An LA Take on Brazilian and Dutch Design

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When I met Michael and Gabrielle Boyd for the first time at a museum function a few months ago, I knew immediately who they were, thanks to a recently published article about their collection in the LA Times magazine and a profile on them in Vanity Fair. They live in Santa Monica Canyon, in a house built by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer -- the only structure he has ever built in the United States. A few years ago, a developer nearly demolished this historical house but was stopped at the last moment. The Boyds bought the house, carefully restored it, and filled the rooms with a remarkable collection of early and mid-century modernist furniture and design. When I heard them talk about collecting, it was obvious that their knowledge of the subject rivals that of museum curators.

They come across as passionate, even obsessive, collectors. A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to join a small group of people for whom Michael and Gabrielle gave a tour of their house and collection. It was a remarkable experience. I've visited a number of famous modernist houses -- some of them already turned into museums, some still private residences. But this is a special case; though it is the subject of a new Rizzoli monograph and virtually a museum, still, it's far from a shrine. A young couple with two kids lives there, and that makes all the difference. And considering that the collection is comprised of numerous examples of furniture designed by famous architects and designers of the 20th century, you can understand the thrill of being able to not just look, but actually being invited to sit on chairs or at tables designed by Le Corbusier, Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright or Gerrit Rietveld.

If you recognize the name of Dutch architect and designer Gerrit Rietveld, it is probably because of his famous 1923 wood chair, with its angular planes seemingly suspended inside a Mondrian-like grid of red, blue and yellow. It turns out that the Boyds are especially fond of Rietveld and have a number of his seminal works. Though my recent trip to Holland was heavily tilted toward the glory of 17th century Dutch art, I discovered, almost by chance, an amazing private residence -- the Schröder House -- which Rietveld built in 1924 for his adventurous client in the city of Utrecht. Now it's a museum, with everything left exactly as it was a few years ago when it was still occupied by the original owner.

All the furniture and virtually every element of this house was obsessively designed by Rietveld. When the museum docent tells you the story of the house and reveals its secrets by sliding one wall after another and then, by folding furniture, makes the space appear ever larger and more minimalistic, you know that you are in the middle of a magic act.

My last memory of the trip to Holland was a view of the countryside from the airplane window, which somehow was reminiscent of Mondrian and Rietveld designs. There is something to be said about the Dutch propensity -- even genius -- for design. After all, roughly half of the territory of the country lies under sea level, and it's only thanks to the intricate network of thousands of dams and dikes that these territories were reclaimed from the sea.

Banner image: Oscar Niemeyer house/residence of Michael and Gabrielle Boyd