Carren's Pitch

Life by Design


Cold War Culture

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

The Wende Museum is a treasure in LA. Their holdings of cold war design objects are pretty staggering. I'm glad they've finally come out with a tome that attempts to capture the breadth of material culture from this still fraught era. 

A new book exhaustively examines life and design in East Germany.
Text by: Carren Jao
Edited by: Avinash Rajagopal
Published: Feb 2015, Metropolis

Communist East Germany developed a vibrant design culture of its own, with products like this Rema Trabant T6 radio from 1964–1965. The Wende Museum in Los Angeles has the largest collection of such objects in the country. Image courtesy of: Wende Museum/Taschen
History is a tale constantly revised depending on the circumstances of its telling. And no modern tales are as fraught with multiple meanings as those of the Cold War era, which spanned more than four decades from the end of World War II in 1945 to the fall of socialist regimes in Europe from 1989 to 1991.

In an ambitious effort to illuminate this period’s multifaceted nature, Taschen Books published Beyond the Wall: Art and Artifacts from the GDR, a 904-page volume that offers readers over 2,500 objects from the Los Angeles–based Wende Museum’s more than 100,000-piece collection of items from the Eastern Bloc—the largest in the country. Since the museum was founded in 2002, it has become a repository for remnants of a fast-disappearing culture, repudiated by the former Soviet state that’s uncomfortable with its history. [read more]


Reinventing the Apron

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

One of the best things about being a journalist is the capacity to get up close and personal to amazing people. Ellen Bennett is definitely on this list. She has an Energizer energy and she isn't afraid to put it to good use. No wonder her apron business is booming! So glad you're in LA, lady!

Text by: Carren Jao
Edited by: Carolyn Horwitz
Published: Jan 2015, Entrepreneur

Image credit: Angie Quan
It’s about as humdrum an item of apparel as you can get. But in the hands of an impassioned Los Angeles-based designer, the humble apron has become the cornerstone for a successful business.

Hedley & Bennett (H&B) got its start in 2012, when Ellen Bennett—then a line cook for trendy L.A. restaurants Providence and B├Ąco Mercat, and a personal chef—finally had enough. “An apron is something that every single chef uses besides a knife,” says Bennett, who juggled all three jobs while launching her company. “It was this thing that we all wore, and it was ugly and gross and weird.” [read more]

There are a ton of plans for the Los Angeles River and its riverbanks, but does Los Angeles have enough native plants to fulfill this ambitious green dream? Maybe. My conversation with Ellen Mackey was enlightening. It gave me a chance to look at something I'd never before considered: the market dynamics of native plants.

Text by: Carren Jao
Edited by: Yosuke Kitazawa
Published: 29 January 2015, KCET

Scalebroom at the Tujunga Wash | Photo: Justin Cram/KCET Departures
"You can't talk about the Los Angeles River without talking about its plants," says Ellen Mackey, senior ecologist on assignment to the Council for Watershed Health from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Los Angeles River revitalization has been a buzzword for a couple of years now. Its popularity has only heightened as plans were announced to restore the ecology of an 11-mile stretch on the Los Angeles River last year.

The azure and verdant photographs and renderings might be enthralling to some, but to Mackey and her colleagues it also represents a challenge. "How does one put that many seeds on the ground?" [read more]


Fort builds reputation for reclaimed furniture

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

I hate seeing a good thing go to waste, so when I heard about what Jacqueline Sharp was trying to do, I go on board. Sharp knows quality and she works hard to uncover it even in the most derelict of furniture. 


Text by: Carren Jao
Edited by: Alice Short
Published: 13 December 2014, Los Angeles Times

Image via the Hundreds

In a studio just south of L.A.'s downtown arts district lies Fort, a wonderland of reclaimed furniture, where eye candy sits at every corner.

On the left is a jumble of old furniture yet to be reimagined. On the right is a wall of seating — M&M-colored folding chairs, an overstuffed footstool in a blue-and-white Moroccan pattern, even a church pew covered in navy fabric with a bold yellow stripe. Straight on, four letters set against the window spell "Fort".

"I grew up in the Midwest from humble beginnings. My parents didn't always have money to give me the latest and greatest, so I was constantly finding things to make something from," says Jacqueline Sharp, the 30-year-old furniture maker and chief executive of Fort. Named after the childhood imagination play, Sharp's company recalls the playfulness of her youth, when she, her siblings and cousins used to take over the basement or attic of their grandparents' house in Rock Island, Ill. "We would run up and down stairs, foraging for stuff so we can build our own environment." The name is also a handy acronym for "furnish or trade," its business model. [read more]


Slow and Steady

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

It's rare to see a business with real heart, so when I found out about Heath's design and business philosophy, I knew I had to cover it. Here's a company that doesn't ambition to rule the world, but to really find a satisfying medium between economics and creativity. What would the world be like with more companies who follow their example? 

Bucking the trend, Heath Ceramics scales back distribution of its iconic designs

Text by: Carren Jao
Edited by: Carolyn Horwitz
Published: Nov 2014, Entrepreneur

A sample of Heath Ceramics wares. Photo by: Kathryn Pritchett
“Grow big, quickly” sounds like an enviable path to success for a young designer. Not so for Heath Ceramics. The venerable midcentury company is taking a slower, more studied route to growth that challenges preconceived notions of retail success.

Contrary to the usual tactic of manufacturers, the storied American ceramics-maker will have weaned itself off all its wholesale customers by the end of this year, focusing exclusively on direct sales from its own four retail stores and website. [read more]


Water Works

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Los Angeles is a great place to be and companies like WET prove it. Here's a company that's tucked away in the northern part of the city, where you wouldn't think to look, yet they've produced some spectacular sights, delighting people around the world. Think the Bellagio, people :)

A high-tech fountain specialist pumps out mind-blowing attractions
Text by: Carren Jao
Edited by: Jenna Schnuer
Published: Dec 2014, Entrepreneur

"The Waters of Olympic Park", Sochi (Photo: WET)
If Mark Fuller’s parents hadn’t already realized their son’s engineering and creative potential, his waterfall and fish pond project—which he worked on through high school and college with his grandfather—would have been a dead giveaway. Rather than install standard fish ponds in his family’s backyard, Fuller connected them by an underground tunnel managed via a secret control panel. [read more]

I love Olga's work because she is courageously political, while also retaining her compassion for the people she's giving voice to. Her latest work is on the Los Angeles River and delves into the growing complexities in the area. 

Text and Photos by: Carren Jao
Edited by: Drew Tewksbury
Published: 11 Dec 2014, Artbound

As the sun turned a deep red orange on the horizon, silver-caped bodies dashed, bounded, strolled around a graffiti covered 126-foot diameter train turnaround, outfitted with twelve equidistant canopies installed in the round and bisected by a large table made from trash found along the site.

Metal music blared from the speakers in the center, as the players (who were really draped in silver thermal blankets) alternately held up signs that daringly stated "Hands up, don't shoot," "I can't breathe," or whimsically depicted a sun, a moon, or a rabbit.

As the music calmed down, the melody switched to "Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings' "This Land is Your Land" while the players slowly made their way below the canopied cavity of the roundhouse, placeholders for the wanderers perhaps that have sought shelter in the very same spots. [read more]

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