Check In: Sextantio Albergo Diffuso

01.30.2013 | by: Meghan

I first heard about this series of cave hotels from my Italian friend Patrizio, who thought I would love the “diffused hotel” concept: hotel rooms spread across a small medieval hilltop village that maintain their original character (rough stone walls, uneven floors, and old-as-dirt wooden furniture). The mission is to preserve not only the landscape and original architecture of the towns they’ve settled in, but also the history and local tradition–from the craft to the cuisine of the region.

And while Sextantio’s entire concept is pretty special–using tourism to save towns that would otherwise fall into decline– it’s the bit about traditional craft I find particularly inspiring. I didn’t realize, until I spotted photos of the beautiful loom work on Remodelista, that the hotel is so fiercely dedicated to supporting local craft. For instance, linens and coverlets are handmade by ladies who have always made textiles–in a town that has produced textiles for hundreds of years. They’re made with new materials using ancient techniques, often replicated from old drawings and archival photographs. I wish we saw more of this kind of beautiful creative thinking in the hotel industry.


Goodtripper: Uganda

Mbale, Uganda
06.10.2011 | by: Kelly

I just returned from Uganda, where I was building chicken coops for HIV/AIDS-affected families, and I wanted to share my experience, photos and the notion that design can make a difference. Five years ago, I was in Uganda with one of Africa’s largest indigenous AIDS-service organizations, TASO. During my summer there, we visited the homes of AIDS orphans (some in the care of grandmothers; others in the care of older siblings), and the effect it had on me was profound. Compelled to do something, the Poultry Project was born. In the past five years, our organization has grown from 20 to 53 families, but the mission is still the same: provide HIV/AIDS-affected families with an opportunity to start a smallholder poultry business, selling eggs and keeping 100% of their profits. Each family receives five healthy chickens, poultry management and business training, a bicycle, banking and savings program, support, and, since our latest visit this May, a chicken coop.

This winter, we held an international Chicken Coop Design Competition to challenge folks from the design, art, architecture and farming community to create an efficient, locally sourced, modern coop. One of the winners (and a DesignCorps fellow), Emily Axtman, volunteered to travel to Uganda to design and help build coops from local materials. A team of five of us, including co-founders Joe and Emily Pavlick, a social entrepreneur and a volunteer photographer, worked with local farmers, a team of TASO teens and TASO staff to build 13 coops! We also added 29 families to the project and sourced/delivered materials for another 40 coops, which will be finished this summer by the local build team we trained while we were there.

Although I spent most of my time in Uganda in the village, building coops, delivering materials, facilitating workshops and making home visits, I did make time to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the “Pearl of Africa.” I visited the craft markets, admired the effortless style of Ugandan women, tasted fresh mangoes from the tree, indulged in sweet sesame candies, lounged on a papyrus mat in the lush landscape, and walked the people-packed streets of Mbale every chance I got.

The Details
To get involved with the Poultry Project, visit our website and email us — we love volunteers! Get a detailed description, building instruction, photos, and material list of the Poultry Project chicken coop at Emily Axtman’s blog. To make a difference through design, check out The SEED Network (Social Economic Environmental Design) and  Project H Design (they’re currently running a school and design lab, Studio H, in rural North Carolina).

Unexpected Design

Marion, Alabama
05.04.2011 | by: Meghan

One of the best parts of traveling is uncovering inspiration in unexpected places. A lot of what we saw and experienced during our big road trip from Detroit to New Orleans came from dogged research and impassioned, word-of-mouth recommendations, but on a balmy night in the small, historic town of Marion (after we spent an hour or so driving around and gawking at the old antebellum houses surrounded by magnolia trees), we walked into an ice cream parlor and felt like we had accidentally stumbled into a European cafe, all bentwood chairs huddled around iron-based tables and a glowing chandelier.

The scoop shop section is the standard, cheery variety with candy-colored balloons and posters that perfectly inhabit the Frosty Cow name. But Ms. Jo, who moved to Marion when her son decided to go to college there, wanted to “create a place where people go on date night.” You see, the first week she lived in Marion she realized she had to travel several towns away to get a scoop of ice cream–and that just wouldn’t do. So she opened Frosty Cow in an old brick house downtown and painted the walls over-saturated shades of cobalt and kelly green. She only charges $1.25 for a cone and insists on giving kiddie cones for free. I asked Ms. Jo how she makes any money and she said, “Oh honey, I worked my entire life. This is about giving back to my community.”

A couple pre-teen girls wandered in with pictures they drew for the wall. She paid them with praise and free ice cream.

I’m still thinking about a lot of the architecture, design and people we encountered in and on the way to New Orleans, figuring out how it affected me and what I’ll do with all the inspiration. One thing I already know for certain: I’ll remember Ms. Jo for a long, long time. And it was a great reminder that sometimes the very best design comes from human kindness.

See Public Art

New Orleans, Louisiana
04.28.2011 | by: Kelly

One of my favorite parts of the trip so far: Writing on Candy Chang’s Before I Die wall (my answer: learn to be present). I’m a sucker for design-for-good projects and have been following Candy‘s work for awhile, so it was really inspiring to see this installation in person. Along with James Reeves, she co-founded the Civic Center, which is dedicated to using design, art and urban planning to make cities more user-friendly and comfortable while engaging the people who live there. On the corner of Marigny and Burgundy streets, they transformed a crumbling, graffiti-covered, dilapidated house into a public, interactive art installation and social experiment. Chalkboard painted wooden boards cover the front of the house and pedestrians and neighbors can use the provided chalk to write what they want to do, see, experience before they die. Someone wipes the slate clean every morning. The house was recently sold, so the chalkboard will come down soon, but Civic Center has plans to recreate the installation in other cities around the world.

