Friday, May 29, 2009

Just one fool thing after another

A friend commented this week that "I was showing a lot of old photos" and that rather took me aback because I find the particular old photos I choose for the blog fascinating. For me they're a record not only of architecture and decoration but of mores, attitudes and the way a section of American society conducted itself. The rooms themselves are usually long gone and these black and white images like the flickering of memory evoke both lost times and, if one is aware of decoration today, the continuation of civility. When accompanied by a description these photos come alive. For example: 

"To the right of the hall, a long corridor hung with glorious eighteenth-century Chinese wallpaper led to the living room. This was a large white room decorated with painted leather panels of sporting scenes done by John Wootton. The furniture and curtains were all in various shades of almondy green, and the French Savonnerie carpet was all in muted yellow-greens, brilliantly accented with orangey coral. I was struck at once by the position of the piano, which Mrs. Wood had placed perpendicular to to the wall instead of conventionally parallel. A large comfortable armchair backed up to the piano and, in place of the piano bench, Mrs. Wood had a little bastard chair covered with needlepoint. Noel Coward spent the weekend with Mrs. Wood and some years later and called the chair "Queen Victoria as a little girl."

"Mrs. Wood always used lots of silver for sparkle: wine coolers, bowls, candlesticks. She loved to arrange flowering branches in the wine coolers; there would be short-clipped apple-blossom boughs in spring, and then, soon afterward, lovely branches of pink laurel. In one enormous bay window were masses of magnificent pink and red geranium plants, which never seemed to stop blooming the whole year round.

"Shortly after my first visit, Mrs. Wood slip-covered all the green furniture in cream-colored chintz with beige and white roses and almond-green leaves. It was then that the drawing room was at its most beautiful."

When looking back in old magazines and books about decoration, especially those of the 1950s, 1960s and even into the 1980s, its obvious that the quality of color printing had a crudity that can prevent one from appreciating any subtlety there might have been in the scheming of a room. For me, the combination of a well-written description and black and white photo, usually tonally well-modulated despite the paper, sparks my imagination. 

For me history is important but, as I know from many of my students, for many people history is "just one fool thing after another."

The quotation and photo above from Billy Baldwin Remembers and the cocktail recipe below courtesy of the South City Kitchen via the AJC. 

This week's cocktail? Has to be Southern in honor of Mrs. Wood and Mr. Baldwin, I reckon, so... 

The Corn's Hi

Generous ounce of Georgia Moon Moonshine
Lemon juice
1/2 ounce pineapple juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup
2 ounces Mountain Dew

Usual method with cocktail shaker and chilled glass. 

Anything with Mountain Dew gotta be goooooood!


  1. i drink them in - descriptions and cocktails

  2. Yes, they're old photographs -but they're also FABULOUS photographs. One does not negate the other!
    I think there is a lot we can learn from the past - people who just blow it off as 'old and boring' without looking are just ignorant and I feel sorry for them. If they don't pay attention it's obvious they're not looking past the age or just B&W'ness of it. Not to sound too harsh -but it's just how I feel!

  3. Just to make sure I am clear, I wasn't brushing off your "old photos", I do love them and I absolutly agree that there is a lot we can learn from the past. I don't think they are boring by any stretch, who doesn't love leather paneled walls! I love your blog and your posts, it's great because it is so different from mine and most other blogs out there. Believe me, I am not ignorant, I do appreciate the history of interior design and furniture and find it very interesting.

  4. Well I am pretty ignorant and need all the education I can get. You are helping me look more closely at things. I think this is another vote for continuing what you are doing.

  5. I'm loathe to admit it, but I too sometimes wish an older photo was in color. Did you see Mrs. Blanding's old post on seeing a room in color vs. black and white - it's interesting how in black and white it can be easier to see the bones of a room. I also think it's fascinating how designers decorated knowing they were going to be photographed in black and white - such as Dorothy Draper and Hollywood set designs....