Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jamaica 1968

The latest in an occasional series of walls I thought might brighten your Wednesday as it did mine.

Photography by Henry S. Fullerton from The Quality Guide to Home Decorating Ideas: Architectural Digest, Fall 1968, $2.95

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Enough palaces on his hands

"Its very strange. When I moved in here I never even thought of consciously decorating the place. Geoffrey Bennison was a friend and at that moment in the throes of doing up the Rothschilds and Princess Firyal and heaven knows whom. It was completely unexpected when he suddenly said he had enough palaces on his hands and would love to do a small job again, and could he make this little house into a country cottage. A few days later the legend came round again and told me all his suggestions. Naturally I was unsure at first, though now I can't believe I ever lived without them. I pretty soon came round to his way of thinking. That's where Geoffrey was so clever ... and polite ...; he was never bossy, never let me feel that he was making all the decisions, which of course he was. He never said you can't have all your hideous bits, but he gradually managed to get my eye in, to make me see how the rooms would look better with a seemingly minute bit of one wall removed, say, or how my things could look actually beautiful arranged in the ways he suggested ... just as I try to do with people's gardens, I suppose."

"As I say, it took forever, but I never minded as it was so thrilling to watch it all come together. Geoffrey was immensely careful, and never spendthrift. I think he would have been happier if the budget had been bigger ... so would I for that matter, I feel he could not have done it for less. He gave his time in abundance, and his attention to each, last miniscule detail was amazing. He sometimes changed things that looked absolutely fine to me .... and then you saw the difference."

A tribute from a friend, a garden designer, told to Nicholas Haslam in the mid-1980s after Geoffrey Bennison's death.

From WoI, with photos by Tom Leighton.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Today I added another blog to my blog roll - one I have been following with nostalgia and delight for some months now - English Buildings. The latest post about the Soane Mausoleum is so interesting and makes a connection that should have been obvious the minute I looked at the photo but of course missed in my wonderment about not knowing about this small garden behind London's St. Pancras station.

Photos by Philip Wilkinson and Wikipedia Commons.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A favorite

Having spent the week delving in dusty old magazines it comes as a relief to post this time not from the past but from modern-day Manhattan on Fifth Avenue.

Mr Stephen Gambrel has updated his website and here are two photos of the same room that caught my eye immediately - silvery, cool, scaled, articulate and comfortable. For me, Mr Gambrel is one of the most exciting decorators at work today. His designs are illuminated by a sharp intelligence and a rare consideration of scale, adjacency, and form, all usually involved in a background of good strong color.

Enjoy your weekends.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dappled light 1985

The 1980s if House and Garden is to be believed was a time of English Country House mania intermingled with Post Modern architecture and interiors, so this photo of Jil Sander's living room in Hamburg came like a breath of fresh air.

This apparently simple room, the more so by contrast with other pages of House and Garden, with its Biedermeier-style chaise longue, Cy Twombly scribble, Paladino painting, Venetian plaster walls, white-washed brick, toile, leather, ticking and silk is almost a metaphor for her well-tailored, minimalist clothing lines. It is as current today as it was refreshing in the 1980s.

Photos by Alan Ginsburg.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In the still of the night

Last Friday's post came out of my reaction to the House Beautiful Color Institute held the day before at ADAC here in Atlanta. One of the things said was that there was a trend to dark and though, personally I am not a fan of dark rooms, I can appreciate them as a romantic venue - fire burning, candles flickering, gold glinting, wine glowing ... well, you get the picture.

One problem I have with dark rooms, or perhaps with magazine editors, is that they are generally photographed during the sunniest of days. So why a problem? Well, coming as I do from northern Europe when at midwinter the days are so short – as if the sun cannot be arsed – I associate dark rooms with the short days, the twilit days, the dark nights when fire is defense against the boundless ... all the more so as I consider that yesterday was the autumnal equinox, and nights will now be longer than days as we head towards winter.

