The Meaningful Object

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Eric Alan and Rhonda Voo decided to purge their home of everything except “meaningful objects.” But what is a meaningful object? In the season of gift-giving, we will find out,…

Eric Alan and Rhonda Voo decided to purge their home of everything except “meaningful objects.” But what is a meaningful object? In the season of gift-giving, we will find out, with Eric Alan, Rhonda Voo, Jeremy Levine, Joel Chen, Lorca Cohen, Simon Doonan, Jonathan Adler, Oliver Furth, Lee Kaplan, Brent Gordon and Cory Lashever.

Banner image: Sophia, Mirabelle, Lily, and mother Rhonda Voo. Photo by Ethan Pines

Purging a House of Too Many Possessions

Eric and Rhonda

Eric Alan and Rhonda Woo seem like your typical Los Angeles couple. Eric is a creative director and Rhonda is a fine artist. They have three daughters and live in West LA. But ten years ago they joined 31 other families to be part of a UCLA anthropological study that looked at middle class families and their material goods. Researchers came to their house and observed them as they went about their daily lives. Along the way, says Eric, something happened: They realized that in the hurly-burly of raising three young children, they had become simply inundated with stuff—especially toys.

Before shot

Two “before” shots from Eric and Rhonda’s home, photos by J Arnold and CELF

As a result of the study Eric and Rhonda decided they needed to change the way they lived. They brought in the architect Neil Denari to expand their home. As their house transformed into a sculptural, light and airy space it gave them another perspective on what they owned and they decided to get rid of a lot of their possessions. Rhonda started holding yard sales, and out went furniture, tchotchkes, and children’s things. Now Eric and Rhonda’s pristine home features mostly bare walls and few choice pieces of furniture and objects. They talk about the impact this change has had on their lives—and their family. You can find out more about the study they were part of in a book published by UCLA Center on the Everyday Lives of Families called Life at Home in the 21st Century(It’s currently sold out at Amazon, but copies are available through UNM Press.)

Rhonda and daughter

In the newly streamlined kitchen, photo by Neil Denari


Design Gifts Filled with Significance


Opening night at Storefront Bazaar

What ascribes meaning to an object? We asked several people are in the business of making and selling “meaningful objects.” Jeremy LevineJoel ChenLorca CohenJonathan AdlerSimon Doonan and Oliver Furth all give their takes on what makes an object meaningful. And if you’re still looking for that special something to give someone, especially someone who loves good design, we also have some specific recommendations.

Human Zoos

First off, in the realm of books, who better to ask than Lee Kaplan? He is the co-owner of Arcana Books on the Arts, a beautiful store designed by Johnston Marklee in Culver City where you can find amazing and sometimes obscure books about fashion, architecture, music and photography. We asked Lee to single out one meaningful book currently in the store. His pick might surprise youHuman Zoos, a riveting look at Western man’s exploitation of non-Western men, from freak shows to circuses.

The trailer for “The Unfinished Swan” video game

One of the huge sellers this year will of course be video games, many of them very violent, if brilliantly created. But some game designers are trying to create another kind of alternative universe, explains Brent Gordon, video game enthusiast who once served as fanboy host for Sony’s Playstation network. He recommends two video games: “The Unfinished Swan” by Giant Sparrow, and “Journey” by That Game Company.


The Rolex 1977 GMT

And where would Hannukah or Christmas be these days without a cartload of pods and pads arriving in the house? But this year men in particular might be yearning for gadget with deeper meaning, as we learned from the debonair Cory Lashever, who recommends a vintage Rolex 1977 GMT. Or, if you’re in LA, perhaps you’ll discover something old or new at Lashever’s pop-up Storefront Bazaar, in downtown’s Arts District.

Vintage chairs

Vintage chairs at Storefront Bazaar


Linens for sale at Storefront Bazaar


Vintage furniture dealer Lorca Cohen (holding glass) at the opening of Storefront Bazaar

Lashever is co-presenter of Storefront Bazaar, which is selling vintage and handmade goods, including chairs collected by Lorca Cohen (above) through January 15 at 821 E. 3rd Street, Los Angeles.

Side Street

Kids woodworking on the Side Street bus, which brings art programs to students

And finally, we return to Jeremy Levine, architect and chair of Side Street Projects, which represents another kind of meaningful gift that won’t add to the clutter at home: a donation to a nonprofit. Side Street is one of many non-profits looking for financial or in-kind donations that are committed to bringing the arts and design into children’s lives.