Don’t Mess With This ‘Nuclear Carrot’ Corvette

Jeni Yeakel-Swanson, a real-estate lawyer in San Diego, with her 1964 Chevrolet Corvette race car. Ms. Yeakel-Swanson’s father owns the car, but she is the primary driver and competes in vintage races in it.
Jeni Yeakel-Swanson, a real-estate lawyer in San Diego, with her 1964 Chevrolet Corvette race car. Ms. Yeakel-Swanson’s father owns the car, but she is the primary driver and competes in vintage races in it. Photo: David Walter Banks for The Wall Street Journal

Jeni Yeakel-Swanson, a real-estate lawyer in San Diego, on her 1964 Chevrolet Corvette “Nuclear Carrot” race car, as told to A.J. Baime.

When I was growing up, my dad, Fred Yeakel, raced a 1957 Corvette. I went to races with him, and when I was old enough, I told him, “Dad, I want to drive!” He said, “First you have to learn how to work on the car.”

He taught me all about how that 1957 Corvette worked, and ultimately, I started driving on a racetrack. I said, “There’s no horsepower in this car.” He said, “You don’t need horsepower to drive well. Learn to drive well, then we will add horsepower.” Which is exactly what we did.


Photos: A Corvette, Restored to Its Former Glory

This Chevrolet Corvette, nicknamed ‘Nuclear Carrot,’ was restored using old photos, and now looks like it did in the 1960s.

The 1964 Chevrolet Corvette raced by Jeni Yeakel-Swanson. The car has been restored to look like it did when it was originally raced in the Midwest in the 1960s.
David Walter Banks for The Wall Street Journal

In 2007, he found the car pictured here in an ad in Vintage Motorsport magazine. It was painted red and the owner had it in storage outside Milwaukee. When we bought it, it came with documentation on its history. An Illinois-based driver had purchased the vehicle (it had been a theft recovery) and built it out as a race car in the 1960s. A piece of the front was missing, so he used parts he got from a junkyard.

Using old photos, my dad restored the car to what it had been in the 1960s. He was driving a Bill Thomas Cheetah race car at the time, and I like to think that he bought the Corvette for me. I have been the primary driver and my name is painted on the car next to the original sponsor from the 1960s—Tero Corvette of Rolling Meadows, Ill.

We started going to races up and down the west coast, from San Diego to Portland, Ore. We trailered our cars together, had our pits side by side, and sometimes even raced against one another. Along the way, a family friend, the late Mike Scott, gave this car its nickname: Nuclear Carrot.

Last year, under my dad’s supervision, I rebuilt the 327 V8. I took it apart and put it back together with new rods, pistons, the works.

Our next race will be at Sonoma Raceway, in the spring. To get the car ready, I will drive from San Diego on Saturdays to Anaheim, where the car resides. Sometimes my husband, daughter and best friend, Leslie Verfaillie, will come, and my dad will be there. I love to race and I love working on this car, but what I love most is doing those things with my family.

Contact A.J. Baime at Facebook.com/ajbaime

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The Competitive World of School Lunches

Aviva Wittenberg combines colorful foods into combinations of nut-free, dairy-free and vegetarian lunches each day for her daughters and posts pictures on Instagram.
Aviva Wittenberg combines colorful foods into combinations of nut-free, dairy-free and vegetarian lunches each day for her daughters and posts pictures on Instagram. Photo: Aviva Wittenberg

Aviva Wittenberg packs two school lunches every morning, one vegetarian and the other dairy-free. Her children take them to separate Toronto schools with nut-free restrictions.

That might send most parents weeping into their thermoses. Ms. Wittenberg, a 43-year-old information-technology consultant and mother to daughters Talia, 10, and Noa, 13, embraces the challenge, posting her lunchbox creations on Instagram each day before noon. One recent Tuesday, it was veggie and tofu samosas, surrounded by an assortment of eight fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, grapes and lupini beans. By 3 p.m., the image had 111 likes. “Beautiful,” wrote Christina Diep, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom in West Hollywood, Calif. “I wish my six-year-old would eat this lunch.”

Welcome to the world of competitive school lunches. People’s obsession with posting pictures of food on social media has moved to the lunchbox crowd. Posts on Instagram about lunchboxes rose 90% in the first eight months of 2018, according to Socialbakers, a social-media analytics firm that analyzed high-traffic accounts with more than 1,000 followers. Lunchbox makers report record back-to-school sales: Boolabox says revenues for its Yumboxes rose 35% this summer, says co-founder Daniela Devitt.

