Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The problem with blogging ...

... 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.


  1. I'm speechless. That infinity pool is in a league of its own. It doesn't get any better than this.

  2. Oh, where to begin in response to all the points you raise in this post? Glad I am, of course, to see dilettantes included in scholarly activities. And yes, I too have noticed that blogging could interfere with the more boring task of making a living. Yup. And the paid writing jobs I get as a result of my blog don't pay such as to inspire me to quit my only slightly more lucrative day job...and like you, oh, the subjects I wish I had time to explore.

    Next, I have been feeling rather guilty about my own light snarking about Paige Rense perhaps losing her edge----for it is true that for many years under her reign, AD did publish some really terrific stuff, and created some elegant issues. It's hard not to stay too long if the party was good. She does deserve credit.

    Last, lovely to see the 'anonymous' infinity pool---I adored that pool house when it appeared. It's too bad that such a perfect pool should have spawned so many unnecessary imitations. I was at one here in Maine, on an otherwise lovely estate, this very afternoon. Set in a field near the ocean's edge, the infinity made no sense at all in the setting.

    Lots of great posts lately. Here's to functional and spartan baths and libraries filled with design books.

  3. Architectural Digest has always been a mystery to me. I'm always happy to browse when I find one. I'm usually left stunned but shivering. I never felt as if I belonged anywhere inside. I'm quite ready for a change.

    The view of the obelisk through the crooked trees, I like that.

  4. You are a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. Although I have been in the camp of disliking AD for decades, you do the world a service to remember that there some moments of great delight. As to DES' comment, "Here's to functional and spartan baths and libraries filled with design books," yes, please.

  5. Excellent observation on blogging (though I should say that I have a friend turned his blogging into a book). Perhaps research and reflection are like that divine pool and the view: they can't exist without each other.

  6. Peak of Chic - thank you. There is another half to that pool I could not get to so half a photo has to suffice. I'm sure you know who the pool house belonged to!

    Dilettante, thank you. Over the years I've seen a number of so-called infinity-edged pools that have ended in cow pastures rather than a vista to the horizon. Fads make fools of us all.

    Years ago I swam in a pool in Montreal until I realized the edge, not in this case a spurious infinity one, dropped sheer down the side of Mount Royal - there seemed to be a foot of concrete between me and the most vertiginous drop I'd ever swum near. It was at that point I realized actually how neurotic I was.

    home before dark, thank you for that compliment - you are always so good to me and I'm grateful. I cannot agree more with you agreeing with DES who is agreeing with me so ... not sure where that is going. But yes, a good bathroom, a good library and a good salad spinner and all is good.

    Terry, thank you. I think your reaction of not feeling you belonged in any of the interiors is pretty normal - the very ethos of AD was that these were rooms that were not for you and me, they were for the great and the good of this world.

    VoiceTalk, thank you. Which book are you referring to? And which blog? You're on my blogroll, did you see that?

  7. Blue, Thank you for continuing to remind the world of the wonderful interior design of the 1970's and 1980's. Many of those designers did die young of AIDS and much of their work was captured in AD. I think it was their loss along with so many creative people that supported the community that changed the magazine. Best, Kendra

  8. Kendra, thank you. Those two decades fascinate me and only yesterday as I trawled through the late nineties issues of AD did it become obvious, or at least it was confirmed, what the profession has lost. And design magazines did change, especially AD, in a sense they got more stuffy, more traditional. I'd like to think it was a dignified response to what had been lost, but I doubt it. Somewhere years ago I read a list of names of those designers who had died and I cannot find it or remember which magazine it was in.

  9. Blue~ My only consolation is that I was blessed to have known many of those talented, although at times difficult people. I feel sorry for someone coming up in the industry now with so much blandness, mediocrity and self promotion. Best, Kendra

  10. Dear Blue- Yes! I did see that I was on your blog role. I am truly honored. Thank you for reading my musing about arcane vocal matters.

    The blog I referred to? Tobias Haller's blog "In a Godward direction" that resulted in the book Reasonable and Holy. The book deals with the Episcopal Church and same-sex marriage. Interior design of a whole other sort! Best- Daniel

  11. Oh dear -as a child (not anymore!) i have to admit to being one of those perpetrators who took pictures out of magazines even at the library! If it helps any, I still have most of those clippings INCLUDING this article. My love of all things palladian started at a very young age :-)

  12. ArchitectDesign - tut, tut! But no real finger-wagging from me for how could I think of chastising a fellow Palladian? BTW will see some of his buildings this winter