For me, dark rooms are meant to be lit by candles, firelight and occasionally moonlight; to have gold, frankincense and myrrh under mistletoe; to be mysterious and slightly disorienting; to hold books, wine, chocolate and quiet communication between loved ones.

That's why it seems counter-intuitive to me to photograph such elemental rooms in bright daylight.

"In the still of the night
As I gaze from my window
At the moon in its flight
My thoughts all stray to you

In the Still of the night
All the world is in slumber
All the times without slumber
Darling when I say to you

Do you love me, as I love you
Are you my life to be, my dream come true
Or will this dream of mind fade out of sight
Like the moon, growing dim, on the rim of the hill
In the chill, still, of the night"

Photo of Larry Laslo's room at the 34th Annual Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse from New York Social Diary.
Song by Cole Porter

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Staying home 1985

Today I've been trawling through my collection of ancient magazines and in bound copies of House and Garden from 1985 I found pictures of rooms Geoffrey Bennison created in Paris for Princess Firyal of Jordan.

During the 1980s, the height of the English Country House style, decorating seemed awash is chintz, so today it came as a pleasure to find an interior as complex as any other done at the time, though without chintz, that did not repel in its sneeze-inducing mustiness or need a damned good tidying up.

Bennison's assistant (Geoffrey Bennison was already dead when the article was published) is quoted as saying "What was astonishing about Bennison was the way in which he involved himself in places on which he worked, and the important part that he devoted to the interpretation of a period."

The author of the article, Jean Marie Baron: "Thus at Princess Firyal's the dominant tone is Napoleon III but the ingredients are multiple. Beyond the sumptuousness that one might say was necessary, the initial mood that strikes one is that of comfort, a comfort that makes one wish to stay home, which was Bennison's intention."

Photos Oberto Gili

Monday, September 21, 2009


A Bloomsbury Life post yesterday about Denis Severs' house in Spitalfields brought to mind a WoI article of October 2005 about an East End of London cafe (pronounced caff) I've been meaning to visit since I read about it in WoI. We have a old friend living in Bethnall Green just around the corner from Columbia Market, who we have been staying with on visits to England these twenty years past and never once have we set foot in Pellicci's despite the number of times we must have walked past it.

The only reason I can think of is that we were either so focused on buying bagels in Brick Lane or finding Indian food down towards Spitalfields - the proximity of Spitalfields, when mentioned on A Bloomsbury Life, to Brick Lane is what brought this cafe to mind. I must tell you that the best bagels in world are not those from the 24-bakery in Brick Lane, though they are good, but from another 24-hour bagel bakery in Montreal which sits between the Hassidic and the Greek neighborhoods. However, the best Indian food, I would like to say outside of India but never having been there it would be foolhardy to make the claim, is found in Spitalfields - or at least it was. Food-faddies move around so much its hard to really care after a while what is the latest cuisine, what we used to call food. All migrants, don't you know, have certain dishes they must eat on returning to the homeland to retain a semblance of national identity: mine's pork pies and my other half's is fruitcake - this despite having a year-round supply baked at home.

I digress. Pellicci's which was founded in the East End over a hundred years ago has now got Listed Status, the equivalent of the Landmark Preservation Commission except that it has actual powers, and is one of only two caffs to achieve this. It is still owned by the same family, born above the shop, as it were.

The interior is covered in marquetry paneling which was made by a cafe regular, Mr. Capocci. He had presented a small marquetry panel as a gift to the then proprietress and from this gift came the notion of paneling the entire space. The paneling proceeded at a pace, enabling Mrs. Pellicci to make payment for each panel, apparently judged entirely by eye without first being drawn, as it was finished an installed.

On the menu when it opens at 6 am is full-English breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, blackpudding, strong tea with milk and bread and butter (at least, that is my estimation of what full-English means) and after breakfast steak pie, fry-ups and bread pudding amongst other delicacies. As I say, I've never been there, so I'm just romancing.