Beau Coffron creates an elaborate themed lunch each week, such as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Beau Coffron creates an elaborate themed lunch each week, such as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Photo: Beau Coffron/lunchboxdad

Japanese-inspired multi-compartment boxes have helped fuel lunchbox one-upsmanship. Preschool teachers sometimes encourage parents to buy into stylish all-in-one Bento-box brands such as Yumbox, PlanetBox and OmieBox. A lunchtime with fewer containers and plastic bags means less mess and confusion. Parents like that it eliminates cupboards overflowing with mismatched lids.

The lunchbox craze has helped fuel a cottage industry that includes specialized utensils, pre-written parental love notes and lunchbox-planning apps. In the months before San Francisco stay-at-home mom Nancy Yen launched her $39.50 OmieBox, she interviewed dozens of lunch-packing mothers nationwide.

“We got deep into the psychology of lunchmaking,” says Ms. Yen. A big theme that emerged in her consumer research was the guilt-ridden working mom. “It was, ‘I can’t be there for everything, so I am going to make you the most kick-ass lunch. I’m going to make sure you know I love you. And I’m going to do it at night when the kid’s asleep and it’s going to be amazing.’ ”

Lunchbox support groups, including Think Inside the Lunchbox and My Lunches for My Girl, are lighting up Facebook . Parents say that when they post their creations, it creates a bit of healthy competition. “It’s motivation,” says Daniela Oltean, a 46-year-old scientist in San Marcos, Calif., and mother to 12-year-old Sabrina and 10-year-old Conrad. Some days are more ambitious than others, and she says everyone aims high in the first few weeks of school.

Daniela Oltean (standing) began a Facebook group with her friend Kinda Arzon to share lunchbox ideas for their children. From left: Louis Arzon, Leila Arzon, Sabrina Post and Conrad Post.
Daniela Oltean (standing) began a Facebook group with her friend Kinda Arzon to share lunchbox ideas for their children. From left: Louis Arzon, Leila Arzon, Sabrina Post and Conrad Post. Photo: Kinda Arzon Photography

“Tried to copy one of the Starbucks protein boxes,” Ms. Oltean wrote on Sept. 14, including a picture of a hard-boiled egg, salami sticks and sliced fruit. On Sept. 22, she wrote “Baked croissants for breakfast and made tuna salad for lunch. They can have cat food for dinner.” The daily slog of combining sliced fruit, sandwich bread and goldfish crackers can be hard, she says. “Some days it feels like ‘I’m done, I can’t do this anymore.’ But then you see someone else post a picture and say ‘the kids like it,’ ” she says. That fuels more ideas.

Melissa Wheeler, a stay-at-home mother of three in Newcastle, Ontario, posts a diary of her lunchbox creations on Facebook. The idea started four years ago, when she and a friend would send images of their kindergartners’ lunches to one another. “We would joke around, and sometimes it was a little competitive,” she recalls. “Then our friends would make comments, and follow us, and then my phone got full of lunchbox photos.”

Melissa Wheeler starts prepping her daughter’s lunchbox each Sunday by storing chopped ingredients in containers.
Melissa Wheeler starts prepping her daughter’s lunchbox each Sunday by storing chopped ingredients in containers. Photo: Melissa Wheeler

In September, she started a new page, called My Lunches for My Girl, detailing her lunchbox-planning process, which usually begins on Sunday with some preparatory slicing and dicing. “Ok veggies prep done,” says a Sept. 23 post with a picture of nine plastic containers of vegetables diced and julienned. The following day, she posted a lunchbox for her 7-year-old daughter, Lily, that included cheese tortellini and an egg frittata.

Some parents save one day a week for their best effort. Beau Coffron, a 40-year-old director for a nonprofit in Oklahoma City, packs a themed lunch every Monday for his two oldest children, Abigail, 12, and Zachary, 8. In recent weeks, lunchbox themes have included Princess Bride, Legos and Star Wars. He started making specialized lunchboxes when Abigail started kindergarten, inspired by images on social media. “I saw moms doing stuff online and I was like, ‘Why can’t I do this?’ ” he recalls.

Today, he says his children don’t react to his creative efforts in quite the same way. “My daughter loves to show it to as many people as possible,” he says. Zachary, on the other hand, “doesn’t like all the attention.”

As with many things on social media, it helps to brace for criticism. Ms. Wheeler says her feelings have been hurt after posting a lunchbox picture. “Once, someone said I put too much fruit,” she recalls. “I cried over it.”

