Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Atlanta Decorating

I have spent the last couple of days culling our library, and it has proved to be a relatively painless experience. Luckily, our tower – we live in one of two towers flanking a motor-court that sits on a ridge running through the city – has a small library for residents to which all our cast-offs are donated.

My intention was to bring the Celt some peace of mind, because if there's one thing he cannot abide it's an untidy house. Inconveniently, perhaps, he married a man who it seems can be very untidy – and worse, not notice it – and stacks of books spread around the place have been driving him nuts. Who knew? So, no more stacks in the living room, none in the dining room, even the piles in the library are gone, and the bedside tables have been cleared, thereby making the Celt and the maid happy.

If you want to read about a happy book owner – someone not easily parted from any book – and you should, click here for Diane Dorrans Saeks's essay on books and the joys of book ownership. I'm a little less joyous about owning books, given I have to keep the Celt, heretofore a patient man, from having an anxiety attack – the joys of both marriage and book ownership. (I wouldn't change a thing!)

Joy aside, I do get worried about the weight of books, the psychic toll that too having many possessions takes, and it's probably related to the feeling of dread I get when I walk around flea markets – all that dead people's stuff lying around exuding desolation. (I know, I know, I'm a drama queen, but the Industrial Revolution and my grandmother have a lot to answer for.)

It is frequently said that traditional decorating is the norm in Atlanta, as if the city's decorators are somehow set apart from the national mainstream or, more negatively, left paddling in some decorative cul-de-sac. If the work of decorators as shown in local magazines is anything to judge by, it cannot be denied that, however pale the modern palette or however many Hermès blankets are thrown casually before the camera, tradition rules in this city. And why not? – you may well ask.

The reasons for choosing to decorate in the way one does are too many to go into in a paragraph or two here, but it is interesting that in 1969 Brutalist Modern buildings such as ours  – the first residential high-rises in the city – from the opening day, many residents responded to the architecture by ignoring it and treating their home, on the inside, as if it was the Colonial Revival standard everyone was used to. Only of late, as a younger generation gradually moves in, have some units begun to look as if they belong in modern architecture. That's not to say that Mid-Century Modern rules – it does not, but it is increasingly fashionable – and there there are those who cannot get beyond the cliché Barcelona chairs in spare white interiors.

When first built, the architecture was not as it is today, screened from the street by an accretion of blowsy hollies and azaleas, under-scaled plantings of annuals, and maples the color of dried blood disturbing the green shade under the mature trees.

It is inevitable that, over the years, there are changes – but occasionally one wonders why certain decisions were made. Foundation planting, as suburban a concept as ever there was, has blurred the lines where concrete met grass and gravel; light poles (the elegant five-globe fixtures in the photograph above) were removed from the piers flanking the drive and replaced by ivy, box and pansy-filled urns; gone too is the reflecting pool with its jets, seen to the right of the south tower in the colored photograph above, filled in because allegedly it leaked – as if every body of water from a lake to the human bladder doesn't leak sometime.

Judging by the blueprints, the original intention was that shade trees and lawn were to be the major part of the setting, with shrubs flanking the grounds at the property lines; in other words, a dignified frame, a balance, for a pair of buildings that, at the time, would have been a shocking invasion in a genteel neighborhood.

The original lobby with its long-gone rya hanging.

Tango, a restaurant much missed, judging by comments one still hears
about its originality and beauty

The bar at Tango 

My old prof, now a feisty ninety years of age, was asked by Mr Ted Levy, the architect, to create the model rooms you see here. She fitted out the rooms with traditional drapery, upholstery and case pieces from Baker, Knapp & Tubbs – an indication of the generous budget, and also of the aesthetic expectations of the clientele Mr Levy was hoping to attract. There was no question of contemporary as we might understand it, for this kind of decorating was as contemporary as it got in Atlanta in 1969. 

These model rooms don't look overly dated; they have stood the test of time – due I think to the black-and-white images and the fact that there are many, many flats in these buildings that look exactly the same. 

