Friday, April 30, 2010

Boulle, Paris, 1977

It never ceases to impress me how some interiors, at their creation completely contemporary, do not date and retain that quality of here today here tomorrow. Why some interiors look dated and why some do not is a question occasionally on my mind and if I have reached a conclusion it is this: when a decorator trysts with or construes contemporary interpretations of living, it is at this point that the spectre of senescence begins to take form as an identifiable characteristic of a period.

To my mind, one of the characteristics of good 20th century decorating is a refusal to draw the curtains against the philistine dark but instead to embrace the best of global aesthetic culture. It's an axiom, a "truth universally acknowledged" to say that the best of one period will fit with the best of another, and whilst this is totally debatable, as a maxim, assuming we all agree what is the best of ...... well, you know the rest of that argument.

Here, thus, is one of the most delightfully enduring of interiors - one created in the late 1970s by the excellent Alberto Pinto for clients in Paris - showing how in the hands of a master ecumenical choices lead to congregations of serenity.

Photos by Alain Dovifat from an article written by Brigitte Baert for Architectural Digest, October 1977.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Look Inward, Angel

Over the past few days, a friend and I have been discussing what to me, at least, are gratuitous, nasty and personal commentaries on other bloggers, magazine editors and to some extent, dead decorators, and it is this conversation that has focused my feelings on the matter.

Dead decorators are, if you read my blog, a particular interest of mine, especially those I name the Lost Generation - men who, generally speaking died young, often of AIDS, or at least long enough ago (1980s and 1990s) to be no longer known. Being an unknown cannot be said of Mark Hampton who was written about in a New York Times article, a book review really, and therein described as an "undertaker's son from Indiana" illustrative of the article's fashionably - and fashion is definitely playing a role here - arch and mildly begrudging tone.

On the other hand, an antidote for the deification of decorators, the uncritical acceptance of all they do and say as having significance, assessment rather than adulation, is absolutely necessary. Perhaps difficult to achieve given that genuflection is what fills many a magazine.

That a certain amount of revision of reputation, work and influence of celebrity decorators is inevitable, especially deceased celebrities, goes without saying - at least to me. Ambition and aspiration drive all of us so I wonder why "working a room" was singled out for mention in this article when it is something, however tenuous our connection to reality, we all have to do if we are not to be uncommonly bored with the continuous round of events. Work a room? Damned if I do, and, seemingly, if I don't. However, this post is not actually about Mr Petkanas' article for I have a broader point here - that of manners.

Oh Lord! Here we go - some old fart banging on about manners.

So, when did we cross the line where a blogger, effectively a guest of a showroom, could be photographed sitting, straining, knickers around the knees, on a toilet pot and then decide to publish it? When did we decide a four-letter word for a bodily function can be used to describe one's possessions? When did it become acceptable to address women using the word for a female canine? When did it become acceptable to use a blog as a forum for denigrating someone else's thighs? When did it become decent to disagree with someone by ridiculing his nose, at the same time as admitting jumping on a bandwagon? Many more examples come to mind but ....

There is a rich and long-established tradition of satire, lampoonery, travesty and even downright lying and perhaps in that light I am swimming against a tide if what I criticize belongs to that tradition. Surely, by this point in the 21st Century, the shock value of vulgarity is appreciated only by those still in high school and most of us recognize that ad hominem attacks are both fallacious and irrelevant. Neither approach does much to entertain or to enrich the discourse.

There are three things we all could do - look at our own glass houses, question whether we are just being groupies, and think hard before pushing the publish post button - as I am doing right now.

The photograph? Look Inward, Angel, and be kind.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Kilroy was here

The second in an occasional series.

There are a few times in a day, moments of repose, when, subdued by the animal but not in any way diminished - more doing what is necessary - one can really focus. Not, I mean, focus on the ramparts to be scaled, the bewitching hussy down the the hall, or even the astringent rejoinder that now will never be made, but simply on the task in hand.

So it was, in a moment of relaxation, when I first saw the mosaic decoration on the walls of this Folies Bergère gents, the inner eye fixed and kinships convened on eggshell inlay lacquer. Pretty obvious connection, you might think - and you'd be right. It's at this point I could bang on about these internal correspondences being the graffiti on our stele, our trophies, our Kilroy was here moments, but that'd wouldn't be any fun at all. Now, would it?