The inlaid linoleum logo in the floor.

Above and below, two archival photos of customers from the 1980s.

Behind the counter.

Catering licence from 1939 - the beginning of WW2.

Go here for more about this place.

Apparently, when first told of the Listed status for his establishment, Nevio Pellicci said, and I quote: "Fuck me, is that important?"

WoI photos by Tim Beddow.
B/W photos from here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Diary of a church mouse

Here among long-discarded cassocks,
Damp stools, and half-split open hassocks,
Here where the vicar never looks
I nibble through old service books.
Lean and alone I spend my days
Behind this Church of England baize.
I share my dark forgotten room
With two oil-lamps and half a broom.
The cleaner never bothers me,
So here I eat my frugal tea.
My bread is sawdust mixed with straw;
My jam is polish for the floor.
Christmas and Easter may be feasts
For congregations and for priests,
And so may Whitsun. All the same,
They do not fill my meagre frame.
For me the only feast at all
Is Autumn's Harvest Festival,
When I can satisfy my want
With ears of corn around the font.
I climb the eagle's brazen head
To burrow through a loaf of bread.
I scramble up the pulpit stair
And gnaw the marrows hanging there.
It is enjoyable to taste
These items ere they go to waste,
But how annoying when one finds
That other mice with pagan minds
Come into church my food to share
Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire
To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat
Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God
And yet he comes ... it's rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat
(It screened our special preacher's seat),
And prosperous mice from fields away
Come in to hear our organ play,
And under cover of its notes
Ate through the altar's sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I
Am too papistical, and High,
Yet somehow doesn't think it wrong
To munch through Harvest Evensong,
While I, who starve the whole year through,
Must share my food with rodents who
Except at this time of the year
Not once inside the church appear.
Within the human world I know
Such goings-on could not be so,
For human beings only do
What their religion tells them to.
They read the Bible every day
And always, night and morning, pray,
And just like me, the good church mouse,
Worship each week in God's own house,
But all the same it's strange to me
How very full the church can be
With people I don't see at all
Except at Harvest Festival.

John Betjeman
Eric Ravilious

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pendulum swings

Living room by Kevin Mcnamara, sometime in the mid-1980s.

I heard yesterday at the House and Garden Color Institute that there is a trend in interiors to dark and if it is true I hope dark can be used with the same panache as in this living room. Dark, glossy walls are a signature of 1980s traditional decorating and have never been bettered. The pendulum swings and again, 20 years later, that which was loved by Mark Hampton, Kevin Mcnamara, Mario Buatta et al, is back.

Black was mentioned yesterday as being used by the most fearless of younger decorators and for a very early use of black see photo below: Edwin Lutyen's Folly Farm interior.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Today, beg to DIFFA, colorfully

Today I attend the House Beautiful Color Institute at the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center (ADAC) and I'll let you know later how it was. Stephen Drucker is the keynote speaker this morning and following his presentation are a series of showroom events. One of this afternoon's is a discussion with Jamie Drake which I shall certainly attend if I can - there is a fee, a donation of $50 to DIFFA.

DIFFA, Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, a charity perhaps in need of support in these times of shrinking design industries, holds an annual event, one of a number, in various localities - Dining by Design - a showcase of local design talent in the form of dining room vignettes. Atlanta's Dining by Design event will take place October 10th to the 13th. Information and tickets here.

In a while ...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The best known decorator of his time

So said Mark Hampton in Legendary Decorators of the 20th Century of William Pahlmann:

"If one were to come up with just the right phrase to describe the late Bill Pahlmann, it would probably be the the best known decorator of his time. He became a household word, as well as an enormous influence on the design world, both commercial and private. He was also the first man to do so - not that one wishes to sound sexist. Before Pahlmann, there had been some very famous ladies in the decorating business who dominated nearly every aspect of the field, most notably the publicity surrounding it."

