Sunday, May 31, 2009

First paint a cage
with an open door
then paint something pretty
something simple
something beautiful
something useful
for the bird
then place the canvas against a tree
in a garden
in a wood
or in a forest
hide behind the tree without speaking 
without moving 

Sometimes the bird comes quickly
but he can just as well spend long years
before deciding

Don't get discouraged
wait years if necessary
the swiftness or slowness of the coming
of the bird having no rapport
with the success of the picture

When the bird comes
if he comes
observe the most profound silence
wait till the bird enters the cage
and when he has entered 
gently close the door with a brush
paint out all the bars one by one
taking care not to touch any of the feathers of the bird

Then paint the portrait of the tree
choosing the most beautiful of its branches
for the bird
paint also the green foliage and the wind's freshness
and the dust of the sun
and the noise of the insects in the summer heat
and then wait for the bird to decide to sing

If the bird doesn't sing
its a bad sign
and a sign that the painting is bad
but if he sings its a good sign
so then so gently you pull out one of the feathers of the bird
and you write your name in the corner of the picture

Written by Jacques Prevert - Pour faire le portrait d'un oiseau. 
Painting - Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes

Saturday, May 30, 2009

From the automobile ...

... rus in urbes ... in my neighborhood. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Just one fool thing after another

A friend commented this week that "I was showing a lot of old photos" and that rather took me aback because I find the particular old photos I choose for the blog fascinating. For me they're a record not only of architecture and decoration but of mores, attitudes and the way a section of American society conducted itself. The rooms themselves are usually long gone and these black and white images like the flickering of memory evoke both lost times and, if one is aware of decoration today, the continuation of civility. When accompanied by a description these photos come alive. For example: 

"To the right of the hall, a long corridor hung with glorious eighteenth-century Chinese wallpaper led to the living room. This was a large white room decorated with painted leather panels of sporting scenes done by John Wootton. The furniture and curtains were all in various shades of almondy green, and the French Savonnerie carpet was all in muted yellow-greens, brilliantly accented with orangey coral. I was struck at once by the position of the piano, which Mrs. Wood had placed perpendicular to to the wall instead of conventionally parallel. A large comfortable armchair backed up to the piano and, in place of the piano bench, Mrs. Wood had a little bastard chair covered with needlepoint. Noel Coward spent the weekend with Mrs. Wood and some years later and called the chair "Queen Victoria as a little girl."

"Mrs. Wood always used lots of silver for sparkle: wine coolers, bowls, candlesticks. She loved to arrange flowering branches in the wine coolers; there would be short-clipped apple-blossom boughs in spring, and then, soon afterward, lovely branches of pink laurel. In one enormous bay window were masses of magnificent pink and red geranium plants, which never seemed to stop blooming the whole year round.

"Shortly after my first visit, Mrs. Wood slip-covered all the green furniture in cream-colored chintz with beige and white roses and almond-green leaves. It was then that the drawing room was at its most beautiful."

When looking back in old magazines and books about decoration, especially those of the 1950s, 1960s and even into the 1980s, its obvious that the quality of color printing had a crudity that can prevent one from appreciating any subtlety there might have been in the scheming of a room. For me, the combination of a well-written description and black and white photo, usually tonally well-modulated despite the paper, sparks my imagination. 

For me history is important but, as I know from many of my students, for many people history is "just one fool thing after another."

The quotation and photo above from Billy Baldwin Remembers and the cocktail recipe below courtesy of the South City Kitchen via the AJC. 

This week's cocktail? Has to be Southern in honor of Mrs. Wood and Mr. Baldwin, I reckon, so... 

The Corn's Hi

Generous ounce of Georgia Moon Moonshine
Lemon juice
1/2 ounce pineapple juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup
2 ounces Mountain Dew

Usual method with cocktail shaker and chilled glass. 

Anything with Mountain Dew gotta be goooooood!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Once, twice ...

... three times a lady.

Yesterday evening we went to a talk at the Herman Miller showroom here in Atlanta and the event was as well-organized, beautifully catered, and as chic as can be expected from Herman Miller, but  turned out to be much more than the usual industry event. 

The speaker, Hilda Longinotti, was witty, entertaining, amusing, perfectly indiscrete and a total delight. She kept the audience spellbound for for nearly an hour, after which she had the grace to allow most of the male members of the audience including me to be photographed with her on the Marshmallow settee. Not for her the obligatory lateness and then the rush for the door after questions - she really enjoyed her audience enjoying her. 

Above you can see signed invitation to the event and she is in both photos. First, she was used as the model (for free, she pointed out) to sit on the newly developed Marshmallow settee and again years later when it was reissued. 

Ms Longinotti's association with Herman Miller began in the 1950s when she was employed as George Nelson's secretary, or as he called her his aide-de-camp. George Nelson was then Herman Miller's consulting director of design. In the seventies she joined Herman Miller in showroom sales and eventually after developing a pilot program for strengthening ties to the design community, she was appointed to Manager, Design Programs. 

