Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Forty years ago, David Whitcomb on Beekman Place

"Everything that goes into a room should be meaningful to the owner – status decorating is over." So declared David Whitcomb in 1974 when interviewed for Architectural Digest. Would that his claim had carried weight with more people in the following decades – it's quite clear that status decorating has never left us and probably never shall.


The interviewer is nowhere recorded, surprisingly, but I intend to quote both him and Mr Whitcomb himself to describe the decorator and the decorator's own home – a place clearly full of things meaningful to the owner – they both will do a better job than I. If there's any emphasis on status in this house, and I'm sure there is, it is not crude. I have written about Mr Whitcomb before  and should you wish to see more of his talent and his, to me, timeless decorating please click here or look for his name in the sidebar "Labels."


"Just in from his second home, in upstate apple/dairy country, David Whitcomb, in well-broken-in walking shoes and a cozy, stretched-out sweater, settles himself down on a u-shaped bench in the duplex where he's lived since 1959, the same year he purchased the five-story graystone townhouse. A seemingly relaxed man, with nice blue eyes, graying hair and a quiet sensibleness about him, he admits:

" 'It's difficult for me to talk about myself and my design work, especially something that is so basically visual. Words, somehow, aren't right in this case. And you see, I'm not one of those designers on an ego trip. It's very important to me that the results I try to achieve do not come out looking like Joe Whosit or Jane Whatsit did them. I've seen so many designers only interested in themselves, it's made me turn around and get more into my clients' point of view. Frequently clients don't have the time or interest or knowledge, but they always have a point of view.


" ' I don't know if I have a word for my style. I don't like that word 'eclectic.' Let's say it's a collection of dissimilar pieces, both in county of origin and period of time, from this bench to that highly carved Chippendale armchair in flame-stitch fabric.


 " ' As a designer I see so many objects that turn me off. I'm very particular about what I want around me, even to the simplest things. I feel that everything that goes into a room should be meaningful to the owner – objects one loves, not just things that represent money. Status decorating is over. After all, really incredible beauty is often something you cannot bring into a room. Like a tree branch coated with ice. There's transitory beauty!


" ' The act of design is a creative one, which makes for a certain amount of ego, I guess. I'm proud of what I do but I don't think it need to develop into egotism ..... I have never had a client who didn't have taste. That's why they come to me.' "


As I wrote above, I've let David Whitcomb speak for himself and as far as I am concerned his house needs no description of contents and finishes for it, too, speaks for itself. This is a house, as have all of Whitcomb's been, a place I would have like to have spent time, talking, reading and listening to music. It is a subtle and sophisticated room, long-gone, I'm sure, and to my eye quite undated.


That "Kentian" table in the second photograph reminds me that I'm catching a plane in a few hours, first to New York, thence to London where we'll visit the William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum – an exhibition I'm looking forward to immensely and one I missed when it was at the Bard Graduate Center before the end of last year.

We are going to New York, London, Edinburgh and Dundee for theatre, exhibitions, a birthday party, a family reunion, reunions with old friends, and to spend time with two very excited nieces, eleven and thirteen years old. The twenty-four-year-old nephew is being very cool about it all – as is only to be expected. I, on the other hand .... well, more about that from over there.


Photographs by Daniel Eifert to accompany text written (anonymously, as far as I can see) for Architectural Digest, May/June 1974.



9 comments:

  1. I always enjoy an example of mixing old and new, and this is a good one. (Forty years later, some of those fabric and carpet choices would be worn out and replaced anyway). It is interesting that the townhouse was stripped down, in some cases to the brick bearing walls, where the conservatory addition, a logical place to insert contemporary, was given traditional detailing. The designer's prerogative.

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    1. The Devoted Classicist, my thanks and my apologies for a late reply. I had little wifi access in Britain so could only post comments but not reply. In some ways it was bliss to be without phone and email access – truly a vacation.

      I find Whitcomb's place still pretty contemporary and as you point out the contrast with what might have been expected is refreshing.

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  2. I like this. I remember the rooftop. I give it a send-up.

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    1. Laurent, thank you. My apologies for a late reply. I don't remember the rooftop but wonder if you have photographs of it.

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  3. I never forget a great desk and I certainly remembered the desk in the bedroom above which would later wind up in the living room Whitcomb's stunning Manhattan apartment (which had previously been John Saladino's apartment) paired with one of the five Regency chairs from this dining room. He also took to Manhattan the strange carved wood man-wrapped-in-serpent from the bedroom and the black ewer on pedestal (one of a pair) from the second photo above, as well as the chair at the foot of the bed (which is cropped in the photo above so you cannot see its beautiful lion's paw feet). The Manhattan living room contained a lovely Regence commode that was later moved to Whitcomb's country house that you profiled in September of 2011.

    Whitcomb's apartment is featured in the book Architectural Digest New York Interiors, 1979.

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  4. Wise words all.... Have a great trip!

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    1. ArchitectDesign, thank you and my apologies for a late reply. I had a wonderful trip and am totally glad to be home.

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  5. Such an interesting person. Thank you for the flashback and great photos! xo, N.G.

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    1. Jennings and Gates, thank you and my apologies for a late reply. You're welcome – I was so glad I found the magazine again.

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