Friday, January 29, 2010


A quality common to the decorators' work featured this week and last, is that of timelessness. Many of the rooms, in their own ways, have seemed as contemporary today as they were when first published. And so it is with these rooms from the mid-1980s designed for himself by Kalef Alaton.

Mr Alaton bought a five-apartment building in West Hollywood, gutted and remodeled it into these bewitching rooms, spacious, light-filled, simple in form and finish - unarticulated white stucco walls, concrete and terra-cotta tile floor - all connected by an elegant spiral staircase, and filled with a resplendent and personal collection of fine and decorative arts.

It is a truism to say that space is a luxury, and here space is used lavishly and luxuriously. Not for Alaton, the filling of every corner, the layering of surfaces with bric-a-brac: rather a considered placement of well-curated objects and furniture, allowing the eloquence of negative space, and combining elements of theatre, display, scholarship and hospitality.

The list of valued and valuable objects in the living room is long: a 17th century Flemish painting Battle of Ostend; cane-backed Régence fauteuil; Régence giltwood mirror; needlepointed Régence bergere; a pair of signed Louis XV fauteuils; gilt Louis XV table with faux-marbre top; 19th century Baccarat chandelier; Regency armchairs; a lacquer and gilt Chinese table; famille-verte vase; Japanese lacquer table; 2nd century marble bust; an Apulian volute Krater; Sino-Tibetan deer, and a Qing ginger jar on a Portuguese chest-on-stand.

Alaton's bedroom, with two tester beds is, in its own quieter way, as curated at the living room: a Turkish carpet; a modern leather-clad chaise longue; a limestone fragment of a horse head backed by a Indian brass door; book-filled bookcases and a mahogany Regency table with a gilded winged-seahorse base on which stand pre-Columbian objects and Cypriot vases.

The master bathroom, below, as spacious as the rest of the house, has a sitting-area with a Russian armchair and two tufted chairs, a 19th century Italian carved marble mirror, Italian bronzes, Asian and European ivories and Roman glass bottles.

Often where there are many objects of history and pedigree there's an atmosphere of dusty suffocation but here in Kalef Alaton's home because of uncluttered space and freely-admitted light, that feeling is lacking.
A year after these pictures were published, Kalef Alaton died of complications of AIDS died at the age of 49.

For no reason other than I fancy it, today's cocktail is a Negroni - my aperitif before dinner with friends tonight at Atlanta's latest bistro.

1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1 1/2 oz Campari
1 1/2 oz gin

Put all in an old-fashioned glass with ice and stir. Garnish, if you must with an orange slice.

Photographs by John Vaughn from Architectural Digest, May 1988.
List of furniture, etc., quoted from text by Michael Webb.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


After my placeholder yesterday, I'm continuing my theme, with a variation, about those decorators who died early in their careers and who as a consequence never found a place in the canon of interior design history. Mark Hampton died relatively young at the age of 58 and most certainly cannot be described as forgotten.

These two rooms from the same apartment were designed in the early 1970s by Mark Hampton, when working for McMillen, Inc. The first, a living room, redolent of his association with David Hicks and the second, a drawing room, points to his own mature style - in fact, the room could have been created by him, and in many ways was, in the 1980s and early 1990s.

I turned the page expecting more of the groovy Hicksian mode and it was a surprise to see that drawing room, beautiful though it is. The rooms were on separate floors, so there was no question of a clash of styles, or lack of flow, as might be said nowadays, and clearly there's a difference in function. I know that the client was ultimately the arbiter, and these rooms were created in the early 1970s, but a suggestion of schizophrenia, stylistically speaking, is inescapable.

It could be the two photos embody the transition from one period to another, and maybe they do.

Mr Hampton's story is too well-known to need reiteration but his obituary summed it up in the following words.

"More a distiller than an innovator, Mr Hampton built his career on giving the public exactly the style it wanted at precisely the time it realized it wanted it. In the 1960s and 70s that meant discotheque modernism in primary colors, inspired by the work of his mentor, David Hicks, the flamboyant British decorator who died on March 29. It was crisp but comfortable traditionalism, however, that became Mr. Hampton's hallmark in the early 1980s, and that made him an icon of American style and one of the nation's most sought-after decorators."

