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This article by Jamie Saxon was prepared for the April 23, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Graves at Target: Cheap Chic

Overheard at a dinner party:

"Maryanne, where did you get that fab tea kettle?"

In that clipped lilt representing the pure joy of snagging a bargain

— as in "Macy’s. Anne Klein. Only $40." — Maryanne

replies:

"Target [pronounced Tar-zheh]. Michael Graves. Only $29."

Brief pause as the ladies exchange that knowing look, cock their heads

coyly, and clink their Target margarita glasses as they chant in unison,

"Great for anyone on a budget [pronounced boo-zheh]."

Next year, the conversation might go something like this.

"Maryanne, who did this fab addition on your house?"

"Michael Graves. Target. Only $14,950, not including paint, installation,

or site preparation."

That’s right, whether you live in a McMansion in Plainsboro,

a Dutch colonial in Princeton, or a ranch in Ewing, you too can now

"hire" world-famous architect Michael Graves to design a custom-made

addition for your home. Target — that bastion of cheap chic that

carries hundreds of Graves’ uber-sleek houseware products, furniture,

and bedding — is celebrating its fifth year in partnership with

the architect by unveiling a decidedly different kind of product with

a decidedly different price tag.

At the turn of the century, Sears customers noticed a new item among

the plows, obesity powders, and sewing machines of the 1908 Sears

catalog — a set of home plans for $100, which ignited a kit craze

that didn’t fizzle until the start of the Great Depression. Today

Target.com customers surfing through thousands of items like portable

thermal coffee mugs, beach balls, and Batman jammies can now purchase

a "kit" for an addition on their home. And not just any cookie-cutter

kit, a bona fide set of plans, including construction materials, called

the Pavilions, designed by Michael Graves.

Graves, whom the New York Times’ Paul Goldberger has called "truly

the most original voice modern American architecture has produced

in some time," is known for his marked departure from the amorphous

monoliths of abstract modern architecture. His buildings — hotels,

corporate headquarters, civic and municipal buildings, cultural and

educational facilities, and private homes — assume distinct, one

could say even signature, shapes. His work, too, is clearly influenced

by the whole gamut of Western architecture through the centuries,

from classic Greek to Le Corbusier, including specific, recognizable

elements like columns, loggia, arches, and pediments, rendered in

a sometimes soothing, sometimes bold, palette of earthy greens, blues,

and reds.

In his book "Kings of Infinite Space," based on a BBC documentary

of interviews with Philip Johnson and Graves, British critic Charles

Jencks observed that Graves created a new "accessible" approach,

returning architecture to its rightful place as "the public art,

the art of the public realm." Twenty years ago, Jencks also coined

the term "post-modern classicism" to describe Graves’ work.

Graves thinks the Pavilions don’t fit this term, however. "Actually,

we would not characterize the Pavilions as `post-modern classical,’"

says Graves, responding to interview questions through a staff member.

"What we would say is that the Pavilions are figurative in the

sense that they are composed of familiar forms and elements, rather

than being abstract like much of modern architecture."

Billed as "an architectural accessory to the home . . . a whimsical

complement to the residence proper," the Pavilions are prefab

additions available only on Target.com. Target "guests" can

customize the three models with different sidings and colors. A Pavilion

can either be built as a freestanding structure or can be attached

to a home, using a new or existing door or window opening, via an

"extended threshold," a kind of hallway or sleeve.

Each model is a perfect little Graves gem, incorporating

many of the distinctive architectural components, some seemingly drawn

from ancient temples, that have earned the architect more than 160

international awards and citations, including the 2001 American Institute

of Architects’ gold medal, the organization’s highest award. Past

recipients have included Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn, I.M. Pei,

Le Corbusier, and Frank Gehry.

The Brighton model, at $21,950 to $25,995 the most expensive of the

three, is an octagon-shaped pavilion with windows all around, "ideal

for a breakfast room or artist’s studio," touts Target. Heathcote,

priced from $14,950 to $17,495, is a spacious square room with ample

walk-in side niches — the small square windows set in a grid and

distinct circular windows immediately say "Graves" to anyone

who knows his work. This mid-priced model is recommended for a media

room, home office, game room, or library.

