If he agreed with his erstwhile employer and partner, Billy Baldwin, that "decorators should provide a serene, uncluttered background for people, pictures, flowers, books, and the unavoidable confusion brought into a room by living," then I wonder what Arthur E Smith's reaction was when he first saw these lodgepole pine walls - surely one of the most unquiet backgrounds within which he ever had to work.
There is a certain power, if not grandeur, in this kind of architecture that defies, I would think, all reasonable attempts to work within it without resorting to bucolic triteness. Arthur Smith said "he didn't want to overwhelm the architecture"* showing a certain savoire faire on his part - and it does him credit that he did not resort to brobdingnagian-scaled furniture to fill the a ponderous volume. And, to a degree, this house, with its beamed wooden roof evocative of early churches, resembles more a godlet's man-cave at Asgard (though whether Early Asgard or Late Asgard is hard to say) rather than anything fittingly called a cabin.
Nowadays, allusion to the genius loci is a customary, if occasionally tiresome event in decorating, but it has an august history. If it began with Victoria and Albert spreading acres of tartan over the floors of their newly remodeled pile in the Cairngorms, I don't know, but it sure do go back a long way. Even more commonplace is allusion to the spirit of genius ibi - be it a Provençal mas in the suburbs of Texas, a Gustavian slott in Florida or an Umbrian studiolo in Hell's Kitchen - for, seemingly, somewhere else is more attractive than right here, right now - and it's an odd phenomenon.
Of course, the allusion in this case is not to where but to whom - huntin', shootin' and fishin' clients who, having done so over the world over, wanted finally to build a house - a reminiscence, though on the scale of a castle - of cabins they had used down the years.
The ossuary-like antler chandeliers, antler and brass tables, twig tables and chairs, rush-seated ladder-back chairs, scenic-painted sideboard, duck decoys, rhinoceros and bear figurines, salt-glazed pottery, birch-bark baskets; half-barrel cachepots, a vessel in the shape of a tree trunk, rustic pitcher and brass candlestick lamps with twig or raw silk shades, wool plaid, leopard-print carpet and needlepoint rugs - and the laciest curtains ever to grace a log cabin: sill-length, swagged, jaboted and chouxed, atop floral shades matching the print of the coverlet on the maple log bedstead - all suggest an homage to spirit of place, albeit seen through the rose-tinted lens of a rifle-sight, and to Smith's client's fashionable taste in Americana.
It is, I think, because we live in a world of globalized tchochkes, where Americana is more likely to be found in the pages of airline catalogues - and despite protestations by many a decorator that their work is uniquely American - that America as genius loci is less fashionable than it once was. To claim uniqueness suggests that their work is happening nowhere else. And perhaps in the sense that the Mid-Atlantic, the Anglo-American, or the Cotswold-Virginia Style - call it what you will - is more a provincial than a universal phenomenon - the style is unlikely to be current in Paris, Stockholm, Vienna or Istanbul - one could claim uniquity, at the very least.
*Quotation from Sporting Life at Fort McKee by Hunter Drohohowska,
Photographs by Peter Vitale to accompany text by Hunter Drohojowska, Architectural Digest, June 1991.
High Summer in Oxfordshire
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