Ikea’s New ‘Uppleva’ Home Theatre System Hits Stores This Month

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Written by: Kristiina Yang

Are you looking to buy a new television set without the hassle of finding the right furniture to put it on? Well, Ikea might have just the solution for you.

Long beloved by the mass consumer for offering affordable and attractive furniture, Swedish company Ikea will now step into the realm of electronics releasing this month its new Uppleva home theatre system.

The Uppleva consists of a “smart” LED television monitor, blue ray player and speaker system (including one moveable, wireless subwoofer), all integrated into standard, stylish Ikea furniture. Further, the set has a built-in system for organizing and hiding the messy cords from sight and from mind.

Uppleva Arrangements

Ikea's new 'Uppleva' home theatre system can be customized to user preferences.

This system is at once a television set and a piece of furniture, Ikea demonstrating its understanding of user needs and creating a new concept that is poised to challenge competitors in both the electronic and furniture industries. Making this deal even more attractive is its price, starting just under $1000.

Like many of Ikea’s other furniture pieces, the Uppleva will come in an assortment of colors, arrangements and sizes, the buyer able to customize the television set to his or her particular needs. The television will also serve various functions, allowing users to watch movies in Blu-ray or DVD format, connect to the Internet through built-in Wi-Fi and listen to music.

Technology bloggers claim that Uppleva and its anticipated success demonstrate the shifting priorities of consumers today, particularly in the realm of electronics. Christina Bonnington for Wired Magazine Online points out that consumers today are less focused on the quality of TV sets, which was once the products’ major selling point. What sets Uppleva apart is its convenience, appearance and low cost, qualities that Ikea can and will capitalize on.

While Ikea is not pushing any new limits technologically, the company, as always, attempts to cater to user needs, which is anticipated to give the Uppleva system an edge in the market. The set is anticipated to require some home assembly, as is common with many Ikea products.

This month Uppleva will be released first across several European cities, including its flagship city of Stockholm, Paris and Berlin, and will be available in almost all European stores through autumn 2012. Uppleva’s release in countries outside of Europe, including in the United States, should be expected in spring 2013. For more information, be sure to watch Ikea’s lighthearted Uppleva teaser trailer below:

Shaker Furniture Made “as if You Had a Thousand Years”

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This Shaker rocker and side table show off the style’s essential design elements including the ladderback and brightly colored cloth tape seat on the chair and straight gently curved legs of both pieces.

“Do your work as if you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.”

The above quote is usually attributed to Mother Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers, whose style of furniture lives on even as their sect as dwindled to a few remaining members.  Much of the enduring appeal of Shaker furniture lies in the three P’s:  plainness, practicality and pride that were reflected in everything a Shaker set his or her hands to.

Shakers made furniture for their own use as well as for sale to the public.  Although similar in style to Mission furniture, Shaker furniture is often considered more elegant because of its refined simplicity of form and the ingenuity of construction. Popular forms of Shaker furniture include tables, chairs, rocking chairs, and cabinets.  One of the most widely recognized pieces of Shaker furniture is the Ladderback chair which was designed to hang on wall pegs for easy cleaning of the floor.

To truly understand Shaker furniture, one needs to know a little about the religion that inspired it. Shaker furniture’s style and quality did not come from the desire to create something of beauty, but was a byproduct of the Shaker’s religious beliefs.  All work was done to glorify God.  Mother Ann Lee believed she was the second incarnation of Christ and that she and her followers were living in the Millennium – the thousand year reign of Christ on earth.  Far from creating a production mentality, it produced the idea that one had a thousand years to get it right.  Because each piece was an act of worship, Shakers were going to make the best furniture possible.

At its height in the 19th century, the Shaker movement included some 6,000 members, living in 24 villages stretching from Maine to Indiana.   Shakers believed that salvation lay in hard work, abstinence from worldly pleasures, and constant prayer.  All Shaker property was communally owned and celibacy was insisted upon. So much so, that when families joined the Shaker community, husbands parted from wives, and children from parents.

