West Coast Modern is 200-plus pages of eye candy. How did you find the projects and how many years did it take for you to compile all of them? About how many houses did you research before selecting the final cut?
The 27 projects and stories in West Coast Modern include those photographer Matthew Millman and I have worked on either separately or together for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dwell, Western Interiors and Design, Interiors, Architectural Digest, and Elle Decor, as well as nearly a dozen houses specifically selected and photographed for the book. The book represents about 10 years of work and one project is so new that it was shot literally a month before the book went to press.
Matthew and I looked at more than a hundred projects in his portfolio before selecting the ones we did and then, to add to the mix, we invited our favorite architects to show us new work. We had a slighter larger selection but while I was designing the book I found there was not enough room for all of them. They'll go into the next edition.
You've been a design editor covering the West Coast for years. Did you uncover any new trends or ideas in researching your book? How has "west coast modern" changed over time?
My book San Francisco Modern (1998) posited that there was a unique kind of "woodsier" modernism in the Bay Area that was distinct from Los Angeles's harder-edged continuum of the work of Neutra, Schindler, and other Case Study architects. The Bay Area echoed Maybeck, Polk, Wurster, and Esherick. Their use of wood made for a richer "instrument" for living. In West Coast Modern I notice that while those divergent strands still exist and are the prevailing influences all along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico and out in Hawaii, there is an underlying unifier: a tradition of indoor-outdoor living within walled courtyards that is a descendant of the Hispano-Moresque way of living that came to this coast in the wake of Spanish settlements.
In your introduction you say that though the West is "untethered to a single history" the structures in the book all "access a common western architectural genetic memory." Can you expand on that concept?
It is untethered to a single history in the sense that it is an amalgam of European modernism of the 1930s as well as the Arts and Crafts structures of the Bay Area and an older Mission-style, ranchero tradition that evolved from Spanish colonial buildings and homes from Mexico all the way up to Victorian Gold Rush towns in Alaska. That blend is meshed indelibly now in the American West's architectural genetic memory.
The book is divided into sections based on regions—coast, city, desert, mountain, wine country—can you explain why you chose to organize it that way?
It made sense to both highlight the great variety of landscapes the west offers but also to make the selections resonate with people who want to build in such terrain anywhere in the country. The house in the Alaskan highlands overlooking glacial flatlands. for instance, could just as well have been designed for Paso Robles, California.
You also have a new book out from Laurence King, 100 Best Bikes, somewhat of a departure from your books on interiors and architecture (New Garden Design, published in 2008 by Gibbs Smith and San Francisco Modern, published in 1998 by Chronicle Books). How did that foray into industrial design come about?
I have led the design coverage for the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle for over 20 years and in that time I had the opportunity to develop a loyal readership for interior design—including the first serious, professional reviews of restaurant design—and residential architecture. Industrial design as it pertained to the design of home or restaurant furnishings, lighting and accessories was a natural offshoot of that focus. More recently I launched a column in the Chronicle called Material World where I looked keenly at the use of materials such as aluminum, steel, titanium, fiber glass, ceramics, wood, bamboo, and plastics that are used to make pre-fabricated home components. These are all the stuff of modern bikes as well. To my delight, I discovered that many well-known industrial and furniture designers like Ross Lovegrove and Mark Newson and architects like Bjarke Ingels are either directly or peripherally involved in the design of bikes. That really sparked my interest.
What bikes do you currently ride?
I have remained loyal to my vintage 12-speed Motobecane (up from its original 10 speeds!), which I ride less frequently these days but used to ride every day up San Francisco's hills at 6mph.
Pick up a copy of the March Interior Design issue (on newsstands February 5) to read Sardar's most recent story for Dwell, which details a Le Corbusier–inspired Paris apartment.