Photos by Feliciano, from Architectural Digest, May/June 1974.
Quote from here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The still, small voice

Sometimes you just have to stop and be disconcerted by beauty.

Blue bowl - stoneware, circa 1965. Height 6.4 inches.
Stoneware pot with pitted glaze, circa 1967. Height 11 inches.

Photographs from the November, 1989 Connoisseur, by Yasuhiro Ishimoto for the exhibition Issey Miyake meets Lucie Rie.

Monday, January 25, 2010


In Friday's post about Arthur Elrod the client says "... Arthur and Bill read me exactly ..." Bill being William Raiser, Mr Elrod's partner. According to a correspondent, William Raiser had been a VP at Raymond Loewy before joining Elrod in Palm Springs. The same correspondent says that they died in an automobile accident in the early 1970s, a couple of years after these photos were taken.

These rather corporate looking rooms on North Shore Drive, Chicago, next to the Drake Hotel, are by William Reiser and Arthur Elfrod for the publisher of Ebony, the winner of the 1972 Publisher of the Year Award, and his wife, both collectors of Picasso, Chagall and Martini.

Mrs Johnson is quoted: "We informed Raiser/Elrod that we would like an apartment to complement our two complexions in tones of brown and beige. We felt that this type of setting would be comfortable and flattering."

The article, unattributed as far as I can see, is not very interesting - as if the writer himself was not very curious or enthusiastic, had stuck to the facts and gave a workmanlike description of a place that, at first glance at the photos, seems glamorous and inviting.

Photos by Alexandre Georgas from Architectural Digest, November/December 1972.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Shaken not stirred

In early December I wrote a letter to the editor of Architectural Digest about the magazine's, to me, quite ridiculous list entitled The World's 20 Greatest Designers of All Time. One of the more positive aspects of the list was that it included the name of Arthur Elrod.

Elrod, 49 years old when he died in 1975, is perhaps remembered today more because of his John Lautner designed house in the desert at Palm Springs. Known as the Elrod House and used as a location for scenes from the movie Diamonds are Forever in 1971 the house is a stunning piece of 1960s modernism.

I have found a number of photos of Mr Elrod's work, such as you see here, in my old magazines - photos of projects and some lovely black and white whole-page advertisements in the earlier issues. Seeing these photos makes me wonder why this man's work did not become part of the canon of 20th interior design. Did he die too young? Was his name overshadowed by his associates who continued the firm after his death and who eventually set up their own practices: Stephen Chase, Harold Broderick? Mr Elrod is not unknown but should be better known that he is.

The client, a 72-year-old bachelor and collector of contemporary art, "explains his interest in contemporary things. "They make me feel young and gay. I don't like clutter. I'm a purist. Arthur and Bill read me exactly. They saw this as a monochromatic apartment, a background for bold, contemporary paintings. They gave me exactly what I wanted. Nothing traditional. I'm a modernist."

These are flawless, contemporary rooms, flavored by but not reeking of the early 1970s, as relevant today as they were nearly forty years ago. The art, by Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothco, Jackson Pollock, Barbara Hepworth, Hans Hoffman, Franz Kline, Pablo Picasso and David Smith, also has stood the test of time.

I cannot tell you that James Bond uttered the phrase shaken not stirred in this movie though it was first used in the book of the same name to show how he preferred his martinis.

James Bond's Dry Martini

Three measures of Gordons, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.

Photos by Leland Lee from Architectural Digest, May/June 1972.
Recipe from here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How is history written?

Looking back in the old issues of Architectural Design, House and Garden, etc., it quickly becomes apparent that some designers were more prominent than others. Conceivably, the prominence they enjoyed went hand in hand with being prolific, or they or their PR people were good pals with the editor, or maybe had high-profile, even notorious, clients who needed exposure, but whatever the reason these decorators were extensively promoted.

