Monday, August 31, 2009

Finally living like a human being

A week ago I mentioned in a post how when reading Geoffrey Beard's Stucco and Decorative Plasterwork in Europe I turned the page to the photo above of the Loggia of the Vila Madama created in Rome in the first quarter of the 16th century. The decoration of this loggia, the Raphael Loggia at the Vatican, and countless other decorative schemes from the 15th century to the 20th were all inspired by the Domus Aurea of Nero then lately discovered.

The Domus Aurea, or Golden House, is known to anyone who studies the decorative arts for it was the discovery of the remnant of this palace under the Baths of Trajan, that gave rise to a renewal of a decorative style of wall decoration that had been forgotten for over a thousand years: a style we know as Grotesque. Grotesque in this sense does not mean ugly but derives from grotta, or cave.

Suetonius, author of On the Lives of the Caesars, wrote a description of the Golden House:

"There was nothing, however, in which Nero was more ruinously prodigal than in building. He made a palace extending all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which at first he called the House of Passage, but but when it was burned shortly after its completion and rebuilt, the Golden House. Its size and splendor will be sufficiently indicated by the following details. Its vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the emperor a hundred and twenty feet high; and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded by buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of-pearl. There were dining rooms with fretted ceilings of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolved day and night, like the heavens. He had baths supplied with sea water and sulfur water. When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at last beginning to be housed like a human being."

The Golden House after Nero's death suffered a damnatio memoriae (damnation of memory), was stripped of its marbles and precious materials and the site filled in and built over. In the 15th century it was rediscovered when a young man fell through a cleft into what first thought to be a cave or grotto. Some of what is left of the frescos you see below, faded, fallen away, rotted by damp and algae, but they survive in the form of copies painted on site in the flickering light of candles or oil lamps, and in the inspiration they gave to the artists of the Renaissance and beyond.

Above and below the Raphael Loggia at the Vatican.

The bathroom below, a gift from Pope Leo X to his friend Cardinal Bibbiena, intended to be an authentic reconstruction of a room in an ancient villa, was inspired by the Domus Aurea.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Room in the Capitol, Washington DC.

There's an article in the August issue of World of Interiors about the beautifully painted Erichsen's Mansion in the center of Copenhagen and is described in the text as "one of the finest sequence of Neoclassical interiors in Denmark" and, believe me, it is gorgeous.

Stucco and Decorative Plasterwork in Europe
Domus: Wall Painting in the Roman House
The United States Capitol: the Architecture and Decoration

Friday, August 28, 2009

I'm not loving ...

One could argue that, being based on clearly defined elements and principles, interior design is an art form. In the same way that art evokes emotion, reaction, and response, so do rooms. In some ways, rooms are sculptures that one can walk into - a form of installation art created by a designer and commissioned by a client.

So if interior design is an art, why then is there so little formal criticism of it? Art and architecture magazines are filled with reasoned critiques: the
New Yorker carries occasional descriptive and well reasoned articles on architecture, as does New York magazine.

But where, outside of design school juries and client presentations, are the interior design critics?

Shelter magazines generally do not critique interior design, they simply describe, and sometimes gush. The same is true of the ID blogs – at least those that I read. (It could be of course, that I'm reading too few.) Magazines, designers and decorators have common interests which tends to rule out criticism, and bloggers are more likely to write about what they like so there is a natural tendency for the positive to be represented. Yet it is from critique that one learns - in the same way a dancer learns to dance by being told how to improve. Exposure, understanding and the ability to compare and contrast are the means by which one learns and improves.

Those who dare to critique design are often faced with the retort, “well, could you do any better?” the implication is that critique is the same as criticism, and that both are a form of personal attack. But to my mind this misses the point. Few restaurant critics are also chefs. One does not need to direct movies to be a film critic. And an interior design critic need not practice to be able to critique it.

However, one does need to know something of what one is talking about: something about interior design.

