Monday, November 30, 2009

On the shoulders of giants

I didn't immediately associate one of my favorite designers with this interior when I first saw the photos but I was pleased to see Melvin Dwork named as designer, together with James Maguire. The two worked together as Dwork-Magquire for two years only.

Mr Dwork who began work as a designer in 1970, has long been a favorite of mine, and in his eighties is working away. There was always something muscular in his work that appealed to me; there was none of the 70s and 80s (a period I associate his name with more than the 70s) flash and thunder - just simple form, brave juxtaposition and rather reticent color. I remember a room, his own I think, where he paired Baroque chairs with simple upholstery and an old wooden pallet doing duty as a cocktail table.

And so it was that I did not, as I say, associate his name with this interior done for Anna Moffo and her husband Robert Sarnoff, a former RCA board chairman, and it is not clear from the text where Mr Dwork's input lay. However, the point really is not who did what but when it was all done.

1979 is the date of publication and for me, though there undoubtedly are others I have not seen, this interior forms a visual bridge with the coming decade. Gone is the thicket, not entirely but well pruned; gone are the overheated colors which are replaced with ivories, creams, whites and inexplicably, purple - well cordoned off behind close doors; also gone is the elephantine upholstery; even the obvious textures of the early 70s play no role here, though there is mention of satin.

I'm not quite ready to leave the seventies yet - they're proving to be a gold mine of information for me and I hope for you too. I like rooting around the origins, the margins, the half-hidden and this decade has proved to be a clearing house of sorts. Many of the designers prominent during the 1980s and well into the 1990s began their careers in the seventies.

A lot of them, as mentioned in another post, did not survive the eighties and this profession lost a whole generation of talent. Luckily, or perhaps sadly, we are not given to marking our loss with symbols of mourning such as draped urns, broken obelisks, et al, but many of continue to find inspiration in the work of those who have gone before - itself a memorial.

Mr Dwork continues to work and long may he do so.

Photos by Jaime Ardiles-Arce from Architectural Digest, July/August 1979.

Friday, November 27, 2009

"There was a time ...

... when I wanted to get rid of everything that had gone before. Now I simply want to add something - to explore unfamiliar possibilities."

So said William Gaylord of his new flat in an 1870 house on Russian Hill with views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, an 1800 square foot space he gutted and remodeled, leaving nothing of the 1870 interior. He was then thirty years old and this flat shows a development, but not away, from his previous Knob Hill apartment that made his name when he was twenty-five.

"I like to think of myself as an engineer as well as an artist. I like to build, to build rooms - to build the furniture, the carpet, the walls, rather than just gathering things together to fill a room."

What's remarkable about this space is how it feels, thirty-two years after it was published, as contemporary as anything being done today. Of course, there are dateable elements such as the travertine coffee tables, floating chrome-clad fireplaces, a chrome and glass soffit above the entry and the bench at the foot of the bed, but none of these are in any way conspicuously unusable today. In fact, after thirty years and dusted off by time, these elements have charm.

Gone is the suffocating thicket of tropical plants so prevalent in these years, replaced by a couple of Australian bottle trees, a bromeliad or two, and on the dining table a fabulous bunch of the flowers that swamped the 1980s, stargazer lilies. A pretty cyclamen sits in a basket on the travertine, unexpectedly diminutive and subtle.

Mr Gaylord achieved drama in this color-neutral interior through lighting -the lampless look again - using library lights, pin spots and ceiling cans. Apparently there were nineteen dimmers in the living room. In the bedroom small lights were built in - "I read in bed, so I installed little bullet lights hidden behind the draped curtains. You push a button, and they hit the book - not your head or your face or your knees. Designers so often overlook comfort because they don't study how individuals like to live."

The furniture is classic: Louis XVI, reproduction and signed original; slipper chairs and sofa designed by the decorator and covered in pale leather to contrast with the dark leather of the 18th century chairs; M5 chairs surrounding a marble slab (supported on steel plates hidden in the chrome base and anchored in the specially strengthened floor). The bed, at first glance a tester bed, with its curtains of ribbed silk hanging from the ceiling, stood in a room upholstered in suede.

"The only reason I have French chairs is that I've never sat in a chair more comfortable."

"I like order and control in design, but just form and function are not enough. A room has to have comfort; it has to have a little intrigue; it has to have fantasy. The unexpected in a room is the vital element."

"If I build closets like that for someone, they have to adjust to them. They have to adjust to putting their shirts in order. But when they do, it enriches their lives with a quality of living that no one had every made available to them before."