Sherwood, priced from $9,950 to $12,995, is a true open-air pavilion

(also available fully screened or with canvas curtains), "an excellent

spot for gardening activities, outdoor entertaining, or lounging in

the shade." It can also be used as a pool house or a porch. All

are available in three color choices — shadow green, ivory, and

classic white; the Sherwood is also available in Washington cedar.

It seems natural that Graves, who is known for infusing historic architectural

shapes and forms with his own unmistakable blend of whimsy and sophistication,

would choose the pavilion style, which dates back to the Greeks. Indeed,

Persian emperor Mardonius oversaw the sacking of Athens in A.D. 479

from his perch in his own lush pavilion. The emperor traveled in style

and stashed comely courtiers in his "portable palace" as a

"reward" for heroic soldiers on the front lines. After the

battle, the Athenians looted it and turned it into an elaborate music

room.

Over the centuries, the pavilion style was much copied — sometimes

incorporating Roman cross-bracing, columns, and a symmetrical, domed,

or vaulted roof-evolving into a venue for both entertainment and repose.

The wide porches of antebellum Southern mansions and the gazebos found

in gardens and town greens are two kinds of American-style pavilion.

Handsome as the Pavilions are, you have to wonder what made Target

think its typical customer — what retailing experts call "double

dippers" who browse high-end boutiques but shop at discounters

— would buy such a thing. Interestingly, the whole venture is

kind of a lark, from Target’s perspective, anyway.

"It’s not a question of the price tag," explains John Remington,

vice president of events marketing and communications for Target Corporation.

"Target is only the portal to the guest on Target.com. We have

nothing to do with this financially." Guests log on to target.com,

then click on the Michael Graves Pavilions box. Once they choose a

model, siding, and color palette, a request for information is submitted

electronically to Lindal Cedar Homes of Seattle, Washington; a Lindal

customer service rep walks the guest through to the final purchase

and oversees construction.

Michael Graves first conceived the concept for the Pavilions venture

as a logical solution to a common query. "In our architectural

practice, we get frequent questions from people who are interested

in expanding their houses as their needs change. Since we recognize

that building a house addition is often costly, time-consuming and

disruptive, we began thinking there must be a simpler way to do this,"

says Graves.

He then brought the idea to one of the regular brainstorming sessions

his team and Target hold to develop new product ideas for the partnership.

"Target is always looking for something new and exciting to provide

to its guests," says Graves. "After we described the design

and methodology of the Pavilions, Target wanted to offer them on target.com.

We were thrilled, since target.com reaches such a wide audience."

"For us," says Target’s Remington, "it was more about

looking at our strategy of going after the core guest, finding that

surprise." Target likes to keep its customers anticipating the

next great idea, the next very cool thing. New Graves products are

rolled out seasonally, and spring was of course the perfect time to

roll out the Pavilions.

So, why is Target bothering if only Lindal and Graves stand to benefit

financially? Remington sees it differently. He says that Target hopes

guests who build a Pavilion will come into Target to furnish it with

items from the full line of Graves housewares. "People like that

iconic egg shape, the blue color palette," he notes. And of course

they love the price, too. (Every piece, even the $1.99 wooden spoon

and the $5.99 ice cream scoop, sports Michael Graves’ distinctive,

squiggly signature.) Target has established relationships with other

designers, but Graves was first. Remington says the partnership with

Graves was the company’s "first actualization of a full designer’s

strategy, being able to give great design and style to the guest at

a pay less kind of price."

He illustrates with the now-ubiquitous tea kettle example. The two

teakettles, one white enamel and one "whistling," that Graves

designed sell for a mere $24.99 each, yet have the same kind of smart,

chic sensibility as the one Graves designed for the upscale Italian

Alessi company in 1985, which retails for $124. The teapots continue

to be bestsellers for Target. Other hot items are also, coincidentally,

Graves’ favorites — the original white toaster ($24.99) and the

electric tea kettle ($29.99). Oh, yes, and the perennially popular

toilet bowl brush and holder ($8.99) which, Remington quips, "Rosie

O’Donnell put ice in and used as a drink holder on her show once."

