Tuesday, March 30, 2010


One of the fads in the 1980s was for granular, if not downright coarse-grained, photographs in magazines. I recently found an article about, I think, a Michael Taylor interior, with photographic surfaces so promiscuous, the images are almost obliterated. And so it is with these photographs of Richard Lowell Neas' own apartment in Manhattan, not particulate to the point of carnage, but proving to be a bane at least, if not pain in the arse.

However, the matter at hand today is not Neas' room, singular in more sense than one, at twenty-two feet square, and a dissertion in nineteenth-century comfort, with furniture from the time of George II, the Regency and Victoria's long widowhood, strewn with leopard velvets, paisleys and bespangled with chintzes, but rather about conceits we have known and loved.

Trompe l'oeil painting – and this was Mr Neas' profession before he became a decorator – was together with its more shameless relatives, faux finishes, one of the more capricous aspects of 1980s decorating. Acres of pine boards were marbleized into floors befitting a Florentine palazzo, mile after mile of walls were scumbled, ragged, dragged, gessoed and frescoed into facsimiles of Tuscan or, better yet, Roman surfaces apparently crumbling into dust these two thousand years past. Faux marbre lent many a mediocre doorcase the granduer of the Vatican. Raphael sired endless variations on his loggia. Gobs of putti, ribbons veiling their genitalia, lounged over innumerable dining tables on the pinkest and puffiest of clouds. Table tops uncounted were waggishly strewn with playing cards and dice. Stair wells were transformed into bulwarks of ashlar, whimsically pitted with pockets of dandelions and ferns. Fireplaces were stopped up with renditions of blue and white vases, butterflies flitting jauntily across them. Books .... well, it is here I quit my rant and return to Mr Neas for it was he that designed one of the prettiest of trompe l'oeil wallpapers, Bilbliotheque for Brunschwig and Fils.

Richard Lowell Neas died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 67.

Photographs by Jaques Dirand from The World of Interiors, January 1986

Monday, March 29, 2010


On Friday of last week I posted photos of an apartment designed by the architectural firm of Shelton, Mindel & Associates of which, in a comment, the Down East Dilettante said

They are good. Do you remember Lee's own Greenwich Village apartment, with arch window step down living room? It was his break-out work--published everywhere from HG to WOI, and used for a gazillion print ads. It was terrific and new at the time.

I certainly did remember those windows and the step-down living room for I had only found them again the previous week and put them aside for a later post - today's post, in the event, and a continuation of an occasional look at the array of 1980s interior design, beyond that of the lost generation.

What I also remember is the impact the photos of Mr Mindel's apartment had on me over twenty years ago. We were living at the time in Amsterdam and I was never able – however much I spoke the language, made friends, enjoyed the culture, the history, and the beauty of that country, low-lying under epic skies – to shake off the feeling of being marooned beyond the edge of the English-speaking world. I sit now at my table looking at similar skies, similar except that I'm at above the level of the treetops rather than meters below sea level, a storm is rolling in, I cannot see that arc of heaven from horizon to horizon, or witness a sky stripped to metallic blue by winds from Siberia so chill that the canals froze and people, gliding on skates, for a time inhabited a Brueghel world.

Odd though it might seem, I imbued these photos with such personal symbolism, for they represented for me the world from which I felt isolated.

Beyond that, I was absolutely charmed by this apartment: the simplicity of the architecture, the gridded paneling, comfortable upholstery, light floors, the Thomas Hope chair and other classical furniture... the luminosity and clarity of it all. Now I see that Mr Mindel's apartment encapsulated what I have come to realize is a definite preference of mine - a clear mixing of classicism and modernism. This interior had none of the etiolation of Post Modernism and neither did it subscribe to the values of that most unhappy of unmarried couples, Lancaster and Fowler. Here was none of that English, dust-laden, tea-stained, dog-haired, precedent-ridden, aristocratic pursuit of chintz, mahogany and Chickendale so popular with many decorators of the time. Here was vitality, intelligence, youth and freshness.