Quite a claim for Mr. Hampton to make and reading it now one realizes that here is a decorator who has fallen through the cracks of populist design history. Of course, he is not unknown, but where are the design historians writing books about him and where in the modern lexicon of divas, desecrators and deans of interior design is there a place for him? He is not an Albert, an Elsie, a Mark, a Billy, a Miles, a Nancy or a Tony who have had more sycophantic guff written about them than is decent, but was bigger, if Mr. Hampton is correct, than any of them. So what happened?

Mark Hampton again:

"More important than working for Mrs. Paley was the work he did for the department store B. Altman & Co., an affiliation that also began in 1933 and that helped to prepare him for the job that became the primary vehicle for his great fame: his position from 1936 to 1942 as head of the decorating and antiques department of Lord and Taylor. There he set out on a phase of his career that reached thousands of people through the immensely popular model rooms that he created for the store. Attendance was huge, and so was the publicity. From then on, the development of Pahlmann's style was followed closely by newspapers and magazines all over the country."

Judging by these photos, fashion is what happened - the turn of the wheel. Mr. Pahlmann's style of decorating was, according to Mr. Hampton, characterized by distaste for the past and tradition that was current in certain circles in the early years of the 20th century. His main objective the mixture of unexpected visual elements creating an effect that editors and writers raved over.

"The Pahlmann look represented everything that was new. Upholstery shapes were streamlined and lowered. Materials being developed for the booming building industry, active after many quiet years, became staples in the Pahlmann design vocabulary. Vinyl floors, wall coverings and fabrics never seen before, Scandinavian furniture, and ever conceivable reinterpretation of traditional design appeared bravely juxtaposed in rooms that were notable not only for their colorful boldness but also for their informality. As one would expect, there was a great emphasis on radios, record players, and soon, of course, television sets. If anyone ever made it look backward and dull to restate the old-fashioned principles of decoration, it was Pahlmann, with his doctrine of modernizing everything in a room. He was perhaps the quintessential deconstructionist decorator."

Judging by his own rooms (shown above) his then-modern mix of the exotic was consigned to the flea markets of the country when his contemporaries died off and their children wanted their own modern interiors - none of mom and pop's old stuff for them, they were up-to-date and modern. They just didn't realize that they were following the dictates of the latest generation of marketers and publicists.

Interestingly, one can discern a DNA link in these photos between William Pahlmann and contemporary decorators such as Kelly Wearstler and in product lines such as Baker Studio.

Photos by Alexandre George Gottscho-Schleisner, from Architectural Digest - The Quality Guide to Home Decorating Ideas. Fall 1966. $2.95.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Please take a look at the link. If you value libraries, whether your own, or your town or state's you will be shocked by this.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Amster Yard 1970s

According to the writer of the mid-1970s Architectural Digest article about it, Amster Yard was rare if not unique for Midtown Manhattan because it was an L-shaped courtyard that had a number of brownstones surrounding and opening on to it. James Amster, beginning in 1946, reclaimed the buildings and restored them to a standard high enough for the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1964 to designate the complex a New York Landmark.

The Landmark Preservation Commission described Amster Yard as being "of special historical and aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage and cultural characteristics of New York City." However, this did not stop it being torn down earlier this century without the Commission's knowledge - the project manager of the development firm omitted to tell the Landmark Preservation Commission that he had deemed the buildings unsafe and irredeemable. As of 2008 it's been redeveloped and rebuilt.

Seemingly Amster Yard had been the site of a terminal stop of the Boston to New York stage coach it and became under Mr Amster's hand "a series of shops, business offices and apartments grouped around a landscaped courtyard with brick walls and slate walks." James Amster's office and residence were located at one end of the courtyard.

The article is short on description, three paragraphs only, and is really a list of the noted furnishings with which Mr Amster had appointed his apartment: "... a French iron mantle in the drawing room had been marbleized and was surmounted by an elegant Louis XVIth (sic) trumeau and delicately carved Venetian panels from the Cooper Hewitt mansion on Gramercy Park."