Her list of achievements is long as is her list of awards and her joy in life was deeply felt, judging by its reactions, by her audience. 

The photograph below taken from my i-phone shows the dais, the speaker and the wonderful roof structure of the Herman Miller showroom in the old Puritan Mill complex. Most showrooms are beautiful, they're designed to be after all, but the Herman Miller space is that perfect and romantic combination of contemporary design and industrial (soap factory) architecture. 

Thanks to Martha, Carrie and everyone else for a great evening, for a great evening it was. 

And that Eames lounger in misty blue-grey matte leather - OMG! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Syrie Maugham's best

"The moment I stepped into the bedroom, I was in a fairy tale, my task to find and awaken the sleeping beauty. It was a very tall room, made even taller and airier by the large white bed whose slender bedposts seemed to reach to the ceiling - it looked as if the bars had been taken off a giant bird cage. The room was almost square and had an open, delicate, almost ephemeral quality, enhanced by the dreamy fragrance of white petunias blooming in profusion in the garden below.

"Since there was an adjoining dressing room for clothing, the bedroom's only real furniture consisted of the bed, with its white coverlet, a few chairs upholstered in white raw silk and arranged on a sculpted white wool rug, a low upholstered silk stool, and a comfortable large wooden bedside table, stripped and treated with glazed white paint. At the windows hung practically nonexistent curtains of unlined white voile.

"The color - and the only pattern - was in the wall covering, a contemporary Swedish rough linen just this side of white, crudely stenciled with a scroll design in quite a strong grass green. Only white flowers were allowed in this room but they were, as in all of Syrie Maugham's rooms, extravagantly everywhere."

From Billy Baldwin Remembers.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"It needed very little embellishment ...

... and that's what it got.

"The color of the drawing room was buff, pale, almost not there at all. The trim was the purest white, and the floors ancient Cuban marble the color of parchment. The flooring was a near disaster: not enough marble squares arrived from Cuba to cover the whole area and there was no more. Mrs. Wood solved the problem by making a border all around of pale bleached oak. If she had planned it from the beginning, it couldn't have been more successful.

"The decoration was pared down the the essentials of beauty and comfort - an appropriate scheme for a house in the tropics, but also proof that simplicity does not age: any of the rooms could be published in a current magazine and never betray that they were designed and lived in in 1936. Mrs. Wood and the Blairs had an uncanny sense of classicism, and together they conspired to strike at the heart of timelessness.

The drawing room was furnished comfortably but sparsely. In the very center of the cool bare floor stood a great writing table, its beauty achieved at the small cost of simple pale fruitwood Louis XV frame and, for the top, a scalloped slip cover made of honey-brown leather edged with common white carpet tape. Grouped around were chairs covered to match. Several upholstered chairs were slip-covered in Elsie de Wolfe's famous leopard chintz; sofa covers and curtains were made of a simple heavy-textured beige cotton from Sweden. A pair of Adam cabinets of palest stripped pine stood at one end of the room, and scattered throughout were small tables and a few old wood-framed chairs, all of English origin, all upholstered in quiet no-colors. To light the room, there were the simplest possible white porcelain lamps, plus four carved wood torcheres in the shape of palm trees. 

"At intervals down the length of the room, tall white lilies, (from Cuba, since there was a general laziness in Florida about flower growing) nodded in wonderful big tubs. These washtubs were imported in their natural galvanized state from a hardware store in West Palm Beach, then coated and recoated with white lacquer. 

"To the left of the staircase in the entrance wing was the library, a personal sitting room facing the sea where the Blairs could be alone or with a few intimate friends. The library was beautifully proportioned, cool, and tall. The walls were painted and glazed the color of bone - very white, but very soft; the carpetless floor was contemporary parquet in a beautiful rich chestnut. For the curtains and most of the furniture, Mrs. Wood used an English chintz of rather strong bright-blue flowers on a white background. By the window stood an extraordinary scarlet lacquer desk, an eighteenth-century meuble; Mrs. Blair had bought it years before from Elsie de Wolfe herself. "

From Billy Baldwin Remembers. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

"The Comtesse de Ribes has brought her own vodka"

One of the truly memorable lines from Valentino: The Last Emperor.  Up there with "I was in bed with my catamite when the Archbishop came to tell me ..." No idea why it made me giggle so much but it did.However ... 

Today's post is not about catamites, comtesses or vodka, but is a continuation of yesterday's. I mentioned we were thinking of a low contemporary cabinet under the pictures on the "art wall" and here are the two options we are looking at. Both are by Poliform and both would work with transitional and traditional furniture.

