This week we honor the late Cleo Baldon, a renowned architect who passed away earlier this month at the age of 87. Our CEO Gerald Olesker had the pleasure of working with her early in his career, and had some thoughts to share.
We all take that moment and pause – look to the sky and consider that pondering is part of the creative aspect. Some employers hate that, but I learned early on with Sid Galper & Cleo Baldon that design is a considered part of the environment.
Many of us sit in the Jacuzzi® and relax. But what if those comfy chaises built into the spa were not there? Well, thanks to Cleo and Sid they are. From iron hardware to the refurbished bungalows around Venice and Santa Monica (owned by Sid and Cleo) many of us had the opportunity to learn and craft our skills in a time past. They designed hardware, furniture, landscapes, spec houses, one of the first solar and passive houses in the Malibu Colony area, and many other items that we all look to for inspiration.
Galper/Baldon offered an office experience to me that shaped the beginning of my career. Picture being a young twentysomething in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Now everyday your office experience was sitting on the second story, corner window with a view up and down the Venice boardwalk. How did I ever get any work done? I called clients, from the Society of Architecture Historians to the rich and famous, across Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Malibu and all over. I remember working on museums to having a great run with Sid, meeting people like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I remember Cleo inking the deal for her book on Stairs and Stairways (photo consultation by Julius Shulman). Always inspiring.
Well, that is inspirational. Looking up and pondering, walking down the hall of the renovated Orthodox synagogue to the Galper Baldon Design Studio and challenging Cleo Baldon to a verbal dual. Most employees, after receiving the loudest and most verbose tongue lashing, would never attempt to challenge Cleo. Sid, on the other hand, was gentle, unless you knew the stories of his high school students receiving another kind of tongue tied swell up from plant matter. Sid was grandfathered in as a landscape architect with his ID number in the single digits.
Business with a partnership, it was always – go to Sid for the kind response and Cleo for the downright straight up design critique of a lifetime.
This yin and yang is what ran one of the top landscape and design firms in the country. I had the good fortune of learning form Sid early on, that when a tree would fall over, just replace it, then go to the client and work out the billing. The high profile clients still love him.
Now Cleo always had her wits about her, and how better to learn that challenge the best. One day, being that smartass twentysomething, I said “Cleo, how the heck can an interior designer design landscapes?” Her answer was concise and with a smile. She told me that space was space. I have taken that with me for the last 25 years, lighting and manufacturing lights and elements for properties from curbside to poolside©. Just a small part of my lessons from Cleo Baldon and Sid Galper.
Now, working on competition drawings for the Stanley Black residence, you know the one with the statues all around the front yard on Sunset at a Dead Man’s curve, and learning from the staff how to render, I received quite the education early on. And with Sid, a lesson in business of how to deal with clients and always return a phone call in 24 hours. Today, I am looking to the sky to say a sad, but warm, goodbye to Cleo Baldon.
I am a chair junkie. I love the versatility of chairs. A pinnacle was when my wife and I rescued 3 Tara Chairs, from the trash crusher with the original rawhide straps and cushions. This design is one of the most versatile designs and sought after chairs on www.1stdibs.com. Well, why not, Cleo made sure that whether indoors or out, you would be comfortable. She constantly improved on the design from chair to sofa to table to seat to bar stool to strapping to cushions.
Goodbye Cleo, Goodbye Sid – your designs live on and are enjoyed by all.
“Enjoy the picture series, and next time you ponder, just know that ‘space is space’ and looking up or into a landscape or back into a home, someone yelled at someone and the design was born. Some one yelled at someone and the design was fabricated. And some one calmed the other down to say, just take a seat and enjoy, and ponder…” Gerald Olesker
Reflections on the Pool: The Best of California Design by Cleo Baldon