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Posted on: Apr 01, 2011

Ruth Soforenko,  A.S.I.D.  1928 –  2011

Palo Alto, California looks like any town U.S.A. Its 1920s cottages sit on quiet, tree lined streets that look like they were borrowed from the set of a laundry commercial.  Nestled behind these folksy facades are unassuming garages that have been the literal birthplaces of the world’s computer and internet industries.  Young entrepreneurs, like Jobs and Wozniak, Hewlett and Packard and Brin and Page all started here to create the worldwide empires of electronic machines that think and tie us together from Berkeley to Berlin to Beijing.

It was here in this birthplace of the personal computer, the i-phone and the internet that I knocked on the door of an interior designer in 1980, almost by accident.  Portfolio in hand, I was looking for work from a graphic designer who shared an office suite with this designer. The graphics designer cut my presentation short and sent me next door.  Unannounced, like a Fuller Brush salesperson, I marched in and introduced myself. The designer was Ruth Soforenko.  Most people would have shooed me away, but Ruth quietly listened to my presentation and then invited me to work with her and the A.S.I.D. to photograph an upcoming Decorator Showhouse.  This was the beginning of a business relationship that lasted for over thirty years.

Woodside, CA residence. RSA Design

Woodside, CA residence. RSA Design

Ruth was more architect than designer.  She thought about how her clients wanted to live and then created environments that fit their lifestyles. In an era of “more is more,” Ruth’s work was often spare with the exception of her use of vibrant color to liven a space.  It was both modern and traditional, always seeking a balance.  Ruth was fortunate to work in a place with many newly minted millionaires, but her work was never ostentatious.

Ruth was a kind and motherly soul.  Rarely would we have a conversation where she would not ask about my wife and kids. She was the Jewish mother I never had.  She took herself and her work seriously, but had a sense of humor and always cared about other people.

Three weeks ago I got an email from an editor friend who happily announced that they were finally going to run in their May issue the last house I had photographed for Ruth.  Little did we know that Ruth would be gone only a few days later.   She was one person who truly did work to make many lives better.

Stephen Kanner, F.A.I.A.  1955 – 2010

Last year I wrote and photographed a book on the rebirth of the Modern architectural movement in California.  It was a monumental undertaking and I was grateful for the assistance of many people.  I was very familiar with the architectural community in the Bay Area, but much less so in Los Angeles.   That was until I met Steve Kanner.  He embraced my project, introduced me to many of L.A.’s leading architects and was a constant spring board for ideas and advice.  That’s who he was.  He saw the big picture in a way few people do.  In addition to running his vigorous Santa Monica practice, he was actively involved in the L.A. design communities.  He started a museum of Architecture and Design in L.A.  He was president of the A.I.A.  He had a significant hand in reshaping Westwood Village.

Oakland Hills House, Kanner Architects

Oakland Hills House, Kanner Architects

Stephen was a native son and lived most of his life in L.A. His father and grandfather were both architects and also active in the So. Cal. design communities.  He told me, as a kid, he remembered luminaries like Buckminster Fuller and Charles Eames stopping by for dinner.  Kanner was very much an L.A. person and his designs were the embodiment of So. Cal. Culture: bright, free-spirited and populist.  He was not afraid to work with popular culture icons and redefine them.  One of his most noteworthy projects was the In-N-Out Burger in Westwood.  Its intense red and orange forms shoot out almost in cartoon like fashion on Westwood Blvd.

Steve was one of those people who worked every day to make L.A. livable and fun.  His untimely death leaves a significant void in L.A.’s design world.

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