February 21, 2016


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Lot 357: Cleo Baldon

Lot 357: Cleo Baldon

X-Bar stools (4)

Designed 1964
Model no. XBS-35
Each: 35.25" x 16.25" x 23"
Provenance: Estate of Cleo Baldon, Los Angeles, California
Literature: Terra Retail Price List. September 1964. N.pag.
Estimate: $2,000 - $3,000
Price Realized: $8,750
Inventory Id: 21357

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A swimming pool, the designer Cleo Baldon (1927–2014) wrote, "reaches us on an emotional level. We are drawn to water. We seek to live beside it, at streams and rivers, oceans and lakes. We can imagine the pool as a link to our primordial past; pools respond to a profound emotional need and satisfy it."

Few have understood the full significance of the swimming pool and the environment surrounding it better than Baldon. From the 1960s and onwards, she was a key creative figure in the widespread establishment of the pool as an integral feature of the laid-back, optimistic Southern California lifestyle. By her own reckoning, Baldon designed more than 3,000 pools in and around Los Angeles, working as co-principal of a landscape architecture firm whose offices overlooked Venice Beach. She has been credited with the invention of the lap pool in the early seventies, a contribution that helped to advance the personal fitness revolution. At the same time, Baldon was a force for SoCal cool and sybaritic relaxation: she held a patent for the first prefabricated fiberglass jacuzzi with contoured seating, and she designed successful lines of outdoor furniture that married the sleek minimalism of modernist design with materials redolent of the region's Spanish Colonial heritage: wrought iron, wood, and leather strapping.

Baldon was, moreover, a quintessential Southern California character. She was born in rural Washington state, in the heart of apple-growing country (she would later say that the long, narrow irrigation trenches that run between the orchards were an inspiration for the lap pool). She came south to study interior design at Woodbury University in Burbank. Like many an L.A. transplant, she changed her name–she was christened Merle–to something more exotic. Baldon took part in the birth of what we now call Mid-century Modernism. At Woodbury, she became close friends with Robert Theron "Pete" Peters–the architect and illustrator who is widely acknowledged as the practical force in the architectural offices of Craig Ellwood, who himself had no formal training–and would collaborate with him on several design projects. Another of Baldon's longtime friends was the photographer Julius Shulman, whose work did so much to advance the mythos of modernism. He and Baldon published a design monograph about stairways. She was also an enterprising businesswoman: when she opened her own furniture company, Baldon purchased a foundry to fabricate the metal frames.

There was one final idiosyncrasy to this remarkable woman. Though she co-owned a thriving landscape design firm, she had no interest in greenery and left all horticultural matters to her business partner. "I don't understand plants," Baldon told the Los Angeles Times. "And don't intend to."

Baldon, Cleo, Ib Melchior, and Melba Levick. Reflections on the Pool: California Designs for Swimming. New York: Rizzoli, 1997. Print. Hillier, Bevis. "Designing Women." Editorial. Los Angeles Times, 24 Feb. 1985: n. pag. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. Jackson, N. California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2002. 36-39. Print.