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The Art of Forest Bathing

The Art of Forest Bathing

Getting out into the great outdoors does our brains and bodies a lot of good. The sights, smells, and sounds that accompany a trek through the woods have the ability to ease stress, clear the mind, and release feel-good endorphins. That much we know. But what is it about time spent amidst the trees that soothes the soul?

The Japanese have a term for it: shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. The term essentially means to take in the forest atmosphere through your senses. It arose in the 1980s as an answer to the tech burnout culture that was just beginning thanks to the advent of the personal computer. By the ‘90s, Japanese researchers were conducting studies into the science behind this form of ecotherapy.

Their findings elucidated a lot of the hunches we already had about the power of plants to heal, and included these three main health benefits:

1.  Bathing boosts our immune system.

Beyond providing a soothing smell, coniferous trees like cedars, spruces, and firs release phytoncides, airborne oils that, when breathed in, increase activity of virus-fighting white blood cells.

2.  Tree time reduces stress.

The power of plants runs so deep that even looking at a photo of trees has some mind-mellowing effects. But actually getting out there in the green can help lower stress-inducing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline even more.

3.  Immerse in the forest to focus up.

Giving our eyes a break from our screens and instead taking a gander at some good old fashioned flora can help give the cognitive portion of our brains a much-needed breather and cut down on attention fatigue.

Moral of the story: the practice of forest bathing is an important, potent salve. That said, some of its benefits can still be achieved within the confines of your apartment (we’re looking at you, house plants).

Our latest Forest Bath Salts allow you to soak in the forest from your tub, for moments when the mountains are calling, but you actually can’t go.

What Are Adaptogens and Nootropics?

What Are Adaptogens and Nootropics?

The words adaptogen and nootropic are thrown around quite a bit in the health and wellness space these days. But what are these superplants, exactly, and why do we use them in our spirits? Let’s discuss.

To put it simply, an adaptogen is a plant that helps the body adapt to and cope with stress. Adaptogens work to regulate the body’s cortisol levels, keeping not just stress but also fatigue and restlessness at bay.

Nootropics, meanwhile, are thought to enhance cognitive function. These mighty mushrooms and energizing roots improve memory, creativity, and concentration, keeping you feeling focused and motivated.

Harnessing the power of plants isn’t anything new, though – adaptogenic and nootropic botanicals like holy basil and ginseng have been used for centuries in both Ayurvedic and Chinese healing traditions to boost immunity, reduce inflammation, and alleviate feelings of anxiety.

In AMASS Dry Gin, we use our own blend of adaptogenic and nootropic botanicals to lend a complex boreal flavor profile to the spirit. These ingredients also tell a larger story of contemporary Los Angeles, a multicultural city that regularly leads the conversation in all things wellness, with quintessential new-agey brands like Sun Potion and Moon Juice popularizing the use of adaptogenic and nootropic herbs. The therapeutic effects of these ingredients are diminished when distilled, so if you’re looking for a strong mood-mellower, turn to your favorite tea or tincture.

Meet our Powerful Plants:

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a plant in the Solanaceae family native to the drier areas of India. The species name somnifera means sleep-inducing in Latin, referring to the calming properties of the plant. The bitter botanical can help the body cope with stress while improving memory, and is purported to possess aphrodisiac qualities. It has long been used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine as a Rasayana, an herbal remedy intended to promote longevity.

When distilled, the botanical offers a sharp herbal taste that acts as pleasant foil for brighter California citrus and earthy mushrooms.

Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is a member of the Ganodermataceae family that grows in the tropical and temperate regions of Asia, as well as in the northern Eastern Hemlock forests of North America. Known as “lingzhi” in Chinese, the Reishi mushroom is also called the “mushroom of immortality,” “divine mushroom,” and “magic fungus” because of its therapeutic properties and distinct tonifying effects.

In AMASS Dry Gin, Reishi lends umami notes and earthy undertones to ground light and bright lemon, grapefruit, and lime leaf.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is a type of fungus in the Hericaceae family native to North America, Europe, and Asia. Long lauded as a cure-all in Chinese medicine, the botanical possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is purported to stimulate and enhance nerve cells. Like ashwagandha and Reishi mushroom, lion’s mane is classified as both a nootropic and adaptogen.

For us, flavor always comes first though, which is why we love lion’s mane in our gin. While an uncommon feature in the spirit, lion’s mane couples up with Reishi mushroom to give AMASS Dry Gin its distinctive kick of umami.

How to Taste Spirits

How to Taste Spirits

The way we talk about spirits can sometimes feel a little intimidating. What does dry summer taste like? What about gin with an herbaceous quality on the middle of the palate? Are we speaking a different language? What does it all even mean?

If you’ve ever wondered how we’re coming up with this stuff, don’t sweat it – you’re not alone. But while the lexicon surrounding booze can seem inaccessible, it really just comes down to two basic senses: smell and taste.