This is probably the last post about William Gaylord if only from the point of view I have nothing more in my hoard of 1970s magazines. I have access to 1980s issues of Architectural Digest and perhaps I shall find something there. I hope so, for it is interesting to see in his work, and that of others I have mentioned already and intend to discuss in the following weeks, the foundations of Noughties contemporary design - that is, until it was highjacked by the purveyors of mid-century modern.

Photos by Russell MacMasters from Architectural Digest, May/June 1977.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

For what we are about to receive ....


Image by Allan Cracknell from First Slice Your Cookbook by Arabella Boxer, 1966.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The pits

As in conversation pits, that is: architectural elements that first appeared in the 1960s. A conversation pit is a sunken area of floor, frequently in front of or surrounding a fireplace where people got together to talk. Sometimes it is hard to understand the enthusiasms of a previous generation but the conversation pit is beginning to look very attractive again, at least to me. However, conversation pits are of their time and it'll be the brave architectural student who suggests resurrecting them. They really are one of the curiosities of 1960s interior design.

Other than the date on a magazine cover and some poor quality printing, what makes a decorating scheme seem of its time? I mentioned the delving of conversation pits (this house was built in 1961), thickets of tropical plants indicate the 1970s, as does feverishly strong color. Texture plaguing every surface especially of textiles was common during that decade, as was an elephantine swelling of upholstery forms. The migration of mirror from frame to wall to ceiling was a 1970s phenomenon - as ceilings became increasingly an area for elaboration. The integration of technology and lighting into architectural and decorative schemes was a developing and clearly exciting area for designers - in fact, a new profession, that of lighting designer, began during these years.

Drama as a decorative quality was seemingly much sought after by the designers of the 1970s, and that some residential interiors share that quality with hotels of the period can be no accident.

Admittedly this is an 18,000 square foot house, with at least six separate areas for entertaining, but look at the two photos below. Described as a library, this space with its own conversation pit facing the television and wine collection, under-lighted furniture and up-lighted planting could equally be perceived as part of an large hotel lobby, hushed and softly glowing.

The bedroom with its own foyer, dressing area, bath lounge with ocean view, sunken whirlpool bath, and console from which everything electrical - draperies, television, music, even the outdoor jacuzzi - could be controlled.

The short description of the decorator, Stephen Chase, gives a peek at the fashions of the time:

"Richly tanned and wearing a quasi military outfit with green and scarlet epaulets. Mr Chase appears more like a young Field Marshal Alexander of Tunis than an interior designer. His tan, it must be noted, is not from Palm Springs or Los Angeles but from the tropical sun of Hawaii."

Photos by Fritz Taggart from Architectural Digest, July/August 1974.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ask Albert

Occasionally, in the helter-skelter of 1970s design there are moments of calm, reticent but not diffident rooms in civilized colors, outward looking, and by very good decorators. A number of last week's posts showed some of them and here is another - a real oh, boy moment - a room by Albert Hadley of Parish-Hadley, Associates.

This room came as a surprise - I was ready to pass on without looking at who did the quite serviceable and pretty interior that was badly served in the main by too-small images of the important spaces. The dining room was light, colorful and within the bounds of traditional design, quite spare, but it was when I turned to the last page that I realized here was a room that had stood the test of time. Perhaps so had the rest, it was just hard to see it.

The suburban Washington D.C. house enlarged by Mr Hadley to hold the Washington elite for dinner dances and informal evenings was decorated with comfortable upholstery, geometric carpets, needlepoint and Moroccan rugs, floral chintzes, primitive animal paintings, a Regency clock and pagoda cabinet, a Louis XV bureau plat, a Renoir lithograph, mezzo sopranos, senators, ambassadors and live Yorkshire terriers.

"It is a house without tricks. But is does have a quality of fantasy about it."

"We try to make it as attractive as possible, and what happens inside the house must be a clear reflection."

"I tried to create a house appropriate to the location. A country house, but not a primitive one."

"I cannot impose my style on you. You have to tell me whether you want to live in empty rooms with steel furniture or in a greenhouse with simple rustic furniture."

"It's like producing a play with the right cast of characters."

The real oh, boy moment was realizing this room really is timeless - made in 1975 but as up-to-date as 2009.

Photos by Richard Champion for Architectural Digest, March/April 1975.

Monday, November 23, 2009

You wear it well

Searching through 1970s issues of Architectural Digest has proved to be both illuminating and suffocating. Let me explain.

It has been illuminating because I have seen good work by people I knew nothing of, people who developed even further during the following decade and beyond, in some cases. Enlightening also to see, in contrast to modern times, a fearsome use of color and texture and a mixture of styles of architecture and furniture. Not that a mix of styles was anything new in the 70s for the mix of modernism and historical style goes back to William Pahlmann at least.