It is a truism to say that the best of one period will fit well with that of another and in the last few years some decorators and designers seemingly have gone out their ways to make that truism the exception to the rule. Clearly, it is a matter of discernment and simply knowing when to stop and whereas it certainly is pleasant to be surrounded by things with personal associations I question whether every horizontal surface has to have its own landscape (so sick of that word "tablescape") of bibelots and every vertical surface festooned with layer upon layer of objets.

Ok, rant over. 

In the first photo the lamp is one of my all-time favourites - the Atollo - designed by Vico Magistretti in 1977. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Experimenting ...

... with background in a room without a focus now we've moved the TV armoire out of the room. 

Our living room suffered from "exploded furniture syndrome" and we are radically altering that.  The old Victorian style sofa (see hallway below) is on its way to the building janitor,  as is the Empire style chandelier that sat in the hall closet for five years.  The rest of the upholstery is in the workroom and wont be back for weeks which means that we have one lamp table, a sofa, one armchair, a rug and a coffee table in the living room - nothing else.  

The feeling of calm is palpable and I finally understand why people sometimes want minimalist interiors and to have space unfilled by yesterday's fads is wonderful. It immediately became clear that once the TV was gone from the living room, the layout of the room made no sense. 

I am attempting to create background without making a focal point - after all, a living room in my estimation is about conversation and entertaining, and dens, libraries, and family rooms are the rooms where the TV should be. Not having a TV seems not to be an option nowadays, but we rarely watched it (we both read) so have banished ours to the library which is going to be used as our winter room. Having said that, when True Blood begins again later in the summer we will both be glued to that big ol' flatscreen wherever it is located. 

So, my experiment is to create an "art wall", a wall that begins in the hallway with the Turgot map of Paris and continues into the living room. I gathered all the photos and drawings we own, and whereas I like the idea of a gallery of pictures, the photo, (always a good idea to photograph or look at a reflection in a mirror to be able to judge) shows all the faults of scale, relationship and proportion. I like drawings, works on paper I suppose, and I am coming to understand photos as art and they are nothing if not works on paper. Scale and proportion are of the essence.

It is not my idea that we and guests sit on the sofa facing the wall as if it were conversation starter - hell no - I want a static, illustrative, reflective, graphic but contemplative background that is well-mannered and reticent. 

What you see in the first photo is just the beginning for we have two drawings at the framers and there is a photo I'm toying with buying. If the wall works, and with some modifications it seems as if it will, then a low, contemporary cabinet will likely stand underneath and chairs will stand in front. People will gather, admire (or not) the wall in passing, sit and begin a conversation about anything other than what is there in the background. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009


What the hell were you thinking?

Couldn't you have built a screened-in pavilion? A proper southern terrace edged in boxwood? Why the hell did you chose to build a suburban wooden deck out of yellah wood and then furnish is with the cheapest looking metal chairs and tables? On one of the busiest corners in Buckhead? 

Three incarnations ago this restaurant was called Segers, a place too refined for the likes of my wallet, then after a short hiatus became POSH, a favorite of ours with an eclectic and inventive menu and some very polished waitstaff, then the ownership changed the concept, renamed it HOME, and it became less interesting which was probably good for business but it did not appeal to either of us for very long. 

What were you thinking? 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Whilst I'm on the subject ...

... of walls, let me show you these two pictures from The Decorative Thirties by Martin Battersby. They are both of rooms by the architect Oliver Hill, one his living room and the second his dining room. 

The photo above caught my eye because of its somber clarity and then on reading the caption found that the walls of polished stone are incised with stylized naked figures (barely visible in the photo, I'm afraid). How wonderful is that? 

This is Modernism designed in the 1930s by an architect who had absorbed the decorative vocabulary of Art Deco and who, in a superbly austere manner,  could combine the two.  The almost mausoleum-like quality of the room above shows how when the walls are right there is no need to use them as background. They are independent works of art in their own right. 

The second photo is of Oliver Hill's own living room, from 1938, shows Modernist architecture combined with the decorative qualities of Chinese porcelain, book-bindings, a Chinese rug, 17th century fire dogs and exotic wood.  The chimney breast is defined by white line drawings by Eric Gill (a future post) under glass.  

In both these pictures there is appreciation of space for its own sake, as if not every void has to be filled. There is rigor of choice as only the best or the most decorative will suffice and each object is allowed to stand in its own space without clutter. For example, look at the fireplace: it is allowed to be what it is, an empty firebox, and is not ditzed about with birch logs, candles or other detritus. The fireplace tools are laid across the firedogs and signaling they are not in use and beautiful enough to be the only decoration. 

It is a lesson I wish many decorators could learn - let space do what it does best and that is be empty. 

So, whilst I'm on the last post of the week and the eve of Memorial Day weekend, the start of Summer in America, let me give a recipe for ... 

... the Tom Collins.