Among the hallmarks of Shaker furniture:

  • Shaker craftsman used inexpensive local timbers which included maple, pine, cherry, walnut, hickory and popular.
  • Furniture was often painted vivid colors to hid dirt– typically red or dark green were used – although yellow and orange were also used. Varnish was also used to bring out the natural grains of the wood.
  • Tenon and mortise joinery or dovetailing rather than nails or screws were used to put pieces together.
  • Many pieces were large because they were used for communal living, but ingeniously designed for storage and easy portability.  Tables had drop leaves and legs that unscrewed.  Chairs, like the Ladderback, were designed to be hung on pegs.
  • Decorative elements such button or mushroom like knobs, long “finger” joints, and wide slats were often part of the structure of the piece.  Chair tops were adorned with acorn-, pinecone- or flame-shaped finials.
  • Legs are often tapered with a gentle swelling in the middle.  Furniture generally had no feet or simple bracket feet for cases or arrow or pear feet for chairs.
  • Woven cloth tapes, made of colorful fabrics arranged in checkerboard patterns, replaced the caned backs and seats on chairs because of the greater comfort and durability they offered.

From the time Mother Ann Lee arrived with her followers in New York in 1774 and began making their distinctive furniture for colonists, the Shaker influence on American aesthetics has been profound.  Designers as diverse as Gustav Stickley and Charles Eames acknowledged the influence of Shaker furniture on their work.  Many believe Shaker furniture was also a precursor to the Danish Modern style.

While the extreme self-denial practiced by the Shakers seems out of tune with our times – only one active Shaker community remains today in Sabbathday Lake, Maine – the desire for things enduring continues.  Large pieces of original Shaker furniture can fetch up to five or six figures.  Countless individual furniture makers produce pieces in the Shaker style and at least one factory in the United States employs skilled craftspeople to turn out Shaker pieces using their traditional designs and methods.  The work that was done “as if you had a thousand years” has produced a legacy that continues to grow.

Duncan Phyfe’s Genius Reinterpreting Styles for a Look That’s Uniquely American

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Furniture by and attributed to Duncan Phyfe, including a secretary-bookcase beneath an oil by George Caleb Bingham, fills the Green Room of the White House.

Duncan Phyfe. Taken aside the question of how his last name should be spelled (Phyfe is correct by the way), his style of furniture has come to be instantly recognizable and his admirers and detractors legions. Who was this man and why do people have such strong feelings about his furniture?

A New York cabinetmaker, Duncan Phyfe (1795-1856) made fashionable furniture for the carriage trade of the day. Phyfe was born in 1768 in Loch Fannich, Scotland, and immigrated with his family to Albany, New York in 1783. It is believed he served an apprenticeship in Albany before moving to New York City around 1792.

Part of the red hot passion surrounding Phyfe is due to the fact that there is no actual “Duncan Phyfe” style of furniture. Early Phyfe pieces were American interpretations of European and English Louis XVI, Adam, Hepplewhite, Directoire and Sheraton styles. Because there is so much similarity between the styles, they are often lumped together under the name Early Empire. Here in the United States, the style became known as Federalist.

It was in this early period that Phyfe’s genius as a furniture maker was evident. As one writer noted “Phyfe’s work was as good in design as that of the great English cabinet makers of the eighteenth century.” His strength in furniture design was in his fine sense of proportion and his restrained use of decorations. Phyfe was particularly noted for his furniture’s graceful, flaring lines and his ability to employ such subtle curves that sometimes they appeared straight. Among the more distinctive attributes of Phyfe’s pieces is the lyre shape, which appears on chair backs and pedestal supports, and the tripod table. Popular motifs which appear throughout his work include lion’s paws, and natural elements such as wheat, leaves, and rosettes.

His favorite medium was mahogany because his designs required a wood with both lightness and strength. Almost all of Phyfe’s furniture from his early period is made of mahogany.

Phyfe was also one of the first American cabinetmakers to successfully use the factory method of manufacturing furniture – at one point he had almost 100 working craftsman in his shop. In 1837 he took two of his sons, Michael and James, into partnership as Duncan Phyfe and Sons. The firm name was changed to Duncan Phyfe and Son after the untimely death of Michael. Many of New York’s leading citizens were his customers, and several examples of Phyfe’s early work are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Green Room of the White House also contains pieces of Duncan Phyfe furniture.

Most would agree that Phyfe’s fine, well-constructed and tastefully executed furniture declined as later Empire styles became popular. Furniture designs in his final period became heavy, over ornamented and to a great degree characterless. Phyfe himself summed up the quality of his firm’s late work with the phrase “butcher furniture”.