Straight up or on the rocks, here’s how to talk about drinks.


When we talk about the nose of a spirit, we’re not being facetious – we’re straight up talking about how it smells. And while there are some best practices to abide by when sniffing your spirits, for the most part it really is as simple as taking a whiff. Here are a few tried and true steps to good first impressions:

First, choose your vessel. Using a curved, tulip-shaped glass helps funnel the delicate aromas to your nose. Have a wine glass on hand? That will do just fine.

Then, pour a small tipple and smell slowly. While wine tastings start with taking a deep sniff of the glass, spirits require a little more finesse and care. Because our gin and vodka are high proof (90 and 80 proof, respectively), you’re better off slowly raising the glass to your nose and smelling gently so as not to anesthetize your nostrils. Open your mouth slightly while you smell to allow more surface area for the alcohol itself to dissipate. Then, take note of what aromas you notice first, whether that’s citrus, herbs, or a bright punch of sumac. Jot it all down in a notebook, and take some time returning to your glass before your first sip.

If you feel like your nose needs a refresh, take a whiff of some coffee grounds before keeping on and carrying on.


Here’s where we get to the heart of the matter: how does the spirit taste? From the second the liquid hits your tongue, you’ve embarked on a gustatory journey. We like to start by tasting the liquid neat at room temp, and then diluting with water or ice as necessary. Keep water at the ready, but avoid drinking or eating anything else in the hour leading up to your tasting so your palate is as clean as can be.

Once you’re sipping, it’s really all about slowing down and paying attention. Start out small, taking a baby sip to warm up your palate before properly tasting. Then, breathe in a little through your mouth while you’re tasting, just as you would with wine. Take note of the botanicals that jump out at you first. These are what you taste on the front of your palate. If you smelled a bright squeeze of citrus, see if lemon or grapefruit come through when you taste. Then, as the spirit makes its way across your tastebuds, ask yourself what new flavors begin to reveal themselves. Is there an unexpected hit of spicy cardamom? Bitter, grassy notes on your rear palate? Write it all down, and remember there are no right or wrong answers here. Taste is personal, and our Proustian memories shape our perceptions. Let yourself be surprised.


The finish of a spirit is essentially a grown-up way of saying “aftertaste.” Here, we talk about the flavors that stay and linger, the complex notes that only come out once your glass is empty. Maybe it's mushrooms, or long pepper, or the cereal sweetness of wheat and chamomile. Whatever it is, savor it before going in for your next sip. And if you’re switching spirits? Drink some water and take 25.

Meet Nicholas Culpeper, The Bad Boy of Botany

Meet Nicholas Culpeper, The Bad Boy of Botany

We spend a lot of time thinking about plants. And while our list of go-to sources on the subject runs long, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal – a botanical index dating back to 1643 – remains our most frequently-visited resource. Despite being published nearly 400 years ago, the encyclopedic guide to botanicals is a treasure trove of trusted herbal wisdom.

The names of the entries alone, from Bastard Rhubarb to Field Mouse Ear Scorpion Grass, should be enough to pique your interest, but on the off chance they’re not, we decided to do a little digging into the man behind the plants: the bad boy of botany himself, Nicholas Culpeper.

Born in 1616, Nicholas Culpeper was an English botanist and astrologer who paired plants with planetary influences to treat his patients. As a child, he loved his grandfather’s collection of clocks, which spurred a deep interest in astrology and time. Through his youth and young adulthood, he obsessively read medical texts from his grandfather’s library and spent hours in the fields and forests of the English countryside cataloguing countless herbs with the intent of garnering enough knowledge to publish his findings.

Culpeper worked as an apprentice for an apothecary for seven years before getting married in 1640 to Alice Field, the heiress of an affluent grain merchant. Their courtship allowed Culpeper to establish his own pharmacy in Spitalfields, London at a time when medical facilities were sparse and faltering.

An unabashed skeptic, Culpeper constantly questioned traditional medicine, calling for a return to pharmaceuticals’ herbal origins. He vehemently shunned the medical practices of the time, once saying,

"This not being pleasing, and less profitable to me, I consulted with my two brothers, Dr. Reason and Dr. Experience, and took a voyage to visit my mother Nature, by whose advice, together with the help of Dr. Diligence, I at last obtained my desire; and, being warned by Mr. Honesty, a stranger in our days, to publish it to the world, I have done it."

He argued that “no man deserved to starve to pay an insulting, insolent physician,” and so Culpeper offered his medical services gratis.

Unlike other contemporary physicians who resisted visiting patients in person, instead relying on urine samples to diagnose and treat illness, Culpeper saw as many as 40 patients in a single morning. To him, “as much piss as the Thames might hold” was not enough to effectively identify symptoms and treat his patients with the attention and care required.