Two ounces gin
Two tablespoons lemon juice
One tablespoon simple syrup
Soda water

You can work it out from here. 

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!  

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Culture Club

I'm a regular attendee at Atlanta's The Culture Club organized by Spalding Nix and George Getlik, gentlemen both and excellent hosts. The lecture last night, The Grand Picture Gallery, was given by John Nolan, curator of the Museum and Gallery at Bob Jones University at Greenville SC.  (See image below) A good lecture, given with enthusiasm for the subject and well illustrated is always to be recommended and there have been many given The Culture Club. If you don't know of it, you can always find current offerings by going here. You'll find it worth it. 

Thereafter I went by Lumiere Gallery, one of Atlanta's best photography galleries next door to The Englishman Antiques (the regular venue for the Club) at the Galleries of Peachtree Hills, to view Richard Pare's photos of Russian Modernist Architecture (see image above).

I like photography, sort of, (it has taken me a long time to overcome prejudice about photography) but Tony Casadonte's offerings at Lumiere are consistently worth viewing and consistently make me avaricious. Whilst each image alone is worth the trip, the two standouts for me were the enormous photo of the inside of a bakery and the small, almost to be walked by, pair of images of the outside and inside of Lenin's tomb. There is a contemplative quality to all the photos that I find very attractive.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My walls

The walls of our master bath are done in a very beautiful Venetian plaster which the photograph below does absolutely no justice to and the photo above gives an impression of the quality of them. 

The color, as you can see from the top photograph, is a muted apricot flecked with terracotta applied over a very grey rough base which in conjunction with the trowel and the terracotta granules manipulated the surface to an aged, tired and dry fresco appearance.  The application of a coat of wax, when dry, made the whole thing spring into tender existence and the sheen just made one want to stroke and caress it. 

Bathrooms can either be utilitarian or cosy and not often somewhere in between.  For us, our bathroom is perfect: there's Venetian plaster in a flattering color, a contemporary washstand, big glass doors to the walk-in shower, a toilet pot designed by Phillipe Stark, travertine shower walls and floor, and the biggest poster under glass designed by Rene Gruau for Dior's Au Sauvage cologne.

This finish is so beautiful, and I do wish this photo explained it in a more attractive way, that we are going to use another Venetian plaster in the second bath, this time in a soft grey flecked with mica for iridescence.  The shower stall, floor and base are white Thasos marble, there are glass shower doors, crystal and nickel fittings, grey, black and white inset in the floor, a big Venetian mirror with, when they are finished, Fortuny fabric shaded sconces to either side.

I'm now negotiating about having a similar grey or beige or lilac on the living room walls. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Back to the wall

Idling, glass in hand (an old-fashioned glass not quite brimming with Australian shiraz), through The Decorative Twenties by Martin Battersby I came across the image above and realized that I'd found another wall with a story to tell.  Battersby painted the mural as entrance to a dining room I seem to recognize but cannot for the life of me place.  The mural is credited with hanging in La Favorita, a mediterranean villa that belonged to Lady Kenmare, the mother of Roderick Cameron.  

The mural I thought it was is a fresco transferred to canvas for the dining room of La Fiorentina a house decorated by Billy Baldwin.  I've checked Billy Baldwin Decorates and Billy Baldwin Remembers but, whereas there may be a resemblance in style, it is after all in a different house. 

Thus, at a loss, but still on the subject of walls, let me quote Roderick Cameron talking about the house he built for himself in Provence: 

"I have never had any problems about colours and prefer them muted; the silver-green of the back of an olive leaf for the big room with off-white curtains, and beige for the hall and the shell-like stairs that curve down into the house.  White or off-white, a faded mustard yellow, moss green and the soft blues of porcelain seem to be the dominant colours.  As to materials, I like small patterned things, if patterned at all, and very often just color on colour, the motive being barely discernible."  

I look around my half-empty living room - chairs and a sofa are in the workroom being reupholstered - and think how I've remembered that description  "the silver-green of the back of an olive leaf" for more than twenty years and I know it has been been the touchstone of my aesthetic ever since I first read it. 

But, it is not an aesthetic that is totally appreciated by everyone in this house, and that is precisely how it should be.  

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rain Shine ...

... Standout, Atlanta Modern Tour of Homes. 

On a wet and chilly day (by Atlanta standards) we set out yesterday morning on the annual Atlanta Tour of Homes - an event given over to celebrating contemporary architecture in a city not known either for the love of modernism or the quality of it. 

The view above, from the terrace of one of the eleven we viewed, was the the best thing about this high-rise home - that view and the 1200-lbs door to the study. A pity, when all is said and done that's all the good there is to say. 

Beyond that, there were two standouts on the tour and the photo below, by photographer Paul Hultberg, is of one of them. The three-bedroomed house, the RainShine House, located in Decatur, Georgia, designed by Robert M. Cain, is a marvel of sustainable architecture.