Suffocating in the sense that there is a late 19th century aspect to 1970s decorating - much of it unquietly laden with bloated form, layered with strongly contrasting pattern, textured to extreme and claustrophobically colored.

Beyond this, two things strike me: one, the use of exotic plant forms in interiors and, two, there was an inward-looking quality to design with windows frequently obliterated under layers of shades and curtains. I'm sure there's significance to be found in these observations but I'm not going to bore you or me with any of that. After all, this blog is about interior design and not about reactions to societal changes of the time: Kent State, Watergate, the fall of Saigon, energy crisis, raging inflation, etc. The idea that interior design might be seen in a wider context with sociological significance? Just not going to go there.

So, I begin this week where I left off last - with Mr William Gaylord, a discovery if ever there was one. This house, situated on an acre of land, and strikingly different to his San Francisco apartment, was Gaylord's weekend retreat at Carmel - a wood and glass house hidden by trees on a street without street numbers, and to the designer's eye, at one with the trees.

Being at one with the trees, with nature, was the idea behind the use of plants in the house though to my eye, and here I do wonder if a photographer's assistant brought in more, there are too many. The plants simply get in the way, add visual clutter and destroy the clarity of what must have been a discriminating mix of style, material, and color fitted to the cool climate of Northern California. The author of the original article used the adjective eclectic suggesting a lack of discrimination on the part of the decorator.

It is not easy to judge these interiors for a variety of reasons: the rooms were not supply photographed; there's an emphasis on vignetting; angles are skewed, both by photographer and designer; views are marred by the planting; and, overall, there's a lot of clutter - something lacking in his city apartment - obscuring the forms of the furniture. It is not possible from these photos to get a clear impression of a whole room.

"Design should never be tricky. Something good lasts forever. For example, all that boldness of pattern on pattern can be exciting - at first. But it isn't something you can live with over the years."

"To me, the blending is what makes it all work. The total effect should be very smooth without individual pieces competing for attention. It's the same with color ... it should all flow together in one tone as a background. People should stand out, not colors."

The blend he talked about is certainly here: Chippendale chairs; a Regence chair; an Austrian birdcage filled with finches; Aubusson panels; Flemish tapestry; a Dufy painting; a Roualt watercolor; steel Napoleonic campaign daybed; a suede covered sofa; steel and glass coffee table; redwood walls; quarry tiles under Oriental rugs. It is the antithesis of the city apartment and maybe therein lies the aspect of retreat - a flight from the stage to the dressing room.

It's been an interesting trawl through the 1970s but I awoke this morning mawkishly thinking about my rakish youth spent in Greenwich Village, friends long gone, and .... well, enough already.

So, from the same year as these photos, and sung frequently on the way to work as a duet between Mr Stewart and me.

Wake up Maggie, I think I've got something to say to you
It's late September and I really should be back at school
I know I keep you amused
But I feel I'm being used
Oh Maggie, I couldn't have tried any more
You led me away from home
Just to save you from being alone
You stole my heart and that's what really hurts

Photographed by Charles Ashley for Architectural Digest, May/June 1972.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Here's to Anonymous

A comment on Tuesday's post from Anonymous (see italics below) sent me back to my small store of 1970s magazines, (all thrown away when my previous school divested itself of its library) to find these photos. To my great pleasure I saw that I had on the first go-through flagged the article and only today did I see it was William Gaylord's own apartment that as Anonymous said made a "star" of him.

I lived in NYC, but got to know Billy and he was truly a charming, good looking, and very talented designer. He learned a lot from his friends, Tony Hail and Michael Taylor, but his "look" was totally individual. One of his best, and most unique, interiors was his own Knob Hill apartment that was photographed by Architectural Digest, and made a "star" of him! His early death was a great loss. Will.

So, tonight, over dinner I shall raise a glass filled with Malbec and gratitude to Anonymous.

The writer of the AD article, curiously weight conscious (perhaps afraid that all including himself could have crashed through the floor) stressed that the coffee table of stacked white-painted flagstone weighed one ton and the large cactus by the 18th century African thrones weighed in at 800-pounds.

It isn't hard to see why the decoration of this apartment set William Gaylord apart from his peers and mentors - it must have been quite a challenge - gobsmacking as the Brits would say. This is not traditional with modern thrown in as accents: this is a fully-fledged contemporary challenge top-dressed, as it were, with exotic tradition. Gaylord, 25 years old, had been an independent decorator for only two years when his apartment was published.

"I didn't want anything definable. My apartment could be 1930 or 2001. I designed the furniture and used really unusual antiques. Not just a French or an English chair. Instead I found the 18th century African throne chairs for the living room. In my office-dining room, I used Chinese ceremonial chairs. By the way, they are much more comfortable than they look."

