The Creators: Jean Lauer

Jean Lauer photographed by Skye Parrott for BlackBook Magazine

Of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on home renovations in the United States last year, a respectable portion came from the startup Sweeten, which listed projects totaling over $150 million. Jean Lauer, the site’s founder and chief executive officer, expects to see that number grow, and the trend lines point in
the right direction. Last year the National Association of Home Builders’ chief economist, David Crowe, said in a statement that the only roadblock to a “slow, steady recovery of the housing industry” was a “shortage of qualified labor and subcontractors.” Sweeten aims to correct this market inefficiency by making it easier to find a contractor.

The platform operates like this: Homeowners list their project and all of its details, while contractors, architects, and designers bid. Once a contract is awarded, Sweeten checks in at the beginning, middle, and end of construction to make sure all is well. Centralizing the process introduces a wealth of safeguards against fraud and shoddy work. Sweeten’s projects range from $15,000 renovations to a $15 million residential development in Queens. “Whatever price point they are working at, the contractors just have to be great at what they do,” Lauer says. Installing new kitchens or ripping out bathrooms might not seem like an area rife for digital disruption, but just as Uber flipped the old hand-in-the-air method of taxi-hailing on its head, Sweeten may turn out to be revolutionary in its own right.

This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook on stands now.

Take a Lesson in Design from Rapper/Architecture Afficianado Ice Cube

It might be two years old, but that doesn’t make this video of Ice Cube driving through Los Angeles, pointing out the important architectural and design elements, and noting the fine attributes of the Eames house any less enjoyable.

Without further ado, Ice Cube on Eames:

Frank Gehry-Designed Foundation Louis Vuitton Sets Opening Date

On October 27, 2014, the Foundation Louis Vuitton will open its doors in Paris to the public, offering on view the works of contemporary artists, the architectural designs of Frank Gehry, and the verdant surroundings of the Jardin d’Acclimatation.

1-Fondation Louis Vuitton @ Iwan Baan, 2014

LVMH’s Bernard Arnault commissioned the Gehry-designed structure and foundation, and its first exhibition will feature a project designed specifically for the foundation by its architect. The exhibition will run concurrently with Gehry’s first European retrospective, held at the Centre Pompidou.

Images courtesy of the Foundation Louis Vuitton

Norway May Demolish Brutalist Buildings With Picasso Murals

Over in Oslo, Norway, debate is raging about what to do with some brutalist architecture damaged by a car bomb during Anders Behring Breivik’s terrorist attack of July 11. The conventional wisdom says to tear the buildings down to make way for something new, but there’s a catch: the current structures are homes to murals by Pablo Picasso—his first works executed in concrete, no less. What is the educated world to think!

Even the proposed compromise, which would involve “disassembling” Picasso’s works and putting them back together somewhere else, brick by brick, has come under fire, since the artist created them in accordance with their current location. Art history nerds know that context is king—would you put the Mona Lisa somewhere other than a cramped room of The Louvre where the collective body odor was enough to make you pass out? Don’t be ridiculous.

What’s lost in the discussion about preserving pivotal art from one of the 20th century’s masters, however, is the building itself. Europe is all about demolishing these big, boxy, menacing, state-funded constructions that popped up fifty years ago—enough, I say. Just because you think it looks ugly now doesn’t mean people in the distant future won’t appreciate it. When the Parthenon started to show a little wear and tear, did the Greeks raze it to the ground? Architects are artists too, you know.

Image via Art World Daily

Someone (Barney’s) Got A Little Work Done

In case you hadn’t heard, our beloved Barney’s had a little something done at both the Beverly Hills and Madison Avenue locations. As if carrying some of the most amazing beauty products weren’t enough (hi Byredo candles… what’s up MAKE face gloss…) the department store beautified itself for our benefit. By reaching out to Steven Harris Architects to ensure optimal results, Barney’s really hit a home run. Steven Harris himself was kind enough to answer a few burning beauty questions (like, how did you manage to make it/us look so good?) See if you can finish clicking through before dashing across or uptown for a beauty splurge.


“We sought to make the shopper look as beautiful as possible within the space by using ample ambient light and lighting from below,” said principal architect himself, Steven Harris. Must remember “lighting from below” for the next bathroom renovation…


“Interior designer Eleanor Lemaire’s design for the original Bullocks Wilshire store was a guiding influence throughout. When designing the fixtures, we took major inspiration from Damien Hirst’s medicine cabinet series and Donald Judd ‘s steel boxes,” said Harris. (Donald Judd’s steel boxes are pictured.)



Damien Hirst’s medicine cabinet.



… and that all makes visual sense.

The lighting is all designed to emphasize the beautiful bottles and packaging. Harris told me “the perfume display lights all the bottles from below so that their intricacies emerge and they seem to glow from within. Our fixtures allow the beauty brands to be identified more by packaging than by the individual boutiques- brand identity rather than the approach.”


