Friday, December 18, 2009


On a cold, wet day when twilight arrived at dawn, in our library the grey light has leeched the warmth from the cream-painted woodwork and the off-white curtains, and the blue upholstery fades softly into the shadows. In the deepest shade, that of the bookshelves, gilt book titles gleam bringing to mind how, when the world was lit by fire, our ancestors varnished and gilded leather wall panels, flashed the cornices, architraves and door cases with pellucid color and coruscating gold, dangled silvered mirrors and sparkling crystal from ceilings and walls, all to catch the light and restore it to the room.

Now we use electricity and our rooms are much brighter than previous times but how many of us design rooms in such a way that surfaces, objects and textiles collaborate with light? We shade lamps, glaze walls, burnish metals and woods, hang huge expanses of mirror, polish floors, yet I wonder how many understand the reciprocal relationship between luminosity and luster. Photography and the need for clear portraits of rooms has done away with atmosphere and much is lost. The past is indeed another country, they did things differently there.

I began with the photo above of a room designed by yesterday's designer, David Mlinaric - a living room in London. When I chose that photo my train of thought was different to the one expressed above; more about how discretely contemporary the room is, has neither the inconsequence of minimalism nor the modish use of early or mid-century modern, and is vivacious and serene at the same time.

So, in a way, my theme is light and warmth, for here is a room that would not be drained of life even on the darkest of days - the colour is a light yellow that sits well with the glowing orange of the curtains and the friendly warmth of wood and silk. One could sit in this amiable room, awaiting friends, contemplating the evening ahead, with a glass of vin chaud in hand, comfortable and relaxed.

Vin Chaud

1 bottle robust red wine
4 cinnamon sticks
1 x 5" curl orange zest
1/3 cup sugar
1 star anise
5 whole cloves
1/3 cup cognac

Put all into pan and heat but do not let it boil and simmer for a few minutes. Simmering is when a bubble two rises to the surface but there is no turbulence on the surface.

Photo by Derry Moore, copyright Conde Nast Publications, from Mlinaric on Decorating by Mirabel Cecil and David Mlinaric, 2008.

Recipe from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Christmas, Hyperion, 2009.

Phrase "when the world was lit by fire" suggested by William Manchester's A World Lit Only by Fire, Little, Brown & Co., 1992.


  1. Like a school girl I need to keep a journal of your words: pellucid, coruscating. And concepts: "the reciprocal relationship between luminosity and luster." "...has neither the inconsequence of minimalism nor the modish use of early or mid-century modern, and is vivacious and serene at the same time."

    Leaving all behind, I worship light, both its waxing and waning. It, for me, drives the cycle of the seasons. A seed started in darkness, reaches for any light it can. In my rooms, I prefer mood over perfection. Reflection over purity. The solstice comes quietly before us this weekend. The light will return again. Happy and joyous to you and your beloved.

  2. home before dark - you are very kind to me and I am grateful to you. Yes, the solstice, the shortest day of the year with a new moon five days before and a blue moon ten days later. Thank you for your wishes for us and let me say that they are sincerely reciprocated.

  3. I love the Mlinaric book and your words as well. This is a lovely classical really-room.I hope you will talk about Mlinaric more in 2010-my Xmas wish list to Blue. Did you report back on Nigella and your evening out with her?

  4. my security word just then was bluer! how about that! if it is next-more blue(which I think is correct) I will report on it immediately

  5. Like Home, I love your phrases - 'vivacious and serene' perfectly describes this 'amiable room'. These are not the normal clichés. You're so good.

    I like your recipe too. Your good health, Blue!

  6. I meant to add that I recommend a beautiful little book that might resonate with your first paragraph. Junichiro Tamizaki's 'In praise of shadows' is an essay on the aesthetics of a Japanese dwelling. He rails against the brilliance of electric lighting and I particularly like his description of the gold decoration on lacquerware gleaming in the shadows.

  7. Little Augury - thank you. I think I added an update after the event to the post about Nigella. It was, I thought, a good event. I've never seen the ballroom of the AHC so filled with people except on one occasion and that was an ASID dinner in better times than now. I was astonished to find she was so popular with Americans. Shows you what I know.

    Rose C'est La Vie - I shall order that book today. I hadn't heard of it but it sounds fascinating. Thank you for telling me of it.

    Best wishes to y'all's both for Christmas.

  8. You only need to visit an early American home at night to understand the properties of light, and the glories of reflection. The world is a very dark place without electricity! Candlelight tours at Mt. Vernon are lovely for this - a colonial room at night is a completely different place than the daytime.

  9. I agree with you. I appreciate mood over pristine clarity any day! So much is lost under bright, even lights and perfectly clean, smooth surfaces. (Why so many shelter mags strive for this in their shoots is beyond me...) It's not the way we experience things, and I think we're better for it.

    And I second Rose C'est La Vie on the Tanizaki recommendation. I almost forgot I had that book, but I remember being very taken with it when I first read it. It's full of elegant observations, many of which stick with me now (and I read it, maybe, 5 years ago?). Lauren

  10. These thoughts speak the mood of the season glinting on worldly materials - and such atmosphere they conjure! It's very quiet in this post. Those intermediate moments of gentle glow are some of the most precious.Your illustration is nice but your words even more beautiful.