Malcom Gladwell in his book
Outliers says that there is a rule of thumb: to be good at anything takes about 10,000 hours of practice. Hours which must to be spent before the point of mastery is reached. The same is true of critique: it requires understanding, study and above all exposure to a lot of the subject matter – in our case, a lot of looking at and thinking about rooms, the way they look and the way they work. That takes dedication. It’s not that enough that you just wake up and decide to bitch. Knowledge, dedication and a degree of passion are required to deliver a meaningful critique.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Too fine for the floor

I've been thinking today about the quotation I used as the title for Monday's post: too fine for the floor. It came to mind this morning when stymied at work by an IT situation, I went online to check out my favorites. I was looking at The Textile Blog's excellent post about the Pazyryk rug and I remembered how in my Monday post I used a picture of a woman who had a rug on the table, as was done in the late Medieval period in Europe, still is in the taverns of Amsterdam, because it was too good to be put on the floor.

I digress from the point when I say that what was more interesting about that photo was not the fine rug on the table but the peg rug used before the hearth. My grandmother made these and seeing one was, like Proust's madeleine, for me a gateway to the past. What was once a sign of thrift and poverty is now a craft. However, as I say, I digress.

The image above is from the Fort Street Studio's collection of hand-made silk rugs. I'm not given to wearing clothing with a logo and neither am I given to advertising for anyone for free, but the Fort Street Studio's collection is one of the most exquisite I've seen. I ordered a sample a few months ago for my resource library and I hope someday to use one of their rugs for a client or even for myself. To hell with the client, this is about me!

Anyone who remembers the Rya rugs of the 50s, 60s and 70s will appreciate the idea of hanging a rug on a wall: hand-made art. Fad and fashion have made rugs and carpets on a wall a thing of the dim tacky past, but in the case of the rug shown above for me there is a close connection with the work of Rothko: there's a seeping contemplative quality that in my opinion makes it too fine for the floor.

Too fine for the floor, indeed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A long winding road

To one who has been long in city pent
Tis very sweet to look into the fair
And open face of heaven - to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament.
Who is the more happy, when, with heart's content,
Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair
Of wavy grass, and reads a debonair
And gentle tale of love and languishment?
Returning home at evening, with an ear
Catching the notes of Philomel- an eye
Watching the sailing cloudlet's bright career,
He mourns that day so soon has glided by:
E'en like the passage of an angel's tear
That falls through the clear ether silently.

John Keats, To One who has been Long in City Pent.

Long days, lots of driving, little time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'm loving ...

"Many cottage interiors still reveal an enchantingly stubborn rejection of modern standardization in matters of ornament, a marked predilection for exuberant colour, objects crammed closely together, family photographs and pictures of Royalty, national heroes and religious subjects. Mrs. Hockey favours Nelson and, as some unspoilt country people are still wont to do, frightens her grandchildren with threats of Bony. Cottagers consider exposed ceiling beams unsightly and old-fashioned and commonly paper over them, as Mrs. Hockey has done here."

The author's description is as quaint and unspoilt in its own way as the country people, the Cottagers, she portrays and I wonder if it could have been written today.

However, that apart, the accretion of objects on and above that chest of drawers brings to mind how some of today's decorators, celebrity major or minor, that lay layer upon layer, sedimentary as the dust that settles, are unable to leave any surface, horizontal or vertical, unadorned. In the quotation above, clutter, though that word is not used, is seen as a class signifier, a stubborn rejection of modernity to use the author's phrase. If that still holds in today's celebrity-driven market could we still make the same value judgement of cluttered interiors?

The language of design critique once it goes beyond the gushing "I'm loving .... " can be objective but frequently is more of a value judgment - witness my use of the word gushing. It is difficult to separate language from biases and because aesthetic perception is not what one expects of today's writers on design and decoration, it seems to me that there is a need for a fundamental retelling of The Emperor's New Clothes. That is a post for tomorrow or later in the week.

Source: English Cottages and Farmhouses, Olive Cook, 1954.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Too fine for the floor

This morning, laying on our library floor, my feet on the sofa and reading Geoffrey Beard's Stucco and Decorative Plasterwork in Europe I turned a page to a photo of the early 16th century loggia of the Villa Madama, Rome and which was based on Nero's Domus Aurea that had been quite recently discovered. The story of the disappearance of the Golden House of Nero and its rediscovery is worth a blog, but not today as I had planned.

