Driving through the urban sprawl that is the Inland Empire does not inspire confidence that the historic Mission Inn will be architecturally remarkable - which makes the revelation of the Riverside, California landmark nothing short of jaw-dropping. At the risk of sounding like a douche bag, entering the grounds of the hotel from Mission Inn Avenue is a bit like walking through a cheap ugly wardrobe into Narnia (if the Narnia sentence stays in the final version of this story please know my Ambien is not working). Oil paintings of the presidents who've stayed there line the lobby. And a stunning chapel boasts radiant floor to ceiling Tiffany stained glass windows. The complex, rambling edifice takes you from Spain to China in one city block. All without a body scan.
Chain stores... chain gang, chain smoking, chain of fools, ball and chain. The associations are almost without exception unflattering. But they have beaten us into submission with their big fist of convenience. I lose entire days in Michael's or The Home Depot for only the most obvious supplies - never any real surprises or variety (and often not even what I came in for). The sheer number of stores and longer hours of operation (granted, career savers at times) draw me like a moth... Always conflicted patronizing the chains, I feel a huge sense of relief walking (literally, I can walk there) into my local mom and pop owned hardware store - or it's sister art supply store directly across the street. I inevitably find what I came in for and several very cool things I didn't. Here are a few of my recent finds that make the chains look like amateurs.
The clip-on work lamps below (practically free) are a perfect example of classic utilitarianism. Their design has been virtually unchanged for 60 years. My local hardware store has them with 2 different shade sizes (The Home Depot doesn't carry them). By building a wall mount from a scrap of oak and a length of eucalyptus branch I created simple adjustable bedside lighting. And the total cost for two was less than shipping for one from a chain store.
You can't swing a dead cat in my Los Angeles neighborhood without hitting a decent place to have coffee (or in my case a triple shot nonfat medium latte). But my incentive for walk/jogging 4 miles most mornings is my caffeine fix and an (overpriced) candied apricot at Casbah Cafe, Sunset Junction in Silver Lake. An authentic environment is important to me even at 6am. Casbah has a layered aesthetic that makes it feel like it existed well before me and would exist with or without me. At the opposite end of the block is a much trendier joint with, some would contend, better coffee. A place that seems to exist solely for me (for my pseudo hipster 40-something market potential). It is a time capsule of now. I prefer to see the flaws - and intentional deconstructed industrial flaws don't count. I need to see and feel and smell the texture and patina - the history of a place.