Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't ask, don't tell

On selling La Fiorentina to the Harding Lawrences, Roderick Cameron removed to the smaller and nineteenth-century Le Clos Fiorentina which, in turn, was sold to Sao Schlumberger who called on David Hicks to decorate it.

Hicks' decoration of a house he knew well, having stayed there a number of times during Cameron's ownership, judging by the grainy photographs, is as fresh and up-to-date as it was when first published thirty-two years ago. It's a cliche to say that photographs speak for themselves, but nonetheless they do and because of it I feel there's little more to be said about an interior by David Hicks that hasn't already been said elsewhere.

Gardens designed by Roderick Cameron, built in a succession of smaller gardens on a terraced hillside and so beautiful it was they that drew the new owner to buy the house they surrounded. David Hicks, intent on preserving the gardens during the year-long remodel of the house and the building of a swimming pool, had a bridge built over which trucks could drive without damaging the planting. So delighted with them was Hicks that he referred to them again, though by this time the gardens were no longer owned by the Schlumbergers, in his book, My Kind of Garden.

I have spent some time writing about Roderick Cameron - someone who until recently had not, other than when I remembered his house at Menerbes, impinged too much on my consciousness. Only as part of my delving into 1970s and 1980s decoration has he become apparent, but I must say – and perhaps I am finding significance where there is none – but it really seems to me that Roderick Cameron holds an influential if not crucial place in twentieth-century decorating. At first, to me, a shadowy figure, but one who through his friends' comments, his client's trust in him, and what his employees have had to say brings the man into clearer focus.

Roderick Cameron did not generate a style, but worked within a mode that we have come to recognize as a way of making a house welcoming, comfortable, reasonable and, above all, suitable. Cameron never became a famous decorator in the way his friends did - Baldwin, Truex, Hicks - all names still well-known well after their deaths - and finding what he created has been a bit of a journey and worth every minute.

There are many decorators and designers who, on reaching a certain maturity and fame, have titles as such as Dean bestowed on them. And what a frightening title it must be to receive - almost like having one foot in the grave. Oh, I know, accolades such as this are pretty meaningless in the great scheme of things, but if such a title were to be given posthumously it could, in my opinion, be bestowed on Roderick Cameron.

Most of the men of Roderick Cameron's circle were gay - some not but, as we would say nowadays, straight but not narrow. These were the men who, living in a society hostile to their nature, built their own networks, their own clubs, and whilst existing in a DADT relationship with their clients, nonetheless created some of the most memorable interiors ever to grace a photographer's lens - men who took place with the lady decorators, those powerful women who founded the business and had reigned for nearly half a century.

Photographs by Pascal Hinous to accompany text by Susan Heller Anderson for Architectural Digest, January/February 1978.


  1. Absolutely shocking those interiors were designed 30 years ago! And the gardens- perfection. Could he be the original designer of the infinity pool (last photo)?

    hope you are well!

  2. I don't have the words either except thank for show us these beautiful rooms and gardens and a morning chuckle over the big cat guarding the room.

  3. I to find it hard to believe these were published 30 years ago. That green in the living room is just so fresh!

  4. How I've been enjoying these posts---my introduction to Cameron's work, as I may have mentioned, was an article about La Fiorentina in Realites in the sixties, titled 'The Most Beautiful House in the World". And so it seemed to be.

    I have in my clip files an article, from House Beautiful, I think, about Clos Fiorentina when Cameron first did it up. I had put it aside months ago for a post that I never got to, and now that you have done this wonderful series about Cameron, I think I should just send it along to you, as I've seen none of the photos in your posts to date---yet more!

  5. Beautiful and beautifully told. Brought tears to my eyes that a bridge was made to save a garden. Can't imagine anybody doing that these days. DADT has not been a good thing. Hope we finally get this right.

  6. For The Love of a House, thank you. Joan, these rooms are lovely and completely up-to-date. I had to look twice at the date to see if I had it wrong.

    Terry, thank you. The cat was a bit of a surprise once I realized what it was.

  7. ArchitectDesign, thank you. I agree about the color - a faded turquoise, I think, the text described it. A lovely room, altogether, that living room.

  8. Dilettante, that Paris flat eludes me but one kind reader last week sent me a scan of the living room. I think I know where to lay my hands on photos but its just a question of finding the right bookseller. I'd love to have the photos if you really don't want them.

  9. home before dark, thank you. I thought it a wonderful thing that a bridge was built to protect the planting. Would that it happened more often!

    As to DADT - I too hope that for not much longer sexuality is not an issue for people serving in our Services.

  10. Your Cameron project has been a model on many levels, but for me its most important aspects to assimilate have been its pacing between segments (proportion in time) and its elegant ratios of argument - which has been refreshingly and benignly overt - to evidentiary imagery (proportion in diversified stimuli). I can't encourage you to be proud of this because I know you'd abjure pride. I can thank you, for teaching the subject of the form, very well.

  11. I'm wondering if part of the reason that Cameron is not better known is because he didn't feel the need to be commercial. Hicks, Baldwin, and Truex were career decorators (Truex, though, not quite a decorator). I'm assuming that Cameron did not have to worry about making his decorating an income-producing job, something which allowed him to be selective and do things quietly. Seeking publicity is for those who have ego issues or who need to do so for financial reasons.

  12. Carter Nicholas, thank you. I enjoy finding out about that generation of decorators and there's a lot more to come.

    Peak of Chic, thank you. I agree that Cameron did not feel the need to be commercial for he already had an income and, apparently, a large one. Nonetheless, he did work and I'm sure he charged for his services.

    You are so right about publicity-seeking egos - there's plenty of that kind of behaviour in the blogosphere at the moment. It is like an online version of watching people behaving very badly on TV. Swearing, sexual and body function imagery - potty-mouthed children from the school yard vying for attention. To say nothing of the snarky attempts to do down a fellow designer - appallingly bad manners. As my mother would have remarked, "common."

  13. Blue --

    I much prefer Cameron's decoration to David Hicks's. What do you think?

    Confession: Hicks's work has never appealed to me -- the colors, the proportions, the showiness, and often the absence of any sense that real people must live in those rooms. Too much brassy "style" for its own sake and not enough subtle "comfort." It's as if his rooms are always shouting.

    But the gardens and the pool are simply magnificent. It's hard to imagine anything finer.

    (The older I get, the more I prefer gardens to houses. Is this a recognized syndrome? Or is it just the dim intuition that I'm going to wind up under the "shrubberies" and not in a bed?)

  14. The Ancient, thank you.

    My taste leans towards the humane suitability of Cameron's taste - very much the same as that of Baldwin and Truex. Having said that, I must say that I like much of what Hicks designed - not all - but when I consider any of his work I have the feeling that to move a chair off its appointed position would have been sacrilege. What I really appreciate is his use of color.

    Yes, I love gardens yet cannot stand gardening, but that probably has more to do with arthritis and the whine of the mosquito than anything else. I love to walk in gardens, especially in the rain. Sitting in a garden shelter, be it a shed, tempietto or grotto, listening to rain on the roof is heaven to me.

    As to your intuition - absolutely spot on for all of us!

  15. Yes- this is the house! I posted on another one of your blogs that showed photos of this house now. I remember spending weeks each summer here. I have a copy of that original Architectural Digest... and my father has those old PS towels, along with some other items he kept from his father. Thank you for posting this!

  16. Leslie, it is a privilege to hear from someone so intimately connected with these houses. I have answered your other comment and will repeat what I said there - I'm thrilled.