The day intervened and here I am late on Sunday evening just a-thinkin' - one of those life, love and happiness moments that come upon one in the watches of the night when one's other and better half is safely tucked up, both he and the dishwasher gurgling away. Sometimes you just have to look backwards to see where you have been and why. A few moments of introspection are a good thing.

Today, neither palaces nor lost gardens, just a moment captured by a photographer over 50 years ago and, because of the memories it conjured in me, in its own way, a Domus Aurea.

"Mrs. Tye's grate is the form of kitchen range and the freshly laundered frill encourages draught. Fastened to the main ceiling beam is a rack for hams. The table is covered with a carpet thought to be too fine for the floor. Mrs. Tye has lived here since she was married some sixty years ago and pays a weekly rent of 4s."

English Cottages and Farmhouses, Olive Cook, Thames & Hudson 1954. Photo by Edwin Smith.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taking a few days off

Either my scanner is broken or the VueScan program I use is malfunctioning and I cannot post as I wish this week.  My blog is discursive so I am quite happy leaving  you in the capable hands of E. F. Benson as he describes one of Mrs. Emmeline Lucas' gardens at Tilling. 

"A yew-hedge, bought entire from a neighbouring farm, and transplanted with solid lumps of earth and indignant snails around its roots, separated the small oblong of garden from the road, and cast monstrous shadows of the shapes into which it was cut, across the little lawns inside. Here, as was only right and proper, there was not a flower to be found save such as were mentioned in the plays of Shakespeare; indeed it was called Shakespeare's garden, and the bed that ran below the windows of the dining room was Ophelia's border, for it consisted solely of those flowers which that distraught maiden distributed to her friends when she should have been in a lunatic asylum. Mrs Lucas often reflected how lucky it was that such institutions were unknown in Elizabeth's day, or that, if known, Shakespeare artistically ignored their existence. Pansies, naturally, formed the chief decoration - though there were some very flourishing plants of rue. Mrs Lucas always wore a little bunch of them when in flower, to inspire her thoughts, and found them wonderfully efficacious. Round the sundial, which was set in the middle of one of the squares of grass between which a path of broken paving-stone led to the front door, was a circular border, now, in July, sadly vacant, for it harboured only the spring-flowers enumerated by Perdita. But the first day every year when Perdita's border put forth its earliest blossom was a delicious anniversary, and the news of it spread like wild-fire through Mrs Lucas's kingdom, and her subjects were very joyful, and came to salute the violet or daffodil, or whatever it was."

I use my collection of books for ideas, threads and connections so having, in the absence of a functioning scanner, to rely on the internet for inspiration is unsatisfactory. Irritating and disappointing but seen from another point of view it could be an opportunity to think about why the week from hell has turned into a series of such. Back in a few days. 

Monday, August 17, 2009

As treasure trove belongs to the Crown

Above you see a photo of Lamb House, Rye, Sussex, the erstwhile home of Henry James (see last post) and also of E. F. Benson. Benson is best known today for a rightly popular series of books featuring the tussle for social dominance between Mrs. Emmeline Lucas, known as Lucia, and her adversary Miss Elizabeth Mapp in Lucia's adopted realm of Tilling. After a tastefully correct widowhood in her previous place of residence, Riseholme, Mrs. Lucas had moved to Tilling and there begins one of the most acutely observed and humorous series of plots and melodramas outside of Jane Austen's books, and which were filmed for television in the 80s.

I possess bound copies of The Quiver from 1916 in which an E. F. Benson (I'm assuming the same author) published a serial story Michael about the journey of a sensitive young aristocrat from his stultifying background through the battles of the Somme, loss of friendship, loss of family, to eventual salvation in the arms of a woman, the sister of his best friend who as an enemy combatant died in his arms in the trenches. Acute observation as with Mapp and Lucia, but little of the humor one sees in the later books, and perhaps rightly so, given the moment of the situation in 1916. 