Kelly Pfeiffer, assisted by her daughter Kaela, photographs a school lunch for her Nosh and Nourish blog and Instagram account.
Kelly Pfeiffer, assisted by her daughter Kaela, photographs a school lunch for her Nosh and Nourish blog and Instagram account. Photo: Jenna Sparks Photography

Some parents like the stepped-up challenge to an often thankless task. Kelly Pfeiffer, a 38-year-old food blogger in Denver, says she is on a self-imposed mission to create one letter-themed lunch each week for her daughter, Kaela, 8. Last week, Kaela received an O lunchbox that included an orzo salad, an orange and an Oreo cookie. (Ms. Pfeiffer, who has written two cookbooks and blogs about food regularly, says she sometimes gets paid to show branded products in her Instagram photos.)

The idea inspired Mabby Howard, a 34-year-old business operation manager in Los Angeles and mother of 4-year-old twins, to recently try a P-themed lunchbox that included popcorn, pretzels and pineapple, posting it on her own Instagram account.

“I’m not a Pinterest mom, I’m not super creative, and I’m not particularly social-media active,” Ms. Howard says. “But this is so fun.”

Write to Anne Marie Chaker at anne-marie.chaker@wsj.com

10 Stylish Women on Essential Investment-Fashion Pieces

THE 3,650-DAY BARGAIN This Hermes Kelly bag will set you back $9,500 but if you carry it every day for 10 years, the cost a day will be only $2.60. Kelly 25” Bag, $9,500, Hermès, 800-441-4488
THE 3,650-DAY BARGAIN This Hermes Kelly bag will set you back $9,500 but if you carry it every day for 10 years, the cost a day will be only $2.60. Kelly 25” Bag, $9,500, Hermès, 800-441-4488 Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

I AM PROBABLY not the only person to have suffered a minor, first-world breakdown at Madame Paulette, a Manhattan dry cleaner that bills itself as “the world’s leading cleaning and restoration specialist.” Not New York—the world. I’d gone there in an attempt to salvage a flared black wool Azzedine Alaïa skirt purchased in Paris years before. Bought on a deep discount, yet still expensive for me, the skirt was pivotal: I’d worn it at least once a week for over 10 years. It was, unequivocally, my best fashion investment ever, and due to an encounter with a savage dryer setting it appeared to be ruined.

With the help of one of Madame Paulette’s elves, I managed to resurrect the skirt, and its near loss made me even more conscious of how important our investment fashion pieces are. These are the precious—usually expensive but not always—garments that we wear faithfully year after year. Although pulling the trigger on a perfectly cut camel-hair coat or a handmade pebbled-leather handbag can be painful, with time the expense can be worth it. That’s why sources ranging from penny-pinching blogs to your Aunt Sue encourage you to think about an item’s CPW: its Cost Per Wear over time. But can fashion ever really be a good “investment”?

The behavioral economist Cass Sunstein explained to me that there are two ways to think of investment. The first, he said, “is that you have it, and you enjoy it, and you use it for a long, long time.” Like a solid family car, or a good suit. The second kind is a more typical investment scenario: putting money into “stocks or comic books or art” in the hopes of reselling it later at a profit. Although fashion investments have historically fallen into the former category, they’re now entering the latter too.

Fashion speculators have long hawked rare Supreme hoodies and Hermès Birkin bags on the secondary market, but websites like The RealReal and Rebag are making it easier for laypeople to resell. Of the pieces that fall into the investment category, Charles Gorra, the founder and CEO of Rebag, said, “It’s rare that they are pure financial investments, but what we see most is a hybrid rationale,” a combination of a “fashion-oriented decision” and a “rational financial mind-set.” Buy it today because you love it and want to wear it, but be comforted by the idea that your wardrobe has value. (Those who have read “The Devil Wears Prada” will remember that its lead character buys her independence from a particularly demeaning 9-to-5 job by selling her designer clothing.)

Investment shopping needn’t be dryly analytical, however. I interviewed 10 stylish women about their best fashion buy ever, and their passionate, idiosyncratic answers run the gamut from a lavender flowered skirt to bondage-inspired harness boots.

10 Stylish Women on Essential Investment-Fashion Pieces
Illustration: Matthew Cook
Lucia Pica’s Red Puffer

Chanel’s global creative makeup and color director on the unexpected chic of a $790 North Face down jacket.

The Piece: I went on this Ayurvedic retreat in New Mexico and I wanted to be warm and comfortable. I saw this puffer jacket and it was the best red I’ve ever seen.

Why It’s Endured: I’m wearing this warm thing but I don’t feel dressed down because of the color; it’s like wearing a lipstick that brightens up your face. It’s hard to hide with a bright red jacket. And funnily the color red seems to go with everything. I wear it with jeans and a Chanel bag and red lipstick. I feel quite empowered by the color.

Estimated Cost Per Wear: $.89 per wear if worn every winter day for 10 years.

10 Stylish Women on Essential Investment-Fashion Pieces
Illustration: Matthew Cook
Yasmin Sewell’s Elongated Biker Jacket

The Farfetch VP of style and creative on a $2,750 tweaked classic by designer Magda Butrym.

