Modernism's Gateway Drug

It might seem a paradox that some of the boldest, most ambitious architects often turn their attention to designing furniture and other small objects. Why did the likes of Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Eamses, create furniture for the buildings they designed, or even the interiors of lesser structures, when they had no shortage of high-profile architectural commissions to work on?

We can think of at least two reasons.

1. An architect with a strong vision often likes to have a hand in everything, down to the bedsheets, in the spaces he or she designs. Sometimes other people's furniture just isn't good enough.

2. It's surprisingly challenging to design furniture, and good architects like challenges.

"A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous." --Mies van der Rohe, In Time magazine, February 18, 1957

But it's not just the midcentury crowd that moonlighted in interiors. Houston has been quick to recognize the work modern architects are doing to create the 21st century version of the Saarinen tulip table (above) or the Barcelona chair. Houston gallerist Barbara Davis first brought architect-designed modernist furniture to town in 2008 with her show "Imperative Design," which collected gorgeous furnishings and objects from the likes of Zaha Hadid and Lauren Rottet.

Now Peel Gallery, Davis' neighbor at 4411 Montrose, is mounting California Cool, a "small survey of California modernism" including furniture and jewelry by Marmol Radziner, architects of major repute for their desert dwellings and successful prefab operation. The show, which opens tonight (on view through March 18), also includes work from graphic designer and artist Geoff McFetridge and Adam Silverman, designer and potter for the Dwell Magazine favorites Heath Ceramics.

Visitors to "California Cool" will catch a glimpse of how some of the world's most dedicated modernists adorn their homes. But watch out--modern pottery or furniture can be a gateway drug, leading to the hard stuff, like this: