Does the sight of a sleek, shiny bar cause an intense, internal pleasure within you … and not just because it’s holding liquor?
While you might not be aware of it, you have the work of Santa Barbara area architect and designer Kem Weber to thank. He wasn’t the only architect to create the Streamline Moderne ideal of the 1930s, but he was among many whose ideas of design have infiltrated a true 20th-century aesthetic.
The University Art Museum is currently exhibiting the work of Weber in a show called “Designing the Moderne: Kem Weber’s Bixby House,” showcasing the spare, Art Deco style that Weber used for designing appliances, furniture and storefronts in the first half of this century. Weber eventually extended his repertoire to buildings, and his designs for a house in Kansas City, the Bixby residence, show the first time these concepts were applied to a private residence. To this day, the Bixby House remains the epitome of 1930s architecture.
The show contains blueprints, drawings and photographs of the Bixby House as well as other works by Weber, plus actual examples of his furniture and appliances. He was both an architect and an interior designer, and his watercolor renditions of his work are also on display. Weber was an artist in all regards, and he rarely did a project in which he only completed one aspect of the project. Although he was hired as an interior designer for the Bixby House, his “inner architect” is apparent throughout the designs.
The intersections of curves and sharp angles that characterize Weber’s work can be seen in everything from the alarm clocks he designed to his drawings for airline cabins. The house designs are all beautiful, but the “Interior of Rumpus Room” is especially well done.
Some of the geometrical patterns of Weber’s earlier work are apparent in this piece, such as in the design for the floor. But a sense of simplicity pervades, with neutral tones set off by primary colors, and the use of materials such as glass and metal.
Weber uses bold colors and unusual materials such as aluminum, glass and linoleum for the actual structure and the furniture within the house. This use of unusual materials is symbolic of the rampant invention of the 1930s. The drawings of the interiors and the blueprints for the house show innovative uses of space, helped by unusual angles and curved walls.
When Weber started working in the 1920s, he used archetypal flapper-era concepts such as geometrical designs and decorative objects. With the beginning of the Depression, however, this style was replaced by the more basic Streamline Moderne style. A more efficient school of design that reflected the serious attitude of the era replaced the fluffy, whimsical designs of the ’20s. Decorative touches were not abandoned, but within the Streamline school these appear elegant and simple, even necessary to complete the overall atmosphere. Simple statues and painted walls were used for decorative effect more often than paintings and bouquets.
Weber’s design for an airplane seat is a great reminder of the comfortable designs of Streamline Moderne. Although viewers cannot actually sit in the chair, the curved wood and angled seat is simply styled in a way that looks purely comfortable, hard to fathom for modern travelers but indicative of the simplicity for which Weber strove.
“Designing the Moderne: Kem Weber’s Bixby House” runs through Feb. 11, at the University Art Museum.