Friday, September 22, 2017

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Design Milk Travels to… San José del Cabo, Mexico

Design Milk Travels to… San José del Cabo, Mexico

A feeling of misgivings can wash across the mind initially when arriving into Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. Ambling forth through customs, surrounded by the raucous partying-vacationing crowd destined for Cabo San Lucas, it’s natural to begin feeling doubts about rest, relaxation, and any semblance of solitude being in the cards. Indeed, Cabo San Lucas lives up to its fairly commercialized reputation as party central, its spirit far removed from the city’s original fishing town by the sea vibes. Yet, only half an hour away, up towards the eastern side of the peninsula’s tip is San José del Cabo – artsy, earthy, quietly sophisticated, and an increasingly luxurious destination. San José del Cabo still offers visitors miles of deserted beaches, beautiful local architecture, and the artistic license to paint your days in vibrant local color.


Even with 35,000 sq. ft. spread across two levels, the Spa at Grand Velas Los Cabos feels intimate and welcoming. Photo: Gregory Han

The gentle arcing architecture of the Grand Velas Los Cabos was designed by Ricardo Elias, principal of Elias and Elias Architects in Guadalajara (also responsible for the Grand Velas Resorts in Riviera Maya and Riviera Nayarit). Situated at the end of development, the hotel’s luxurious all-inclusive experience begins with the spacious guest rooms (ranging in size from 1,180 up to 3,412 sq. ft.) overlooking the ocean down to its waterfall of swimming pools facing outward to a beach where dolphins and rays can be seen leaping from the ocean. Beyond the opportunity to watch wild animal acrobatics from the comfort of your own beachside bed, the hotel’s two-level, 35,000 sq. ft. subterranean spa is an exemplary experience not to be missed.

Beaches like this one just adjacent to the Grand Velas Los Cabos offers a surprising opportunity for solitary sunbathing, but should be carefully researched for swim-friendly conditions. A list of swimmer-safe beaches below.

Glass and concrete embellished with only a hint of blush paint the minimalist interiors of the futuristic luxe Hotel Mar Adentro. Photo: Hotel Mar Adentro

The Hotel Mar Adentro feels like the set of a science fiction film, a utopian cityscape of gleaming verticality seemingly floating upon an expanse of water (a white linen ensemble seems appropriate to wear while being a guest of this miniature metropolis of minimalism).

Designed by Miguel Angel Aragonés, Mar Adentro is at its most stunning just as the sun begins to lazily melt into the ocean – the azure sky deepens while cotton candy pink clouds mirror in perfect reflection across the placid canvas of water. The collaboration between architecture and the landscape, each sunset makes it worth a visit in itself (a restaurant/bar noted below offers another reason). Perhaps in an acknowledgment of the beautiful colors outside, the rooms themselves are austere, furnished to direct the gaze outward into the infinity of sky and ocean, illuminated into a colorful grid work in the evening.

The Marquis Los Cabos lobby. Photo: Marquis Los Cabos

The Marquis Los Cabos makes an unforgettable first impression with its giant arching lobby, evoking thoughts of the architecture of Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti. The resort operates as an all-inclusive, adults-only, all-suites experience (the rooms skew more traditional in decor in contrast to the resort’s modern communal areas).

“Relaxed 1960s Southern California-meets-Baja aesthetic” permeates inside and out of The Cape resort ocean view suites. Photo: The Cape.

The Cape Los Cabos sits on prime surfing coastline, and is decorated like a modern rendition of a surfer’s pad, directed by Mexican architect Javier Sánchez’s view of hospitality design as, “urban acupuncture”.

The rooftop pool offers guests a perfect spot to watch boats return through the mouth of Puerto Los Cabos or to admire the view of the nearby estuary. Photo: Gregory Han

We’ve already featured the Hotel El Ganzo for its relaxed and freewheeling atmosphere, one garnished with artwork and a tasteful selection of modern and vintage furnishings. The modernist hotel was designed by architect Pablo Sanchez-Navarro, but the entirety of Hotel El Ganzo is an ever-evolving canvas designed to display the artwork and installations of visiting visual and musical artists intermittently.

Photo: Hotel San Cristóbal

Though not located in San José del Cabo, the newly opened beachside Hotel San Cristóbal in nearby Todos Santos deserves mention for its picturesque “end of the road” destination vibes. It’s a more intimate experience than most other larger resorts across Los Cabos, with just 32 rooms appointed with the aesthetics and amenities that likely appeal to the wandering creative set.


Even if you never set foot inside an art gallery in the San José del Cabo Gallery District, there is much to admire in the townscape itself. Photos: Gregory Han

Color spills into every corner of the Gallery District in San Jose del Cabo throughout the year. In the evenings between the months of November and June, the cobblestone streets are filled with artists and art lovers, with numerous galleries like Patricia Mendoza opening their doors in celebration of the local art scene.