Culpeper’s herbal remedies included many botanicals, including anemone to treat leprosy, bedstraw to act as an aphrodisiac, and burdock to soothe tooth pain. Other, less esoteric ingredients were used as well – chamomile, juniper, parsley being just a few among hundreds of other botanicals.

While time has taught us that some of Culpeper’s methods – like, say, prescribing walnuts to treat neurological ailments simply because they look like miniature brains – may not be the most effective, we still believe fully in the power of plants to transform the humdum rituals of modern life. We think that’s something Culpeper could get behind, too.

How I Get Undone: Morgan McLachlan

How I Get Undone: Morgan McLachlan

We are constantly bombarded with productivity hacks – tips and tricks on how to cross everything off our to-do lists while also being a person/partner/colleague/parent. Here at AMASS, though, we are far more interested in how people get undone. We want to know the nightly rituals that happen after 5PM, from the cocktails drunk to the books read. To us, it’s those small moments behind the scenes that really count, because in them lies a glimpse into who we want to be.

This time around, we chatted with AMASS Co-Founder and Master Distiller Morgan McLachlan about the ways she copes with her busy work schedule while balancing motherhood (and how she carves out time for nature in between).

Between being a new mom and building a botanics brand, you’re busier than ever. How are you coping with your packed schedule?

I think I’m doing very well, considering the circumstances. I’m definitely experiencing a special type of exhaustion, but I haven’t had a typical COVID experience in that I’ve been busier than ever before. Some things get sacrificed, mostly personal time, but it’s okay. As my grandfather says, if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person.

What are the rituals you practice to take care of yourself?

Between being a new mom and working full time, I don’t exactly have a lot of bandwidth for some of the old ways that I used to care for myself, and I do work in the evenings after my baby goes to sleep. By great providence, however, a lot of my favorite simple self-care rituals could be categorized as work, and vice versa. I’m fortunate that the product categories we are working in are conducive to “getting undone.” Anytime I develop a product, I try to experience a good expanse of products that are in the market in that particular category, as well as road-testing products and concoctions that I have in development. To me, experiencing and analyzing both personal care products, and also food and beverage, is an act of mindfulness. What do I like about this product? What don’t I like about this product? What feeling or memory does this fragrance evoke? Understanding the more impalpable qualities of sensory attributes is a decided act of mindfulness. Lately, in the name of product development duties, I’ve been taking a lot of baths! I feel like my natural habitat is a hot tub. And to kill two birds with one stone, I’ve been “testing” beverage products, while I’m in the bath. That is sort of my peak relaxation experience, or at least it has been in the last year. 

These days, I’m typically doing more focused research. I’ll be reading books that are tangentially related to what we’re working on. Recently, I read a beautiful autobiography by Jean-Claude Ellena, the famed perfumer at Hermès. There’s another really great book called The Way We Lived, which is a first person aural account from the indigenous people of California about what life was like, from pre-colonization through colonization to now. That’s been a really interesting book for me, since I have an interest in indigenous plants. Generally speaking, I do a lot of my tangential research, which I really adore, in the evenings when I can sit down and focus and I’m not distracted by Slack or the baby or meetings. 

Before I fall asleep, I do a little meditation that’s a combination of different styles of meditation that I developed for myself. I’ve been doing it for about 20 years now. It’s a personal thing, but it centers and grounds me. I usually fall asleep during it because I’m so exhausted [laughs]. I’m also a big fan of adaptogens, so I sometimes use a combination of light relaxing herbs to go to sleep: lately it has been a combination of passion flower, l-theanine derived from green tea, and ashwagandha. It’s not exciting, but it’s what my evenings look like. It’s all just in a condensed amount of time, because I have a yelling, screaming baby. 

How are you finding connection in the midst of this period of isolation?

Because I’m both working and taking care of [my son] Arthur, I have less than an hour to myself every day. I find that lately I have only had time to connect to my immediate family. In the evenings, my partner comes home, and I love watching him and Arthur play together. It’s sort of our only time together as a family, so that’s really nice. I love bedtime with Arthur – playing with him in the evening is really special. It’s crazy having a kid, but they teach you how to be present. 

To be honest, thank goodness for FaceTime. I’ll try to FaceTime with my family as much as possible, but I will say with my limited bandwidth I’ve been a bad friend. There’s a lot of friends that I just haven’t been able to have the usual connection with, because I’ve been so busy with work and the baby. My hope is that soon I will have a little more time to connect with my friends, which obviously I used to do a lot more in the evenings. But it’s kind of been like triage. I FaceTime my grandparents, and obviously I FaceTime Arthur’s grandparents because they’re crazy about him. I text a bit with friends. But I can’t be hard on myself – I’m doing my best with everything. 

What restorative role does nature play in your life?

Nature is the most important thing to me, and it’s where I feel most at peace and comfortable. The great thing about LA is you can get out into nature and immerse yourself in all sorts of different microclimates (depending on which direction you go) pretty easily.  We haven’t been able to do that too much lately, but I’m lucky in that I live in this area within the city that has its own really incredible little microclimate. The property I live on has tons of trees, and I can at least get outside and hang out in the trees and look at the stars every night. 