However, a quotation from Queen Lucia should give the full flavor of Benson's writing. 

"... as she turned the last hot corner of the road and came into sight of the village street that constituted her kingdom. Indeed it belonged to her, as treasure trove belongs to the Crown. for it was she who had been the first to begin the transformation of this remote Elizabethan village into a palace of culture that was now reared on the spot where ten years ago an agricultural population had led bovine and unilluminated lives in their cottages of grey stone or brick and timber. Before that, while her husband was amassing a fortune, comfortable in amount and respectable in origin, at the Bar, she had merely held up a small dim lamp of culture in Onslow Gardens. But both her ambition and his had been to bask and be busy in artistic realms of their own when the materialistic needs were provided for by sound investments, and so when there were the requisite thousands of pounds in secure securities she had easily persuaded him to buy three of these cottages that stood together in a low two-storied block. Then by judicious removal of partition walls, she had, with the aid of a sympathetic architect, transmuted them into a most comfortable dwelling, subsequently building on to them a new wing, that ran at right angles at the back, which was, if anything, a shade more inexorably Elizabethan than the stem onto which it was grafted, for here was situated the famous smoking-parlour, with rushes on the floor, and a dresser ranged with pewter tankards, and leaded lattice-windows of glass so antique that it was practically impossible to see out of them. It had a huge open fire-place framed in oak-beams with a seat on each side of the iron-backed hearth within the chimney, and a genuine spit hung over the middle of the fire. Here, though in the rest of the house she had for the sake of convenience allowed the installation of electric light, there was no such concession made, and sconces on the walls held dim iron lamps, so that only those of the most acute vision were able to read. Even though reading was difficult, for the book-stand on the table contained nothing but a few crabbed black-letter volumes dating from not later than the early seventeenth century, and you had to be in a frantically Elizabethan frame of mind to be at ease there. But Mrs Lucas often spent some of her rare leisure moments in the smoking-parlour, playing on the virginal that stood in the window, or kippering herself in the fumes of the wood-fire as with streaming eyes she deciphered an Elzevier Horace rather late for inclusion under the rule, but an undoubted bargain."

Friday, August 14, 2009


A glimpse of Henry James' bookshelves in Lamb House, his home till his death in 1916. One of the most still photos I've seen of a life well-written - an evocation of time passing dreamily to the measure of the ticking of the longcase clock, the scratch of a pen across a page and the dust motes drifting in the shafts of sunlight. And yet outside, and perhaps for a time kept at bay by the ticking of the clock, a noisy torrent of patriotism and war roared through the deep cut between the privileged and the disadvantaged - a ruckus that accompanied the birth of the 20th century and saw it through to its end. 

Now, absolutely nothing to do with Henry James or libraries, but more of a celebration that the end of the week is nigh and it is my favorite person's favorite cocktail ...

the Friday Cocktail

Campari and Soda, 50/50 in a large glass with ice, and something really salty on the side. 

I know, I know, it doesn't take much effort to make but neither does being kind so get on with it. 

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Still on the theme of libraries. 

One of the most glorious spaces in London is the Central Quadrangle of the British Museum in London. In the Quad stands the Reading Room, one of the most spectacularly beautiful libraries I have ever seen. Though a lot of its contents are now in the British Library that does not detract from is beauty. 

Above it all is the soaring roof that the engineers Buro Happold and Foster and Partners designed to enclose the Quadrangle - a roof equally as elegant as that of the Reading Room itself. I must say that this is some of the most uplifting architecture I have ever experienced. The Quadrangle is now known as the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court. 

"The glass and steel roof is made up of 4878 unique members connected at 1566 unique nodes and 1656 pairs of glass window panes making up 6100 square metres of glazing; each of a unique shape because of the undulating nature of the roof."

Quote from Wikipedia. 

Long day at the office, long drive home, and my scanner is broken. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Libraries ...

.. the second in an occasional series. 