Inside it was a most pleasing space using differing levels, clerestories, solids and voids to give a sense of comfort, utility and welcome. This house had more storage than any I have ever seen and that storage was used to partition areas. It had geothermal indoor comfort systems, rainwater and grey-water harvesting systems, Radon capture and removal, formaldehyde-free mdf, low-voc paints. It probably would be easier to go here to read more about it and to see names of all the companies involved in this, one of the South's most important examples of urban sustainability. 

The second standout for me was a traditional shingled house in the Ansley Park area of Atlanta that had been extended at the rear using a bang-up-to-date combination of glass and oiled steel. My camera ran out of memory at this point ... ! 

However, the two views below of the main sitting room do not do justice to the grey and silver serenity of this room and indeed the rest of the house. Whilst the older part of the house is as you see below, transitional in style, the portal to the newer part of the house was the old dining room - a room that still has its antique hand-painted Chinese wall-paper in faded sepia-grey tones, a non-competitive dining table, chairs and built-in buffet. The buffet, dado and trim had been dragged in a grey glaze to live comfortably with the silvery silk curtains and the wallpaper. The two light fittings above the table referenced old Chinese paper/bamboo lanterns and were augmented by diffident halogen spots. This room, when the table is set for dinner, crystal and silver glinting in candlelight, must be a wonderful place to behold and experience. 

As I say, my camera gave up - of all the times for it to do so. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Museum of Design Atlanta

or, MODA, as it is generally known, is one of Atlanta's best hidden gems. Housed in the lobby and garden level of the Marquis II office tower, MODA as you might expect from its name and location has a well-designed space offering plenty of room for some of Atlanta's most interesting exhibitions. 

The previous show was about purses and I must admit that despite having not one jot of personal interest in purses I found the three rooms stuffed with the things absolutely riveting. Who knew that so much design talent, and I'm not talking here about sticking a famous-name label to a mediocre reticule, could be expended on a bag that then becomes an object of deep lust, desire and fetish? 

Last night we attended a lecture and exhibition entitled The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice and the Environment 1965-2005, and very good it was too. The exhibit is a personal selection of agitprop posters curated by three university professors of communication and graphic design (see website for names etc). One of them, Elizabeth Resnick, was the lecturer who made  persuasive argument for graphic design being an instrument of social change.

Personally, whilst I found the exhibit of three themes, Environment, Peace and Social Justice interesting it all came across as slightly genteel - nothing too strenuous. Where, for example, was ACT UP? Maybe I missed that amongst the throng, and thronging it was, and maybe I'm being ungenerous and carping, for it was a good exhibit, an excellent lecture and there was plenty of food and drink - things guaranteed to give an armchair socialist a nice little frisson of pleasure.

If you are connected with design in Atlanta, MODA should be part of your cultural life, and if you're visiting anytime soon make sure to put it on your itinerary. It is worth the downtown traffic and the idiotic and expensive system of valet parking that the Marriott Marquis has. 

Take MARTA, you're going to look at posters about the environment, social justice and peace!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Celebration ...

... of Generations past, Vanished Worlds and Identity. 

I could not have said that better myself, and I did not - those words are the title of the Introduction to The Book of Jewish Food: an Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day by the esteemed Claudia Roden.

It is a cookery book given to me by a very dear friend of long standing, whose family welcomed me like one of their own and when my partner came into my life he was as much a part of their family as I had been. Much of our elder generation is gone and we in our turn have taken their places and are adapting their memories and stories - sometimes not realizing that an evening with friends talking lovingly about those not present is part of an oral tradition that is but a faint echo of a vanished world but is a clear marker of our identities. 

I value this book, not only because of who gave it me, but for the recipes it contains - Ms Roden's Orange Cake is not only one of the most favored and most savored of my repertoire but has become standard dinner party fare amongst the noshing classes - and for the evocation of worlds gone by.

Let me give you a taste:

"My father died at the age of ninety-four, a few months after my mother. They had spent the last years holding hands, switching from one radio station to another listening to the latest world events, and talking passionately about their life in Egypt. They lived near me in London, and I was the audience for their constant dramatized re-enactments of the stories of all the people they had known. These stories were capable of endless change as new interpretations were explored.  At 16 Woodstock Road, it seemed we had never left Cairo.

"The smell of sizzling garlic and crushed coriander seeds in the kitchen, or the rose water in a pudding, and my mother's daily meals, reinforced the feeling ... 

" ... Our Cairo had been two cities that turned their backs on each other. One looked like Paris, because Khedive Ismail, who ruled in the middle of the nineteenth century, had wanted to pull Egypt into Europe and had brought in European architects to build it. The other had narrow meandering streets, mausoleums, and public baths; fountains with curvy iron grilles and windows screened by wooden latices; Coptic churches and mosques with minarets rising into the sky like delicately embroidered candles. But our cooking was also from other cities. We made Istanbul pies, Aleppo cracked wheat salads, Castilian almond and orange cakes, egg flans from Fez.