It’s Sunday night and you’re vegging on the couch–what are you drinking? Reading?

It’s funny, in normal circumstances I would probably have a martini or a glass of Gamay, but my alcohol tolerance is still very low from not drinking during my pregnancy, so I might just have a glass of something in the beverage category that I am working on. Lately that is hard seltzer, since I am currently working on hard seltzer formulas. I really love aperitivos, so I might have a spritz or something like that in the summer months. 

My mother was a nonfiction and a literary editor, so whether it is by nature or nurture, I’m a voracious reader, but I just haven’t had the time to read much fiction lately, which I mourn. I actually think reading fiction is more important to developing intelligence and neural pathways than reading anything else, or even studying anything. I really think reading fiction is the best thing you can do for your heart and for your brain.

Want to learn more about Morgan? Read her full feature here.

3 Witchy Women You Should Know

3 Witchy Women You Should Know

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: we at AMASS are, um, a little obsessed with the occult. Chalk it up to our Co-Founder and Master Distiller being a practicing witch, a preoccupation with all things herbal, or the fact that we’re a stone's throw away from some serious energy vortexes here in LA, but witchy wonders take up quite a bit of our headspace.

That’s why, in anticipation of this year’s upcoming Winter Solstice, we’re recounting the witchy women we know, love, and think you should too.

Marjerie Cameron

Where do we even start with Marjerie Cameron? A poet, actress, and dedicated occultist, Cameron was known for her sex magic rituals (more on that in a minute) and for being a lifelong follower of Thelema, the spiritual philosophy founded by part mystic, part magician Aleister Crowley.

She met her would-be husband, rocket scientist and fellow Thelemite Jack Parsons, in 1946. Unbeknownst to Cameron, before their meeting Parsons had intended to attract an elemental woman to be his lover. Then Cameron showed up, all red-haired and blue-eyed, and Parsons considered the deed done. The two spent the next two weeks enraptured in between the sheets. To Cameron, those two weeks were a passionate love affair, but to Parsons, they were a rite intended to invoke the birth of the Thelemite goddess into human form.

A few years later in 1952, Parsons died in a mysterious explosion, and Cameron descended deep into delirium, becoming increasingly paranoid that Parsons had been murdered by anti-Zionists. Through astral projection, she made efforts to commune with his spirit, and headed east to a ranch in Beaumont, CA. There she amassed a group of magical practitioners she called “The Children,” and oversaw sex magic rituals with the intent of creating a breed of mixed-race "moonchildren" who would be devoted to the Egyptian deity Horus.

From there, Cameron’s whereabouts get a little fuzzy, flitting from the bohemian circles of Beat-era San Francisco to a ranch just outside of Joshua Tree. Finally, she landed in a small bungalow in the then-impoverished streets of West Hollywood, which were lined with sex stores and adult movie theatres. She’d remain there for the rest of her life.

Leila Waddell

That brings us to Leila Waddell, Aleister Crowley’s most powerful muse and a talented violinist, who became a member of the gypsy band in A Waltz Dream in 1902 at Daly’s London Theatre. There she met Aleister, and the two studied the occult together while taking a lot of mescaline. Aleister had several cute pet names for Waddell, including “Divine Whore,” “Mother of Heaven,” and “Scarlet Woman,” and he wrote ample poetry about her, as well as two short stories entitled “The Vixen" and "The Violinist.”

Like most muses, Waddell also played a key role in shaping Crowley’s thoughts and philosophical musings. She earned a writer’s credit on Crowley’s Magick (Book 4), as she and several of Crowley’s other students helped shape the text by eliciting commentary and asking key questions. Among other members of his magical order, Crowley cast Waddell as the star of his planetary-based magical rites, the Rites of Eleusis.

Their relationship dissolved after a series of affairs, however, and Waddell returned to her orchestral roots in Sydney, playing and teaching the violin until her death at the age of 52.

Zeena Schreck

Last but not least, there is Zeena Schreck, daughter of the Church of Satan’s founder Antony LaVey and a spiritual leader in her own right. Like Leila Waddell, Schreck is also a musician, as well as a visual artist, photographer, and writer. Stylistically, she has been inspired by artists whose work is heavily imbued with a sense of mysticism and magic, and the idea that lineage is a vehicle to pass down metaphysical energy guides her ritual art.

In the ‘80s, Schreck served as the high priestess of the Church of Satan and remained its primary spokesperson until 1990, when she left the church to become a devotee of the ancient Egyptian deity Set and form the Sethian Liberation Movement. Unsurprisingly, during her time as the head of the Church of Satan, she had to take the heat for some serious publicity blunders. It wasn’t exactly the lifestyle she had in mind, and in a 2011 interview she said as much, “This was not what I'd intended to do with my life, I had other plans.”