The undoubtedly wonderful objects the reader was asked to admire seem so of their time: antique Venetian consoles in original white and gilt finish; a painting by Utrillo; a Ming Dynasty porcelain Buddha; Japanese porcelain; Directoire bronze doré lamps; Charles Xth (sic) chairs and trumeau; a small American Empire sofa; Ming Dynasty paintings on silk; a chandelier made from an Italian fruit dish; a table set with French faience; a Greek flokati rug. Nothing that a dedicated Francophile and educated collector would not wish to own.

The most important thing about Amster Yard is who lived and socialized there. Billy Baldwin was persuaded to move in - James Amster laying down Parquet de Versailles to lure him - and made decorating history with his all-green living room, the color and sheen of a wet gardenia leaf. Isamo Noguchi lived there as did the fashion designer Norman Norell.

The above photo, from Billy Baldwin Remembers, taken in 1946 shows partygoers at Amster Yard. From left, Mrs Edna Woolman Chase, editor of Vogue; Mrs Benjamin Rogers; Woodson Taulbee; Albert Kornfeld, editor of House and Garden; Ruby Ross Wood having champagne poured by Billy Baldwin.

Below, also from Billy Baldwin Remembers, from left: James Amster; Marion Hall, Ruby Ross Wood; Billy Baldwin; William Pahlmann; Dorothy Draper and Nancy McClelland.

It is interesting to note that at this time interior decoration in America was dominated by skilled, shrewd and talented women and whereas I said the important thing to remember about Amster Yard is the people who lived there I did not wish to imply that James Amster was not one of them. He was one of the few men who made a name for himself as an important decorator, of equal standing with the Lady Decorators.

On a tangent, but nonetheless it comes to mind: how nowadays the title decorator is made to sound so debased - the turf battle between the licensed interior designers and architects has made the founders of our profession, the Lady Decorators, seem so insignificant and has made victims of us all. It is a pity that to define a profession we first have to demean what we were, but that is another post.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Conversation piece

Our small library is a refuge in an apartment that is in transition: what is left of the dining room and living room furniture is encased in plastic in the middle of the paper-clad floors; the electrician needs to return to make adjustments; I want the carpenter back to add an architrave and paneling to a hall door we'd jibbed when we arrived (the grisaille I envisaged on that wall has never been applied); curtains are in the workroom; the painters, excellent though they be, are as slow as watching the proverbial dry; the bedroom, yet to be worked on by a list of tradespeople, contains a bed, two lamps, one on an upturned laundry basket, and an ironing board; furniture ordered for it and the living room are in the delivery warehouse and at the restorers. As I say, the library small as it is is a refuge in an otherwise bleak landscape.

A fine thing about using this room as we intended, a sitting room, albeit without half the living and dining room furniture stuffed in it, is that I am able to read what I fancy with ease - the books we've bought over the years and the ones I was able to acquire recently surround us. This weekend I've dipped into John Singer Sargent, Julia Morgan: Architect of Beauty, Villa Gardens of the Mediterranean, Modern Luxury: Richard Mishaan, and whilst the Celt was out at the Pet Shop Boys concert (three rows from the stage) I was captivated by Elsie de Wolfe, a fine companion to Hell Boy II, finally going to bed and reading The Egyptian Revival.

Out of my browsing this weekend, came the Villa Sylvia - built in 1902 by Harold Peto at Cap Ferrat for Ralph Wormeley Curtis, a member of a rich Boston family that had settled in Venice at the Villa Barbaro. Curtis and his wife Lisa were at the center of a cosmopolitan circle of American ex-patriates that included Vernon Lee, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Henry James, Edith Wharton and John Singer Sargent. Sargent painted the Curtis family at the Villa Barbaro.

