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Sit On It, Barbie


The doll with as many personalities as outfits now has furniture befitting her icon status. For Astronaut Barbie, there's a video-empowered chaise with its own link to the Web. Party-girl Barbie could primp in the lap of her doll pal (a chair wickedly dubbed the "Kenstrument"). Queen Barbie might roost on a pink and purple throne.

These were just a few of the 415 entries in a "Design the Perfect Chair for Barbie Competition" sponsored by Metropolis magazine, the Vitra Design Museum and Barbie Bazaar magazine. After months of suspense, judges have selected a winner: a simple modernist seat with bobbing pastel pompoms for its back (pictured left). The designer, Masashi Goto of Tokyo, was inspired by a photograph of girls playing in a field of waving flowers. Among the also-rans were Matthew Hoey's stackable design (pictured below) and the irreverent G.I. "Joe" chair by Hugh Brown and John Heiden of Los Angeles.

An exhibit of the designs, unveiled last month at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, moves next to the Vitra, near Basel, Switzerland.

A Spanish Inquisition

The architectural style that most defines our regional identity gets a warm embrace from writer Elmo Baca in "Romance of the Mission" (Gibbs Smith). The new book, made coffee-table worthy by photographers Tim Street-Porter and Dominique Vorillon, traces all phases and facets Mission, lingering for pages inside the fortress-like facades of some of L.A.'s most fashionable homes.

Their simple elegance--a happy marriage of the cultures of Spain, Mexico and North Africa--will put many readers in the mood to dump a houseful of knickknacks and overstuffed sofas for a fresh start with Gustav Stickley.

A Bird of Praise

One of the icons of the American landscape--no, not the bald eagle or the bison, but the plastic pink flamingo--is turning 40. And it's still not getting any respect.

Despite its enduring appeal (15 million to 20 million in circulation), the lawn ornament forged in Leominster, Mass., can't seem to escape the "T-word."

"People say they're tacky, but all great art began as tacky," said Don Featherstone, the Union Products vice president and artist whose signature is molded into every flamingo body. "Art Deco in New York was torn down. But now, they're putting it back up."

Featherstone himself is a bit of a strange bird. A sculptor with a classical art background, he and his wife of 20 years dress alike every day. He attends many flamingo-themed social events sponsored by groups like the Society for the Preservation of the Plastic Lawn Flamingo.

The first pink flamingo ornaments, in 1952, were plywood. They were made of foam a few years later, but dogs tended to eat them. They've been plastic since 1957.

Half a million of the birds move off store shelves in the United States, Mexico and South America every year, at about $10 a pair. With numbers like that, Featherstone says he'll suffer the sarcasm. "As long as they keep buying them, I really don't care."

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