Candy also recently partnered with Hypothetical Development to create an imagined, no-boundaries future for an empty store front on Franklin Avenue. Responding to the limited availability of fresh, local food in her neighborhood, Candy designed  the Mobile Cornicopia, a fantasy food truck overflowing with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. A sign of the dream-like grocery fountain hung for a few months on the front of the abandoned building for public view and is now on display at Du Mois Gallery, along with other signs by local artists depicting fanciful futures for neglected buildings in New Orleans.

[Photos: Mobile Cornicopia photo via]

For more photos of New Orleans, check back regularly at the Lincoln-Designtripper site!

[Disclaimer: Ford Motor Company is the paying sponsor of designtripper’s road trip to New Orleans, which also included a Lincoln MKX for the duration of the trip.]

Goodtripper: The Poultry Project

Mbale, Uganda
04.04.2011 | by: Kelly

On Wednesday, I’m headed to Brooklyn for a party at the Woods in Williamsburg to help raise money for the Poultry Project-a nonprofit I started six years ago when I spent a summer in Uganda.  The Poultry Project helps HIV/AIDS-affected families (there are approximately one million AIDS orphans in Uganda) earn income through smallholder poultry farming. Through a partnership with an indigenous Ugandan nonprofit, The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), the Project has helped 27 families in the Mbale area and plans to expand to TASO’s other Uganda locations. Next month, six of us (lawyer, nutritionist, architect, photographer, businesswoman and social worker) will travel to Uganda to help 30 new families start their own chicken businesses (selling eggs) and host a design/build chicken coop workshop. DesignCorps fellow Emily Axtman submitted a winning coop design to the Poultry Project’s first annual Chicken Coop Design Competition last fall, and she’s traveling with us this spring to work with some of the farmers to design and build chicken coops out of local materials. After a coop is designed, all farmers will receive the materials and assistance to construct the coops.

The Details:
If you’re in the NYC area, stop by the Woods on Wednesday, April 6 for drinks, food, music and a raffle with items from: Cafe Habana, Blue Marble Ice Cream, Diner, NY Yankees, Yoga Sutra, Whittmore House Salon, Blue Ribbon General. And if you’re interested in learning more about the project, you can follow our journey and progress at the Poultry Project blog.

Goodtripper: Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh

Chandigarh, Punjab
03.25.2011 | by: Kelly

In the 1950s, after India gained independence from Britain, Le Corbusier was commissioned to design an entire city, from all the doorknobs in the High Court to the stools and desks at the College of Architecture. The capital of Punjab, Chandigarh is Le Corbusier’s masterpiece (his self-described “crowing work”) and for several years, its modernist buildings, furniture, monuments and fixtures have fallen into disrepair and become prey to the international art market. Hundreds of desks, chairs, fixtures and drawings have fetched thousands of dollars at auctions in Europe and the U.S.: $54,000 for a pair of chairs; $21,000 for a manhole cover; $36,000 for a concrete light fixture from the Chandigarh zoo.  On March 31, Chicago’s Wright auction house is set to sell several pieces by Pierre Jeanneret, Le Corbusier’s cousin and assistant in Chandigarh.  Chandigarh’s attempts to stall the auction have been unsuccessful. A recent Guardian article reported that Chandigarh’s first chief architect and former Le Corbusier assistant, Manmohan Nath Sharma, started an international movement to stop the pillage of the modernist city, and the Chandigarh administration is seeking World Heritage Site status from UNESCO. But in case its unsuccessful, you might want to check it out before bits and bobs end up in the fancy living rooms of rabid collectors.

[Photos, from top: High Court entrance via; High Court via; Secretariat via; Open Hand via wikicommons; High Court detail via Scott Norsworthy]

Stay: Bon Ton villas

Langkawi, Malaysia
02.09.2011 | by: Meghan

Talented stylist, photographer and author Pia Jane Bijkerk recently stayed in these arrestingly beautiful thatched-roof Malay huts–“a resort with heart”–and her photographs really capture that magical feeling of discovering inspiration, authenticity and sense of place. Rich, gorgeous textiles and intricate, hand-carved wooden interiors don’t hurt either. And when Pia gushes about finding a spot that “ticked all my island-fantasy boxes,” well, it’s like a research gold mine–trusty, pretty words to book a trip by.

“It’s one of those best-kept secrets–a place that’s not fancy, not well known in trend circles which means it manages to retain its authenticity,” says Pia. “I love the villas at Bon Ton because each is unique and antique…  Each villa is made completely from wood. There are no glass windows, no metal structures. Even the bathrooms are all wood.”

And to top it off: The resort was started as a way to raise money for an on-site animal shelter and sanctuary called LASSie.

[All photographs by Pia. You can read more about her trip and see more photos at her blog.]

Check In: Guludo Lodge

Quirimbas National Park, Mozambique
09.13.2010 | by: Kelly

Nestled on a remote stretch of white sand Mozambique coastline, the architect-designed Guludo Beach Lodge, strives to protect the environment and reduce poverty through responsible tourism. The lodge’s foundation, NEMA, has provided clean water, education, microenterprise, nutrition and health projects to the surrounding 12 communities of over 15,000 people. Like most of the options, the family banda (a big play-lounge area and a tented sleeping loft for kids, plus an adjoining spacious suite for parents) is a beautiful, relaxed combination of clean-lined adobe, thatched roof, patterned textiles and hammocks.