"This rare conversation piece, depicts the Curtis family in the grand salon of their apartment in the seventeenth-century Palazzo Barbero in Venice. They were prominent members of the Anglo-American community residing in the city. The seventy-three-year-old Daniel Curtis, shown on the right, was a wealthy Bostonian and a distant cousin of the Sargent family. Sitting beside him is his wife Ariana Wormeley, the daughter of an English admiral, who was known affectionately by the artist as the "Dogeressa." Their son Ralph, lounging on the left with his American wife, Lisa de Wolfe Colt, of the firearms family, had studied with Sargent at Carolus-Duran's studio, and was a painter of some ability."

Apparently, Mrs Daniel Curtis declined the picture as she felt it had made her look too old. Henry James in reaction wrote to her to say how much he adored the picture saying "I've seen few things that I ever craved more to possess!"

Lisa de Wolfe Colt

Ralph Wormeley Curtis on the beach at Scheveningen.

In some ways this post illustrates my skepticism about the internet being able to supply what I, and many others, need for research and pleasure. I was able to make connections because of the range of books about art, architecture and interior design on our shelves but I would not yet be able to read many if any of the books listed above in complete illustrated form over the net. I'm beginning to wonder if that even matters.

Sources: John Singer Sargent by Elaine Kilmurray and Richard Ormond and photos from the web and Villa Gardens of the Mediterranean by Kathryn Bradley-Hole.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A craftsman's hands

As I said yesterday I went to the Kravet showroom here in Atlanta to watch a chair being made not quite from scratch, but from a frame already constructed for the demonstration, and a salutary experience it was.

Given the role of upholstery in my life it's surprising to me I knew so little of how a chair, or sofa for that matter, is put together. Reading a company's catalogue with all its options takes a little time to understand but with the willing help of the showroom's staff you quickly learn: the frame options; the leg styles; walnut, cherry of espresso stain; skirt or no skirt; the fabric, etc - well, you get the point.

Today's demonstration was one the best I've seen - ever. The combination of the craftsman's explanations and skill, the VP of Sales for Furniture and Showrooms, Susan Lorenz's erudite exposition of Kravet's services to designers, together with questions from the audience was superb.

In my time, I've waited for celebrity designers to arrive an hour late, I've listened to presentations without a slide to illustrate even the time of day, international aristocrats peddling their latest books, and gobbledygook from so-called lifestyle gurus whose strictures when analyzed say nothing except about their capacity for self-publicity - but today's session, three hours (with lunch - including the best coleslaw I've ever had) and not a minute too long, was one of the best I've ever attended. In fact, for the first time ever the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes did not come to mind.

Every step in the making of this chair was accompanied by admonitions to come closer and watch what was happening. The audience of decorators and students were, as was I, charmed by the way this man worked and how he was able to answer any question from the audience. As you may gather I cannot speak too highly of this event.

Towards the end of the demonstration the completed chair was raffled and I'm a bit diffident about saying this, but I won it - the first time I've ever won anything in my life. In case you'd like to see which chair it is click here.

The master upholsterer, Steve Bolick. In tribute to him and all the unsung upholsterers in the factory, I want to say that previously I had a theoretical and superficial knowledge of upholstery but now I have real respect for the craftsmanship involved.

Below the label that sits on the deck of the chair. None of that "crafted with pride in ....." nonsense, just a statement of how it is - an American company supplying the design market with quality goods made in this country by people whose jobs have not been shipped offshore to save a buck or two.

Disclaimer: I don't work for Kravet in any capacity but some of my friends do.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Going to ADAC today to watch a Kravet craftsman build a chair from ... well nothing much, I suppose. I shall post photos tomorrow, it they're interesting and I don't explode over lunch.

In the meantime, having just been catching up with HOBC and being curious I went to his source for yesterday's post, Bonhams, and found this little delight, a 19th century hall chair. Ineffably cheeky, don't you think? It sold for a measly couple of hundred quid. What's wrong with that?