Upon leaving the church, Schreck’s family lodged a full-scale smear campaign against her, and she decided to sever ties entirely, legally changing her last name from LaVey to Shreck. To this day, she won’t respond to any correspondence addressing her as “Zeena LaVey.”

These days, Schreck keeps mostly to herself and out of the news, save for the occasional conspiracy theory.

Feeling inspired to channel your inner witch? Read up on the occultish ways we like to celebrate the Winter Solstice, and then practice your own at-home rituals with our Mateo Candle, perfect for illuminating the darkest night of the year.

How to Repurpose Your AMASS Bottles

How to Repurpose Your AMASS Bottles

Sustainability was our top priority when designing our spirits bottles. We sought to build beautiful vessels that honored the natural botanicals inside of them, being both of the earth and for the earth. Our bespoke glass bottles were coated with organic inks by a decorator in Arques, France in order to improve their recyclability, so you can dispose of the packaging thoughtfully.

While our bottles are 100% recyclable, they’re also designed to be upcycled. The matte black and grey finishes and quality materials lend themselves to decorating the corners of your home, from the kitchen to the bedroom. Just remove the label with some good old fashioned soap and hot water, or leave it au natural with the label intact if that’s more your style.

Olive Oil Bottle — Our opaque vessels are perfect for housing grocery store olive oils and vinegars, as the UV-protected glass keeps out harsh rays that can break down oil over time. Plus, they’re sleek enough to keep on your kitchen countertops.

Bud Vase — Beautiful buds are the natural foil to our clean, minimal packaging. We love the look of lavender in our grey vodka bottles for a serene color story, while earthier blooms like eucalyptus contrast nicely against the cool black finish of our gin.

Candle Holder — Perch classic white candlesticks in the mouth of our bottles for an instantly dramatic tablescape. As the candle burns, hot wax will drip onto the bottle, giving a moody feel that makes for a spooky yet sophisticated centerpiece

How do you reuse your AMASS bottles? Tag us @amass.botanics so we can share your AMASSterpieces.

Is This the End of the Golden Age of Dining?

Is This the End of the Golden Age of Dining?

“Heraclitus once wrote that it is impossible to step in the same river twice. In Los Angeles, it can be nearly impossible to eat in the same restaurant twice. This is, I believe, what the economists call creative destruction. And it is not impossible here to experience extremes — restaurants that are born and die in a single evening; restaurants in suburbs so distant that they may as well be theoretical; restaurants so hard to get into that they may not actually exist outside of blogs."

"Los Angeles is where the modern restaurant was born, the good, the bad and the ugly of it, and we’re too far gone to stop now.”

- Jonathan Gold

Recently I watched City of Gold, the 2015 documentary detailing legendary food critic Jonathan Gold’s culinary contributions to Los Angeles. Directed by Laura Gobbert, the doc follows Gold as he traverses the freewheeling freeways of LA, zooming through the belly of the beast in his old Ram 1500 in search of a good bite.

Flashes of mom and pop spots, food trucks, and sidewalk tortillerias dance on screen in a dizzying dream of charred meat and paper plates. Bludso’s, Mariscos Jalisco, Jitlada – places that are less restaurants than they are cultural institutions – weave in and out of frame as Gold barrels down Pico, Sunset, anywhere, his left hand resting on the wheel as his right gesticulates to the camera.

Over the past couple decades, Los Angeles has undergone a culinary renaissance led by the late Gold, whose critiques put hole-in-the-wall spots on the map and breathed a new life into the city’s food scene. The “Gold effect,” as some have called it, saved countless struggling restaurants long before other major critics and publications were even looking their way. What Anthony Bourdain did for the far-flung food stalls of Chiang Mai and bountiful banquets of Reykjavik, Jonathan Gold did for Los Angeles.

And then, like a flash in a pan, both of them were gone. Gold and Bourdain died in the summer of 2018, just one month apart and two years before the hospitality industry would crumble under the mandated closures of bars and restaurants and an economic recession that would rival that of the Great Depression. As heart-wrenching and deeply personal as the loss of Gold and Bourdain felt in 2018, somehow it’s even more palpable now, as restaurants shutter their doors in alarming numbers and headlines blare the sad siren song,

“Is this the end of the golden age of dining?”

It’s a declaration critics have been swift to jump to ever since it was first decreed that we were, in fact, in the midst of a golden age. But the promise looms larger now, its fate seeming more and more inevitable. Which restaurants will weather this storm? What will become of the state of dining as we know it? With Gold and Bourdain gone, who will advocate for the busboys, the bartenders, the band of misfit toys that make up this industry?

Trois Mec, the Gold-approved, Michelin-starred, and Ludo Lefebvre-led tasting menu in Hollywood was one of the first of many upscale, inventive restaurants to close in the wake of the pandemic. Its sister restaurant, Petit Trois, still stands, though its future – like so many of the bars and restaurants that already barely get by on paper-thin margins – becomes less and less certain every day.

