... is that it could, if one were not careful, get in the way of earning a living. In its own way, blogging is a scholarly activity, whether by dilettantes or acknowledged scholars: a bookish pursuit. I'm lucky to have my own library and the use of a university library – where, frankly, the interior design content is nowhere near as good as my own, but which does boast a collection of Architectural Digest going back to the late 1970s. All bound in half-yearly increments but alas with many a page, sometimes whole articles, missing.
The 1970s and 1980s are proving to have been such fertile decades for interior design. Many of the decorators and designers who died young, often of AIDS, in those years, I have already written about, and one of the most moving aspects of my research is noticing how their names no longer and with no marker of their passing, simply disappear from tables of content. Luckily, those men were prolific in their output, ranged in terms of creativity from the gentle to the sassy, and were published often.
Here I want to pay tribute to the woman who guided Architectural Digest from a rather stuffy West Coast magazine to an internationally recognized phenomenon. Over the last few years, the magazine began to feel rather desperate, relying almost on celebrity rather than aesthetics - really low points recently being Gerard Butler's and Michael Jackson's houses. In a way, of course, this was no different from what the magazine showed in the past - many a celebrity, movie star, politician or television personality got decorated and published, and frankly their interiors were dire and it did not matter. So if nothing has changed, what happened? The magazine and its editor may not have changed, but the world changed around them – and suddenly a long- and much-respected magazine had lost relevancy and it was as if they did not notice.
Much has been written in the bloggersphere about Paige Rense and in recent years less than flattering. And in a highly visible job such as Editor-in-Chief of a prestigious publication public criticism comes as an occupational hazard. It would be all to easy for me to jump on that bandwagon but I've had some time this week to reflect. And on reflection I think she's done a remarkable job especially when one considers Ms Rense has done it for thirty-five years.
My tribute, then, to AD's Editor-in-Chief, Paige Rense Noland, is prompted by my overview of her magazine's contribution to the history of twentieth-century interior design. To sit at a library table, day after day, looking through past issues of the magazine has led me to the conclusion that here was a majestic sweep of frequently original, often exciting, persistently traditional (and occasionally pretty bloody awful) interior design, as defined by one personality.
Thus, back to my theme: that group of acquaintance that included Billy Baldwin, Roderick Cameron and Arthur Smith, Van Day Truex, and Hardy Amies, remains a subject of fascination to me. It's clear Arthur E Smith was one of the best decorators of the twentieth-century: assistant, business partner, successor to – but in no way imitator of – Billy Baldwin.
Today's post, a pavilion overlooking the Mediterranean, designed by architect Tom Wilson, decorated by Smith, and belonging to "an American couple who own one of the most beautiful properties in the south of France" is perhaps the most Baldwin-like of all: beautifully restrained, tailored and agreeable.
The owners are not named, but their identity may be guessed-at. This pavilion, Palladian in style, overlooks their infinity-edged pool, one of the few true ones, that visually ends in the waters of the Mediterranean.
A dream of a setting, worthy of that synthesis between a great magazine and a great designer.
Photos by Peter Vitale to accompany text written by Valentine Lawford for Architectural Digest, April 1979.
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