Nothing stands still; in interior design especially, change is inevitable. And most homes are only seen by a select few. So for the most part, the published account becomes the historical record. Editorial decisions of yesteryear – who gets printed and who does not – become our picture of the design world of their times. Thus one could think that the history of late 20th century decorating lies in the work of a few people - that revered group of Hadley, Hampton, Parrish, Fowler, Taylor, Lancaster, Baldwin, Douquette, et al whose work and names are constantly before us. It's when we get the Best Decorators of All Time nonsense, that fears are raised that interior design history has a gloomy future.

This week I have discussed three decorators who left the scene early and whose work is scarcely remembered except by a remnant of their generation. There are others who should be remembered, Billy Gaylord for one, Kalef Alton, another, was frequently published in the 1980s. One of the most published at that time, Robert Metzger, is not someone whose work I would ever have called well-mannered - ostentatious being the adjective that comes to mind - so it was surprising to find these rooms that could only be described as congenial and urbane - the total antithesis of what his later work became.

So, how is history written? Is it simply that he who is remembered best is he who gets published more?

Photos by Marie Consindas, from Architectural Digest, November-December, 1974.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The mistake most often made ....

"... by people doing their own homes is choosing every perfect detail. The greatest chair, the greatest rug, the greatest fabric. But they don't work together. Overblown. Just too many things. Nothing becomes important." So said Harrison Cultra, presumably in answer to a question asked by the author of Decorating for Celebrities, in 1980.

There is nothing overblown, nor are there too many things in the rooms shown here; dapper, affable and livable spaces. Mr Cultra described his living room as being painted a color he "matched to the moment of Spring when everything turns green. That very special perfect green; in summer it appears very yellow." He also mentioned that the furniture, because of the spare and modern feel to the room, appears to float. Furniture did that a lot of that those days.

The photo of him in the book shows a handsome man, short-haired and full-bearded, in a waisted suit with wide lapels over the broadest of ties - the likes of which has not graced the neck of man since. A comely man indeed, looking quite the swell in best bib and tucker standing happily in front of his own fireplace in the living room of his 1773 Hudson River house. Three years later he was dead of AIDS at the age of 42.

Photos by Billy Cunningham, from Decorating for Celebrities, Paige Rense, Doubleday & Company, 1980.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Connective tissue

If this week turns out to be completely in memoriam don't be surprised or disappointed. As mentioned in yesterday's post, last week's conversation with Will and Jennifer has set me off on a path looking at those decorators who died, many of them of AIDS, in the 1980s and early 1990s - the connective tissue, as it were, between the generation of Albert Hadley, Mrs Henry Parish, Billy Baldwin, et al, and the generation working today.

Before their early deaths, they were highly regarded and feted as the best of their generation (see yesterday's post) and Gary Hager was one of them. Apprenticed at Parish-Hadley, as were many who survived in a comfortable middle age, Gary Hager alas did not survive to grow into the kind of maturity demonstrated, for example, by David Kleinberg, another Parish-Hadley alumnus.

AIDS was the red line drawn through late 20th century history; a line marking of the beginning of a catastrophe of immense proportions, and many did not cross that line. The loss to our industry and to society at large is immeasurable and if we are to see our profession as having some sociological significance, then those designers are a forgotten generation whose importance needs to be recognized. They are forgotten in the sense that their work is recorded in the interior design magazines and books of the late 20th century yet their lives and their passing, at best, is to be found in scattered obituaries, but the history that includes them is still to be written.

Photos by George Chinsee, from Manhattan Style, John Esten & Rose Bennett Gilbert, Little, Brown & Company, 1990.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How quickly we forget

If you read a Peak of Chic you will know that we had dinner last week with Jennifer and her friend Will Merrill. Will had commented anonymously a number of times when I was posting about William Gaylord, and eventually I posted a tribute to him under his nom de plume of Anonymous. Will was immensely helpful with the posts about William Gaylord whom he had known and gave me much advice as to what to look for. Luckily, everything Will suggested I was able to find in my stack of magazines.

