23 August 2012

Anatomy of a Well-Dressed Desk, Part 1: The Desk Blotter

A well-appointed desk can make working and corresponding a pleasure.  Today, I'm beginning a series detailing some of the elements that can make your desk, no matter how grand or small, both functional and beautiful.

The Desk Blotter

An open design desk blotter from our bindery, Parvum Opus

When dip pens and fountain pens were the writing tool of choice, the desk blotter was a ubiquitous and important tool. Written references to ink blotting paper in the United States date back to the early 18th century, but it wasn't until the 1850s, when Joseph Parker and Son began manufacturing blotting paper, that it came into widespread use. 
From the Collections of the Whitney Library, New Haven, CT
Nineteenth century antique and vintage desk blotters, especially those made in the 1930s and 1940s, are coveted by collectors. With the invention of the more efficient but less elegant ballpoint pen in the 1950s, the use of desk blotters began to wane. The popularization of the modernist aesthetic and glamorous streamlining also must surely have played a part in the turning away from traditional (backwards-looking)  handcrafted (old fashioned) household goods.
An early 20th century desk set by Tiffany & Co.
A fine desk blotter provides a functional and aesthetic for your desktop composition, as well as a comfortable, functional writing surface. First and foremost, it protects your desk from ink and marks that can push into its surface from pressing your pen too hard, no matter what type of pen you favor. It also provides a smooth and comfortable writing surface, preventing any texture or color from your desk top from marring the back of your writing paper. There are several desk blotter styles available through our bindery and others, and I've included some images here. Leather blotters are still being expertly produced today by both Hermes and Smythson, and with a bit of searching, one can find handsome antique examples through Christie's and other online auction sites. 
The two most common desk blotter designs are the open blotter and the double hinged closed blotter. The open design features a broad blotting paper surface finished with decorative corner pieces or vertical panels at the right and left edges. Double hinged desk blotters tend to be smaller in size, but allow for a tidy presentation when not in use. They also serve as a mini-desk when space or circumstances don't allow for a dedicated desk top. The double hinged blotters from Parvum Opus have convenient pockets for stashing stamps and stationery, a feature I haven't seen in other blotters. Our 6" x 9" Petite Desk Blotter is an unusually small piece, but functions beautifully in small apartments, dorm rooms or on any small table, allowing for elegant correspondence even in the smallest spaces. 

Top: a closed double hinged desk blotter from Parvum Opus
Bottom:  a petite 6" x 9" desk blotter from Parvum Opus

Working and corresponding at a desk equipped with a handsome desk blotter is a pleasure, full of the warmth and humanity of the generations of letter writers who came before us. It provides a beautiful framework for the act of writing, a stage for putting our thoughts down on paper, and, most importantly, makes us more awake to small but wonderful everyday activities. 

For more information on our work, we invite you to email us at: info@parvumopus.com or visit our bindery's website, www.parvumopus.com

10 August 2012

Chiyogami Paper

A notepad folio from our bindery, covered in Japanese Chiyogami paper
At our bindery, we use some of the finest papers made in the world today.  One of these beautiful materials is known as Chiyogami, a hand silk-screened paper made in Japan. The word Chiyogami is a combination of two words: chiyo, or, thousand generations, and gami, paper.  Amazingly, this paper has been made in Japan for hundreds of years, first appearing in the Edo period, from 1603-1868, when Japan was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family.  It was an era deeply invested in environmental protection and the creation and popular enjoyment of arts and culture. Today, these papers are still made with the highest regard fro craftsmanship by a collection of small, family-run studios in Japan. They are expensive to use, but when one considers the quality of design and fabrication, and the importance of sustaining this historic, centuries-old tradition, they're worth every penny.
Japanese Waves Chiyogami

The many thousands of beautiful patterns of chiyogami paper were inspired by traditional kimono patterns which incorporate naturalistic and geometric forms representing beauty, long life and good fortune. The fabrication process has evolved through the generations, but is still a laborious process relying on the expertise of highly skilled craftspeople.  Originally printed by woodblock, these papers are now hand silk-screened using a mixture of sulphite and kozo. For each color and pattern layer in the complex chiyogami patterns, a new screen must be hand-registered, printed and dried. 

Blue Mum Chiyogami

Mint Japanese Chiyogami

It is a paper of incredible quality and durability, making it perfect for use in bookbinding and other paper goods. Perhaps with a renewed interest in beautifully made materials and in handmade goods in general, we can resuscitate some of the Edo period principles for our own time. A deep investment in environmental protection and the popular enjoyment of the fine and decorative arts seems more critical than ever.
A Traveller's Picture Frame by Parvum Opus, with Mint Japanese Chiyogami and red Italian book cloth

If you'd like to see more examples of our desk accessories using Chiyogami paper, we invite you to visit:  http://www.parvumopus.com or email us at info@parvumopus.com.

To see a wide selection of Chiyogami paper designs, I cheerfully recommend Paper Mojo, a fantastic online supplier of fine decorative papers: 

08 August 2012

Inspirational Desks

George Bernard Shaw's Desk
Jane Austen's Writing Table

Vita Sackville-West's desk at Sissinghurst
Today, for your viewing and contemplating pleasure, I present the beautiful and inspiring desks of 3 famous writers, and one unknown one.  Like many of you, (judging by the incredibly high occurence of these images on Google...!) I find these images to be dense with warmth and humanity. What is it about these arrangements of desks and objects that resonates for us when most of our communications take place electronically?