This library was designed in 1938 in the Rococo Revival style by Lord Gerald Wellesley and Trenwith Wills for Sir Alfred Beit at 15 Kensington Palace Gardens. Sir Alfred had bought the house in 1930 as a setting for his late father's collection of pictures, bronzes and majolica - a collection begun in the 1890s by his father's brother, also named Alfred, from whom it was inherited. The painting  by William Orpen below shows the father, Sir Otto Beit, in his study. 

"The library was the most fanciful of the rooms, as essay in Bavarian or Austrian Rococo, which greatly appealed to Sir Alfred and was chosen here to set off his recent purchase of Jacque de Lajoue's A Cabinet of Scientific Curiosities. But what is so curious is that Sir Alfred had the chimneypiece copied from a Country Life photograph of one in the dining room at Russborough, Ireland, which was published in 1937."

The collection augmented by the second Alfred, Sir Alfred, held about 150 paintings. On the list in the 1913 catalog published about the collection were to be found Vermeer's Letter Writer, "...a pair of Metus, and pictures by Jan Steen, Ruysdael, Hobbema and Teniers and remarkable Spanish artists, including Velazquez, as well as the Murillos and Goya ..."

A remarkable collection, indeed, and after Sir Alfred and his wife had lived in South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s he saw an advertisement for Russborough, bought the house and took the collection with him. As of the year 2000 the collection remained in the house as did the widow of Sir Alfred. 

I will come back to 15 Kensington Palace Gardens soon because there are connections with John Fowler and Sibyl Colefax - Fowler not as known at this time as he was after the Second World War. The colors as described by John Cornforth the author of the book London Interiors: From the Archives of Country Life are of their time and  worth noting. The quotations I have made are from the book.

Russborough is now a country house museum that may be toured, and which contains some of Sir Alfred Beit's collection. According to the website for the house a substantial number of paintings were returned in 2008 from storage at the National Gallery of Ireland.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Exit Libris

Recently I witnessed the deaccessioning of the contents of a good and long-established design library - seemingly for nothing more than a whim of a new administrator with a notion that databases alone suffice for the 21st century student. The contents of the library are gone, distributed to anyone who would collect them. I didn't understand it, despite having to listen to the cant that justified the library's dissolution. Other than to highlight a fundamental cultural difference between that administrator and me, what more is there to say? 

So it is with pleasure I post a few pictures of recently created extensions to an existing private library. I woke up in the night thinking about this library, my own library and the romance of libraries. 

The owner of the house, a book-collector (ya think?) urgently needing more space for his collection first renovated the old hunting dogs' kennels in the garden. When they filled up, and being a little too far away from the house the owner and his architect came upon the idea of adapting a shipping container and siting it near the house and planning it to be the first of a collection of recycled shipping containers. Now, that is some serious collecting and some serious reading to be got through. 

Our library is housed a little more conventionally in newly-built shelves in what was the second bedroom. It is an odd thing, this liking of books, the need to own and the pleasure of having a few, perhaps unread, on the coffee table. Whilst I'm on the subject of books let me say that they belong on shelves, in stacks by chairs, behind glass and on tables. Books do not belong under a lamp, a vase, or as pedestals for chotzkas however cute those objects might be. Whereas the man referred to above goes out into the grounds in the middle of the dark, stormy night for a book he left behind, I pad barefoot across a cool wooden floor. Each to his own.  

After that little bit of hubris, let me ask who would not like if the night were stormy to sit in either the lamplit container or kennels book in hand listening to the music of rain on the roof? Who on a rainy night or even a soft summer's eve would not want to open the doors to the air and let in the night fliers, moths and the flying daddy-longlegs, or jinny-spinners as I know them, to keep company? Who could not find beauty and peace sitting by a library window watching the first snow blanket settle? Who could not as I do this evening sit at a laptop and find beauty and awe in a spectacular soundless lightening display - whole skies-full of light silhouetting the clouds? Who could not make a connection between the cultivation of land and the cultivation of the mind? An idyll perhaps, and romantic for sure, but enlightening and essential to both civility and civilization. 