So it was with great pleasure that I met Will for the first time at Jennifer's over pre-dinner drinks and though it was a school night it turned out to be one of the most interesting evenings I've spent in a long time. One of the many names bandied about, and believe me there were many, over that dinner table was that of Arthur E. Smith - a designer whose name I remembered and on going to my old magazines found I'd already marked an article in AD about a place in Manhattan that Smith had decorated.

I feel the photographs speak for Smith's design very well and I find I have little to contribute - the design is so delightfully clear and not at all dated. Who would have guessed that these rooms were published in 1977? What I had forgotten, and again I was reminded during Jennifer's dinner, that Mr Smith, a native of Vidalia, Georgia, had worked for Billy Baldwin whom he met first whilst working for antiques dealer Edward Garratt. After leaving Garratt, Smith worked as Baldwin's assistant for seven years and then as his partner until Baldwin retired in 1972.

Arthur E. Smith, Inc., was established in the year of Baldwin's retirement and according to his obituary in the New York Sunday Times, Smith began decorating for a formidable list of clients: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mrs Paul Mellon, Uma Thurman, George Segal and others.

His obituary also states, surprisingly, that his work appeared in Architectural Digest as well as House and Garden and The New York Times. The writer of Mr Smith's obituary goes on to say that "he was known for his shy, quiet manner, and the rooms he decorated reflected his personality. They combined his sense of style with understatement."

Further: "In 1990, in an interview in Architectural Digest, Mr Smith was asked if there was a minimum-size project he'd would accept. No, he replied, I will decorate anything from a lampshade to a villa, the size of the project means very little." Also, he never wanted rooms to look newly decorated, he said, and encouraged his clients to acquire dogs and cats, referring to pets as his secret assistants. They give the patina of age to things."

When he died in 1997 Arthur E. Smith was survived by his mother, his sister, and Andrew Crispo, his companion, Andrew Crispo of whom much has been written.

Quotations from The New York Times, Obituary, October 1997.
Photos by Peter Vitale from Architectural Digest, November 1977.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Gilbert & Sullivan

The reason we came to New York was to see The Mikado and Ruddigore,
one this afternoon and the the other this evening. Excellent
productions from the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players. I had never
seen Ruddigore and after a slow thaw I really warmed to the ridiculous
story - a tale perfect for a warm January (43 F) weekend in New York
with the Celt who will drive me crazy from tomorrow with a whole new
repertoire of tunes and dance moves.

Lunch at Fred's again

A Manhattan in Manhattan seemed to be the best way to kick off this
spur-of-the-moment trip. Flight predictably appalling but that's
fading now thanks to Maker's Mark, red vermouth and a very speedy

Friday, January 15, 2010


Before l lay Lutyens aside for a while, I'll finish the week with before and after photos of his Moghul garden at the Viceregal Palace in New Delhi. The Viceregal Palace is magnificent, appreciated by the likes of Philip Johnson and Le Corbusier, and totally worth another post but not today.

I live with a Gilbert and Sullivan fanatic who's given, at any moment, to breaking out into song and dance based on his favorites (all of 'em). Today, whilst I was driving home he called, gigglingly delighted, to tell me that we are to fly to New York in the morning as we have tickets for The Mikado and Ruddigore.

This being the end of the week I intended to have a Friday cocktail and liking to link the cocktail to something I've mentioned during the week I found there are not many cocktails connected to Lutyens. I searched with little hope for a cocktail connected to Gilbert and Sullivan and eventually came across this cocktail, the Hanky Panky, created at the beginning of the 20th century in the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London. It occurred to me before I discovered the Hanky-Panky that I could have suggested a Bloody Mary as a pun on Ruddigore but not being able to stand the damned stuff I passed on by.

the Hanky-Panky is a sweet Manhattan with the addition of Fernet Branca, an Italian digestif instead of Angostura bitters. Proportions, I guess, are up to the bartender.