The Piece: I can’t recall any moment from when I was a child until now that a biker jacket wasn’t in fashion. Normally I don’t suit the shape of a biker because they’re a bit short. But when I saw this one in the Magda Butrym lookbook, I thought, ”That’s the most beautiful biker I’ve ever seen.” Because it’s longer, it’s not an obvious shape.

Why It’s Endured: With something you can wear for 50 years, you might as well buy the best quality and get the most bang for your buck.

Estimated Cost Per Wear: $10.57 per wear if worn once a week every spring and fall for 10 years.

10 Stylish Women on Essential Investment-Fashion Pieces
Illustration: Matthew Cook
Angela Dimayuga’s Thigh-High Garter Boots

The creative director for food and culture at Standard Hotels considers the fun-per-wear of $800 Helmut Lang boots.

The Piece: I feel good about spending my money at a place like Opening Ceremony because my friends run it, and that’s where I got these boots. They were definitely a splurge.

Why It’s Endured: With the garter that’s on them, it ends up making sense that you want to show off the garter or the harness by wearing it with a skirt or shorts. They’re a pretty strong look and I dress very much like a New Yorker where you have to go from day to night often or just wear something that’s super comfortable or ideally both. I know that they’re kind of edgy-looking but they feel timeless. I bust them out when I want to have a fun night out.

Estimated Cost Per Wear: $3.33 per wear if worn twice a month for 10 years.

10 Stylish Women on Essential Investment-Fashion Pieces
Illustration: Matthew Cook
Lisa Eisner’s Rose-Colored Glasses

The Los Angeles jewelry designer on the allure of $500 vintage Cartier gold sunglasses.

The Piece: I got them at a flea market. I had been looking for them. It was sort of a fetishistic thing, like, “I have to find those Cartier sunglasses.” I still wear them all the time, and nobody has them so that’s the greatest thing ever.

Why It’s Endured: There’s something perfect about the lens color. It’s not too dark, it’s not too light, it’s just right. It’s almost like rose-colored glasses. And the gold, the geezer look of it, and that little bit of burgundy lacquer, that really drove me crazy.

Estimated Cost Per Wear: $.27 per wear if worn half the year for 10 years.

10 Stylish Women on Essential Investment-Fashion Pieces
Illustration: Matthew Cook
Tata Harper’s Flirtatious Trench Dress

The natural-beauty entrepreneur on a $1,300 Khaite trench dress with a surprising back.

The Piece: It is serious and timeless in the front, it looks like a trench. And then in the back it has a little cape and an open back, so it has just a touch of sexiness.

Why It’s Endured: The fabric is really nice and heavy. When I wear it I feel very feminine. When I have it on, people always mention it. They want to know the brand.

Estimated Cost Per Wear: $10.83 per wear if worn once a month for 10 years.

10 Stylish Women on Essential Investment-Fashion Pieces
Photo: Matthew Cook
Kai Avent-deLeon’s Perfect Slip Dress

The owner of Brooklyn store Sincerely, Tommy on the ease of a $245 John Patrick Organic slip dress.

The Piece: It’s one of my go-to pieces that I can throw on really easily, and now that I’m pregnant and my belly is growing, it allows for extra room. The fabric feels good against my skin. I’ve always loved slip dresses and usually I’ll go the vintage route but it’s hard to find vintage bias-cut slip dresses.

Why It’s Endured: Because I can just mix and match it, it’s really simple. I appreciate that, for someone who’s on the go a lot, and now being pregnant, just not having to make a huge fuss.

Estimated Cost Per Wear: $1.02 per wear if worn twice a month for 10 years.

10 Stylish Women on Essential Investment-Fashion Pieces
Illustration: Matthew Cook
Olivia Kim’s Navy Men’s Watch

The Nordstrom’s VP of creative projects on the pleasure of buying a $23,550 Rolex for herself—at the airport.

The Piece: Growing up, my mom, my aunt, my family, they all wore Rolexes. To me that was always a watch that you strive for. When this series of men’s watches came out in Basel I was obsessed, and then they came out with navy, one of my all-time favorite colors. But you don’t just go out and buy a Rolex every day. The funny thing is that I bought it at the airport, which is my absolute favorite place to buy watches because the selection is really good. It’s also a sense of accomplishment where it’s like, I worked really hard, I can afford a watch.

Why It’s Endured: It makes you feel dressed up even when you’re not. Half the time it’s covered by your sleeve, but there’s something elegant about having something that is so beautiful and functional, and is not this big showy piece. It’s the way that women feel about lingerie—it’s completely for yourself.