Asked if his apartment was livable, Gaylord replied:

"It's livable for me. I usually work till all hours. When I come home I work at the table or read in bed. The living room is for entertaining, a white oval background for people with art and plants .... But when I first saw the apartment, I knew it needed a lot of help. It looked like an Americanized version of a 1930 French hotel suite. The tall French doors and parquet floors are nice, but the molding is plastic and the owners wouldn't allow me to remove it. It would have been absurd to treat it as a real French room."

Quite brilliant and truly a tragedy Mr Gaylord died young. This has been swanning around my head since I found the article:

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.

Photos by Charles Ashley from Architectural Digest, May/June 1972.
Verse quoted from Where Have All the Flowers Gone by Pete Seeger.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Between traditional and modern

At least, in 1977 that was the assessment Jay Spectre made of his design for a New York residence.

"Integrity - now there's the keystone. If you simply respect the innateness of places and objects, you can hardly go wrong. Let's take this project. The ground rules were simple enough. It was to be a New York residence for Californian clients, Mr and Mrs H. R .... v of Beverly Hills. The building has much to recommend it: a Fifth Avenue location, Stanford White as architect and that indefinable patina of age."

"Now I challenge you to place this room geographically. Isn't this the sort of ultimate metropolitan space? It could be in any capital: Paris, London or New York."

"Do you know, I feel a little self-conscious talking about this apartment. It all seems so simple. I mean, I really wasn't attempting any sensational statement. What I was really trying to create here is an honestly luxurious, but unostentatious, way of life. Of course, it is carefully detailed, but in a very real way the luxury is taken for granted."

So far this week I've been interested in that area "between traditional and modern" or, rather, the combination of both, as perceived by 1970s decorators. This marriage of hard-edged contemporary design grafted onto a late 19th century neoclassical building is interesting to say the least. In fact, it has echoes of the previous decade's English modernist architects, usually young, who took great pride in the elimination of all period details in classical architecture and replacing it with proto-minimalist interiors.

Besides displaying its roots in the 1960s this design by Jay Spectre prefigures the of much of the succeeding decade's interior design. During the 1980s, the counterpoint to the mania for English country house decorating, was a brittle and heart-stoppingly chilly and gleaming form of marble-floored modernism, austerely furnished with iconic furniture, usually Biedermeier, and with all the atmosphere and ostentation of the tomb.

The designer, in a naughty-boy way, referred to the powder room (below) as "a moment of madness." In this case his aim was not uncertain.

The apartment shown here is definitely of its time: dramatic, virtually lampless, luxurious, curated, showy and probably awe-inspiring to its owners. Spectre's mature design from the 1980s is very interesting and the pity of it is, he is another of that wonderful generation of designers lost to the plague. So many of them were gone so quickly and in many cases these were the men who worked for the very people who denied the existence of the plague and displayed not on speck of interest in helping save that generation or the one that came after.

An aspect of design I find fascinating, and this is why on occasion I like the designers to speak for themselves, is the language of interior design, the gobbledygook, the jargon, call it what you will, in actuality the language of branding.

Photography by Jaime Ardiles-Arce from Architectural Digest, September 1977.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

We interrupt this broadcast ...

... to bring you this message

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An interior dramatist

Rooms designed nearly forty years ago for a couple, a psychiatrist and a writer, by William Gaylord, seem to my eye as contemporary today as when they were first created. My trawl through the 1970s is unearthing some real treasures like Mr Gaylord and the people mentioned in this and last week's posts. People I knew of, some merely blips on the collective printed mind and others who've simply fallen out of favor and their place in history is undecided. Some became very famous in the following decade only to fall victim to AIDS. There was a lot of dross too, and it might be interesting to cover that in the coming weeks.

William Gaylord's name is not well-known today or at least not as well known as it should be. Assuming there were not two San Francisco decorators of the same name, perhaps the reason he is not well-known is that he died young. According to his obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle he died of cancer at age forty. As I say, assuming the person of the obituary is the same person I'm writing about.

William Gaylord designed these rooms in an old Victorian, more properly known as a Queen Anne Revival, house that had survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. The choice was made not to furnish it as it might have been in the 1880s but as a contemporary space within old walls - "a contradiction and a delight."

William Gaylord made no architectural changes - no walls were removed to open the small if tall spaces, in fact it was spruced up, had its more excessive moldings removed, and a couple of fireplaces updated with modern materials. He painted out the background, furnished the rooms with contemporary pieces - pieces that still look contemporary to eyes used to seeing vintage furniture in decorating schemes - and gave it what must have been one of the first instances of the "lampless look" so popular in the decade to follow.