I'm so not a leg man, but just look at those back ones. Aren't they lovely? Standing proudly against the weight of Victorian turpitude.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cascading in yellow fragrance

"Preceding the happy and busy months we spent in Paris each year were lovely months of winter sunshine on the Riviera, where our life, though equally social, was more informal. Some years before Jacques and I were married, I had, while recuperating on the Riviera, been attracted by its beauty and its climate. Soon after our marriage we decided to buy a property and to build a house there.

"Between the Upper and the Lower Corniche - the former built by Napoleon to lead his armies to Italy, the latter following the contours of the coast - there were beautiful slopes where peasants grew vegetables and flowers for the markets below. "

"Our house was built in stone and had an inner garden on which cloisters opened. We chose the Convent of Le Thoronet in Provence as inspiration; it had been built by Cistercian monks in the eleventh century. The fortressed Village of Eze, which stood across a ravine from us, had once been a shrine to the moon goddess Isis and ever since a stronghold of those who ruled the Mediterranean. We called our place Lou Sueil, which in Provencal means the Hearth, for it was thus identified on local maps."

"Our house was built by six brothers who were stone-masons. Every Monday they walked over the mountains from Italy, returning to spend Sundays with their wives. They were accomplished artisans and quick workers, and they built our house within a year. We made our own plans, and Duchêne, who had designed Sunderland House, was again the architect. Only two rooms were finished when we moved in. The others were being panelled as a background for the period furniture we brought from Crowhurst. When it arrived in vans we spent joyous weeks making the rooms comfortable as well as beautiful, for we disliked a house that looked like a musuem rather than a home. Deep sofas heaped with cushions abounded, lamps placed near easy chairs made pleasant seats for reading, and there were writing tables in every room.
There were petit point chairs fit for kings, but one sat in them unmolested; beautiful Isphahan rugs covered the floors, and the house was gay with flowers. The scent of tuberoses, lilac and lilies filled the air. When one entered the cloisters, a succession of flame-coloured azaleas was a lovely sight."

"In the garden we planned terraces; for our grounds, like the hanging gardens of Babylon, hung in mid-air and unless terraced on stone walls would have crumbled down the steep mountainside. Under the olive trees the grass was carpeted with hyacinths and bluebells. The spring brought its seasoned order of tulips, peonies and daffodils. Almond trees bloomed first, in pink and white showers; then came the prunus and the Judas trees with their bronze and scarlet foliage. Every month had its particular mimosa cascading in yellow fragrance."

Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold. 1953.

Photos from Villa Gardens of the Mediterranean: From the Archives of Country Life, Kathryn Bradley-Hole, 2006.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Libraries ...

Yesterday, on Mrs. Blandings I read about another library being disposed of in favor of new technology. I mentioned in passing in my posts Immensely Chic and Exit Libris something of my experience with that. Despite being able to augment my own library, I neither subscribed to the theory behind the decision nor did I believe the justification that was given to it, and my skepticism remains strong.

Decisions such as these can be driven by the empire-building nature of administrators - a bid for glory, the justification for which has no long-term research behind it: theory expressed as necessity.

However, there are clear indications that universities whether for-profit or traditional, schools public and private, are having to make decisions about real-estate in a bad economy. Therein lies the nub: the cost of maintaining what has been the norm is considered too high and because education is a business, expenditure has to be cut and an acceptable means of keeping profits high must be found and be justified. The frequent justification is that technology is a means of delivering a better education for less cost. That may well be so, but the language of the salesmen is very interesting and would make a fascinating paper for a graduate student in a traditional university.

To some of us, deaccessioning a library can seem like an act of cultural vandalism. Whether truth or delusion, we know that the historical record is a log of what accidentally survived and what was intentionally destroyed.

The Edward Ardizonne drawing above shows how we go to our bookshelves for something and remain transfixed by the connections we make and the thoughts that flow from it all. Can the internet and digital data-bases do the same?

Edward Ardizzone, 1900 -1979. Self-portrait 1952.