Estimated Cost Per Wear: $6.47 per wear if worn every day for 10 years.

10 Stylish Women on Essential Investment-Fashion Pieces
Illustration: Matthew Cook
Elizabeth Stribling’s Red Couture Pantsuit

The chairman of Stribling & Associates shops for serious pieces on vacation, and this $4,500 Christian Lacroix outfit is no exception.

The Piece: Since I work hard in the real-estate world in New York, I do my shopping when I’m on holiday, and when I’m on holiday, I’m in France. So I bought this suit at the Christian Lacroix boutique in Cannes. He cut clothes in a way that fits my size and he also loved color. I’m a woman who was born in the South and we wear lots of color in the South.

Why It’s Endured: Red is a powerful color, and it makes a statement. It is a real power suit, and very feminine.

Estimated Cost Per Wear: $37.50 per wear if worn once a month for 10 years.

10 Stylish Women on Essential Investment-Fashion Pieces
Illustration: Matthew Cook
Rachel Cope’s Lavender Printed Skirt

The co-founder and creative director of Calico Wallpaper on the $450 special piece from Rachel Comey that helped her break out of her shell.

The Piece: I bought it for a photo shoot for a collaborative exhibition that we put on for Salone de Mobile. I love Rachel Comey and I typically go to her store if I have a special occasion. I really respect her as an artist, as a mother, as a business owner.

Why It’s Endured: The color stands out from my wardrobe. Everything I have is black and it’s this beautiful light lavender burst of purple. It improves my mood. It’s symbolic that I’m feeling more confident being a female designer and I don’t have to be afraid to be seen.

Estimated Cost Per Wear: $1.88 per wear if worn twice a month for 10 years.

10 Stylish Women on Essential Investment-Fashion Pieces
Illustration: Matthew Cook
Taryn Toomey’s Uplifting Boots

The creator of exercise empire The Class on the $680 Isabel Marant suede boots that dress up her everyday leotard.

The Piece: Even though they’re suede and something that you would wear for the colder seasons, I wore them all summer, because they have a hidden heel. I’m still wearing them every day and I bought a second pair.

Why It’s Endured: I’m often going from the studio to the street, so for me to be able to throw a boot on that has a little bit of a lift in it is key so I don’t look like I just left the gym. I always put some sort of footwear on that’s not sneakers. It just makes you feel a little bit more elegant.

Estimated Cost Per Wear: $.65 per wear if worn twice a week for 10 years.

Corrections & Amplifications
The caption of the bag photographed for the holding image of the story was labeled incorrectly. The bag’s name was punctuated as a Kelly 25” when the correct name of the bag is simply Kelly 25. (September 28)

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Appeared in the September 29, 2018, print edition as ‘The 3,650-Day Bargain.’

Apartment Tour: An Ethereal Home in Rotterdam

CURVE APPEAL A Pierre Paulin sofa and steel-and-concrete table by FOS in the open living area of Marcelis and Cournet’s apartment in the Coolhaven district of Rotterdam.
CURVE APPEAL A Pierre Paulin sofa and steel-and-concrete table by FOS in the open living area of Marcelis and Cournet’s apartment in the Coolhaven district of Rotterdam. Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger for WSJ. Magazine

COOLHAVEN (the Dutch name translates to “coal harbor”), a waterfront district on the west side of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, is gentrifying fast. But the converted warehouse that designer Sabine Marcelis occupies is still a work in progress, if the loop of construction wire substituting for a knob on the front door is any indication.

Her gritty surroundings and the boat traffic that navigates the river Schie just outside her window aren’t nearly as captivating as the view she’s come up with indoors, where on the loft’s freshly poured concrete floors a fleet of colorful objects idles: a six-foot-tall ceramic totem by local artist Koen Taselaar; a blocky chaise of wire mesh from Belgian design duo Muller Van Severen; and a tiny table that looks like a meteorite pierced by shards of a shimmery disco ball, by the Danish artist FOS.

MATERIAL WORLD Two draperies, translucent and opaque, encircle the bed.
MATERIAL WORLD Two draperies, translucent and opaque, encircle the bed. Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger for WSJ. Magazine

Marcelis acquired the pieces one by one as opportunities to barter for her own work came along. Even the sofa, a long squeeze of pink peppermint designed by Pierre Paulin in the 1960s, was a trade of sorts with Paulin’s son Benjamin, whom she met a few years ago. The furnishings don’t work together so much as coexist, and she’s still experimenting with their placement.

