Saturday, July 10, 2010

A man of most remarkable taste

One of the pleasures of being given lots of old magazines, as I was last week by friends who are moving house and needed to downsize a magazine collection, is renewing acquaintance with rooms long buried in files which for the life of me I cannot find. Gone, no doubt, the way of the family bible ...

So it was with great delight I found Billy Baldwin's salon for Mr and Mrs Harding Lawrence at La Fiorentina - which of us doesn't know it, especially to those of us who own Billy Baldwin Decorates? Of course, it was the blue that caught my eye way back in 1999 when the room was already nearly thirty years old, and it has become a treasure image lodged at the back of my mind since. Once I had a clipping and now I have the whole article again.

Since I began blogging it has occurred to me a number of times that one's collection of magazines should never be disposed of – squirreled away if necessary in a dry basement or stored on bookshelves, but never thrown away. Of course, that presupposes that there is room for more bookshelves, and in my case the increasing number of shelves has not kept pace with the books or magazines coming into this house. My collection of The World of Interiors, begun in the early 1980s, takes a remarkable 112 linear feet to shelve. I ask you, who begins a collection of magazines? Like husbands, they just mount up. The number of other design publications arriving in the mailbox has dwindled without really causing torment, and will dwindle further if Elle Decor doesn't try, even a little, to be interesting.

We are both readers and that means that we have a never-decreasing library that ranges from the obvious interior design and architecture, thru Western art both fine and decorative, to cookery books, books on genetics, history, novels both trashy and inner-landscape, biographies, to curiosities such as Our King and Queen and the Royal Princesses, and Hill's Manual on Social and Business Forms: A Guide to Correct Writing, Showing how to express Written Thought Plainly, Rapidly, Elegantly and Correctly.

And it was such a correctly, if not terrifically plainly written, biography Billy Baldwin: An Autobiography, picked over again during the deepest pout of my weeks-long bloggers block last weekend, that led me to remember the name of someone I'd wanted to write about for a while - the man described by Baldwin as "a man of most remarkable taste" - Roderick Cameron. Son of Lady Kenmare and friend of Van Day Truex who apparently also "was absolutely smothered with taste."

A subject quite absorbing, Taste, and I shall return to it in a subsequent post.

Roderick Cameron began as the subject of this post but has almost been demoted to a footnote, so I'll try to remedy that by quoting Billy Baldwin one more time and by saying I intend to write more about Cameron later this week.

"His mother, Lady Kenmare, was an Australian beauty and twice a widow when I first met him. Lady Kenmare and Rory with a combination of American and Australian money had bought a property on the Riviera which was a wreck due to damages done to it during the war. This remarkable building was known as "La Fiorentina," and it certainly did have, for one thing, the most beautiful views and sights on all the Riviera. It was clinging on to the tip of Cap Ferrat, and surrounded by the perfectly fantastic gardens, terrace upon terrace, most of which had remained in pretty good condition in spite of the war.

"The restoration began and it was lucky for everybody because Rory was a young man of enormous taste, great enthusiasm, and plenty of money. Together with his mother, they bought a great deal of the furniture for the house and turned it into the most beautiful house on the entire Reviera. The restoration was by no means an exact copy of what it had been before the war and before the bombing; instead, Rory brought the whole thing into the present time with a remarkable clarity, a great feeling for textured materials of the day, a lovely absence of color in that most of it was rather bony or very pale, and the introduction of contemporary French furniture, most notably tables by Jean-Michel Frank, who was the last great cabinetmaker in Paris."

Photos by Durston Saylor for an article written by Aileen Mehle for Architectural Digest, January 1999.


  1. "turned it into the most beautiful house on the entire Reviera" What to say after that?

  2. I do know what you mean about never throwing out old interior design magazines. Unfortunately I did, when we moved from our very large New Town flat to our present abode in Bangkok, in the interests of reducing the pile of accumulated, well "stuff". Silly really, because as you suggest they are like books, (and particularly ones you and I would cherish forever), and half the books went into storage for the same reason, so the magazines could have so easily done so too.