Photos by Dan Cornish from The World of Interiors, July/August 1987.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Please don't touch the walls

One very interesting aspect of 1980s interior design and architecture too, if truth be told, is its variety. It would be easy to leave that decade with the idea that the two main streams of decoration were Traditional and Contemporary and, as with all simplistic analyses of times past, that idea is not too far off the mark, but some elucidation is necessary, but probably not today. The variety of work done in the 1980s is something I will return to later on.

Today I want show you some photos, not this time of work by someone long dead, by someone very much alive and working today. I first saw this Manhattan apartment in 1988, eight years before I came to live in the United States. I found the photos again yesterday whilst looking for something else and the power of this beautifully cerebral design by Shelton, Mindel and Associates is not diminished after all these years.

These spaces have a well-tailored simplicity that is visible still in the latter work by this company, and also a complexity that transcends the self-conscious braggadoccio of Postmodernism during the 1980s. Well, maybe. Internal walls stop short of external walls apparently to maximize the sense of the outside. That niggle apart, the combination of minimalist spaciousness, the de rigueur Biedermeier furniture ... whatever, I find these rooms still so alluring.

Photos by Dan Cornish from The World of Interiors, May 1988. The quotation in italics is from the text by Beaureguard Houston-Montgomery and Ronnie Cook.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

In search of lost time

Without wanting to sound boorish, I must tell you I cannot abide Art Nouveau and it is entirely possible that my detestation will leak out as I am writing about Vincent Fourcade's Bridgehampton house. I've tried to like it for thirty years and still I don't. Perhaps the odd bit of Art Nouveau jewelry is interesting but, beyond that, the entangled sliminess of the style repels me. Just wanted to get that off my chest!

Vincent Fourcade, though not unknown today, is possibly remembered most by those of us who, like chickens scrabbling in the dust, pore through old magazines, and get together over a dining table to yack away about what fascinates us the most - decorating, decorators and the juicy, often salacious, stories attached to their names. Yesterday, for example, over lunch with a friend, she and I talked about Fourcade with the chef/owner when he came out of his kitchen to say hello.

The house, as you see from the first photograph, is a Long Island Shingle/Colonial, a house so ordinary from the outside that the inside is totally unexpected. Not unexpected, surely, of Mr Fourcade, but such a facade might imply an interior of momentous East Coast antique furniture disposed in a rather studied manner over patinad floors alongside hand-loomed rugs and carpets, bolstered all with suitably rarified paintings and prints.

Not for Vincent Fourcade, anything approaching a pallid evocation of waspish middle-class gentility. He installed his, and seemingly ship-loads of it, family furniture from France in a deeply buttoned agitation of Art Nouveau furniture, Second Empire upholstery, Pompeiian panels, Empire mahogany beds, Directoire chairs, all atop needlepoint rugs, bounded by brocaded walls betwixt marbleized pilasters and moldings.

Despite the remembrance of things past, as it were, in the decor Fourcade created, together with his partner, Robert Denning, during the 1980s - years when vast fortunes were quickly made - the celebrity nabobs of the time, like their predecessors at the end of the nineteenth century, required visible proof for themselves and their pals that they were the new aristocracy. How better to do it than evoking a fiction of the golden, olden days at the Chateau de Ferrieres during the Second French Empire?

Fourcade and Denning, decorated in a manner only to be described as le gout Rothschild, and it certainly was so described in the 1980s, a time when that other exemplar of the Rothschild Style, Geoffrey Bennison, was working. It will be interesting to compare Fourcade's version of this style to Geoffrey Bennison's, which in my eyes has a lightness of touch, serious certainly, but not pompous.

Vincent Fourcade died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 58. Robert Denning survived Vincent Fourcade by 13 years.

Photos by Oberto Gili from House and Garden, June 1985.

Lunch, by the way, was at Le Lapin in Peachtree Battle and besides good food they make the best lemon cookies in the city.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


"If you have an opulent room - and I think this room tends to be a bit opulent - you relax it with casual fabrics. You could take this same room and upholster it in silks and damasks, and it would have a very touch-me-not attitude."