“I like the idea of filling a house with richness, because you’re surrounded by the work of your friends,” says the designer, 33, balancing a plate of store-bought baklava between us on the pink sofa. Her own contributions are limited to fill-ins—a discarded panel of tinted glass that’s become a dining table, a botched resin cube repurposed as a planter and a few chairs and barstools she made with her boyfriend, architect Paul Cournet, when they couldn’t find seating they liked.

DEEP SEATED Cournet and Marcelis on a double chaise of steel wire by Belgian design duo Muller Van Severen.
DEEP SEATED Cournet and Marcelis on a double chaise of steel wire by Belgian design duo Muller Van Severen. Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger for WSJ. Magazine

The couple moved into the building last year after an 18-month renovation that subdivided an open floor into 2,600 square feet and an outdoor terrace plus two smaller units, which they now rent out. The unfettered space was a turn-on for Cournet, 30, a Frenchman who has lived in his fair share of vertically oriented Dutch houses during his eight years in the Rotterdam office of Rem Koolhaas’s architecture firm OMA.

“Paul said, ‘We’re not going to put up any walls,’ ” Marcelis recalls. “And I said, ‘Are you sure? Maybe that’s a little extreme? What about some bathrooms?’ ” She laughs. “So now we have The Wall.” In one decisive move, Cournet inserted what he describes as “a slim band of pocketed rooms, where each space is defined by one single material and color to create distinct environments.” A storage area is lined in plywood from floor to ceiling, while the powder room is clad in rosy handmade tiles with a distinctly anatomical vibe. “People call it ‘the brain room,’ ” he says. The only unfinished space is the master bath, which Marcelis plans to envelop in a luscious, pigmented polyester resin she often uses in her work—though the details are still at issue (“Paul wants mint green and I want a warm caramel, like skin,” she explains).

A view into the plywood-lined storage room.
A view into the plywood-lined storage room. Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger for WSJ. Magazine

“What Sabine does is very pure and elegant,” says Maria Foerlev, whose Copenhagen gallery, Etage Projects, has represented the designer’s work since 2012, a year after her graduation from Design Academy Eindhoven. “But she always wants to create a relationship between the piece and the viewer. Like her Soap table of resin—people just want to touch it. Or one of her gradient mirrors. Is it a hole in the wall? It’s hard to tell. You really have to look.”

The designer’s obsessions with industrial materials and manufacturing have taken her down some of the same conceptual rabbit holes that enticed the Southern California Light and Space artists, who made surface perfection a proxy for transcendence—and perceptual unease. Despite their seductive colors and surfaces, Marcelis’s creations raise as many questions as they answer.

A few years ago, her work caught the attention of Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, a partner at OMA, and since then she’s collaborated with the firm on a variety of projects, including an illusionistic mirrored entry for Berlin’s KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) department store and the sharp-edged interior of the Repossi jewelry boutique on Paris’s Place Vendôme. A number of fashion brands have come calling as well, among them Céline, Givenchy and Salle Privée.

Marcelis designed the glass table and, with Cournet, the stacked-foam chairs.
Marcelis designed the glass table and, with Cournet, the stacked-foam chairs. Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger for WSJ. Magazine

For Isabel Marant, she assisted with a new retail concept—“a whole group of designers working together,” she says—that debuted in Amsterdam this spring and will roll out internationally in the coming months. Over the summer, Marcelis partnered with Burberry and Opening Ceremony on store installations in New York and Los Angeles that stretched the classic Burberry plaid like taffy into translucent panels for framing and display; in December, her first project with Fendi will debut at Design Miami to mark the 10th anniversary of the brand’s participation at the fair and of its Peekaboo bag.

Though the pace of fashion work can be punishing, Marcelis relishes the freedom it offers. “Something that works as display could be almost anything, as long as a bag can sit on top of it,” she says. “It’s a nice way to experiment.” Clocking crazy hours in her studio, a 10-minute drive from the loft, the self-described “production nerd” delves deeper and deeper into process—a way of working that’s influenced, she says, by her teenage experiences with competitive sports.

BRIGHT AS YELLOW In the guest room, Marcelis’s Voie light with a Thomas Trum wall painting and a FOS stool.
BRIGHT AS YELLOW In the guest room, Marcelis’s Voie light with a Thomas Trum wall painting and a FOS stool. Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger for WSJ. Magazine

From the ages of 17 to 21, Marcelis trained to be a professional snowboarder, living back-to-back winters in New Zealand and California’s Sierra Nevadas. “Every day I would be in the park, trying to get a trick, land a jump, do rails—you’re constantly trying to achieve a goal. It’s a mixture of adrenaline and determination,” she says. “I was never really good enough to earn my living with it, but it was all I really wanted to do.” In 2006, she quit the sport and went back to school, first to study economics, then industrial design.