To finish where I began, despite my unease with the dispersal of a library, I have to say other institutions were able to benefit as were faculty and students. Libraries like gardens are not forever for when their lovers are gone ... 

Photos, James Mortimer. WoI May 2008.

Monday, August 10, 2009

New day

New day, new horizon, movin' on. Back tomorrow.

Panorama photos RADC.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Little things mean a lot ...

I have a new job and thankfully I'm transitioning to a what I hope will be a better place - now I can practice as a decorator more conveniently as well as teach. When a job becomes like a bad marriage, like a bad marriage there are always reasons for staying in place: in my case, the kids and departmental reaccreditation. 

I achieved what I set out to do and did it in a far shorter time frame than had previously happened. I am both relieved and proud of our success. I say our success, for if it were not for my beloved Celt, two women, now dear friends, who did not work for me, and the students themselves the job could not have been done. 

What stays with me about the last five years is not my success but that of graduates who found good jobs and are still moving up the corporate ladder. I cannot take responsibility for anyone's success because they are the ones who worked hard, learned, and sometimes unlearned what they thought they knew. They gritted their teeth, discovered the ins and outs of being drama queens, raised their kids, married, held down jobs, divorced, got pregnant but yet plowed on to the end. 

Sometimes the relationships were stormy, especially after I became department head, but most times they were good especially with the students who knew what needed to be done. The really positive and life-affirming thing about teaching in higher education is that you soon see that most people are pleasant, hardworking and generous with each other. One of the highlights you see above: brought back all the way from Peru from a visit to a beloved but sick grandfather. That doll sat on my computer for years and now sits in my living room as a reminder of times past and a hope for times yet to come. 

To any of you who read this and can work out who I am, I thank you for teaching me so much.

"... give me a hand when I've lost the way
Give me your shoulder to cry on
Whether the day is bright or grey
Give me your heart to rely on
Send me the warmth of a secret smile
To show me you haven't forgot
For and and forever, thats always and ever
Honey, little things mean a lot"

So, in the spirit of life-affirming acts here is Auntie Mame's cocktail, The Sidecar

One part brandy
One part Cointreau
One part lemon juice

Mix in a shaker with ice, strain into a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass. Perhaps a strip of lemon rind to garnish.

Quote from Little Things Mean a Lot by Edith Calisch and Carl Stutz. 

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Looking backwards for a while

to another favorite.

When I first saw this room in the November 1986 issue of WoI I was totally charmed by its grace, its colors, its confident use of Colefax and Fowler's Old Rose chintz. The text of the magazine article was written by Mr. Hampton and such an easy and civilized read it was and frankly still is. 

"We now indulge in a fondness for a much broader variety of styles: Regency, Gothic Revival of practically any period, French chairs, bits from Italy and the ever-present Chinese table or two. Given this meandering taste, one of the great virtues of a room in which the curtains, the walls and much of the furniture are all in the same glazed cotton chintz, is that this goes a very long way towards unifying all the other disparate elements."

At the end of the WoI text he wrote,

"Every ten years or so, whether one needs to redecorate or not, a certain reorganization is usually required: static rooms, like rooms that are too new, are dull and boring. Things have to come and go all the time, even if they are just moved about once in a while. If we see something on the King's Road, we get it if we love it, not only if we can find a place for it. You can always find a place for something you love."

By 1990 the room had become what you see below. I didn't get it then but I do now. I think. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I had forgotten

The latest in a series of favorite rooms. 

I found this picture of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Hampton's Manhattan bedroom whilst idling through my library this afternoon and had a real "Oh, I had forgotten" moment when I opened up the book Manhattan Style. I first saw this bedroom in the 80s, and if I remember rightly I saw it in one of the early World of Interiors. At that time the living room of the Hampton's apartment was embowered in a chintz equally as magical in its coloration as this bedroom is in its lack thereof. In the book from which this picture comes, the living room had entered its beige phase and was totally uninteresting to me, and so it remains all these years later. The 80s seemed to whimp out in a sea of beige and I for one was not happy. Chrome yeller was my color then and it has its pull still.

