Archive for the Category »Travel and Design «

  Hotel of the Week: Spotlight on a Presidential Playground in Primary Season (Pun Intended)

Arizona BIltmore

If you are attracted to the non-cookie cutter hotels, this one in the Arizona desert is worth discovering if you haven’t already. The Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix is the only Frank Lloyd Wright inspired hotel in the world. The accomplished architect’s (he himself might say the MOST accomplished…if you are familiar with his reported ego) stamp is still very much preserved at the 80 year old hotel – Wright was the consulting architect.

I visited recently and fell captive to it’s charms. The linear architecture… and geometric furniture …the sophisticated design touches at this hotel are abundant.

The stained glass…and hexagons…so typical of Frank Lloyd Wright…the furniture he designed…. it all works.

Even if you don’t love Wright’s influence, the overall layout gives it the resort special feel. Spaced on 39 acres, you walk from the lobby into a large communal grass area and outdoor patio.

There were always guests lounging next to firepits, reading the morning paper with their coffee – that to me says “get-away.” It is very family friendly (that to me says not so much get away as “what can we do to keep the kids happy”) with large life-size lawn chess…

croquet…and a fun pool on the grounds.
The hotel is known for the celebs and presidents who have stayed there, mostly Republicans of course in that red state of AZ…

and lining the walls are photos of past presidents who have stayed and played there. The list is long, and the kids enjoy seeing the famous photos.

The rooms were underwhelming, I must admit… we even had stained carpet -  but the more I thought about that, the more I realized – well, you really don’t come to the desert, to a resort like this with so much going on, to sit in your room.

And that we didn’t…. I was SO excited to visit Frank Lloyd Wrights Talisien West about 30 minutes from the hotel in Scottsdale.

Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright designed

This was his west coast retreat and office that he designed, and today is the site of an architecture school in his spirit.

The experience did not disappoint. It is inspiring beyond belief listening to the tour guide explain why Wright designed the way he did – what his philosophy was. Some would say he was a mad genius.

The pool shape – a triangle. Creative.

Wright was known for using indigenous materials, and incorporating nature … He used boulders from the area in the building, and you can see how it blends with the natural landscape.

This attraction is well worth visiting. Tours are given daily, but it is best to go when it’s not so hot. There aren’t many architectural tours that I’ve been on that truly make the non-architecture student stop and think about the process of design, but Wright was so innovative, it is impossible to escape being intrigued.

If you are looking for a hot weather, with haute design – bask in the heat at the Arizona Biltmore. In March, there is a special lecture with Frank Lloyd Wright’s photographer. Visit the website for more info.

Have a great weekend -

  An LA Icon That’s Great For Kids..And Free!

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

I recently took a field trip with my UCLA architecture class to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. I had been to the hall before for performances, but this time I got a tour led by a docent…and you can too.

Frank Gehry Designed Walt Disney Concert Hall

If you have seen photos or been yourself, I don’t have to tell you how stunning the stainless steel-clad building is.

The inside is breathtaking too – but not in such a grand way – it is simply gorgeous wood, mixed with white walls, steel accents, and a lot of light from large windows and sky lights. (Of course, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but most would agree the structure is a beauty.)

If you are visiting LA, or are a local – this is a fantastic place to visit on the weekend.  Many locals eat lunch in the beautiful garden area on weekdays, and it is a quiet time to take a tour, but on some weekends there are free musical concerts and arts and crafts activities for the kids. (Look up “Phil the House” activities on  the WDCH website.)

In my opinion, it’s one of the best cultural experiences for the little ones in all of my travels. The concerts don’t happen every week so plan ahead. The kids are also able  to create a masterpieces at art tables set up outside.

If you don’t have children along, take the docent led tours…or if you prefer, a self-guided audio tour. Both take about an hour. The tour leads you throughout the inside of building, and some outdoor spots like the garden or public balcony.

Along the way you learn the story of how the magnificent downtown centerpiece came to be – Lillian Disney donated $ 50 million for a concert hall….there was an architectural contest … Frank Gehry’s design won, it is supposed to resemble a ship’s hull…the grand opening was in 2003.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

The tour goes into a little more detail, but I have to be honest, I would have liked more in depth information from the docent. If you are someone who only wants to learn more, I’d recommend the book that tells the whole story – makes a nice coffee table topper. Concert/dp/0810949814

Unfortunately, the tours don’t go inside auditorium because there are rehearsals. Disappointed?  It is still a worthwhile tour, but if you are dying to see the auditorium, why not go back for a LA Philharmonic performance? Here’s a tip:

If you are a student or a senior, buy rush tickets – show up two hours before concert time and get discounted tickets for $10 – $20!!! (Good seats normally can go for more than $100)

And don’t park in the hall’s parking lot – it is cheaper on the street, or in some of the lots nearby.