"The Egypt I knew was a French-speaking, cosmopolitan Mediterranean country in which life for the better-off was a sort of continuation of the Belle Epoque in an annexe of Europe, with colonial-style clubs, opera and ballet and entertaining on a grand scale. Egypt had been part of the Ottoman Empire and a British protectorate. It was led by a foreign (Albanian) dynasty, a court made up of exiles from the Turkish aristocracy, and a royal council that spoke limited Arabic. The Jewish community had a happy and important place in the mosaic of minorities - which included Copts, Armenians, Syrian Christians, Maltese, Greeks and Italians, as well as British and French expatriates - living amongst the Muslim majority."

This book is one of my most treasured, not because I'm Jewish - I'm not - but because in personal and symbolic ways it nourishes me. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Are you all sitting comfortably?

Then I'll begin this Friday's cocktail ... for Alison (you'll know who you are, cherub.)

A Watermelon Daiquiri

3 ounces (or more) white rum
juice of good-sized lime
1 tablespoon simple syrup
10 cubes (about 1 inch) frozen watermelon 

Whizz in blender and pour into marguerita glasses. Serves two, in theory, but I find that sort of thing depends on the heat of the day or the type of visitor one is expecting. Recipe from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Bites.

The sofa from the High Museum's Virginia Carroll Crawford Collection is Renaissance Revival and is attributed to John Jelliff (American, 1813-1893) whose firm was active in New Jersey from 1836 to 1890.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

OMG, me+fabric R BFFs! 2 die 4

I have never met a hand-blocked fabric I didn't like but, in this case, it was lust at first sight. Above see "Plankton" by Lee Jofa, a contemporary hand-block in subtile greys, browns and beiges flashed with dull gold that rocked my world. 

OMG, me+fabric R BFFs! 2 die 4 ...+ the price 2 die from! 

The new sofa (high back shelter from Baker) is clad in the lushest of dark brown mohair velvet by Jacques Garcia and two chairs will be covered in the Suzanne Rheinstein linen paisley below and I'm looking for third fabric for another armchair. The new rug replacing the old red Afghani flat weave (shown in previous posts) is a wool and silk carpet from Kravet in Stone

Of all the hand-blocks in all the world this had to walk into my life and then, of course, I find that all the yardage has been ordered already by someone else and that it will take about a year to get some more. 

What now?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Whilst I'm on the subject ...

 of walls and Modernism, let me quote Mr Frankl again.
"Simplicity is the keynote of modernism, but there are certain other characteristics that help to make a thing modern. These could be summed up as follows: continuity of line (as we find in the stream-line body of a car or in the long unbroken lines in fashions;) contrasts in colours and sharp contrasts in light and shadow created through definite and angular mouldings and by broken planes. Things modern also have in them a definite rhythm such as we find in modern dancing and music and in the frank accentuating of form in fashions. They avoid imitation in material. They do not pretend to make wood, resemble ivory but merely attempt to bring forward, in the best possible way, the natural beauty inherent in the material. They make a virtue of the material itself. Steel becomes steel. Copper is copper. Wood is wood. And paint is allowed to be paint and not made to resemble marble.

"Informality is another characteristic of things that are modern, for it is also one of the earmarks of our present-day life. It is this trait, so characteristic of our time which has perhaps more than any other doomed not only the family album, but the fussy table on which it lay and the over decorated parlour in which the table stood.
"What is modern? To be modern is to be consistent, it is to bring out an artistic harmony in our lives and necessary environments, a harmony between our civilization and our individual art impulses. What is our own art? Our own art is a creation that expresses ourselves and our time. It is an expression that is alive and while it acknowledges its debts to the arts of the past, it has no part in them."

Interesting, don't you think, the early language of lifestyle marketing, (remember this is 1928)? It differs very little from the modern impulse towards aspiration and the subtle use of envy as a marketing tool.
Even more interesting is how that one of the Seven Deadly Sins, Envy, is one one day a week precisely that - a deadly sin - but for the rest of the week the sin is repackaged as aspiration and is the engine of the capitalist society that we live in.
Whilst I'm on the subject ....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reminds me ...

that I hadn't posted in a while about walls, though I have been talking about Rex Whistler and he did paint on walls. 

Above is a photo from Paul T. Frankl's New Dimensions of a French office. Remember this was 1928 so that room is as contemporary and as chicly French as it got. The wonder of this book is that it illustrates the early days of Modernism, the influence of Cubism, and the sometimes simple luxury of Art Deco. That would be simple in the way that a Chanel suit could be described as simple.