“Now, looking back, it feels like someone else’s life,” she says. What has endured is a passion for “figuring out how to do the impossible. There’s an idea, and it has to be that. But it doesn’t work. So how can you make it work?”

PALMS AWAY A pink resin planter, designed by Marcelis, with a Cycas revoluta that Marcelis likes because it looks “like a Lego palm tree.”
PALMS AWAY A pink resin planter, designed by Marcelis, with a Cycas revoluta that Marcelis likes because it looks “like a Lego palm tree.” Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger for WSJ. Magazine

As the loft came together, the couple felt the need to mediate Cournet’s precious open space with some softer, more intimate elements. When friends come over, Marcelis can slide several floor-length theatrical draperies around a track in the ceiling to create an ad hoc room centered on the sofa.

Wiping a few pastry crumbs from her hands, she walks over to another column of fabric and draws the moss-green velvet around her until she’s cocooned inside an oval: instant projection room. Beside it is a curtain of silver foil enclosing a platform bed. The arrangement looks a little claustrophobic, but Marcelis explains that she and Cournet like to beam movies onto the ceiling before going to sleep, adding that “the space changes to manipulate the light.”

Apartment Tour: An Ethereal Home in Rotterdam
Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger for WSJ. Magazine

Not every design problem is so gratifying to solve. Today Marcelis is deciding whether to fix her car, which is in the shop, or buy a new one. Not being able to move quickly between home, studio, fabricators, collaborators and suppliers with a trunkload of prototypes and samples is becoming a major inconvenience. A few new projects have her feeling stretched, even with four employees helping out in the studio.

“My goal for this year is to focus more and do less,” she says. She’d love to work with a theater company sometime on scenography. Until then, she’s trying out new ideas at home. •

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With No Nobel Prize in Literature This Year, Another Award Steps In

The three finalists for the New Academy’s prize in literature, created in the absence of a Nobel Prize this year, from left: Maryse Condé, Kim Thúy and Neil Gaiman.
The three finalists for the New Academy’s prize in literature, created in the absence of a Nobel Prize this year, from left: Maryse Condé, Kim Thúy and Neil Gaiman. Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images;Jean Francois; Rebecca Cabage/Invision/AP

In a year when the Swedish Academy won’t name a Nobel laureate in literature, a pop-up nonprofit called the New Academy is aiming to fill the gap.

On Oct. 12 in Stockholm, on the heels of the various Nobel announcements, the New Academy’s jury, led by publishing-industry veteran Ann Pålsson, will name the winner of the New Prize in Literature. The organization sprang up after the Swedish Academy said in May that it would postpone the Nobel in literature for a year.

The New Academy stuck to the Nobel calendar, in which winners are named in October and receive their awards in December, but it departed from tradition by opening up much of its decision-making. Early in the summer, librarians across Sweden nominated 47 authors, including Don DeLillo and Elena Ferrante.

Then the public joined in and after more than 30,000 online votes, the list was winnowed to four finalists: Maryse Condé, Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami and Kim Thúy. Ms. Pålsson and her three fellow jurors, all eminences in Swedish arts and letters, will choose the winner.

Haruki Murakami was named a fourth finalist for the New Academy prize but withdrew from consideration.
Haruki Murakami was named a fourth finalist for the New Academy prize but withdrew from consideration. Photo: Reuters

Mr. Murakami, the Japanese novelist known for books such as “Kafka on the Shore” and “Norwegian Wood,” withdrew his name from consideration.

Ms. Condé, an 81-year-old academic and author born on Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean, broke out as a novelist in the 1980s with “Segu,” a saga that sweeps through African history.

Ms. Thúy, 50, was born in Vietnam and as a young girl fled the strife-torn country for Canada. That journey has informed her three novels, including her debut “Ru,” published in 2009.

“My knees got weak,” said Ms. Thúy when she learned she was a finalist, though she plans to be sound asleep when the winner is announced. “It would be very wrong for me to win,” she said, adding that her three books aren’t equivalent to “one book of anyone else on that list.”

Mr. Gaiman, 57, a Briton, is known for his graphic novels (the “Sandman” series) as well as books for children (“Coraline”) and adults (“The Ocean at the End of the Lane”). After learning through Twitter both that he was on the long list and then a finalist, he also set hopes low, saying that simply making the cut was thrilling.

“It’s a hugely nice thing to be placed in company of 47 fantastic writers from around the world,” he said, mentioning Margaret Atwood, J.K. Rowling and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “What I really liked was that they were getting librarians involved in the process.”

The Swedish Academy canceled this year’s Nobel in literature as it attempts to recover from a scandal over allegations of sexual assault, saying it would award two prizes next year. The man at the center of the scandal, Jean-Claude Arnault, was found guilty of rape on Monday and sentenced to two years in prison.