    I did have a very enjoyable time going through them all tearing out the images that I wanted to keep, but it's not the same, and I regret it very much today.

  3. Christopher Petkanas wrote an interesting piece on Cameron in T Magazine a few weeks back. Everyone who knew him said that his taste was pitch perfect. I also believe that Libby Cameron, former protege of Sister Parish, is a relation. Perhaps a niece? Great niece?

  4. which to comment on first? La Fiorentina or saving magazines? Saving Magazines or La Fiorentina?

    I first encountered La Fiorentina in a series of marvelous photographs in an article in Realites in the 1960's. Gobsmacked I was, even at the age of 14. That issue traveled with me everywhere, and I always assumed that it would be buried with me, but somewhere along the line during those many moves in my 20's, it disappeared. Ever since starting blogging, I've fantasized that it would reappear and be my big scoop, including its infinity pool, gorgeous beyond belief, but which unfortunately, launched all those thousands of imitators in every suburban back yard, and other places where there was no infinity to pool.

    I finally realized a few years ago that I simply could not save every book and every magazine. How frustrated I am still.

  5. oh do hurry with the next post on Roderick Cameron!

    I have tried to solve my W of I storage problem by cancelling my subscription. No more room and I simply can't chuck them. But then I go into the newsagent and can't resist buying it for twice the price I would normally pay. I am going to have to restore the monthly frisson of its arrival on the doormat. I kicked my VOGUE habit ages ago and haven't regretted it for a moment.

  6. If this info is from the AD article by Suzy, it's incorrect. Mr. Cameron's mother bought Fiorentina in the late '20's/ early '30's after leasing La Leopolda. They renovated it and lived there before leaving it during ww2.
    After the war, the house was in terrible shape and the garden full of concrete bunkers- (if you know where it is, it is at the tip of St. Jean Cap Ferrat and allowed the germans to have total control of the Bay of Beaulieu) Mr. Cameron and his mother used the labor of the German soldiers to dig out the concrete and remake everything.
    If you look back further in your magazines- I can't remember where- there are pictures of the drawing room as decorated by Mr. Cameron and it is much better than Mr. Baldwin's rendition. If I locate the article, I will send the info.
    When the Lawrences sold it, the new owners (a German billionaire couple) discovered, after making a minor repair, that the entire structure was about to collapse. They had to gut it and build a steel structure inside of the shell to support the exterior. Now, the house is said to be full of 18th century boiseries from Bernard Steinitz.

  7. Anonymous, thank you. The quotes are from Billy Baldwin's autobiography and are as told to his ghost-writer. The bunkers are not mentioned by Baldwin for he states the gardens were in reasonably good order after the war. When you mentioned the German soldiers laboring to remove the bunkers it rang a bell - I have read about that somewhere and I shall look for that reference later today.

    I have never seen photos of Cameron's drawing room at La Fiorentina but would love to and, frankly, I would love to view it in its present incarnation.

    I appreciate your comments on this. Again, thank you.

  8. Yes, I too am thinking about that swimming pool! Does anyone have a picture of it- is it pictured in the Lawrence auction catalogue?

  9. Blue a small photo of the drawing room in Cameron's day can be found here:

    And, of course, in the aforementioned long lost issue of Realites that introduced La Fiorentina in the sixties. Damn, I wish I knew what happened to it.

    As for World of Interiors, I feel Rosie West's pain. I first discovered it in Palm Beach in 1983, and haunted the little newstand on Southern Blvd in WPB where I found it, then the only place to get it. Like others, it is the one that I cannot thin or throw out, but, because so hard to find in those early years, am missing three issues. What to do? I expect to live thirty more years. At 12 issues a year, I will be reduced to living in one room with stacks of WOI in all the others......