Photo above by Ivan Terestchenko from an article written by Marie-France Boyer for The World of Interiors, December 1993.

Image below Portrait of Madame Agnès by Jean Dunand (polychrome lacquer, eggshell) from The Decorative Arts in France: La Société des Artistes Décorateurs, 1900-1942, by Yvonne Brunhammer and Suzanne Tise, published by Rizzoli New York, 1990.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Occasionally I remark how it seems to me there are not many modern decorators who know how to use color and in many ways it is the pot calling the kettle black.

Our flat is pretty low-key in color and tone. The bedroom is gray - gray suede upholstered wall behind the bed, gray silk curtains and Farrow and Ball Cornforth White on the other walls - with an accent or two of orange. What I name an accent is a large, orange-lacquered six-drawer chest that stands opposite the dressed-in-gray-and-white bed, and under a silver-framed Hermès scarf in shades of orange. The only other color in the room comes from two gray-green celadon lamps, an ancient gray-green linen velvet armchair, and two pillows made from slices of kimonos - one, blues and greens, that prefers my side of the bed and the other, oranges and purples, his. The gray/celadon combination is mine and the orange/purple is his and after the compromise all couples have to reach for their place to be personal and loved, all is ours. Purely and unequivocally ours.

The living room is really an exercise in tints and tones that wander between uninflected whites, blancs de chine, creams, beiges, lavenders, stones, silvers, blues and purples. There's woodiness, the off-black of old japanning, the crew-cut warmth of dark mohair, soft graphite-flecked paper, mushroomy hard-nosed lacquer, dusty ormolu, green-edged glass, the swank of crystal, and a small flaunt of orange silk velvet.

Two days ago what must be the last hyacinths were brought home and quickly opened into the most glorious of pinks, a color as intense and transitory as the scent filling the room. The kind of beauty that is heartbreaking.

This resplendent room behind its equally triumphant facade is something I'd forgotten but when I turned the page after reading an essay about the Folies Bergère the force of it hit me. I wonder now how I forgot this room, this masterpiece of brilliant color. When first I saw it seventeen years ago I think I might have been intimidated and probably thought I couldn't have lived in it. Now, I really rather think I could. I have grown more accepting of my role of recessive background to a loving partner whose personality could quite clearly be expressed in such an interior as this. It's pretty much as he tried to leave the house this morning though the removal of a madras-of-many-colors bow tie toned it down a notch or two - just.

Photos by Tim Street-Porter from an article written in 1993 for The World of Interiors by Ann Barr about Michael Davis and Andrew Logan's Bermondsey house

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rant @ 45 rpm

If you've ever wondered when precisely it was the world changed and you became an old fogey then you'll know what I mean when I say that one of the most irritating things in the world is to find, for the second time, doddering-old-fool-like, you'd forgotten that you need a bloody iPod to play music through the dinner-plate sized speakers you discovered in the living room ceiling one late night after a long drive through another rainy georgia night.

I drove home late this sodden afternoon listening to Monteverdi's Vespro Della Beata Vergine - this being what I wanted to listen to again at home - and wondering, crossly, what it is about rain that makes Georgia drivers throw on the brakes when the first drop hits the windshield. Answer comes there not.

The rhubarb pie I'd discovered at the back of the freezer went into oven, the CD - I still call 'em LPs in moments of inattention to the great amusement of the my other half - went into what I'd forgotten was the DVD player and would not play music. Simply-would-not-play-the-damned-music! One tantrum later - not quite throwing myself kicking and screaming to the floor but could have at a moment's further provocation - the Celt arrived home in a stinking mood (clients) to find the rhubarb pie lovingly thrown into the Miele had fossilized - if rubber can be said to fossilize - me clutching a glass of whine trying to write about the connection between Monteverdi and our library, a photo which you will not find below.

The room you see here is a library, dearth of books notwithstanding, and one of the most beautiful rooms I've ever had the pleasure to be aspirational about - the perfect room in which to listen to a scratchy vinyl 45 of Brook Benton singing A Rainy Night in Georgia.

Photographs by Henry Bourne for an article written by Carol Prisant about an interior by William Diamond and Anthony Baratta published in The World of Interiors, January 1994.