Phyfe’s imprint upon the furniture of New York was so great, that literally hundreds of pieces made by other cabinetmakers are attributed to him. Today, though many examples of actual Duncan Phyfe furniture remain, there value is likely to be in the thousands of dollars. A Duncan Phyfe sewing table, for example, was listed on the Internet for $93,000.  What some antique dealer s refer to as Duncan Phyfe may actually be a Sheraton style piece of furniture or should be more accurately termed “in the style of” Duncan Phyfe.

As with anyone who as seen great success, both the best and the worst of his style came to be exemplified. Whether you love or despise his style of furniture, Phyfe’s genius at creating a look that was uniquely American and mass producing it will forever ensure his legacy.

Newest Furniture Trend is in Your Kitchen as Freestanding Units Gain Popularity

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This freestanding kitchen is sleek and contemporary, making it a popular choice for those seeking an open aesthetic in their kitchen.

The next time you remodel your kitchen, you might want to do a budget for furniture along with the appliances, and that doesn’t mean just a table and chairs.  Up until World War II, kitchen cabinetry in the United States consisted largely of individual cupboards and open shelving.  In Europe today, freestanding cabinets in the kitchen are still common, while we have moved to a system of lower built-ins with countertops and upper cabinets with wood or glass doors.

As the song goes “Everything old is new again…” and that has started people rethinking not only how they want their cabinets to look – with many high end kitchen cabinet manufacturers opting for the look of furniture by making cabinets with feet and open spaces underneath – but some buyers are going a step further, back to the kitchen’s roots of yesteryear and choosing completely portable kitchen furniture.

The first free-standing kitchen cabinets were mass produced in 1928.  Nicknamed “Hoosier cabinets” because of their Indiana origins, they were soon followed by dish and broom cabinets.  After World War II, the single family housing boom started and portable cabinets lost their popularity.  In 1956 Kemper Brothers was one of the first companies to begin production of built-in wood cabinets.

There are multiple reasons for the new interest in portable kitchen furniture. Some simply like the open aesthetics.  It can also be a more affordable way to remodel if you’re not replacing all your cabinetry at once, since cabinets typically make up 35% of a kitchen remodel.  Theoretically, you’re less locked into a particularly look, be it French Country or contemporary, if your pieces are portable, because of your ability to substitute pieces makes it much easier and less costly to change styles.  Should your or your family’s needs change, reconfiguring your kitchen is also easier.  Unlike yesteryear, freestanding units are available with all the specialty features like roll out trays and spice racks found in their stationary cousins.

The trade-off, of course, is counter space, which makes either an kitchen island or a large work table a must.  Another disadvantage to freestanding units is the tip over risk, particularly if you have young children.  L-brackets to fasten the pieces down are sometimes used to combat this problem.

If you had the opportunity and funds to remodel your kitchen, would you opt for freestanding furniture?  Send me a comment and let me know!

When is a Couch Not a Couch? When it’s Freud’s Couch.

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Sigmund Freud's couch unburdens itself to the public at Freud's   home and museum in Hampstead.
Freud’s couch — laden with subtext and patient confessions — at Freud’s home and museum in Hampstead.

We all know by now that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But when is a couch not just a couch? When the couch’s past owner was Dr. Sigmund Freud, it becomes nearly as celebrated as he is. There are several surprises when viewing the couch. Not the least of which is the lavish drapings and pillows which adorn it.

The couch, along with other personal effects, is on display at the red brick house in Hampstead, London where Freud moved with his family in 1938 after fleeing the Nazis. It was, as he predicted, “his last address on the planet.” The next year he died. But the house has been preserved as a museum, the heart of which is Freud’s own study and consulting room, with its infamous couch and collection of antiquities sent from Vienna.

So, what is the significance of the psychoanalyst’s couch? As the father of psychoanalysis, Freud was the first to use a couch in his practice. Theories abound. One theory says it was Freud himself who couldn’t deal with looking directly at patients, so by having them lie back on a couch and positioning himself behind and slightly to the side of them, he could avoid eye contact. A more likely reason may have been that he believed when no eye contact was made, patients felt freer to express themselves and were released from any inhibitions caused by their doctor’s facial expressions. Others think the couch places the patient in a “one down” position from their patients and thus increases the power of the analyst in the therapeutic situation.

But another solution to this mystery may have been found, and is on display in Freud’s old apartment in Vienna as part of the celebration for the 150th anniversary of his birth. In Freud’s day, reclining in mixed company was seen as extremely risqué. So much so, that “a gentleman never takes a seat on the sofa,” declared Herr Schramm in his book of etiquette, Good Form & Proper Deportment (Berlin, 1919). Only a straight back chair was considered proper.

