Check out some of the more contemporary versions.  I’m glad to see that Murphy Beds are making a comeback.

Contemporary version of the Murphy Bed

Murphy Bed that pulls down from the ceiling

I’m surprised that IKEA has not yet come out with one of these.  In terms of design, it seems that these space-saving wonders would have a larger presence on the market.

The "Tale" computer bed from Flying Beds

The computer bed,  “Tale Bed”, manufactured by Euro Flying Bed company, is considered one of the best designs out there.  When you pull out the bed sideways, the stuff on the desk stays flat so it won’t be dumped onto the floor.

The coolest looking Murphy Bed is one from Boxetti.  I’m sure they are crazy expensive, but this is the one I want. The other shapes on the side of the bed house a closet and drawers.

Boxetti Bed

Boxetti Modular Environment

The Boxetti reminds me a lot of Vernor Panton‘s ideas back in the 60s and 70s. The Danish designer was the master of fluid, futurist design.

Verner Panton

Verner Panton Phantasmagoria

Unfortunately, the Murphy Bed had many disadvantages. The greatest of Murphy Bed shortcomings is that it’s nearly impossible to change the mattress without ordering an entirely new bed. Another is that most people don’t want to put the Murphy Bed away when they wake up. Laziness aside, I still think the Murphy Bed is a great space-saver and now, with the new styles, it can also be an asset to the look and feel of a room.

Next week I’ll be talking about the Airstream motor home.  Laters.