Others, like Here’s Looking at You in Koreatown and Broken Spanish Downtown, have suffered the same fate.  Ma’am Sir, a modern Filipino restaurant in Silver Lake that did for Filipino food what Night + Market did for Thai, just recently joined their ranks. Every day the number swells, not just in Los Angeles but in cities and suburbs and small towns around the world. Our cultural meccas are dwindling as fast-casual chains continue to survive and thrive, threatening to take over.

As a newcomer to Los Angeles, one of the millions who have trekked from some small town somewhere to this City of Angels, I have felt a peculiar sadness over the loss of these restaurants that were never mine. Restaurants that were erased from my list of places “to try” almost as quickly as they were added. It’s a strange phantom grief, mourning something you never – and will never – know. And of course, it applies to more than just food; this year has brought with it countless trips that will never be taken, memories that will never be made. But there is something about the fleetingness of a restaurant that makes its loss especially devastating; Italy will still be there when you inevitably take that trip. The Coliseum will still stand. But will the corner pizzeria?

According to writer Kevin Alexander, the end of the golden age of dining began before COVID even hit. In Burn The Ice, his 2019 book, Alexander argues that the golden age started in 2006 with the rise of farm-to-table restaurants in Portland and the launch of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. What followed was a decade-long stint of fine casual dining, a “golden age” in which good food and good drinks were championed above all else. Of course, it had to come to an end. Everything does. But the timing of that ending feels startlingly ominous, the future far too bleak.

At the time Burn The Ice was published, Alexander wrote that there were 100,000 more restaurants in the US in 2019 than there were 10 years ago. In the past six months alone, another 100,000 have closed. It’s grim, sure. An erasure of a decade of dining in America. But if we’re back at square one, so to speak, if we’re starting over exactly where we were in 2006 when farm-to-table was a new concept and Anthony Bourdain was just some sly, rough around the edges chef we had never heard of, then maybe it means that we are on the precipice of another golden age. That when this is all over – when restaurants get back up on their feet and start again – they’ll be stronger than ever.

During the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Jonathan Gold penned an essay for the LA Times on his neighborhood, Koreatown, “a neighborhood just west of downtown.” He wrote of the Bangkok-style buffets and Filipino fish joints that were burned to the ground, entire livelihoods diminished to ashes. The picture he painted then looked stunningly similar to what it looks like now: neighborhoods in a state of unrest and upheaval, boarded up buildings, signs that have always read “open” turned to say “closed.”

History repeats itself, again and again in an infinite time loop. That much we know. And as much as I wish Gold – and Bourdain – were here to offer their sage wisdom, in a way they have already given that to us.

“And yet the neighborhood survives,” Gold wrote in 1992, his words echoing through time and space to a moment 28 years removed that is more alike than it is different. We have rebuilt before. We can do it again.

Meet The Woman Who Took Her Pleasure Seriously: A Proper Intro To Ray Eames

Meet The Woman Who Took Her Pleasure Seriously: A Proper Intro To Ray Eames

Ray Eames was many things to many people: a designer, a painter, a true artist, a vehement Fire sign, a wife, an Episcopalian, a woman whose life – both personal and professional – revolved around play. She was born in Sacramento in 1912, before it was Didion’s Sacramento, and grew up governed by the firm yet often challenged belief that life was meant to be enjoyed.

That belief followed her to New York, where she studied abstract expressionist painting under renowned artists Lu Duble and Hans Hofmann. Ray’s list of close confidantes from the time reads like a who’s who of the New York art scene, and includes bigwig painters like Lee Krasner and Mercedes Matter. Her time in the city was short lived, however, as just a few years later she hatched a plan to head back west and build a house in California.

It would become the Eames House.

Ray met and quickly married her creative partner in crime, Charles Eames, in 1941 after working together on the display panels for the exhibition “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” at the Museum of Modern Art. The two honeymooned in Los Angeles and never left, the rest of their lives spent together frozen in a sweet honey haze. While Charles had a child, Lucia, from a previous marriage, he and Ray never had their own. It was like they never came home from vacation.

A few years into their lifelong Californian honeymoon, Ray and Charles were asked to participate in the Case Study House Program, an initiative sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine with the goal of showcasing examples of modern yet modest homes that utilized wartime and industrial materials. They were assigned Case Study House Number 8, one of 28 homes throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

Addressing the swift switch in her career from abstract expressionism to architecture, Ray said, “I never gave up painting, I just changed my palette.” During the building of the Case Study home, Ray and Charles spent days and nights in the eucalyptus groves overlooking the sea from the Pacific Palisades. They shot arrows, picnicked in meadows, lounged about with friends and family. And on Christmas Eve, 1949, they moved in. Like their initial relocation to Los Angeles, this was a permanent choice; Ray and Charles would live together in that house on the hill for the remainder of their lives.