As a practitioner of hypnosis, Freud found that lying down promotes a loss of control that encourages more intuitive conversation. Is it any wonder that the word couch (from the French coucher) doesn’t only mean to lie down – it also means to put an idea into words?

So not only was his invitation to his patients remarkably daring, the manner in which he chose to furnish the couch bespeaks of intimacy as well. Most magnificent of these furnishing is the five-sided red and blue rug woven by one of the tribes of the Confederacy of Western Iran that lies draped over Freud’s couch and that invites the same easy familiarity a Bedouin might find settling into his tent.

Not surprisingly, a psychoanalyst’s couch has been likened to a crib or a womb. The thinking goes that as people regress into their childhoods, they will be more able to understand the source of their unhappiness, thus ultimately gaining insight and awareness.

Back in Vienna, at the Freud Museum there are gathered an array of couches, and Andy Warhol’s erotic movie, Couch, is screened every Sunday. But as more than one person has ruefully pointed out – Freud’s true couch, given him by a Viennese patient and so laden with subtext and patient confessions, has found a permanent home in prim and proper England. No doubt, Freud would appreciate the irony.

Arte Jacobsen: Architect, Furniture Designer and Creator of the Egg Chair

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The Egg Chair at home in Room 606 of the SAS Royal Hotel for which Jacobsen designed everything from the building to the furniture.

Internationally known architect, developer of the Danish modern style, and furniture designer who gave the world the Egg chair, Arte Jacobsen saw proportion as a key feature of his work. “It is exactly what makes the beautiful ancient Egyptian temples…here is the basic thing,” he said in an interview shortly before his death in 1971.

Unlike many of his colleagues in the modernist movement, Jacobsen had a unique ability to interpret and apply modernist principles but also offset them with an eye towards human comfort. R. Craig Miller, author of the book Design 1935-1965, What Modern Was argues that “much of what the modern movement stands for would have been lost and simply forgotten if Scandinavian designers and architects like Arne Jacobsen would not have added that humane element to it”.”

Nowhere was this better shown than in the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen for which he designed every element of the building from its skyscraper structure down to the ceramic ashtrays sold in the souvenir shop to two celebrated 20th century chairs – the Egg and its next of kin, the Swan.

As futuristic as the Egg is, it evokes very primal feelings. One doesn’t know whether to expect Dr. Freud or Mr. Spock to be sitting there. Perhaps it’s the chair’s organic shape that has inspired others to venture forth with new interpretations of the Egg – ranging from a hanging wicker version available from Kitchen Kaboodle to artist Tal R who came up with the idea of making 50 unique patchwork Eggs.

Taking his inspiration from word “egg”, it’s shape and references to fertility, along with a fascination with Sigmund Freud, Tal R has given each Egg has its own recipe. The chairs are covered in fabrics from all over the world and individually titled with direct reference to Freud’s writings, his closest friends or his family. Thus, the Martha (Freud’s wife), the Irma (Freud’s ‘classic’ early dream analysis) and the Adler (a close friend, medical doctor and psychologist) along with 47 other Eggs have found themselves at the end of a two-year world tour.

Given the Egg’s enduring popularity, one wonders what will be added next into the scramble.

Modern Furniture: Its History and Its Future

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The Frankl Tower is a classic example of his skyscraper furniture.

Hot Pink. Turquoise. Black.

Blond woods. Chrome. Atomic designs.

The living room of tomorrow first took shape in the 1950s right? Actually modern furniture’s roots started much earlier as part of the Modernism movement, a cultural movement started at the end of the 19th century. In contrast to Victorian times, when furniture was prized for its ornateness and valued for the time it took to build, the modernist philosophy said furniture should have a function. The advent of mass production made furniture making more affordable and allowed designers to experiment with new shapes and materials.

Many of the elements we consider modern – flat, abstract shapes, geometric forms and modern materials such as steel, Plexiglas and canvas were first present in the American design work of the later 1920s and 1930s and included some of the furniture of Paul Frankl, Donald Deskey, and Gilbert Rohde.

These changes signal not just a shift in philosophy, but accessibility as furniture for the first time became promoted for its flexibility, functionality, and suitability for apartments and small homes. Then as now, modern pieces served multiple purposes by being both practical and portable, and designers prided themselves on knowing how to pack the most into a piece.