Colored photo by Dana Hyde from David Hicks: My Kind of Garden, Garden Art Press, 1999.
Black and white photo from Edwin Lutyens Country Houses, Gavin Stamp, Aurum Press, 2001.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

'ateful and 'ideous

"One of the imbalances, indeed injustices, of Country Life is that while authors on the staff have had their names at the top of country house articles since 1942, the staff photographers only started to receive acknowledgement at the end of the articles in 1970. As a result of this far too little is known about them. This is particularly unfortunate in the case of Charles Latham, who, as founder of the Country Life tradition of architectural photography, had an extraordinary wide influence on the way people in England were to look at buildings....

"Latham was a brilliant photographer, and took many of the photographs of City churches, country house and gardens for Country Life and for us. His talent went with a red beard and an entire absence of the letter H. Once he went to take photographs of a fine house which had been ruined inside by Victorian meddling. Latham hobbled into the room, stared around and said to the owner, " 'ateful and 'ideous. I'm glad I kept my cab." Then he stumped out."

It was the phrase "Victorian meddling" that first caught my eye in John Cornforth's marvelous The Search for a Style: Country Life and Architecture, 1897 - 1935. I'm still in the grip of a mini Lutyens enthusiasm, and it was that phrase that got me thinking about my ambivalence about the liming of the Deanery Garden woodwork: I know I like the effect, would not have had the courage to order it done. Where, I wonder, is the line between improvement and meddling?

I have no ambivalence about the alterations Lutyens made to the rooms you see here: a drawing room and bedroom belonging to Edward Hudson, the founder of Country Life, at 15 Queen Anne's Gate, an eighteenth-century house in London. Lutyens can be a bit grand and austere, though never forbidding, and in these understated rooms he is at his most intimate.

There is no way of knowing what the drawing room was like before the alterations: the original replaced by a convincing and aesthetically pleasing version of the eighteenth century, so perhaps it is this circumstance together with the fact they are Lutyens' amendments that prevents offence.

It seems that Lutyens based the design of the bed on that in Carpaccio's Dream of St. Ursula.

Photos of drawing room and bedroom from London Interiors: From the Archive of Country Life, John Cornforth, Aurum Press 2000, and The Search for a Style: Country Life and Architecture, John Cornforth, W. W. Norton and Company, 1988.

Quotation from The Search for a Style: Country Life and Architecture, John Cornforth, W. W. Norton and Company, 1988.

Photographers unknown.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Its a beauty

In the fall last year I wrote about a room designed by Veere Grenney in a Lutyens house - a room I found and still find astonishingly beautiful. That said, an irritating aspect of the photograph was that I couldn't see enough of what seemed to be a wonderful fireplace.

Well, in looking through my Lutyens book again today, I found a picture of a fireplace I thought I recognized. If the house unnamed in the October 2009 issue of WoI is Overstrand Hall in Norfolk then this is the fireplace I couldn't see well and a beauty it is. The book's author, describes the fireplace as "one of the most extraordinary Lutyens ever designed, a Mannerist composition of niches, concavities and attenuated corbel brackets."

There are differences between the two photos - where the fireplace meets the ceiling and the floor, which could be explained by changes made through the years by successive owners but essentially it's the same design.

Photo from Edwin Lutyens Country Houses: from the Archives of Country Life, Gavin Stamp, Aurum Press 2001.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

With these lines, a year ago today

I began blogging

The Blue Remembered Hills is an occasional journal of home: the journey to and from and how despite always being there, we can never go back.

Also, I appended the source of my blog name, a quotation from A.E Houseman's A Shropshire Lad.

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
This is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain.
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

My blog has given me such pleasure, far more than I ever could have expected, and I want to thank you all for that. For me, the Blue Remembered Hills has become the happy highways where I go - I see that shining plain. Thank you.

Photo of stair at Castle Drogo from Edwin Lutyens Country Houses: from the Archives of Country Life, Gavin Stamp, Aurum Press 2001.

