Historian’s home with cabinet of curiosities and collectibles

Pieces of me: Linda King, design historian

 

Linda King is a design historian at IADT, Dún Laoghaire. She was a graphic designer before moving into education and research and has been a consultant on design issues to many companies and cultural organisations including Dublin City Council, the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland ID 2015 and RTÉ. She has been living in an Edwardian red brick in Dublin’s north inner city for almost 20 years.

Describe your interiors style

Idiosyncratic probably comes closest. I like white walls and wooden floors and I use furniture and objects to add texture and colour. I love combining mid-century modern with vintage, utilitarian and graphic design pieces. In my head I am a minimalist, but I’m actually a bit of a hoarder and have a lot of stuff disguised behind built-in storage.

Do you collect anything specific?

Books, shoes, music and airline memorabilia. I also have a big collection of rotary-dial telephones, cameras, typewriters, sewing machines, fans, record players and various other examples of redundant technologies. Most of these are in my hallway in a bookcase I think of as my “cabinet of curiosities”.

In the 1990s, I worked at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York on a retrospective exhibition about the US industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss. He shaped post-second World War America designing for Polaroid, Bell Telephone, Honeywell and John Deere among others. His biographer Russell Flinchum encouraged me to see the beauty in ordinary utilitarian objects that enrich people’s lives – it was a pivotal moment in my career.

Which room do you most enjoy and why?

I enjoy them all, but I spend most time in the living/dining room. It’s bright all day, has high ceilings and it’s where I store and read books for pleasure, listen to music. I also enjoy my office in the attic where I keep my academic books; I can hear birds on the roof tiles and see sky through the skylights. It’s quite meditative and conducive to working.

What items do you love most?

Those that remind me of significant events in my life or particularly thoughtful gifts and bequests. Purchases include two Aer Lingus posters from the 1950s by Dutch designers Jan de Fouw and Piet Sluis. My PhD thesis analysed the company’s posters as a barometer of cultural change in mid-century Ireland. A teak sideboard displaying drawings by Art Spiegelman for Maus bought when I lived in New York and a mint green Ericsson Ericofon bought in Turin.

My favourite gifts include a George Nelson Ball Clock, a “Mexico 68” print by Lane Wyman and an “Idea 156” poster by Wolfgang Weingart given as “thank yous” by the designers. A very special bequest was the wall clock my paternal grandmother got as a wedding present. My grandfather was a lighthouse keeper and the clock travelled the length and breadth of Ireland and is still working. I have five Arne Jacobsen chairs from my dad salvaged from his office and my mother’s Arklow Pottery china tea set is particularly precious.

Who is your favourite designer?

For graphics I love the work of Swiss designer Karl Gerstner, who died recently, and who could make the most mundane subject look amazing – and Saul Bass who revolutionised film title design with work for Hitchcock and Preminger. The furniture of Cranbrook alumni Harry Bertoia, the Eameses and Eero Saarinen are still so relevant. Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK Airport is one of my favourite buildings.

Which artists do you most admire?

Caravaggio is my absolute standout favourite. The sheer humanity of his work is breathtaking. Whenever I am in Rome, I factor in daily visits to the churches that house his paintings, specifically San Luigi dei Francesi for the St Mathew triptych and San Luigi dei Francesito for the Pilgrim’s Madonna. My all time favourite is the Crucifixion of St Peter at the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo; it moves me to tears every time. The last time I was there, Azzedine Alaia pulled up beside me in full tourist mode!

Which travel destination stands out?

Japan. In 1998 I visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka with a friend and it was mesmerising, exhilarating and completely exotic. I still wear clothes I bought on that trip. I go to Italy every year and try to get to New York as often as possible. I still have friends there so it feels closest to home after Dublin.

If you had €100,000 to spend on your home, what would you buy?

I’d build a kitchen extension and furnish it with a Saarinen elliptical table and tulip chairs. I’d also buy an Eames lounger and ottoman for reading, all design clichés I know but classics for good reason. If there was change, I would buy more Aer Lingus posters and some of the Pan Am posters designed in 1971-72.

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