Such was Antony Childs' description of his Georgetown living room and he was, I think, spot on. There are what used to be called "important antiques" dotted around but in this room and the rest of the house a good balance between display and hospitality has been achieved. It's unlikely anyone entering the front door got the feeling they first should have checked their personal liability insurance.

The most pleasing thing about these charming rooms is that they were created over twenty years ago yet are as fresh and classic today as they were then. Nothing has dated - well, maybe the skirted dining table a little, though I must say I've always been partial to a good skirted table. The grand dining room curtains are pretty restrained in comparison to many a drapery from the same time, and would not look out of place today. Other windows in the house, judging by photos of the living room and bedroom, are simply furnished with Roman shades, that most classic of window covering. The wooden furniture is grand but not repellant in its pomposity and the upholstery is sane and welcoming. I could go on about the contents of these rooms but they are visible in the photos. Unusual for the time there is no name-dropping provenance for any of the furniture.

I didn't know this man, but I like his light-filled, gentlemanly rooms. These are spaces to be alone in, kiss a lover or two, listen to Roy Orbison, read (the phrase curl up with a good book comes to mind, but I shall eschew it), trip a light fantastic, play with a Game Boy, wax poetical, opine on how the world's gone mad today, good's bad today, black's white today, and day's night today when most guys today .....

Antony Childs, who had been in practice for over twenty years as a decorator, died of AIDS in June 1994 at the age of 57.

Photos by William Waldron, from House and Garden, August 1989. Quotation from text written by David Streifield.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Where e're I roam, whatever realms to see,

The scent of daffodils remains for me one of the most evocative of smells: of Spring, the moment when the world greens again, the rain softens and washes the blossom. Personally, I have no problem with rain even on the morning of the first day of Spring in the Georgia mountains, though my fellow Southerners can find it quite worrisome. The smell of pines after rain, like the scent of daffodils and the reek of box hedges baking in the sun are gatekeepers at the parking-lots of memory.

Daffodils, like hyacinths, have a scent into which faces should be plunged, all mucous membranes aflutter, guzzling the deliciousness of it all. Lilies, those air-fresheners of the 19th century funeral parlor, their scent occupying the borderland between scent and stink, on the other hand need, to be sipped rather than slurped.

So, where e're I roam, whatever realms to see, my intention was not to write a howdy-do to Spring, but return to writing what has become an honor-roll of those decorators, long-gone, I began to call the Lost Generation. Seemingly, true to my zodiac sign - crab-wise - I have done so by finding a building, the Gate of Honour in one of the two books I bought last week.

Initially, it was not the photo that caught my eye, it is simply one of over 600 illustrations from Mark Girouard's Elizabethan Architecture, but the text introducing it. The phrase ... temple and balustrade are elided ... indeed, the word elided it was, that excited me. What it is that makes individual words, these compounds of thought and intonation, words such as elided, quite so alluring is not really that important: what is important, is that despite the history, the architect, the location, on turning turn the page to the Gate of Honour and on reading that it was at the end of a symbolic route followed by students at Caius College, Cambridge: a route beginning with the Gate of Humility, continuing through the Gate of Virtue and Wisdom and ending at the Gate of Honour, I knew I had found the symbolic, if not actual, title for my roll of honor.

Photo copyright Martin Charles, from Elizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 1540 -1640, Mark Girouard, Yale University Press 2009.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Marvellously revising at the beauty

of the Chappel, greatly praised it, above all others within her realm."

This sentence about Queen Elizabeth I caught my eye as I flicked through the book, as well it might, for there's something inordinately glittering about the language of the 16th century and language, glittering or otherwise, is something that has eluded me these past couple of weeks. If I didn't know better, I'd say I've had bloggers block - an oddly exhausting state of mind and fearsome loss of faculty.

I seemed to be doing well with my research into the Lost Generation then, one morning, I did not want to communicate - I'd had enough and was worn out. The subject matter was fascinating to me and continues to be but there I was, here I am, squatting back on my mental haunches with back to the wall, awaiting the day when I resume the, for me, important task of bringing these men to mind.