Lighting was from spot lights and was used to create a dramatic punctuation of the room suitable for whatever activity took place there. There were no lamps because there were no lamp tables for them to go on, and there were no end tables because "the small rooms could not be burdened with furniture whose function would be only to hold up lamps."

The simplified but dramatic background was solely a foil for well-chosen objects such as Joe Colombo's Elda chair from 1964, Rothko, Newman and Stella paintings, plants, flowers, and the owners.

"Were he not called a decorator, Mr Gaylord would like to be known as an interior dramatist."

Quotes from San Francisco Victorian by William Moore
Photography by Russell MacMasters
All from Architectural Digest, November/December 1975.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The consummate gentleman ...

"... with excruciatingly correct manners and impeccable attire." Said of Anthony Hail by his obituary writer in the San Francisco Chronicle, the characterization comes pretty close to describing this interior designed by him for a 24-year old bachelor in 1976.

The client's aspiration for the apartment which overlooked Lafayette Park in Pacific Heights, was "something like the tones of Billy Baldwin's apartment in New York, I suppose. Well, I went to Anthony Hail, here in San Francisco, because I really like neutrals, and I had heard about his excellent use of them."

Certainly, Anthony Hail's use of neutrals is excellent but in this case not a narrow range of beige: yellow for the entry hall; aubergine for the kitchen, breakfast room and bar; camel in the bedroom and living room, light cocoa and white for the upholstery; the pale golden brown of cane; natural wool tones in the Moroccan Berber rug; natural linen. Plants are used as green accents and to connect inside with the view of the park through the windows. The other accent is found in tortoiseshell, red pillows, a lacquered leather chest standing in front of the sofa, and the painting above it.

Anthony Hail said of his design "We wanted to keep the tradition of the building and still have a clean-cut modern living space. There were no budget limitations; everything is of excellent quality. But it is economical. The material is durable; the lacquered nest of tables would fit anywhere, as would the eighteenth-century blanc de chine lamp. And its not dated. If Mr F.... should move, everything could be moved directly into a library, or any other room, for that matter."

His client's reaction - "I wanted a place where I could entertain my friends comfortably. I'm pleased, very pleased. The apartment's everything I wanted it to be."

What is most apparent more than 30 years later is that Mr Hail created a classic masculine aesthetic that looks as current today as it did then.

Photography by Russell MacMasters from Architectural Digest, December 1976.

Friday, November 13, 2009

By the waters of ....

... Babylon - well, the East River - I sat down and smiled.

Joseph Braswell's own apartment overlooking Sutton Place in Manhattan photographed in April 1974 for Architectural Digest is very different from what I expected, though that says more about me than Mr Braswell, for if you remember he was the designer of the Helena Rubinstein richly colored and immensely stylish corporate offices shown in Wednesday's post.

I realized, and this is the smile of the title, is that not only could I in a figurative sense have lived in this apartment with very few changes, details really, and what I really like about 1970s interior design I still seek today - the combination of clean-lined modern architecture, logical floor plans, historical reference, color, comfort, meaningful chotchkes, if any, securely corralled.

Mr Braswell's interior is all of this except that it is completely neutral in palette, "non-colors" as the designer said "In our work at Braswell-Willoughby we are steeped in strong patterns and colors all day, and it's easy to become surfeited. Here at home I wanted to restore myself in a tranquil palette of earth tones."

Color, such that it is, is intrinsic to the materials: sisal, rattan, lacquer, chrome, leather, suede, hopsack, mirror. This is 1977 and those materials in intrinsic colors and textures have never really gone out of fashion since. Emphasis has changed somewhat over the years: sisal had its heyday during the 1980s, but it's still around and been joined by seagrass; hopsacking is still in use as an upholstery material now called "Belgian" linen; suede, whether from the tanner or the oil refinery, comes and goes ; mirror, antiqued or not, a couple of years ago was applied to every unsuitable piece of furniture within reach and now its permissible again to clad walls with it; chrome momentarily was supplanted by nickel; lacquer, the real thing, is as fashionable as ever but that other lacquer comprising four coats high-gloss paint is beginning to be considered bad for the environment. Rattan? Least said the better.

The palm frond console in the foyer is 1930s Serge Roche for Emilio Terry. The paper sculpture (you cannot imagine the throb of nostalgia I felt at reading those words) above the desk is by Nancy Miller. Printed fabrics by Allen Campbell, I think.

Photographs by Peter Vitale from Architectural Digest, April 1977.

Title of post refers to By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart and by extension to Psalm 137.