Friday, August 2, 2013

There was a child went forth every day

The last two weeks seem to have been – witness my new waistline – nothing more than a round of lunches, dinners and, ultimately, a reception given by a good friend, celebrating our wedding. Bemused as we both still are about our new legal state and suffering, variously, from indigestion, hangover and, in my case, occasional bad temper, it has proved difficult to knuckle down and continue my posts about timelessness in decorating.  (By the way, in this photograph I'm the one at the back in the Liberace wig and the botox.)

One thing I have done, though, is look through the blog for posts when I have used the word "timeless" and have come up with a few examples for, seemingly, I have been concerned for quite a while with interiors "standing the test of time". A reader pointed out that for him the rooms by David Mlinaric in the last post were redolent of the 1980s and though for me they were not – Post-Modernism and English Country House Style is what I associate with those years – I have given and continue to give his reaction some thought. The following, which I quote from here, I wrote three years ago 

"It never ceases to impress me how some interiors, at their creation completely contemporary, do not date and retain that quality of here today here tomorrow. Why some interiors look dated and why some do not is a question occasionally on my mind and if I have reached a conclusion it is this: when a decorator trysts with or construes contemporary interpretations of living, it is at this point that the spectre of senescence begins to take form as an identifiable characteristic of a period.

To my mind, one of the characteristics of good 20th century decorating is a refusal to draw the curtains against the philistine dark but instead to embrace the best of global aesthetic culture. It's an axiom, a "truth universally acknowledged" to say that the best of one period will fit with the best of another, and whilst this is totally debatable, as a maxim, assuming we all agree what is the best of ...... well, you know the rest of that argument."

Today, thus, I'm giving a few images from past posts (all photographs from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s) that illustrate my interpretation of timelessness – there yesterday and here today. 

Kalef Alaton

Alberto Pinto 

Arthur E Smith 

Geoffrey Bennison

 Roderick Cameron

Antony Childs 

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon and received with wonder,
pity, love, or dread, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day, for a certain part
of the day, and for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

William Baldwin 

Generally speaking, all the rooms I consider to have stood the test of time have a certain asceticism – I have referred to it as absence – a refusal to fill space for the sake of it. The other day, I came across the quotation (above in Italics) in my favorite book of the moment Art in Everyday Life. A book written at  a time when concepts such as good taste and character were not snigger-inducing, it is proving a salutary experience to revisit the principles and opinions underlying my training as both a graphic and interior designer: to read the unselfconscious acceptance of those verities considered eternal before marketing, branding and cult of personality removed any need for them. The quotation above from Leaves of Grass begins the following from Art in Everyday Life

"Mere belongings have a tremendous influence in forming character. It would take an unusually strong character to remain true to high ideals of truth and sincerity if dishonesty were the keynote of the home surroundings. Such things as wall paper and metal made to simulate wood; too shiny fabrics imitating costly damask – all these would be avoid if there significance were understood.

"Unfortunately, quality in things is more or less intangible – as difficult to define as personality in an individual – but the outstanding feathers can be recognized and classified. With the eyes opened one very quickly reaches the point where every picture, every piece of furniture, or drapery pattern speaks its note of social grace or friendly domesticity, vigor, or fineness. Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Napoleon told as much about themselves in the furniture and decorations with which they like to surround themselves as we are able to learn from historical records. Similarly, we are better acquainted with people after a short time spent in their home, surrounded by their own things, than we would be in a long time spent  with them in a hotel or any other impersonal setting.

"If the reader happens to be one who has never realized that the things people chose tell about their character and their ideals, let him think for a few moments about impressions which he has received at the theater. The curtain rose, let us say, upon a living room; before anyone came on to the stage the audience formed a very definite idea of the kind of people who would be at home in that room; and, if the stage decorator understood his craft the people would prove to be just about what was expected. If a stage setting shows a living room with glaring lights, florid wallpaper and rugs, showy lace curtains, and overdecorated lamps, one expects the people who live there to come on stage in flashy clothes and using a great deal of common, unpicturesque slang. Suppose, however, that the setting shows a room with soft and mellow lights, yellow walls, rugs with subdued and harmonious coloring, thin white glass curtains with attractive chintz over curtains at the windows, well-designed furniture, with some comfortable chairs in front of an open fire, plenty of books, flowers, a few good pictures and decorative objects that catch the light and create points of interest. The audience would expect the people who live in this room to be tastefully dressed, well-bred, and charming.

One of the wondrous things about the above quotation is the elitism of good taste, the prevailing class stereotypes as illustrated by interiors (first written in the 1920s) and the assumptions we all still make about each other based on what we wear, where we live and how we live. 

I wonder sometimes if what dates a room is not objects or atmospheres attributable to certain decades but our concept of class and the way it is used when selling to us. 

All photographs except for the first which is mine attributed in previous posts.


  1. I agree with these choices to show examples of classic timelessness. It is interesting that none of the rooms are dominated by a fabric pattern. And the room by Roderick Cameron, neither English Country House Style nor Post-Modern, illustrates some of the best ideas in interiors in the 1980s.
    Best wishes in regard to your union!

    1. The Devoted Classicist, thank you.

      Pattern, generally speaking, is one the elements that can date a room very quickly especially if it shrieks – remember the vogue for solid background chintzes during the 1980s? Nowadays there are crude geometrics wherever one looks – a fad that crosses the divide between interiors and fashion.

      And, thank you for your best wishes.

  2. I like your use of "absence" - refusing to fill space for the sake of it. "Well edited" works too, and it is a fine line that quite often eludes many. Well edited also demands a certain order, and although it may not, and ideally should not look so, it needs to be well considered.

    Belated good wishes on your nuptials, and it's nice the creators of the mini yous could come up with something so authentic!

    1. columnist, thank you.

      I agree, "well-edited" works as an alternative description. There has to be room for the unconsidered, the accidental and serendipitous in an interior, but the basis has to be function smoothly.

      Thank you for your best wishes. The figures, $8 apiece, were bought at the local variety store and I love them. They stood handsomely on the cake our friend made the centre of the table at the reception she gave us.

  3. "I wonder sometimes if what dates a room is not objects or atmospheres attributable to certain decades but our concept of class and the way it is used when selling to us."

    A wonderful post and much to ponder now that you have initiated the use of my eye to examine how my home and its atmosphere speaks to others about me. What an interesting concept. Am I to assume that the sentence quoted above would indicate that "timelessness" is simply in the eyes of the beholder and therefore not always achievable?

    1. Anonymous, thank you.

      I think one could assume that timelessness is in the eye of the beholder but would also be wary of placing too much credence in it. I, for one, am still thinking that one through.

      Is timelessness achievable? Hmm, definitely going to mull over that one before I say one more word!