Also, now you can get your spa on at Barney’s – see: this new treatment room. So zen. Say it with me… ohm.


“We want the shopper to feel beautiful when they enter the space and throughout the shopping experience…” said Harris. “We also want them to feel pampered, an objective that we addressed [with] sumptuous finishes, special pieces of furniture, and moments of pause within the store’s circulation.” So if you’re jonesing for a beauty binge, get thee to a Barney’s, stat. The whole experience is bound to be gorgeous.

Sleep Walking In The City: Erik Benson’s Evocative Architecture

Erik Benson’s labor-intensive paintings depict spaces–abandoned or forlorn, industrial or crepuscular. His latest exhibition, "Sleep Walking"–opening this evening at Edward Tyler Nahem in New York–focuses on buildings at night, facades criss-crossed by bare tree branches. The artist composes these paintings by cutting and intricately collaging segments of acrylic paint onto the canvas (the process appears to be as painstaking and methodical as erecting an actual building, as evidenced by this sped-up video of one work’s completion.) "The title of the exhibition refers to the purpose of these paintings, experience a place in darkness," Benson says. "It also refers to a psychological state in which the urban landscape is observed–whether with a tired eye, or a sleepy brain, there’s a more poetic approach to the subject than there is when observing it in the cold, hard light of day." 

Empire depicts the titular Manhattan landmark as almost an afterthought, tucked toward the bottom of the canvas’s frame, overshadowed by the looming dark. And Bookman, as Benson explains, shows two colorfully illuminated condos, their clean lines striking a Modernist grid against the night sky. "The feeling of that painting, for me, is of an uneasy, changing environment," he tells BlackBook. "It makes me think of Edward Hopper saying that he ‘just wanted to paint sunlight on the side of the building.’ Sometimes through the formal we arrive in places that are very socially relevant in the here and now, like it or not. It’s an idea I’m moving through where abstracted elements occur between real forms of architecture and nature, where shapes and spaces are changed by angle and lack of definition: Glimpses of night windows, refractions from streetlights, silhouettes of obstacles, all lend themselves to an undefined footing. Shifting shapes and spaces. Dark sided glimpses of a changing landscape."

Trace 2013

Trace 2013


Empire 2013

Empire 2013


NIght Tower

Night Tower


Night Weed

Night Weed

Main Image: Bookmen

Listen to a Rare Recording of Frank Lloyd Wright on Nature and Creativity

Speaking to the house he lives in, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, David Lynch once said, “The whole space is just pleasing, gives me a good feeling. So it effects my whole life to live inside of it. And then, sometimes I see things, shapes or something that would go inside of it and that leads to furniture or film.”

And as one of the most beloved architects of the 20th century, Wright’s believed that “Form and function should be one joined in a spiritual union.” In a rare recording from June 18, 1957 (found here) you get a deeper look in the spirituality of his work, as he expresses his ideology on creativity and its relation to nature and religion. “No man is free whose afraid,” he says, “And he’s afraid until he has developed the certainty that comes of a creative life.” 
Take a listen below.

Capitalists Don’t Understand Why They Can’t Bulldoze A Frank Lloyd Wright House

John Hoffman and Steve Sells have a problem: at present, they’re not allowed to demolish their 2,500-square-foot Phoenix home, designed by one Frank Lloyd Wright, to split the property, “build two luxury homes and make a killing,” according to The New York Times. I know: try not to get too choked up about it.

The would-be developers, entrepreneurial partners who met in an Idaho high school and claim to be unfamiliar with Wright’s legend, let alone the difference between him “and the Wright brothers,” were stopped in their fiendish tracks by valiant preservationists who are pushing for the home to achieve landmark status. Even so, that designation can last but three years in Arizona, meaning Hoffman and Sells could still knock the place down soon enough.

For now, though, it’s immensely gratifying to see how a poorly researched $2.8 million investment can blow up in its executors’ greedy faces. At the very least, it’s got to be a vindication of the supposedly useless liberal arts degree. A diploma in the humanities may not make you any money, but apparently it can save you tons.

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.

Let’s Demolish Adolf Hitler’s House!

From Braunau-am-Inn, Austria, where the 500-year-old birthplace of one Adolf Hitler still stands, the news is odd: member of Russian parliament Frantz Klintsevich is trying to raise funds—to the tune of $2.8 million—in order to buy and then raze the offending structure.

To each his own! Some of us prefer to see history come alive; some, to bury it once and for all. But the latter impulse seems especially misguided in these circumstances, as the building

… had been used as a facilities for people with learning disabilities. Now it is being leased by a woman in her sixties who wishes to remain anonymous. The Austrian government has said it has only leased the home to people with no history of admiring the Austrian dictator.

Okay? So back off, Russia. You had your chance to pillage and destroy symbolic bits of architecture when you won the war. And it’s no use complaining that the other Allies wouldn’t let you—I’m sure they’d have been more than happy to warm their rations over that roaring bonfire.

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.