The late Mr. Hampton worked with David Hicks, Mrs. Henry Parish II and then for McMillen before setting out on his own. He decorated private rooms in the White House, the West Wing, Camp David and Blair House, most of New York and international society: Carter Burdens, Estee Lauder, Rupert Murdoch, et al.

It shouldn't be surprising that in Mr. Hampton's hands, this bedroom is a good example of how enduring a monochromatic scheme can be and how attractive it remains ten or twenty years later. The toothed pelmet, from which hang small silver bells reminds me of one in Winterthur used by the Duponts, and is still very attractive in its Chinoiserie simplicity. The hand-painted Chinese paper is exquisite and not totally grey and white: there are flashes of color in the bird plumage and in the wings of the butterflies. The overall coolness of the scheme is warmed slightly by the natural straw color of the carpet, the bed hangings and the touches of gilt. 

A magnificent room, reticent, cool, rich and subtle. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I wish ...

.. I had the direct decorating taste my mother had. She simply went to the wallpaper seller, chose three patterns, not necessarily coordinating: one for the walls, one for the ceiling, and the third for the chimney breast - the standard for choosing being that she liked them. All was finished off with a dainty (the highest accolade a pattern or ornament could have from her) border and it all sat unquietly with the riot of pattern in the carpet and on the upholstery. She didn't like pictures on the walls because she liked what she'd created and didn't want, as she would have said "to muck it up."

Would that life or decorating in this house were so simple. May it was, I think, when I first indicated on the blog that we were in for a bout of redecoration: we wanted to upgrade, put a few ideas into effect, replace, reupholster and refinish. 

We have reached an impasse, and I'm not sure where we go from here. The situation is classic: two individuals who over the years have rubbed the all the sharp edges off each other except for one, and in our case that fiercely sharp edge is decoration. Its basically all we argue about any more.  Simply put, we have very dissimilar tastes in dress and decoration. 

Give me a Brooks Brothers website and I'll order up an outfit or two and thats it. That's how I want to decorate for myself: classic khakis, browns, blues, whites, pinks as the basics but enlivened with flashes of color and jewelry. Nothing too obvious, nothing too flash - just sober, background type of decor, comfortable, not cognizant of fad or design, easy on the eye and on the back. 

My other half has never seen a lily he didn't want to gild. I don't criticize when I say this because he dresses superbly well and has great taste.  He can do the sober and the reticent but it doesn't last long - always the peacock is ready to flash that tail and display. 

In the photo directly above you see an attempt to blend our tastes and it has completely flummoxed me. I think I have seen and brought home every memo, sample, wing that Kravet, Lee Jofa and Ainsworth Noah have to offer and we're still no further along. 

Basically what we have to work with are tones of brown and beige. This situation has been created by accident, by choice and by whim over the years. The Barbara Barry sofa is in dark brown Jacques Garcia mohair velvet, the armchairs are in Suzanne Rheinstein buff paisley, the stone-colored rug is a Kravet silk and wool Tibetan. 

What we both want to do is blend the classic with the modern, in this case the white Poliform cabinet below (ours will be in a high-gloss mushroom tone) topped with both the Atollo lamp from the 70s and our Directoire clock. By that cabinet we will place the lovely 19th century Rococo chair covered in a fabric from the 1980s that depicts hand-drawn naked women. On the wall opposite the sofa and above the cabinet will hang the drawings and photos shown below, in pretty much the same arrangement. The blend of old and new, classic and modern, reticent but with a little showiness is really what this room is groping towards. I won't use the word "eclectic" as that sounds too unconsidered to me. 

So what has brought us to this impasse? Actually, another armchair and curtains. That's all. An armchair and curtains! 

I want blue, he wants orange. I want linen, he wants silk taffeta. I want subdued, he wants a "pop". I want matte, he wants sheen. And so it goes. What we both need is to get it done and move on, because the master bedroom and master closets are next in line and should begin next week. 

Painting by Eric Ravilious.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Skye panorama

Amazing what can be achieved with an iPhone. 

Photographs by RADC.