Books: A Preview of Leslie Williamson’s Handcrafted Modern Europe

Bruno Matthson’s house in Varnamo, Sweden, will be featured in Leslie Williamson’s forthcoming book Handcrafted Modern Europe. Image courtesy Leslie Williamson.Our own homes reveal so much about us and about the inner-workings of our minds. Is there clutter? Is everything carefully stowed away? Which rooms have been best thought-out? The kitchen with a well-worn batterie de cuisine? A library with perfectly organized, floor-to-ceiling stacks of books?

A few years back photographer Leslie Williamson wanted to find a book on how some of the leading names in midcentury design lived. What she realized, though, was that it didn’t exist. Inspired, she set out to create one. “I just made the book that I really wanted,” she explains. That book is the 2010 publication Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Midcentury Designers, which explores the homes of over a dozen architects and designers around the United States, including those of George Nakashima, Eva Zeisel, Albert Frey, and Jens Risom.

While many of the people profiled in the book are perhaps best known for designs that exploited the possibilities of larger-scale manufacturing, she opted to use the word “handcrafted” to describe her subjects’ ways of living. As Williamson puts it, “I think of “handcrafted” as more referring to their own homes than their work. All homes are handcrafted over time. That is probably why it is such an effective title, because it plays on that notion of Modernism.”

For the designers whose “handcrafted” residences she profiled, her selection process was deeply personal. “It really starts with me loving a designer’s work. That inevitably leads to my wondering how he/she lived and if the home is still in tact,” she says. “A key criteria is that the homes be in tact or as closely in tact to when the designer was living there if they no longer do—so personal possessions in the house. A designer still living in their home is the best case scenario, but house museums can also be good if they are very closely in tact.”  

Gae Aulenti’s Milan apartment will also appear in Williamson’s book. Image courtesy Leslie Williamson.

Now Williamson has her sights set internationally, with a book under way on the homes of some notable midcentury European designers—think Gae Aulenti, Finn Juhl and Bruno Matthson to name just a few. Putting Handcrafted Modern Europe together has been epic to say the least. “Books like these—consisting of all original photography, shot all over the world, just don’t exist anymore. I took the better part of six months off from my usual client work to travel around and shoot the book,” she says. Books like these also cost money so to fund the project, she has set-up a Kickstarter campaign in order to complete it.

“I do believe Kickstarter is an amazing vehicle, and the immediacy of support is something that I appreciate. So many fundraising options take years of planning. Kickstarter gets you going and gets you the money rather quickly, so that is key for me because I am working on a deadline.”

Besides revealing more about the private lives of some of the greatest designers of the 20th century, the project has revealed some personal insights for Williamson. “The type of travel I have been doing—rather last minute at times through necessity—has really changed me on a fundamental level. I really like how I am much more adaptable with whatever is thrown at me, and I can make almost everything work in my favor. It is pretty hard to throw me.”

To learn more about Leslie Williamson’s new book, be sure to visit her blog and check out her Kickstarter campaign, which closes on March 14.

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