Mr. Frankl describes this room as "Extreme simplicity of surface with dominating cubist effects are characteristic features of the furniture in this room. The horizontal stripes along the walls are laced together by lines symbolizing mechanical and industrial drawings. The cube lighting fixtures of opaque glass harmonize with the setting. Designed by Georges Lamoussu."

What I find seductive is the decoration of the walls: "the horizontal stripes along the walls are laced together by lines symbolizing mechanical and industrial drawings." That sentence alone provides me a with a solution to a dilemma I have had about painting some of the walls in the flat (see view from the sofa) and making the walls the art rather than the stuff hanging on them. 

The combination of early Modernism, or the International Style as it was named in 1932 by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, and what we now call Art Deco is marvelous.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Who knew ...?

As one drives the I-85/I-75 ditch through midtown Atlanta there, highly visible on the side of the interstates, are two old radio masts carrying the name Biltmore. They stand on the roof of what was one of the grandest hotels from the 1920s ever to have been built in Atlanta - the Atlanta Biltmore Hotel.
Alas, it is no more. The shell remains but the insides were gutted and turned into office space in the 1990s Nowadays one walks through the blandest of bland beige lobbies and then turns left or right to all that remains of the old interior, the Biltmore Ballrooms. And, stunningly unexpectedly beautiful they are in their 1920 Adam Brothers redux styling. These, the only two remaining historic rooms are used for events. 

If you live here or are visiting put these on your itinerary. They are worth a trip, and really so unexpected after that awfully characterless lobby.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A passing flight of fancy

Last week whilst deleting images from my office computer I came across this, one of the most covetable articles ever to hit my consciousness, the Skyscraper bookcase by Paul T. Frankl. It, in any of its variations, is a piece of furniture to build  a room around. 

Mr. Frankl, the cover of whose book you see above, a furniture designer from Vienna, Austria came to the United States in 1914 and we know him as a designer of Art Deco furniture. The book by the way was published in 1928 and is one of the most interesting reads - as all prognostications of the future are.

He says " it is important to know what is being done elsewhere for, only by understanding the decorative world as it is at present and how some of the main features originated, can we hope to find our own place in the decorative arts movement. If it is not possible to have these greatly intensified art movements in Europe without a certain amount of influence exerting itself on the creative American mind. But, while there may be sometimes a good reason for copying period art, there never is any excuse for the American creative mind to copy today's European art. The result would be at once be evident and it would be disastrous.

"Will modern art live? And will this movement, which is now demanding so much attention, last, or is it just a passing flight of fancy?

"The answer is; Yes, it will live!

"And the reason for this is that the world has never gone backward but always onwards on toward the future."

Did Modernism live? Did the explicit chauvinism of American art Frankl talks about above thrive? Was it all a passing fancy? 

One year later, the Great Depression began, eleven years later Europe continued what it hadn't finished at the end of the First World War and that American national pride mentioned by Frankl showed itself in the Lend-Lease act of President Roosevelt which meant that by the end of the war the US had contributed forty-two billion dollars and many lives to the war effort. 

A passing flight of fancy? I guess not. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Heaven ... I'm in heaven

This morning I followed my usual trail through favourite blogs and eventually alighted on Tartanscot who had posted a wonderful room in a cabin done by Suzanne Kasler and immediately I had an epiphany - that was exactly what I did not want in a cabin. 

As you know in life there are epiphanies and there are epiphanies, and on a scale of one to ten this was about a one - not really worthy of the term epiphany. 

However, what I'm talking about here is decorating: you look at a floor plan, you order furniture, fabrics, lighting etc and you install and you collect your final payment, leaving behind a pleased if dazed client. Basically, thats it. 

So what set me off in a snit about this undeniably beautiful room? Hey, its in Architectural Digest, so it must be beautiful, right? Nothing in it was to be faulted, for when I say it was a beautiful room I really mean it, everything was the essence of urbe in rus chic. 

Actually, the epiphany was simply a sudden clarification of a feeling that had lurked around for a while - I want the clutter out of my life and I want a cabin in the mountains: a cabin that likes of which you see at the top of the post. A cabin so simple it could in all its purity of form fit right in on a plot of land overlooking a creek in the mountains or even on a water margin somewhere out West. 

So, "dance with me! I want my arms about you. The charms about you will carry me through to ...

... Heaven," or the Friday cocktail ... 

a Horse's neck.

1 part brandy, 3 parts ginger ale poured directly onto ice in an old fashioned glass, splashed with bitters and, if you must, a lemon spiral for the edge of the glass.

If you love the song you'll know the connection with the cocktail. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I remembered ...

... I had this photo on my office computer so in honor of John over at The Textile Blog who two days ago did a brilliant post on Rococo Revival - one of my favorite historical styles - here is a cute little number from the High Museum Decorative Arts Collection. 

Designed and made by John Henry Belter and very glamorous, it exhibits all the signs of 19th century furniture technology: bent plywood back with applied wood solids, carved, pierced and polished. 