As much as the Case Study house became a milestone of modern architecture, perhaps its most significant role was as a backdrop for the creative endeavors that would come to comprise Ray and Charles’ careers.

There, in the light-dappled studio by the sea, they devised design after design. Ergonomic seat shells, the instantly classic Eames lounger, animal masks; these were the things they crafted on Chautauqua Boulevard. Practical commingled with playful, and novelty was rejected at all costs. Instead, they followed the design principle coined by Louis Sullivan that form should follow function. “Why design a beautiful chair that you can’t sit in?”, their work seemed to ask.

This philosophy manifested in their teachings, too. Often their first assignment was to build a kite, a simple task with  an even simpler grading scale: design a beautiful kite that can’t fly and you fail. Design one that flies and you pass. Always ones to favor simple childhood pleasures, Ray and Charles used toys extensively as a means of experimentation and investigation in their work.

“Toys are not really as innocent as they look,” they said. “Toys and games are the prelude to serious ideas.”

While their work was a true collaboration, Ray is credited for establishing what is generally recognized as the “Eames look.” She didn’t do drawings – that was all Charles – but her keen sense for form and color from her days as a painter guided her and Charles’ work. She designed everything from magazine covers to textiles to game boards with the same nonchalance and simple joy with which she and Charles built everything. Nothing was done for vanity. Everything was done for pleasure – both theirs and others.

Like most famously pithy intellectual types, Ray and Charles have some great one-liners, the kind that are swiftly declarative and often tattooed on bodies, held up on posters, printed in coffee table books. “Anything I can do, Ray can do better,” Charles once said, and the historians took note.

And another, this one more a call to action than a passive claim: “Take your pleasure seriously.”

If you wanted, you could take this sentiment at face value, a superficial interpretation on par with “carpe diem” or “you only live once.” To take your pleasure seriously, though – in life, in love, in work – demands a much more thoughtful approach.

In an article published by the Eames Office, the quote is explained further,

"It means choosing work that you enjoy. It means doing a deep dive—taking the time to delve into your pursuits and explore them fully. It’s an encouragement to analyze objects, ideas, problems, and subjects from every angle with a playful, exploratory openness that allows you to reap the joys of the process."

Whatever it meant to live a life like that, Ray did it with grace. The joy lied in the process: of the honeymoon, of the days spent frolicking among eucalyptus, of the things she built with Charles – a chair, a house, a life.

Small Footprint, High Design

Small Footprint, High Design

Architecture is at odds with nature. Condominiums are built in the ashes of meadows, parking lots on the beds of forests. To design is to undo. To build is to take away. And so treetops are phased out in favor of sharp lines and concrete.

But within that rigid dichotomy, there are architects and designers striving to bridge the divide between the natural and the man-made. They seek out innovative solutions to incorporate a site’s landscape into the final design; boulders exist in internal spaces, trees are rooted in courtyards, medieval moats are made modern. The natural and artificial commingle and are made better for it.

While many modern-day architects use organic materials and glean inspiration from native structures, the following designers and firms create strictly with the intent to preserve. In this new sustainable mode of design, cliffsides are not obliterated, but carved to fit a space for something human.

Peter Zumthor

Take a look at the exterior of a Peter Zumthor building and prepare to be unimpressed. The Swiss architect’s work is notoriously spare, devoid of the flashiness we’ve come to expect from architecture bigwigs like Frank Gehry and Norman Foster. There are no elaborate skyscrapers or sculptural amphitheaters. But inside Zumthor’s buildings, entire worlds unfold.

Built in 1996, Zumthor’s Therme Vals is a hotel and spa situated over the only thermal springs in the Graubünden Canton in Switzerland. Like most Zumthor works, the exterior is stark, utilizing harsh grey stone to mirror the cold landscape of the Swiss countryside.

In conceptualizing the spa, Zumthor’s initial idea was to build a structure that mirrored the form of a cave or quarry, marrying the site’s Valser Quarzite slabs and water into a space designed for guests to luxuriate.

“Mountain, stone, water – building in the stone, building with the stone, into the mountain, building out of the mountain, being inside the mountain – how can the implications and the sensuality of the association of these words be interpreted, architecturally?”

— Peter Zumthor

The result is a space revered for participating so seamlessly in the transcendental experience of a hot spring. In Zumthor’s world, senses are heightened: the sound of bubbling water, the touch of hot stones, the dramatic contrast of darkness and light at every turn. It’s a space that very much is what it is – one governed by element and ritual.

Peruse Zumthor’s body of work and you’ll notice this is not incidental – he has a thing for site-specific materiality. Perhaps his most famous work, Bruder Klaus Chapel in the rural countryside of Germany, utilizes natural elements of tree trunks and frozen molten lead to honor the patron saint Bruder Klaus. Tree trunks were bundled to form a wigwam and the interior wood was ignited to create a hollow space. The inside of the chapel shows residual texture and lingering char, pulling the gaze up to the open roof peering out at the night stars.