A gradient of pink hides in the back of artist Frank Arnold’s gallery courtyard. Photo: Gregory Han

Of particular note is abstract-surrealist Frank Arnold, an artist with a gallery in front, an adjoining beautiful courtyard residence in the back. If you’re fortunate, the amicable artist might let you take a glimpse of his Instagram-worthy pink walls.

Photo: Hotel Mar Adentro

Nido (nest in Spanish) is a bar/restaurant located in the pool courtyard of the Mar Adentro. Covered in a latticework assembled with recycled twigs by local craftsmen, the structure does a convincing job of creating a cozy nest for dining and drink.

Photos: Acre Baja

Getting to Acre at night – a picturesque restaurant situated on 25 acres of hillside farmland adjacent to San Jose del Cabo – can feel like an adventure in itself. The roads are bumpy, dusty, windy, and illuminated only by the moon and stars. But that’s all part of its charm. Once you arrive, a dark and tropical walkway directs eyes and feet toward an architectural compound wafting with delicious smells from an open kitchen, vying for attention with the blare of festive music and an adjacent tasting bar busily hawking the restaurant/farm’s own label of mezcal – a smoky spirit executive chefs Kevin Luzande and Oscar Torres will undoubtedly insist accompany your meal.

The Festival de Cine de Todos Santos. Photo: Gregory Han

If time permits, a day trip that comes highly recommended is to drive to the surfing/farming town of Todos Santos. It’s locals-only, secret status has long passed, but it still promises the antithesis of the polished resort experience, with a local surf school, charming town center, and even its own annual film festival.

The Wirikuta Botanical Cactus Garden hosts over a million plants, a labyrinth comprised with a thousand bougainvilleas, a sculpture garden, and three pyramids built of giant granite stones. Photo: Wirikuta Botanical Cactus Garden

Those with an affinity for plants were once advised to check out the Cacti Mundo, a botanical garden once situated in the heart of San Jose del Cabo. It’s unfortunately been closed, but the Wirikuta Botanical Cactus Garden offers an unusual alternative – a theme park with over 1,500 types of desert plants on display from around the world during the day, and a Cirque du Soleil-ish dinner and entertainment destination at night.

** Note: Despite the scenic and inviting coastline, many beaches along the shorts of Los Cabos aren’t swimmer-friendly due to the prevalence of strong undertows. This short list of beaches suitable for swimming is helpful to keep as reference if swimming at the beach is imperative for your getaway.


Photo: Design at Drift San José

Design at Drift San José, the retail wing of the newly launched Drift San José hotel, is stocked with contemporary wares sourced from up-and-coming independent Mexican designers, fair trade goods supporting traditional industries, pop-up shops, design shows and collaborations. Partners include brands like Lagos del Mundo, Protototipo Cero, Colorindio, Bamboocycles, Loose Blues and Lørdag & Søndag (the rest of the hotel is like one giant staged design catalog).

Photo: Eduardo Sanchez

Jewelry artist Eduardo Sanchez gets name dropped by the likes of Travel + Leisure and GOOP regularly for his one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry inspired by ancient coins and Mayan history. His boutique is housed inside a charming and historic 19th century house in San José del Cabo, with additional outposts across the region.

Photo: Shima Shima

Color lovers will undoubtedly be drawn to the small but vibrant selection of gifts, crafts, art, and fashion on display inside the diminutive confines of Shima Shima boutique. Peruse their wares from afar via their Instagram.


The entire southern tip of Los Cabos is seeing rapid and unabated development all along the coastline, with many of the large resorts dominating prime real estate and reshaping the tourist atmosphere (mostly for the better, but at the expense of natural landscape). Still, opportunities to experience the local charm of San Jose del Cabo and other sections of Los Cabos still await if you veer into the small family operated stores dotting the quieter parts of town or walk a short distance along the shoreline. Make an effort to investigate narrow walkways and you may find yourself in a quiet courtyard all to yourself; the sanctuary of a town’s cathedral offers a spiritual respite from retail temptations, with the rewards of local craftsmanship decorating the interiors.

Photo: Gregory Han

And of course, no trip to the Baja Peninsula is complete without several days spent at the beach. My personal favorite activity is to beachcomb, keeping a careful eye for the colorful seashells, seaweed, and other coastal detritus that washes up with the tide. Arrangements can make for a memorable photo, a keepsake of an ephemeral nature that represents a uniquely Los Cabos moment.

What else are we missing? Comment below with your favorite sites to stay, visit, and shop and we’ll check them out!