If Target seems a bit laid back in its attitude about the venture,

Lindal tips the scale in the other direction. The venerable custom

home and sunroom builder, established more than 55 years ago by Sir

Walter Lindal, is fairly bursting with enthusiasm. "This is a

first for Lindal," says Sheila Shultz, advertising manager for

the Seattle company. "We’ve never worked with a retail chain on

anything, and while we’ve worked with other architects, nobody has

the award-winning style of Michael Graves. Everybody is extremely

excited about the opportunities." And rightly so. The venture

introduces a whole new potential customer to Lindal.

"Our demographic is typically the empty nester, baby boomer, active

lifestyle looking towards retirement person," explains Shultz.

Read: People rich enough to have a second home and a custom-built

one at that. Shultz sees the Pavilions as attracting a younger audience.

Read: People with one home who might never be rich enough to build

a second home. If the Pavilions works, that could put quite an addition

onto Lindal’s bottom line.

Asked what she thinks of the Pavilions, Shultz is effusive: "Here

at corporate, we don’t get up to manufacturing much (80 miles away

in Burlington, Washington), but we all went to see the parts being

made. The Pavilions are even more beautiful than the photos."

Shultz added that the company’s excitement also stems from the fact

that the suggestions Lindal’s manufacturing people made, changes that

would make things easier for the end customer, were very well-received

by Graves and Target. "We feel real ownership of the process."

Gary Lapera, the principal at Michael Graves Associates

in charge of the Pavilions, says Lindal was chosen because of its

high-quality materials and craftsmanship and because it would be a

boon to customers to have Lindal "handle all of the cumbersome

aspects of construction. Homeowners can benefit from the economies

of mass production without sacrificing the sense of the domestic,

which we believe is essential in any home."

So let’s imagine for a moment that you could really do this, that

you could really put an addition designed by Michael Graves on your

property. Put your bills in the kitty litter box, forget the 3-D model

of the solar system your kid has to make for school tomorrow, and

stop wondering if the hamburger meat you took out to defrost on the

counter is past its sell-by date. Dream a little! Forget redoing the

bathroom. Forget finishing the basement. Nobody sees those. If you

had a smart little Michael Graves studio, wouldn’t that just kill

your Sunday night poker pals (don’t forget the Graves poker set, $39.99).

If you opted for the open pavilion in Washington cedar, wouldn’t that

just shut the trap of your needle-nosed neighbor who thinks his $469

gas grill with 42,000 BTU is the talk of the neighborhood? And the

octagonal Brighton in a handsome shadow green just off the kitchen

. . . hmm, might just get your mother-in-law to actually come over

and spend time with her grandchildren. You see? The possibilities

are endless. And interest rates on home equity loans are still very

low.

I posed the possibilities for my own property to Graves and Lapera.

I told them I have a 100-year-old white farmhouse (which we are slowly

renovating ourselves after three generations of very scary people

ceremoniously trashed it), on a square-shaped piece of land with a

few large trees around the house and mostly open lawn. I am an editor

and freelance writer, my husband is a commercial photographer. We

like to garden, cook, and entertain outside, and we have a seven-year-old

son. (I didn’t tell them I’m an unemployed editor or how much debt

we’ve already racked up on this money pit.)

Their suggestions, of course, gave me goosebumps. Yeah, baby. You

rock!, I said to my house, as I imagined many busy workmen, mostly

shirtless, sawing and hammering and sweating a lot as they built my

really fantastic addition, while I sipped tea on a lawn chair and

fantasized about what to wear when Architectural Digest came to interview

me.

Here’s what Graves recommended. "Wow, we could play out quite

a few scenarios for you! We could imagine a home office for you or

your husband, perhaps a white Heathcote Pavilion (the square model)

with a blue roof. It could be attached to your house or freestanding

on the site, depending on the amount of isolation or connection you

want to achieve with other activities in your home. Inside, there

could be pinup space for artwork on the walls and built-in library

shelves in the niches, leaving the center of the room free for small

photo shoots in your husband’s case or a desk in yours. On the exterior,

we recommend the garden wall siding option, which features lattice

on the solid surfaces. As gardeners, you might surround the Pavilion

with a garden and grow vines on its lattice, reinforcing the relationship

between house and garden on what sounds to be a rather pastoral site.

