Friday, January 29, 2010


A quality common to the decorators' work featured this week and last, is that of timelessness. Many of the rooms, in their own ways, have seemed as contemporary today as they were when first published. And so it is with these rooms from the mid-1980s designed for himself by Kalef Alaton.

Mr Alaton bought a five-apartment building in West Hollywood, gutted and remodeled it into these bewitching rooms, spacious, light-filled, simple in form and finish - unarticulated white stucco walls, concrete and terra-cotta tile floor - all connected by an elegant spiral staircase, and filled with a resplendent and personal collection of fine and decorative arts.

It is a truism to say that space is a luxury, and here space is used lavishly and luxuriously. Not for Alaton, the filling of every corner, the layering of surfaces with bric-a-brac: rather a considered placement of well-curated objects and furniture, allowing the eloquence of negative space, and combining elements of theatre, display, scholarship and hospitality.

The list of valued and valuable objects in the living room is long: a 17th century Flemish painting Battle of Ostend; cane-backed Régence fauteuil; Régence giltwood mirror; needlepointed Régence bergere; a pair of signed Louis XV fauteuils; gilt Louis XV table with faux-marbre top; 19th century Baccarat chandelier; Regency armchairs; a lacquer and gilt Chinese table; famille-verte vase; Japanese lacquer table; 2nd century marble bust; an Apulian volute Krater; Sino-Tibetan deer, and a Qing ginger jar on a Portuguese chest-on-stand.

Alaton's bedroom, with two tester beds is, in its own quieter way, as curated at the living room: a Turkish carpet; a modern leather-clad chaise longue; a limestone fragment of a horse head backed by a Indian brass door; book-filled bookcases and a mahogany Regency table with a gilded winged-seahorse base on which stand pre-Columbian objects and Cypriot vases.

The master bathroom, below, as spacious as the rest of the house, has a sitting-area with a Russian armchair and two tufted chairs, a 19th century Italian carved marble mirror, Italian bronzes, Asian and European ivories and Roman glass bottles.

Often where there are many objects of history and pedigree there's an atmosphere of dusty suffocation but here in Kalef Alaton's home because of uncluttered space and freely-admitted light, that feeling is lacking.
A year after these pictures were published, Kalef Alaton died of complications of AIDS died at the age of 49.

For no reason other than I fancy it, today's cocktail is a Negroni - my aperitif before dinner with friends tonight at Atlanta's latest bistro.

1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1 1/2 oz Campari
1 1/2 oz gin

Put all in an old-fashioned glass with ice and stir. Garnish, if you must with an orange slice.

Photographs by John Vaughn from Architectural Digest, May 1988.
List of furniture, etc., quoted from text by Michael Webb.


  1. Hi Blue,

    Thank you for posting Kalef Alaton's work, he has always been my favorite designer and I don't think he is given enough recognition. I was fortunate to meet him before he passed away, he was as elegant and gracious as his interiors. Sadly the photos of his home were taken by San Franciscan John Vaughn another great loss to our industry.

    Best regards,

  2. While I find these rooms very attractive, the mention of Mr Alaton's gutting the space is notable. The first project of my new architectural firm was the renovation of a landmark Manhattan townhouse. The clients were moving from a significant contemporary duplex penthouse, wanting a more traditional decor. Although Mr Alaton was high on the list of interior designers being considered, his insistence of a complete gut job to wipe out all the detailing was a deal breaker.

  3. What a good walk down Decorator Memory Lane. I remember being a big fan of Kalef Alaton, and these indeed timeless rooms remind me why...speaking of memory.

  4. Oh dear. I just looked more closely at the top photo. The fireplace mantel is one of those wonderful early 19th century Italian caryatid mantels, something I've craved since I'm suffering from a bad case of object deprivation...

  5. these rooms are flawless.I have some of the pages long filed- particularly the bathroom(I never had seen anything so elegant, classic in a bath at that point 88) The bedroom also. Seeing the rooms together-I thank you. Are there rooms being done like this today Blue? If so-I do hope they will be shared-but I am not sure if they exist anymore.

  6. Beautiful in every respect. I had not heard the name, so I'm the more thankful for having read your post.

  7. Kendra - thank you for your comment and the reminder about John Vaughn, someone I have a vague recollection of meeting though at this remove it could be a coincidence of name.

    John T - there was a lot of gutting in those years. Of the building: "It was more notable for its celebrity associations, which included Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, than for its architecture." There's a sentence for discussion, if ever I read one.

    Dilettante - calm yourself!

    Little Augury - thank you, as ever. I think there are rooms like this being done today, rooms that have a similar clarity, and I shall look for them.

    Terry - thank you. These rooms are breathtaking, I agree.

    Columnist - there will be more in the near future. I'm not done yet.

  8. Thank you for doing this series. It is very touching and sad, but I am glad that you are helping these designers to be remembered. Greg Jordan was a favorite of mine that died young. I hoped to work for him one day. He had such a sure hand.


  9. Waow something new for me.

    I am speechless, they are timeless :-)


  10. A thing of beauty...I'm really taken with the effect given by the pristine white curtains Outside the windows of the living room. The visible window casings repeat the grid of the concrete and terra-cotta floors and make a structure for all of the beautiful collected objects. So well thought out and beautiful.

  11. To sleep in a library what a wonderful concept. Love the light and air everywhere, although for some reason I tend to build busier nests. These rooms are classical elegance with loving restraint. Hope your writing causes others to send along more names of the forgotten. A touching and heart-felt quest.

  12. good lord! an example of great design and space planning. and thank you blue, i did not know about Kalef Alaton. thank you for bringing many of these names back to the surface and making many of us aware.

  13. Anonymous - Greg Jordan was a great loss so maybe down the road when I've finished with the AIDS generation ......

    Neo Lifestyle - WOW indeed! Erg mooi.

    Home before dark - thank you. I look around second bedroom converted to a libary and sometimes wonder what kind of bedroom it would make. I haven't the same amount of space as Alaton had but I can see a tester bed in embroidered linen, with ... oh, well.

    Soodie - I'm glad you like Kalef Alaton - he was always a favorite of mine and I have a couple more for later, even one or two of his and Janet Polizzi's from the seventies.