It is a fitting feature for a chapel, utilizing simple features to point us to a godly sky. It’s also classic Zumthor; a minimalist, naturalistic structure that is utterly uncompromising. From the wigwam formwork to the ignited interior, the construction of Bruder Klaus seems to follow Zumthor’s every farfetched whim. While this unflinching vision can make him somewhat of a controversial figure (Zumthor’s recent LACMA proposal landed him in hot water for being both outrageously expensive and reducing the gallery square footage), it’s also what makes him and his work so widely lauded.

Olson Kundig

Based in Seattle, Olson Kundig is a contemporary design firm whose work “expands the context of built and natural landscapes.” It’s a line taken straight from their website, and if it were any other firm, you could probably discard it as empty corporate-speak. But for Olson Kundig, it rings sincere.

When founding partner Jim Olson was 18, he bought a plot of land on Puget Sound amidst the towering forest and built a 200 square foot bunkhouse. That was in 1959. In the over 60 years between then and now, the cabin has undergone numerous remodels, each working with and around the surrounding trees. Three mature firs grow through openings in the deck, with one exiting through an opening in the roof. In this way, the interior blends seamlessly into the outdoors.

“Our homes and cities are as much a part of nature as birds’ nests and beehives. Our role as architects is to fit human life into the world in an intelligent and meaningful way.”

— Jim Olson

While Olson Kundig produces cultural and commercial buildings, they are best known for their exquisite residential homes. A personal favorite is the Costa Rica Treehouse, an open-air surfer hut built entirely of locally harvested teak. Inspired by the jungle, the structure engages with its surroundings at every level: “the ground floor opens to the forest floor, the middle level is nestled within the trees, and the top level rises above the tree canopy.”

The owners of the treehouse are avid environmentalists, and their commitment to sustainability reverberates throughout the home. A rainwater collection system, thoughtful shading, and a 3.5-kW photovoltaic array make the house’s environmental footprint even lighter. These features don’t exist simply to better the Earth, however. Each and every design choice is also made with human experience in mind.

“Architecture not only provides shelter but also enhances the human experience. It creates pleasure, provides meaning, and inspires. Buildings are an extension of our dreams and aspirations, being both about us and for us.”

— Jim Olson

This philosophy is central to Olson Kundig’s mission: a humanistic approach to sustainable design. Their buildings are extensions of the outdoors, connecting people to nature and serving as daily reminders that we are one with our environment, even when we’re in our own domestic cocoons.

Hariri & Hariri

Iranian-born sisters Gisue Hariri and Mojgan Hariri are known for imbuing each of their projects with a sense of “sensual modernism.” It’s a philosophy they picked up back when they were architecture students at Cornell in the ‘70s, and it’s one that’s served as a guiding light as they’ve designed everything from jewelry collections (for Swarovski) to architectural renderings (for an exhibit at the Guggenheim).

The Hariri sisters believe in architecture that awakens the senses, in taking natural elements and transforming them into a conduit for pleasure. They perhaps do this best with Jewels of Salzburg, a development that is less a development than it is a microcosm of the Austrian city itself.

Recipient of the American Architecture Award in 2015, the striking housing development is inspired by the natural elements of Salzburg. A small waterway cuts through the center of the miniature city, mimicking the Salzach River, while a rock face towers over the structure just as the defining mountains loom over Salzburg. The shrunken city offers more than just novelty, though.

The creek that cuts through the site acts as a natural boundary and guide, inviting the public through the space in a meditative journey. Water travels from the highest elevation of the site through a small waterfall, which serves as a collector of melting snow, icicles, and rock. From this pedestrian path, the splendor of the forest and rock face can be taken in.

And the buildings themselves? They simulate the rock formation, chiseled rocks stacked one on top of each other in a seemingly random fashion, just as they would sit on a quarry site.

“The buildings we have proposed here are set back from the rock-face. They hover over their bases just enough to create a tension from where one could almost reach out and touch the rock.”

— Hariri & Hariri

The resulting domiciliary maze is one that is in conversation with its surrounding landscape. Buildings bend to jutting rock formations, the creek winds its way around courtyards and terraces. It’s poetry, materialized. And while this structure is an indication of the Hariri’s own principles and design philosophies, it’s also an indication of where architecture is heading.

Gone are the days of architecture for architecture’s sake. In an age where forests are regularly being set ablaze and our planet is in shambles thanks to blatant denial and inaction from government officials and the continuous burning of fossil fuels, it’s not enough to simply design around nature. Instead, designers must ask themselves: how do we preserve what we already have? What steps must we take to remain connected to the nature that surrounds us? Where, and how, do we choose to build? And who will take us into this new tomorrow?

These architects may have some of the answers.


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