I can't help myself but every time I see it it reminds me of a plump big ol' drag queen.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Looking back

An old professor, now a friend with whom I have regular boozy gossipy lunches, when she retired, gave me lots, and I mean LOTS of memos (fabric samples) she had used for teaching textiles for the past 40+ years. They got me thinking, and suddenly there I was, in the middle of a task, standing on one leg (don't ask) and in my mind's eye far away in the 19th century - a place and time I hasten to add, I have no personal experience of. 

For example, the chair in the drawing above - another drawing taken from my bound volume of the Quiver, a magazine from 1916 - is the, to me, wondrous Rococo Revival, or as the man in the chair would have known it, Modern French. 

The hero of the tale is a middle-aged man who nostalgically looks back the the Christmases of his youth and sighing that nothing is as good as it was. And why not, he wonders. His answer comes, totally true to life, on hearing a noise in the snowy street outside when he opens the front door and steps from the middle of the 19th century to sometime in the late 18th and undergoes adventures - one of which is nearly being pressed into navy service. Of course, a few pages later, he's back at his fireside a much wiser and more content man. 

Lot of rubbish, you might think. Well, yes, but there was a war on - the war we call The Great War or the First World War. That kind of nostalgia for a safer, simpler time, was probably both an expression of the propaganda of the times and the real longing felt by many women and families not in the fronts of the battles. 

And that's my point, in uncertain times, we look to what we perceive as simpler more humane times. 

Some of the documentary textiles I mention above were reproducing romantic patterns from the mid 19th century in the 1970s - another time of unease, for that was the time of Vietnam, Watergate, Kent State, the Fall of Saigon, and unrest in Iran. 

Funny, what takes you back - after today - back to the future. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Romantic heroes...

... a painter, an architect, and a prisoner.

The painter, Rex Whistler, remains one of my themes and will continue to be for a while. Above is a detail of his mural in the Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain and is entitled The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats which Whistler painted when he was 22 years old. The mural tells the tale of seven people who leave the ducal palace in Epicurania on bicycles, horses and chariots to travel through distant lands where they encounter unicorns, gluttons and truffle dogs, all in pursuit of good food. The expedition is eventually successful when the intrepid explorers return with the "rare meats" to the almighty relief of the ducal subjects who hitherto had dined only on dry cookies.  

The palace above reminded me so much of Portmeirion, a village on the coast of Wales designed and worked on by the architect Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis in a romanticized Italianate style, from the 1920s onwards. 

That's the painter and the architect - so who is the prisoner? 

Well, in the 1960s, Portmeirion was the surreal setting for a British television series The Prisoner in which the hero Number Six was imprisoned together with what appeared to be other spies. Each episode was an attempt to escape on the part of Number Six. Number Six was played by Patrick McGoohan

The fictional hero played by Mr. McGoohan appeared in the uber-romantic years of the 1960s - a late flowering of the romantic streak that had run deep in many architects and painters in the years between the First World War and the Second World War. He inhabited a prison that looked like a theatre stage set - a setting so out of time and place - and for seventeen episodes he was one of the most romantic heroes to hit black and white television. 

The romantic streak so strong in the years between the wars and the 1960s is not gone. We see it still in our notions of evoking in our homes places and times other than where we are now. 

On a certain level we do recognize an American style in decoration, design and architecture, yet we continue to try and recreate what we perceive to be the style of the French southern provinces, the English countryside, and Belgian farmhouses, etcetera - it doesn't matter whether we live north, south, east or west, anywhere is better than where we are. How can it be that Provence is more romantic than Connecticut or Georgia?  

Monday, May 4, 2009

If you have not read this ...

... you really need to. 

Thad Hayes: The Tailored Interior - perfect!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Peace and quiet

This partial view of a room in Axel Vervoordt's book Timeless Interiors is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I know the book has been around a while and certainly I have seen the image a number of times before, but this time it spoke to me. In fact, it resolved a dilemma I've been having about the walls in our place.

One of the first posts I did was about the older you get the simpler you want it and simple is what this room is,  about as simple as it gets - as simple as couture tailoring, simple being a synonym for superb - superbly tailored and totally discrete. 

The walls are unadorned except for an intrinsic finish and the furnishings are the essence of discretion. Clean-lined upholstered furniture covered in linen and cotton in tones of beige white and brown, sits on a sea-grass carpet, accompanied by Chinese tables on which bronze Chinese vases and Chinese ceramics are grouped. It's a simplicity belied by the fact that the pot holding the branch of fern is about two thousand years old, as no doubt are some of the other bronzes and ceramics. 

The dilemma is whether or not the walls are left bare and if they are how are they going to be allowed to speak for themselves? Beyond discussion and negotiation, the dilemma is resolved. 

The problem is, two coats of latex paint don't quite cut it any more.