"The Sherwood Pavilion would also work for your lifestyle. If

you attached it to your house, it could be a screened-in or open-air

porch for gardening or entertaining. We’d love to see it freestanding

in your yard, maybe in the green or Washington cedar natural wood

option, with canvas curtains, creating a unique spot for outdoor entertaining

or just lounging around."

Lapera voted for the octagonal Brighton. "Attached to your home

with the garden wall option (for the same reason we suggested for

Heathcote), it would make an excellent playroom for your son. Or,

with the glass-walled option, Brighton would make a stunning dining

room providing panoramic views of your property."

I’m sold. Now I know what rich people feel like. Imagine being able

to have Michael Graves design something like this for you. Wait a

minute. Now you can! It’s not out of the question. Suddenly, the whole

concept of the Pavilions kicks in for me. And I realize that what

Graves has done with Target is brilliant. You shouldn’t have to be

rich to be able to appreciate and afford great design, whether it’s

a spatula or an addition for your home. Some of the people I know

with the best taste have very average incomes. Why shouldn’t they

have very cool stuff in their kitchen, on their table, and in their

backyard? In a piece written for the Industrial Design Society of

America called "Commodities Fetishism and Identities: Michael

Graves’ Housewares for Target," Brian M. Tharp hit the nail on

the head: "Target makes accessible in the middle class home the

social capital of elite architectural and design circles. `I may not

live in Graves’ Fukuoka Hyatt but look I’ve got his toaster and Target

tea kettle.’"

In fact, Graves is, he has always had an eye for budget.

Graves won the initial competition over 10 other prestigious architects

for what many say is the project that put him on the map — the

Portland Building in Washington State — because of his shrewd

budget (oh, yes, and a design that juror Philip Johnson called "genius").

Graves’ Environmental Education Center in Jersey City — what he

affectionately calls the Frog Museum — is built, according to

critic Charles Jencks, "in the best Yankee tradition of cheap

wooden construction." The center also showcases other architectural

techniques Graves has developed that use modern technology to save

money while the end result looks exactly the same as older, expensive,

labor-intensive techniques like hand-cut stone masonry.

Perhaps some of his knack for saving money without sacrificing great

design comes from Graves’ rather humble upbringing. He grew up in

the bland suburban sprawl of Indianapolis in the mid-1930s, the son

of a livestock trader whose business was always unstable and a nurse

who left her job to raise Michael and his brother. There were only

a handful of interesting public buildings nearby, including the museum

where he would spend Saturday afternoons drawing (the first book his

mother gave him was on the drawings of Frank Lloyd Wright). Worried

about their financial situation, Graves’ mother pushed him into architecture,

saying, "Unless you can draw like Picasso, you better become an

engineer or architect."

So, now that I had the vision for my very own Pavilion, I wanted to

know what it would really cost and how, as Target claims, it would

save time and money. I wanted an estimate without actually forking

over my Visa card at the end of the day. Michael Probach, general

sales manager at Lindal, explained why that would be impossible. "It

all depends on so many variables. Do you want to put it on a concrete

slab or on an insulated slab? What are your local municipality codes?

Do you want to install electricity? Do you want to do the painting

yourself? Do you want it attached to your home and if so, do you want

the threshold covered on the sides or insulated?" I got a little

dizzy and said I got the picture. In fact, what really happens after

you hit "Submit" on target.com is that a local Lindal dealer

actually comes to your home and does an on-site estimate, working

in all the dozens of variables.

Probach did do a good job, however, of explaining how the Pavilions

save time and money. "You save the cost and time of hiring an

architect. We provide a unique design that’s extremely cost-competitive.

The quality of materials that Lindal provides is second to nothing.

You’ll receive a much higher grade of material than you’re likely

to get locally, all pre-cut — even excellent carpenters take a

long time to cut all the lumber and even the best make mistakes —

and part-numbered, a huge time saver. The whole room arrives at once.

Typically, a contractor has to build a little bit and then get back

in his truck and drive around and source materials for the next stage.