Thus, in my self-reproachful state, I ordered two books that were delivered today: two books, one, a veritable tome, so heavy it needs to be read from a lectern and the other lambently brilliant as befits is subject. To say I'm thrilled is an understatement.

Neither, alas, can be read whilst one is soaking in a bubble bath, nor should they be placed by the sink to be read in snatches between strokes of a razor - the usual fate of the New Yorker which has a daily migration schedule from nightstand to vanity and back again to whichever side of the bed is not, perchance, reading a trashy detective/vampire/inner-landscape-twaddle/Japanese fashion magazine/whatever. But, I digress. They are books that will afford me so much pleasure and I hope time to assimilate and tick over in such a way that my blogger's block may gently be breached.

The Chappel Queen Elizabeth praised was that of King's College, Cambridge or, more formally, The King's College of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas in Cambridge - one of the glories of English Perpendicular Architecture.

Photo of chapel from http://www.cambridge2000.com/index.html
Book images from Amazon.com

Monday, March 15, 2010

When true simplicity is gain'd,

to see loving eyes that still, after thirty-one years, shine with pleasure to see one walk in the door, is to know we came round right.

Would that all could turn, turn and come round right.

Photo by Huntley Hedworth from The World of Interiors, February 2010.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Then they came for me

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

The they came for the Catholics.
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

So said, Pastor Martin Niemöller referring to the inactivity of German intellectuals when faced with Nazi purges of unacceptable groups, as they saw them, in society. He did not mention, as far as I know, the gay men who were sent for extermination, the second largest group after the Jews, I read sometime in the 1980s - a fact, if fact it is, that seems to have slipped from memory.

As a community, if community we are, gay men survived extermination by AIDS, though many of the tribe did not, in the 1980s and 1990s. We survive even that evil justification for persecution - that we of all mankind have a choice of who we are. We survive even the way that our lives are forcibly hidden behind the word inappropriate. We survive despite the way our lives and careers are wiped from history. We survive, despite the fact that the Constitution has been deemed not to apply to us in terms of civil rights in some states. We survive, despite.

To understand man's inhumanity to man go here and look at the happy crowd surrounding the two lovers.

Also, read Little Augury's moving post here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The god that protected boundaries

The god Terminus, the protector of boundary markers in ancient Rome, is the origin of these figures, male and female, that stood sentry, between walls of trompe l'oeil sienna marble, at the doors of Robert Metzger's glamorously riche New York offices.

Not very well-known today, Robert Metzger, was one of the most published decorators of the 1970s and 1980s and, I think, one of the most representative of the era - that of Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, Bernhard Goetz, the murder of John Lennon, beginning of the Human Genome Project, the return of Halley's Comet, and Wall Street excesses culminating in Black Monday.

It was the excesses of Wall Street that enabled Robert Metzger to flourish and create some of the most lushly flamboyant interiors of the period. He wasn't alone in creating densely layered accretions of complicated deliciousness - Geoffrey Bennison, Denning and Fourcade (more well-known today than Metzger but surely on the point of slipping from memory) spring to mind, but even at its most extravagantly glamourous there was a light-heartedness in Metzger's work that set him apart. His rooms, though dense, were not boorish. There was none, one suspects, of that suffocating ancestral grime allowed to seep into his decorative schemes.

His office desk, in a room described by Robert Metzger as "... like sitting in someone's library or living room," is wonderfully of its time: the baroque base of an American pool table surmounted by an Italian intarsia top. Drawing up to this desk, surrounded as one was by one's future and suitably histrionic extravagances: gaufraged velvet, burly damask, bewitching brocades, plump brocatelles, waxen marbles, bright-cut crystal, chased bronze, ormulu, auroral needlework, Mr Metzger beaming at the far side, to discuss plans and budgets, aided perhaps by a flute or two of bubbly, cannot have been an irksome task,

Robert Metzger died of pneumonia at the age of 55 in 1994.

Photos by Jaime Ardiles-Arce and Dennis Krukowski from Best From the Interior Design Magazine Hall of Fame, Vitae, 1992.