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Modern design
San Francisco writer's new book takes a look at best of design on the West Coast, including in Wine Country

  • Wood, steel and glass pavilions cantilivered on stone foundations are arranged around ancient trees beside a meadow that cascades into a valley at this hilltop Alexander Valley home.

Say “modern” and “design” in the same sentence and your mind is likely to conjure up images of steel and glass boxes filled with minimalist, Danish-modern furnishings and an iconic leather and molded-plywood Eames lounge chair.

But modern design did not remain in the 1950s. It has continued to evolve over the decades, standing on the shoulders of giants like Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler.

And with its sun-blessed climate, casual lifestyle and progressive consciousness, the West has proven particularly fertile ground for architecture that stands on the shoulders of past giants while casting a clear eye into the future.

“Our modernism can look back 100 years. We have Deco, Modern, Streamline Moderne, all of those are laced together in modernism here,” said San Francisco-based design writer Zahid Sardar, who sifts out some of the best western architecture of the last decade in a new, sumptuously illustrated coffee table book, “West Coast Modern: Architecture, Interiors & Design” (Gibbs Smith publishers).

“Essentially the way in which things have moved forward is in our material expression,” he added, offering as an example Cor-Ten, a real signature West Coast high-design steel alloy that weathers to a desirable rust.

Collaborating with photographer Matthew Millman, Sardar leads a visual tour that takes readers from the coast to the city, from the desert to the mountains and finally to California Wine Country, with stops at Geyserville's Oliver Ranch, an art cave in Calistoga, a retreat in St. Helena and a striking family compound set within the rugged landscape above the Alexander Valley.

Sardar was born and raised in Bombay, but after a visit to San Francisco in 1979 he found he couldn't leave.

“I didn't pick San Francisco. It picked me,” said the writer, who came for a three-day visit he then extended to nine days. After hopping a plane home, he turned around and boarded a plane back to San Francisco, where he has spent more than 30 years writing for major design publications, speaking about architecture and design and, for the past four years, teaching design history at the California College of the Arts.

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