These photographs are from a brochure given to me by my old prof, which was not one of the books I donated to the library downstairs – the library, another of the changes made, and this time one for the better.


  1. How interesting. We are a later vintage block, (c.1993), but there have also been some changes, including the renovations I instigated in public areas more than two years ago, and a current removal of granite cladding from the drop-off "dome", with painted cement being the temporary, (or long term, depending on who you ask) solution. It's a work in progress, but a bit of whinging about not re-applying the granite, (which was beginning to become unsafe). I'm in two minds about whether it will look acceptable just painted, but cannot yet judge from my imagination alone.

    You too look to be surrounded by pretty trees, and I hope they are still there. Our green, (and flame trees) are gradually encroached upon as there is more and more development in this sought after (CBD) area of the city, and its relatively easy transport links, which are crucial here.

    1. Columnist, thank you. The whole city is full of trees - in fact, it's occasionally described as a city in a forest which is pushing the envelope a bit. Green is one of the pleasures of living in Atlanta - trees everywhere and many pines to keep it relatively green in winter. I loved what I could see of your flame trees. Our look like that in Fall, of course.

  2. Blue,
    Such fun to see the old Tango! Loved going there back in the 1970's when I was a student under Stan Topol at the AIA- (formerly known as Massey Junior College)

    1. Dean, thank you. I hear so much about Tango – people who look back with affection towards the place/ Judging by the photos, it was beautiful.

  3. Hello Blue,

    We too are a book family, but I try very hard to corral ours to a few well placed piles (towers?). Whenever they threaten to get out of hand, I am forced to deal with them and replace them in our small library, which my very handy husband built many years ago, and added to just last year (a final book case).

    Thank you for the tour of your towers. I hope the trees are still there to soften and frame everything.

  4. Chronica Domus, thank you.The books are going to creep back of course – what can I do? I read, therefore I am.

    The trees are wonderful – see my reply to Columnist above – Atlanta is a city of trees and remains green even in winter because we have so many wonderful pines.

  5. I am sitting here looking at books piled hither and thither on shelves groaning from the weight of far too many books. I am always amazed when I see bookshelves that contain family photos and objects and such, because I do not have one square inch of available space on mine. Great pictures. Your posts are always so good. xo, N.G.

  6. Jennings and Gates, thank you – especially for the compliment. I prefer bookshelves to hold books and not be a background for decorative bits and pieces.

  7. Yes what to do with the ever present books! I tend to donate the fiction books and only keep the 'design books' but even they are getting a little out of control and need to be sorted through. One always fears though if it will be needed in the future!
    I love the history of buildings. No matter the age of a structure changes happen. Looking at early photos of my 1930 coop building it's shocking how LITTLE it has changed other than our lush gardens which have grown in and the missing (charming) cloth awnings over the windows - a precursor to the now hideous AC units which dot the facade.

    1. ArchitectDesign, thank you. We had cloth awnings in Amsterdam and I was completely charmed by the light they created inside a room. Maybe there's a case to be made to restore them – could cut down cooling costs and add value.

  8. Thank you for your interesting blog.
    It is interesting to see the same problems in persevering mid-century buildings all over the US.
    I live in an early 50's apartment building in Brooklyn NY. It is a constant effort to avoid my co-op board members to cover over/remove mosaic murals, terrazzo floors and a "ameba" shaped lobby light fixture. We have lost the original style of the apartment windows, all the original lobby furniture and sadly all records of what it looked like. On a recent renovation the modern pictures added to the hallways was an uphill fight as to avoid " old master prints"!
    Maybe someday average home/ apartment owner can learn to respect and appreciate our past.
    Once again thank you

    Sent from my iPad

    1. Andrew Monastero, thank you. Once contemporary architecture gets into the hands of traditionalists it's downhill all the way. Even worse is an inept interior desecrator with contacts. But, don't get me started!