F5: Architect Melanie Turner Shares Her Favorite Way to Travel + More

In third grade, an architect visited Melanie Turner’s school and asked the students to draw a plan of their homes. That moment, coupled with art classes since she was six and drafting classes in high school, jump started her interest in design. Melanie spent her childhood in upstate New York, Tokyo and the Bronx, exposed to the differences in the human condition. These experiences formed her belief that the opportunity for good design occurs in the places where people meet the built environment. Currently Melanie works at Perkins&Will in San Francisco. 

In her spare time, Melanie enjoys visiting art galleries, perfecting her billiards skills and is always in search of the meal that can give her the biggest “food hug.” Her family includes her husband, Rich, and her young son, Arlo.

Today Melanie is joining us for Friday Five!

Public restroom outside of Osaka Castle Park by Endo Shuhei. Love that even this kind of structure is treated as a design opportunity. Here’s a blog post on Spoon & Tamago listing some others.

1. Japanese Architecture
My first awareness of a building was my grandparents’ home in Japan.  I don’t quite remember the layout, but I remember sliding the shoji screens open and feeling like I was floating between the floor and ceiling – a part of the surrounding rice paddy fields and country roads. I remember the closets that were perfectly sized for the futons to be put away every morning (and for a four year-old to hide away for a nap.) With more grown up eyes, I see the way rainwater is directed down from the temple roofs, to rain chains and to narrow stone moats that wrap around the structure, and how the wood columns are held up off the ground and away from moisture by carved stone plinths. Rainy season in Japan is no joke, and the architecture reflects the importance this season holds, both in terms of culture and building science. I love the sense of adventure contemporary Japanese architects have for all types of buildings. I could go on forever, but suffice it to say that it all inspires me daily in my work.

2. My Blue Mug
My current obsession is a blue mug that was gifted to us by a local ceramicist, Etsuko Bram, who made a set of ramen bowls my mother commissioned as Christmas presents several years ago. The shape is perfect – slightly wider at the bottom so it feels stable when you set it down, rounded where my lips touch, a large enough handle so the backs of your fingers don’t touch the hot cup and a comfy grip that feels substantial in your hand. The glaze is a perfect shade of blue – like worn jeans or shibori dyed indigo – over a dark clay base. As I write this, I realize that I might be slightly irrational in my liking of this mug, but oh well, it gives me joy.

Pieces by Ben Eine, David Choe, Dave Kinsey, Usugrow, Steve Powers, collaboration between Rich Fonseca (my husband) and Arlo (my son)

3. Art by Close Friends + Complete Strangers
I will always be awed and inspired by the courage it takes for artists to create and then show their work. It is such an act of bravery to reveal yourself and then share it with complete strangers and ask them to view it through their own lens. My husband is a painter and many of our friends are artists and/or gallerists. Our limited wall space is filled with works by friends and strangers (and now, our four-year-old) and it reminds me every day that we are all trying to describe our human experience and to share that connection with others, in whatever way we can.

Seven Magic Mountains by Ugo Rondinone, I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Sponsored by the Nevada Museum of Art.

4. Road Trips
I love travel in any form (confession: I even like airplane food!), but we just returned from a trip to the desert and I was reminded of how much I specifically enjoy road trips. There is a feeling of freedom and spontaneity when you don’t have planes or trains to catch, and such an exciting sense of potential when you can turn off onto any side street or roadside attraction that catches your eye. Our most recent trip took us through LA, Vegas, the Mojave National Preserve and Barstow. We swam in Lake Mead when it was 106 degrees out, saw the Milky Way and watched the sunrise in the desert. And it was all magical. Along with my four year-old, this trip reminded me to enjoy living in the moment which, quite honestly, is something I needed to be reminded of.

5. Hardware Stores in Other Countries
Whenever I travel, I love to visit local hardware stores. Not only are they the perfect place to pick up inexpensive gifts, but they also offer a window into how the people of that place live – what they use in their kitchens and baths, the seasonal things only available for a short amount of time, etc. – the design of utility is beautiful and rarely available outside of that locale. We always try to bring a little piece of our travels back with us and build it into our lives at home. Something to use or do every day that brings us back to a different place.

The fire bucket is something that we noticed in front of every house in my mom’s town. Because of the tradition of wood construction and wood and paper finish materials (and a history of fires), these buckets are everywhere and are intended for anyone to be able to put out a spark if they notice it. They were so ubiquitous that when asked, most people were a) shocked that we were asking and b) had no idea where they came from. We brought one home, of course.

These kids’ chairs were something I saw hanging in a window our first day in Brazil, and on our last day I couldn’t leave them behind. It turns out they were made by a local woman back in the 50’s-60’s. We brought home five. Yes, that’s right, five.

Work by Melanie Turner:

Mill Valley Residence \ Photo: Joe Fletcher

Pfau-Starr Residence \ Photo: Bruce Damonte