Monday, January 11, 2010

And the world was a song and the song was exciting

Plumpton Place was the last of the country houses Edwin Lutyens built for Edward Hudson.

It could be that I'm susceptible to romance and sentimentality tonight having seen A Single Man yesterday and The Young Victoria earlier today but I find these photos so beautiful its almost heartbreaking.

A Single Man has stayed with me, nibbling at the edges of my mood all day today and well into this evening. It's a superb film, beautiful to look at, very moving and if you haven't seen it, please do. Colin Firth, Julianne Moore (Moores' English accent is so convincing I had to Google where she was born - she was not born or raised in England) and Matthew Goode inhabit their roles but it's Colin Firth who rips the heart out you.

Photos from Edwin Lutyens Country Houses: from the Archives of Country Life, Gavin Stamp, Aurum Press 2001.

Friday, January 8, 2010

... that is the question

This week has been dominated by beams - The Corinthian Column posted about them and I for reasons other have chosen photos in which beams are very prominent. Today's serving has nothing, despite what you might initially think, to do with beams but is more concerned with the changes made to the architect's original intention.

I don't want to get into a discussion about original intent but let me say that I do not feel that changes should not be made to what was originally intended. What, you might ask, would you put chintz on a Barcelona chair? Actually, why not? Its only a chair and not a holy icon to be approached with diffidence and reverence.

Some jurisdictions demand that changes must be approved before any work is begun so that which remains is preserved for following generations. There are two sides to the argument, for argument it remains, and having seen what was lost in the destruction of Pennsylvania Station in New York, I am a preservationist. However, time moves on, tastes and standards alter, and adaptations are felt to be essential.

The photos here are a case in point: a Lutyens house, one of his most famous and designed for the founder of Country Life to whom he'd been introduced by Gertrude Jekyll. I'm still trawling, by the way, through copies of 1980s magazines and came across these photos showing the changes made to the interior woodwork of Deanery Garden - changes quite drastic and probably irreversible, in terms of cost at least.

No doubt Lutyens intended that natural plaster, unstained oak, light brick and unfinished plank floors reflect and amplify as much light as got through the large but small-pained windows. Undoubtedly, he was aware that over time materials such as these darken and reflectivity decreases but perhaps that was part of what he thought of as the natural evolution of his creation.

In the 80 years since the house was built attitudes and standards had changed and what 20 years ago could have been seen as a desecration now looks completely right to my eyes. The house is lighter, less self-consciously medieval in atmosphere, and at this remove completely contemporary. Suffused with light, there is a jollity about the house, revelry almost, that is most attractive.

Liming, for those of you unsure as to the meaning, is a paint finish that mimics the effect lime-washing has on wood. It can be achieved on furniture with liming-wax or with white latex paint on larger surfaces, but the latter is not strictly to be recommended.

At its simplest liming is a rub-on, rub-off technique - paint is wiped on and rubbed off leaving residue in the grain and a glow of white over all the whole surface. Can be attractive but is rarely heard of nowadays, though it was terribly popular during the 1980s as were all paint finishes (what we now call faux finishes) and many a good piece of wood was limed to within an inch of its life.

As a remembrance of the Indian Summer of the British Empire, those years beginning the 20th century and leading up to the Great War, when Deanery Garden was built, it would seem fitting to give a suitable cocktail recipe, a Pimm's Cup perhaps, but given that the temperature in on-the-edge-of-the-semi-tropics Atlanta has finally reached 21 degrees at mid-day, I feel the need of something more warming.

I've chosen the Rusty Nail for its promise of warmth and also as a reminder of the effect water-based liming might have on metal.

The Rusty Nail
In an old-fashioned glass pour 1 1/2 oz Scotch and 3/4 Drambuie over ice and garnish with a lemon twist. In fact it sounds so warming, I might have one for lunch.

Photography by James Mortimer from November 1987 article written by Hugh Casson for World of Interiors.

Black and white photography from Edward Lutyens Country Houses: from the Archives of Country Life, by Gavin Stamp, Aurum Press, 2001.