This isn’t the first year without a Nobel Prize in literature. The Swedish Academy has awarded them since 1901, but none during seven years around the first and second World Wars.

News of this year’s cancellation dismayed many in Sweden’s publishing and artistic circles. “We love the Nobel Prize, and we were so sad when they said it wasn’t to be awarded,” Ms. Pålsson said.

Alexandra Pascalidou, a journalist and writer in Sweden, marshaled dozens of volunteers in forming the New Academy, drawing up a website and spreading the word on social media.

“I thought we have to do something new,” Ms. Pascalidou said. “So, I called the do-ers I know.” In June, she enlisted Ms. Pålsson, who had edited Ms. Pascalidou’s most recent book, to head the jury.

To cover expenses and raise a monetary prize (the literature Nobel laureate receives more than $1 million), the New Academy has enlisted sponsors, crowdfunding, and is selling T-shirts, hoodies and iPhone cases. The group’s Kickstarter page states a goal of 250,000 Swedish krona (about $28,000) and thus far has drawn more than $9,000 in pledges.

It plans to shut down after the award ceremony and celebrations in December. At that point, Ms. Pålsson said, “I think we’ll be pretty happy and tired.”

Whether the prize will generate the buzz that the Nobel does is an open question.

“I don’t know that I would expect that we will see the jump in sales that we would expect to see from a Nobel win,” said Rachel Cass, buying and inventory manager at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass.

The New Academy prize is unlikely to exert the same heft as the Nobel, said Jake Reiss, founder of the Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, Ala., which sells only new hardbacks signed by the author. He has some signed Gaimans on hand but nothing by Ms. Condé or Ms. Thúy, he said.

Still, he applauded the New Academy’s effort as better than nothing. “Heaven forbid, if there were no Super Bowl or the World Series, if the players went on strike or whatever,” he said, “it wouldn’t be the same—but that’s all you got.”

Write to Brenda Cronin at brenda.cronin@wsj.com

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The Luxury Hotels America’s Wealthy and Powerful Call Home

After more than a year, finance executive Robert Wolfangel, his wife Jaime and their cats Tiki and Cody have just moved out of their Philadelphia hotel room.

It wasn’t a depressing existence: Their place at Roost Apartment Hotel was a roughly 750-square foot one bedroom with a full kitchen, herringbone floors and midcentury modern furniture. After they finally bought a home, the couple was able to move on two weeks’ notice.

“I…

Can This Smart Mug Make Your Coffee Better?

JOE NOT-TOO-COOL Ember’s app displays real-time temperatures and notifies you when your coffee is perfect.
JOE NOT-TOO-COOL Ember’s app displays real-time temperatures and notifies you when your coffee is perfect. Photo: Joshua Scott for The Wall Street Journal

ACCORDING TO MY extremely unscientific, improvised testing methods, it seems that coffee lives in the Goldilocks Zone—not too hot, not too cold—for only about 8 minutes. Typically, after pouring a cup, I sip it tentatively, anxiously, until it reaches my preferred temperature, then gulp the rest down the way I chug Gatorade after a 5K run so I don’t waste its peak.

Apparently there’s a better way. The Ember ceramic smart mug ($80, ember.com) comes equipped with a built-in microprocessor and a dual-zone heating element at its base that lets you control it via smartphone. This discreet bit of tech lets you handily dial up or down the coffee’s temperature and keep it stable for about an hour (until the battery fades), which is right on target according to experts.

“Coffee degrades after an hour. Period,” said Paul Schlader, co-founder of New York City’s Birch Coffee chain. “You can’t stop that. But a heater can help prolong a bit of that sweet spot.”

The coffee’s temperature is measured using three internal sensors and is displayed in real time on the mug’s companion app, where you can customize preset temperatures or use theirs—126 for a latte, 130 for coffee, 132 for tea.

“Most coffees from different regions are going to be represented well in that space,” explained Mr. Schlader. “But the optimal temperature for flavor, aftertaste, the correct amount of acidity and body is about 135 degrees.”

For coffee drinkers who don’t enjoy feeling the burn, Ember’s pricier travel mug option ($150) has a “rapid cooling system” that pulls heat out of the cup to cool it more quickly so you’re not left waiting.

I recklessly pushed the Ember and my caffeine intake to the limits one Sunday, testing cups at varying degrees from the mug’s max of 145 F—not recommended—to its low of 120 F, where you begin to see how the quality of a brew stands up, according to Mr. Schlader.

Each time the Ember performed. However, getting bombarded with persistent smartphone notifications about updated temps and the need to charge my mug got old very quickly. I don’t need yet another device distracting me from my work—not when I have all this important science to do.

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