The Pavilions can go up as much as three times faster than a regular

addition."

Once Lindal receives an order, says Probach, it’s shipped from the

warehouse within about four to five weeks. Depending on where in the

country you live, expect about a week in transit. Your model comes

in about a dozen crates right to your house. (The old Sears homes

arrived in two railway boxcars containing 30,000 pieces including

doorknobs, carved staircases, roof shingles, and 750 pounds of nails.)

The crates can be stored under a tarp ("keep the one with the

windows in a garage," Probach recommends) until construction time.

Your local Lindal dealer will manage the construction or they will

act as general contractor. For a freestanding structure, Probach estimates

it will take two skilled craftsmen about two weeks; allow another

week for an attached model.

If price isn’t a hindrance to sales, another hindrance may be the

Graves "look." To the architecturally untrained eye, the Pavilions

might appear completely out of sync with one’s house. People who buy

art because the colors match their sofa might dismiss the Pavilions,

worrying it won’t "go with" the architecture of their home.

But that’s just the point. Graves explains that the whole point of

the Pavilions is to add a grace note to your property, a purposeful

embellishment; the intention here is not to blend in with the original

structure. "The Pavilions continue a tradition of outbuildings

as architectural accessories for the home. Customarily, a pavilion

is an exceptional room in an estate, a whimsical addition that complements

a house but that often varies in color or style. In other words, a

pavilion can intentionally assume a character somewhat different from

that of the existing house."

In fact, adds Lapera, the models were designed specifically with "options

that would allow the Pavilions to be sympathetic to existing houses."

These options range from the simple plan shapes themselves — the

octagon, the square, and the rectangle, to the number of windows,

and different sidings and colors. All these various options, 33 combinations

in all, "take into account that what is appropriate for one home

may not be for another and also allow the Pavilions to be suitable

for different regions and climates throughout the country." Lapera

offers an example. "While made of wood, a Pavilion attached to

a brick house could be terra cotta in color to blend in, although

we think a contrasting color like ivory or green would also work."

Indeed, color is key to Graves’ architecture and his palette of terra

cotta reds, blue pastels, and earthy greens is unmistakable. He uses

color for many reasons. One is to evoke atmosphere, as in the Claghorn

addition in Princeton, constructed in 1974-’75, where he used reddish

brown for earth, blue for sky, green for landscape to conjure up a

pastoral garden landscape for this suburban home. Many of his works

include stunning murals, painstakingly created, such as those he created

for the medical offices he designed in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which

suggest the landscape, water, and sun, to calm patients.

(To see a stunning example of Graves’ use of color, drive by the Miele

corporate headquarters on Route 1 South. On the Miele Web site, Thomas

Row, principal at Michael Graves Associates, is quoted as saying:

"To the motorists passing by . . . it says `high quality design’

at 55 miles an hour." Graves also designed the murals in the common

areas of John Witherspoon Middle School, done when his son was a student

there.)

Graves observes, "The architectural language of color originates

in nature. For example, colors are often based on building materials

found in the landscape." Color, too, he offers, "allows architecture

to form a metaphoric association with both nature and man." If

that sounds lofty, what he means is that color, for example, can enhance

the "reading of the architecture," as when color distinguishes

one part of a building from another. Graves says he started thinking

about color in this way while studying at the American Academy in

Rome in the early 1960s and agrees when a reporter comments that the

colors in his architectural paint box remind her of Tuscany. "The

terra cottas, ochres, muted blues and greens seemed washed with light

as they would be in the natural landscape," he comments.

It remains to be seen if the Pavilions venture will fly. Target reports

substantial interest on its website, but will not reveal sales figures.

Meanwhile, I’m adding the measuring spoons, steak knives, and kitchen

knife set to my Christmas list. . . I’m totally a double dipper.

Michael Graves & Associates Inc., 341 Nassau Street,

Princeton 08540. 609-924-6409; fax, 609-924-1795. Home page: www.michaelgraves.com

Target, Nassau Park, Princeton. 609-951-8555; fax,

609-951-0062. Home page: www.target.com.

Target, Princeton-Hightstown Road, East Windsor

08520. 609-371-2273.


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