Today modern furniture’s ability to blend with other styles, from the chic Art Deco to the sleek lines of Scandinavian furniture to the yen like simplicity of Japanese design ensure that the pieces you buy today will continue to serve you well into the future.

Reclaimed and Salvaged Furniture Lead 2010 Furniture Trends

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This Brickmaker’s Table from Restoration Hardware is an example of stylish furniture made from reclaimed materials

“Eclectic” is fast becoming the most popular answer to the age old question of “what’s your decorating style?” So it’s no surprise that furniture trends for 2010 reflect the growing willingness of consumers to mix things up when making purchases for their home.

Reclaimed and salvaged items are becoming favorite finds. Some examples of this include a coffee table made of wood from an 18th century shipyard or furniture made with recast iron. Consumers appreciate that not only does their home look good, but that they are also helping the environment when they choose furniture made with reclaimed materials.

Another trend is with today’s sofas. Seating of the past was often very boxy with oversized pillows and thick armrests. Manufacturers are discovering that it doesn’t take lots of fluff to be comfortable, and that by reducing the amount of materials used in sofas, they can lower their carbon footprints. Furniture companies and consumers are more willing to take risks with color in their collections as well.

Mixing materials that aren’t typically associated with each other, such as metal and woods with stone and glass is another trend for 2010. Examples of this would be putting a crystal chandelier above a rustic dining set or setting rustic tables alongside contemporary sofas.

The result is that consumers can feel free to create a look that is truly their own and not feel they have to buy matching showroom pieces of furniture in order to have a home that’s both stylish and comfortable.

Functionality and Sustainability Equals Stickley

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Stickley Chair

Stickley Chair

The brothers Stickley began furniture making in 1877 in Brandt, Pennsylvania.  Since 1900 the Stickley philosophy has been “living in harmony with nature” and what a befitting tribute to write this blog on Earth Day.

Leader of the Arts & Crafts Movement, Stickley furniture is most commonly known as “Mission Style”.  It was designed to be simple and functional and available to the masses for very little money, it challenged the Victorian era that preceded it.  Built to last I recently saw a Stickley sideboard at an auction house still intact after 100 years and the starting bid was $25,000.00.

Mostly using Oak for the construction of all pieces, each piece had a personality from the wood grain that was lovely yet the designs were stark and heavy.  Most pieces are signed “Als Ik Kan” Finnish for As I Am.  Mortise and tenon or tongue and groove joints were employed.  They made all of their hardware, beautifully hammered strap hinges and drawer pulls giving the pieces a bit of a Japanese flavor.

A pioneer of the conservationist movement, Gustav Stickley made very solid furniture meant to last for decades from generation to generation.  They are members of the Sustainable Furnishings Council and more than 90 percent of their products are made by their craftsmen in upstate New York and North Carolina.  A true American success story, the company is one of the few furniture companies who primarily still builds furniture in the United States.

From Bauhaus to Barcelona, the Two Sides of Mies van der Rohe

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Barcelona Chair

Barcelona Chair

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was bornin Germany in 1886 his family were stone carvers which left a lasting impression on his future design ethic.    Based on structural techniques and Prussian Classicism his designs are iconic.  Frank Lloyd Wright was an inspiration to him as he developed his own style and in 1912 he opened his own studio.

Quoted in Time Magazine, February 18, 1957, Mies van der Rohe said, “A chair is a very difficult object.  A skyscraper is almost easier.  That is why Chippendale is famous.”

In 1927 he designed The German Pavilion at the International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain.  It is here that he created one of the most famous chairs in interior design, the Barcelona Chair.  Created for the King and Queen of Spain, he showed how to use negative space to transform something as functional as a chair into sculpture.

The cantilevered curving frame supports the soft upholstered cushions and there is an optional  matching footstool.  Many interior decorators have chosen this chair to furnish the most posh of offices; it is the height of coolness.

Director of the Bauhaus School from 1930-1933, where the philosophy is about functional, mass-produced furniture for the working class masses, the Barcelona chair did not fit this ideology.  Mies van der Rohe seemed to have made an exception.

Timeless design, Mies van der Rohe’s furniture is very popular to this day.  A founding father of the Moderism Movement along with Nelson and Eames, Mies van der Rohe’s work is distinguished by his constructional clarity and his “less is more” philosophy. 

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