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Villa Walala: A Landmark Project by Camille Walala for LDF 2017

Villa Walala: A Landmark Project by Camille Walala for LDF 2017

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the London Design Festival, LDF’s partner British Land, invited artist and pattern maker extraordinaire Camille Walala to design this year’s Landmark Project. You might remember another recent interactive installation Walala did this summer, but this time she takes her signature playfulness outside for another super fun installation behind Liverpool Street Station.

The eye-popping installation, dubbed Villa Walala, invites you to interact with its oversized, inflatable elements that are decked out in bright colors and striped patterns. The squishy sculptures bring a softness to the surrounding hardness in the architecture surrounding it at Broadgate. The blowup components are designed to add a moment of happiness in everyone’s day as they’re coming and going from the station, or from their nearby offices.

Photos by Andy Stagg.


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The Breville Oracle Touch Achieves Higher Ground With a Swipe and a Tap

The Breville Oracle Touch Achieves Higher Ground With a Swipe and a Tap

Every morning millions of us arise from bed, sloth-eyed and craving our very first cup of coffee. But whether that good morning brew is made manually or with the aid of a machine, every coffee drinker desires the hallmark of consistency with every serving. Kitchen appliance brand Breville has engineered the Oracle Touch as the ultimate automated espresso machine, designed to eliminate the guesswork of pulling a consistently satisfying cup of espresso or any other coffee drink with the convenience of an integrated grinder, tamper, and touchscreen interface.

As someone who revels and relishes in the routine of measuring, grinding, and brewing his own coffee every morning, I’m not averse to the patience and practice required for making coffee to my preferences – the careful flip and push of an Aeropress, or tamping grounds with the correct amount of pressure before pulling a cup from a boiler heated machine, the delicate satisfaction of releasing CO2 while blooming grounds during a pour-over, or simply awaiting the eventual percolating whistle of a Moka pot on the stove. It’s just as much about the ritual as the results.

The Breville Oracle Touch requires a bit of counter top real estate, but its professional-style design offers an aesthetically pleasing presence. Photo: Gregory Han

But, there are days when we all just want our damn coffee, and we want it now. That’s where a machine like the top-tier, $2,500 Breville Oracle Touch bridges and connects the divide between the realms of “discerning” and “convenience”, an all-in-one unit that doesn’t compromise the ideals of flavor coaxed from a fully manual dual boiler espresso machine from the immediate satisfaction of an automated one-button dispensing appliance.

Breville has taken what was already a solid performing semi-automatic espresso machine in their Oracle – topped with an integrated conical burr grinder, powered by dual boilers, and featuring a micro-foam frothing wand – and one-upped themselves by adding the technological layer of a touch screen.

Superautomatic espresso machines – self contained machines that grind, tamp, and extract coffee beans with the touch of button – are common in Europe, but more of a rarity here in the United States, where drip coffee and Starbucks dominate the landscape. The hybrid Breville Oracle Touch operates very closely to a superautomatic machine, retaining a portion of the manual experience requiring the use of a full-size portafilter during the grind and extraction process.

Set to the user’s adjustable grind preferences, the Oracle Touch handles everything from applying the exact pressure to the grounds, to leveling, and finally smoothing off the puck to a satisfyingly smooth top. The process takes approximately 30 seconds, a negligible pause before releasing the portafilter to move over to the heated group head where the Oracle Touch finally delivers your drink of choice in a few seconds. The closest analogue to the Oracle Touch’s hybrid operation is the paddle-shifting offered in certain modern sports cars; just as a paddle shifting car doesn’t fully discard the visceral satisfaction of shifting gears by foot and hand for the convenient precision of an automatic transmission, neither does the Oracle Touch abandon what makes pulling an espresso a pleasure with every hot pressured extraction.

Choices are all presented using a bright and easy to navigate touchscreen display. Peruse and pick with a swipe; the machine offers eight customizable user coffee settings to fine tune temps/dose, an adjustable grind control, milk temperature and texture adjustments, and scheduled on/off timer. What at first seemed like a gimmick, albeit an eye-catching tech one, turned out to be as intuitive to navigate as a smartphone, aiding new and acquainted users alike through all the options available. The touchscreen admittedly isn’t necessary, but the screen interface proved welcome in daily use because of its simplicity.

It won’t write your name on your cup, but a family of users can each store their preferred drinks of choice in the memory banks of the Oracle Touch to output with a single tap.

After about a month with a loaner it’s surprising to admit how quickly acclimated we’ve become with the convenience of the Oracle Touch. It’s well constructed, dependable, consistent, and easy to operate. But more importantly, whether it’s a double shot of espresso, a latte, or an Americano, everything this automated espresso machine dispenses hits the checkmarks for both the critical connoisseur and convenience-is-king mindset. By no means is the Breville’s machine affordable, but for those sufficiently serious about their espresso-based drinks who also value modern convenience accompanied with traditional foamy satisfaction, the Oracle Touch is an impressive home appliance capable of near-professional results.


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