I find that these special spaces have even more meaning now, perhaps because of their scarcity, perhaps because they represent a more physical connection between people than is the norm in contemporary life. Although less common, the act of sitting at a beautiful desk (or at a tiny table as in the case of Jane Austen!) to thoughtfully compose a note to a dear friend or loved one is still a deeply fulfilling one. The simple act of putting pen to paper seems so much more poingnant now, and I'm convinced that my poor handwriting adds a certain sincere tone impossible to attain with emoticons in a text or email. 

My 19thC French Writing desk

Above is a view of one of my desks (I am of the opinion that there should be a desk in every room!).  I collect antique desk accessories, and in this photo, some of my prized and well used possessions are visible:  an early 19th century English writing box, a 19th Century Sterling and crystal inkwell, an early 19th century ivory and silver magnifier, and my writing companion, an antique ivory netsuke.  At the center is a petite desk blotter made by our bindery, which suits this small space perfectly,with pockets to hold my stamps and notes, and which folds closed when not in use. To the left of the blotter, a small arrangement of flowers is barely visible, which is, like my desk accessories, a critical aesthetic ingredient to thoughtful writing. Even if the only flowers available are weeds from the garden, I find having a small posy at my desk to be a pleasing experience, and selecting and arranging the flowers every few days hints at the fruitful correspondence to come.   

If you have photos of you own writing desk to share, please email them to info@parvumopus.com and I'll include them here.

If you'd like more information on custom desk accessories by our bindery, Parvum Opus, we invite you to email us at info@parvumopus.com or visit our main website: www.parvumopus.com 

The Ruffnerian's Desk
Parvum Opus thanks Mark D. Ruffner for sharing this photo of his exquisite roll top desk-- inspirational, indeed!  I'd also like to enthusiastically recommend his blog, All Things Ruffnerian, A Design Blog and More.  The "more" is an understatement-- I'm behind on my work because I've been so happily distracted by reading posts on topics as varied as antique ephemera, Napoleon, Eames, Il Papiro... the list goes on and on. Below I've included a link to a wonderful post on a painting by Mr. Ruffner's father.... enjoy, and prepare yourselves for the inevitable but thoroughly worthwhile distraction!


06 August 2012

On William Morris

William Morris famously said: "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."  Morris, the English artist and writer, is widely considered to be the father of the Arts and Crafts movement, which began in England in the second half of the nineteenth century. Reacting against the shoddy machine-made goods produced in the industrial revolution, proponents of this influential movement championed the quality of design and craftsmanship that comes with hand crafted goods. We believe very strongly in Morris' sentiment-- it seems that although we apparently have more choice than ever in the types of objects available to us, (more often than not, these "choices" are defined by what's easiest and cheapest to manufacture...) we find our homes cluttered with homogenous, disposable, mass produced things.

We seldom have connections with the people who produce the things we use every day, and, as a result, we disregard many of the things that we live with most closely and use most often. Cicero reminds us, "Things grow familiar to men's minds by being so often seen; so that they neither admire nor are inquisitive into the things they daily see." Perhaps if they were made by artisans and were carefully constructed of fine
materials, we'd not only enjoy the experience of using them more, but we'd be more awake to the aesthetic experiences that can come along with beautiful, useful objects.

It seems to us, that where there is a direct, meaningful connection between the public and artists/craftspeople, there is also an opportunity for a richer, more colorful everyday experience for both the artists like us who enjoy making useful things, and the person who uses those things. Perhaps William Morris and the arts & crafts proponents more than a century ago had the right idea. Today, however ironically, technology makes it not only possible but simple for the public to connect with artists and craftspeople. We hope that when you have the opportunity, you'll consider bringing handmade things into your home.

For more information on our work at Parvum Opus, we invite you to email us at: info@parvumopus.com or visit our bindery's website, www.parvumopus.com

In est sua gratia parvis: even little things have a charm of their own

The Elements of Style, Illustrated by Maira Kalman.
Image courtesy NPR.org

On the Definition of Parvum Opus

For our studio, we chose this Latin term describing a tiny or diminutive work of art, the opposite of the magnum opus if you will, or great work of art. You may recognize the term from the introduction that E.B. White wrote for the 1979 edition of "The Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. As White wrote, this book "was Will Strunk's parvum opus, his attempt to cut the vast triangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin." 

My favorite edition of this jewel of a book is the one illustrated by Maira Kalman.

For an NPR interview with Kalman, click on the kink below and enjoy!

For more information on our Parvum Opus, we invite you to email us at: info@parvumopus.com or visit the bindery's website, www.parvumopus.com

Welcome to the Parvum Opus Blog!

A sampling of our custom desk accessories

Welcome to the Parvum Opus Blog!  Here, we will post what we hope you'll agree is useful and interesting information on the decorative arts, desk and writing accessories, and more.
First, a brief introduction to our bindery:

Parvum Opus™ is a boutique bindery offering fine desk accessories made to order in the United States. We are proud to provide our clientele unique access to desk accessories professionally designed and fabricated according to the most exacting standards. Our desk accessories are made one piece at a time, using centuries-old bookbinding techniques, and come directly from the artists' hands to you. The elegant, modern design and fine materials allow our desk accessories to sit companionably with your finest antiques and objets d'art and make us a favorite among aesthetes and collectors. We craft all of our desk accessories using the finest book cloth, hand silk-screened Japanese Chiyogami papers, and fine Italian Florentine papers.

Parvum Opus is also pleased to offer book collectors and enthusiasts a handsome selection of ex libris, bookmarks and paper-wrapped American cedar pencils. All are carefully crafted in our Michigan bindery and are designed to coordinate with our desk accessories.

We cheerfully welcome your requests for bespoke desk accessories as well as any other
questions, comments or suggestions you might have. Please email us at info@parvumopus.com and we will promptly reply.

For more information on our work, we invite you to visit our bindery's website and online shop, www.parvumopus.com