I've just listened on YouTube to what for years I've thought of as the only piece of jazz I could ever tolerate - Dave Brubeck's Big Noise from Winnetka. But it seems at this point I have to concede that my level of tolerance has sunk even further - jazz, both traditional and modern, remains one of the most irritating noises I could ever try not to listen to - nails on a chalkboard, that sort of thing! Sadly, merely stating that I cannot abide the stuff typically raises many a hackle – or many a look of pity.
Let me say, before I raise more hackles, that noise to me is one of the biggest polluters of modern life and I am one of those people who cannot zone it out. The Celt, on the other hand, could sleep on the orchestra conductor's baton during the cannon fire and pealing of bells celebrating the retreat from Moscow.
None of which has anything to do with this photo except that it is of the living room of a Winnetka, Illinois house, decorated by Stanley Falconer - a house purporting to reflect "a late-eighteenth-century French country house."
One wonders why in 1990s Winetka, Illinois, or anywhere else on this continent for that matter, there was a need to reflect another century, style or place. The other day I commented in response to F P Victoria's post in part about discrimination or the lack thereof, and about what he hesitated to call knock-offs by saying that we all notice phrases such as "inspired by...." "in the manner of ..." and "an homage to ..." being used in shelter magazines and trade publications. I went on to say that anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of decorative arts cannot but be aware of the many familial resemblances in popular catalogues, mall furniture stores, to authenticated designs.
So it is with this house - the evocation of another time, place and lifestyle - enshrined in the language of display. Over the years there has been a predilection for evoking other lands, past times and in many cases long-dead designers as if giving credence to the decorator's or architect's own work. Look back through 1980s and 1990s Architectural Digest, for example, and you will see a constant conjuration of some golden back-when whether it be eighteenth-century French palace or province, the Paris of Napoleon III, the country houses of the English aristocracy, or 1930s Wyoming. However, such imitation-evocation is almost entirely restricted to interior design. I'm pretty certain the inhabitants of these homes did not totter about in Marie-Antoinette flounces, wear the likes of Prinny's knee-breeches, or creak around in chaps and spurs at cocktail parties - except, perhaps at a fête costumée. To do so would look anachronistic and ridiculous. Yet acres of rooms, staged at vast expense, milk those times and places, and nobody bats an eyelid.
Authenticity is almost as slippery a notion as chic – and to my mind all the more interesting in a society where designs of furniture cannot be copyrighted – a concept I shall enjoy exploring more in a later post. In the meantime, do please enjoy the undeniable beauty of Mr. Falconer's facsimile.
Photos by Tony Soluri to accompany text by Jeffrey Simpson about a house designed by Thomas H. Beeby, decorated by Stanley Falconer of Sybil Colefax and John Fowler and published by Architectural Digest August 1998.