Check the WDCH’s website for schedules of both the self-guided and docent-led tours.

Now that spring is almost here, you can enjoy a clear view of downtown from various places on the tour. As much as LA is criticized, this landmark will leave one in awe, and hopefully inspire some appreciation for the City of Angels.

  Tours That Brad Pitt Would Love

I figured that title might get your attention.

If you read any tabloids at all, you know that Brad Pitt is an architecture aficionado…he reportedly loves and studies different building designs. I totally get that.

I am back at my Alma Mater taking an architecture class. Right on campus again. Loving it. For one of my assignments I had to visit a significant type of architecture for a region, photograph it, and write about how the social, political, and cultural elements of the time influenced the design.

Eames House, Pacific Palisades CA

I chose Mid-Century Modern as my style to research, and luckily for me, a friend of mine is a real estate agent for architecturally significant properties in Los Angeles.  He let me come and photograph his Mid-Century Modern house for sale. (Call Jonathan Ruiz at Rose and Chang for the coolest houses on the market! (

In studying the modern movement between the 30s and 60s, I learned so much about Los Angeles.   It made me realize, an architectural tour of a destination is not only aesthetically pleasing, but a way to really understand the development and signature style of a place. Architecture as zeitgeist.

There are many fabulous architectural tours available around the world. Here are some ways to get started if you are considering visiting any of the following cities:

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is a great place to start for boat tours on the Chicago River, or walking and bus tours through the city. Two significant architects that have works in Chicago are Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies van der Rohe – the foundation has individual tours just for their creations.

Architectural Tours of Savannah, Georgia:  Savannah’s downtown area is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States.

Los Angeles Walking Tours – The LA Conservancy is a good place to start – this city is a cornucopia of styles – form Art Deco, to Renaissance… there is a modern committee that supposedly gives tours of Mid-Century Modern as well.

London- In Front of Big Ben

London Architectural Walks: Choose among a number of tours – including one that focuses on Royal London.

New Orleans Garden District

New Orleans architecture – from the French Quarter to the lovely Garden District… by boat or bike, this website lists other websites that give all kinds of tours:

As Frank Lloyd Wright once said: Every great architect is – necessarily – a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.
Time to go see those interpretations.

  Global style: Making your souvenirs stand out.

Thanks to globalization and the internet, it is easier today to add an ethnic or global touch to your home without leaving your home country. But I still like collecting treasures you can get only from traveling, and afterward finding the perfect spot for them in my house. They remind me of my trips, the people who were there, and the feeling I had at that moment….thus, bringing more meaning to a tchotchke then a t-shirt with a catchy slogan bought in the airport would have.

A few of the items that always bring a smile to my face are the shells I have collected while scuba diving or beach combing in Belize, Fiji, and the British Virgin Islands. I keep them front and center in a silver tray in my house because I love to be reminded of those amazing trips.

Or display prize shells here and there for individual accent…I love them on book shelves…

or in china cabinets.

You can collect your own shells from any beach vacation…but if you are collecting from an international location, just be sure the laws don’t forbid taking a certain shell home in your luggage!

Here is an urn from Morocco…..

Gold candle holders from Paris….Remember, something that may look dull on a store shelf can take on a whole new look when you put it in a new place.

I really love finding art from local artists. Here’s a portrait of me and my Mom while in Rome. We were suckers for some artist who painted us into a cafe scene. I am still glad we bought it. Paintings are great to mix it up a bit on a shelf with framed photos.

Here’s a water color from San Gimignano in my daughter’s room…I like adding mature treasures to my kids rooms also.

Here’s local pottery from Bariloche, Argentina.

And this is priceless: A room sign that was made to hang on my door at Fiji’s Turtle Island sits on a shelf in my office. Use your gut to determine where something will be most appreciated, and look appropriate.

I also like incorporating travel-inspired pieces in my home to reflect my passion.

Right now, these steamer trunks are hot – you can find them in Restoration Hardware…or these in the showroom of H.D. Buttercup in Los Angeles.

I found one a while back in Southern California and have it in my own house.  (It sits below art bought from a local artist in San Francisco…)

My kids’ entire playroom has a travel theme.

Map mural on the wall…(hopefully the geography lesson will sink in)

Decals of international monuments pasted on the walls….

These are just a few ways to bring travel home.

So on your summer travels this year, be cognisant of the things you can take back and  add to your whole style and design. It makes the memory stronger….can be a conversation piece….and can look good too!