P. S. Just learned I could have used my iPhone to connect to the sound system (are they still called that?)

Monday, April 19, 2010


The first in an occasional series of necessary houses, bogs, WCs, comfort stations, garderobes, gentlemen's powder rooms, heads, johns, ladies' rooms, latrines, lavatories, outhouses, potties, powder rooms, privies, restrooms, thrones, and washrooms.

Each time I lecture on architecture and interiors of ancient Rome and a slide of communal latrinae comes up on screen, a loud and conjoint eeuw goes around the room - as well it might, you may think. Hard as it is for anyone in modern times to imagine sharing one of life's more intimate moments with anyone else, it was apparently not so for our ancestors. Arguably, it is also not so for ourselves given the flimsy partitions separating toilet facilities in many a contemporary building.

This communal lieu begs a question I shall leave you to contemplate.

Photos by Peter Woloszynski from an article authored by Leslie Geddes-Brown in The World of Interiors, March 1994.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I'll show you mine ...

.... the latest in an occasional series about libraries.

A good old fashioned bookroom is something one sees rarely nowadays - there are books all over the place as decorative accents - supporting lamps, assisting as flotation devices for scented candles and pinned down by cache-pot, but a room of books? Who has one?

To digress a little, today I listened to two bloggers - I didn't get involved in the conversation -discuss marketing potential and the commercial benefits they are enjoying from them. This got me thinking about my blog - this ramble through my enthusiasms, delusions and obsessions - on which I allow no advertising, overt or covert, and ended up wondering if this makes me perhaps a bit old-fashioned ... as old fashioned as a collector of books these days.

So, to relieve my unsettled mind, I post photos from 1994 of an extraordinary and impressively blue gothick library. I have a library in the senses of a bookroom and a large and growing collection of books. None of them is used as decoration, as props in themselves or for other objects, and none is so decrepit it is refused succor.

Who else has bookrooms? I've shown you mine, now show me yours.

Photographs by James Mortimer from article written by Elspeth Thompson for The World of Interiors, March 1994.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Its an odd activity

 this touring houses and gardens, looking at other people's views from their windows, listening to the repetitive patter of the docents as more tourists enter, judging art, chotzkes, and taste. It's an even odder activity allowing your house to be toured. We did it and, having overheard many an, usually generous, interpretation of our home, it took a while afterwards for the place to feel as if it were ours again, at least for me.

It was very agreeable to see one of the less grand Philip Shutze houses from within and understand the humane proportions of the spaces, especially when compared to the massive (10,000 square feet) ell attached to the side - to my critical eye, a disappointingly modern extension of 21st century proportions, atinkle with all the requirements of contemporary living: factory finishes, prettily muntined windows, stacked-stone external fireplaces, large swimming pool and a plethora of closet space. That's one of the surprises about older houses, the paucity of closets.

Nonetheless, however odd the activity, it is pleasant to be the tourist, to stand overlooking the garden below and chat with a preservationist about spring houses, ice houses, and a long-dead ice industry that suppled ice from the Great Lakes to cool the quinine-laden drinks of the 19th century Raj. Pleasant to talk to a man, a collector of art so varied I'm not going to try to catalogue it, about one simple, black-and-white photograph he took thirty years ago from the top of the building I live in, redolent of a time when this city that prides itself on its trees was even more bosky than today.

The house below, where in the past, President Franklin Roosevelt as a friend and classmate of the first owner came to visit, seen from the garden front and the motor court, is a Neel Reid house - Neel Reid being Atlanta's other famous Classicist, who died young, and depending on the author of the book gets credit for some of Shutze's work and vice-versa. In the hands of these men, not the only Classicists of this city, Classicism was returned to its pre-Beaux-Arts phase when proportions were human scale and not related to the grandeur of absolutism - architecturally correct but imaginatively drawn temples in the trees, temples to taste and the culture of the South to which the capitals of Europe in their time belonged.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Light the corners of my mind

I couldn't or, perhaps, wouldn't believe it when I saw that these photos had been published fifteen years ago. I'd remembered them, gone looking for them in the 21st century stack of magazines and kept going back and back and back. 1995! Misty, water-colored memories, indeed.

The mix from Chester Jones, 1995 - as fresh a melange as ever could be.

Photos by Andreas von Einsiedel from an article written by Chester Jones, The World of Interiors, December 1995.

Saturday last, attended a wedding, which is decidedly not my most favorite activity, but was able to catch up with friends. Sunday we did the Buckhead in Bloom Home and Garden Tour. Atlanta is beautiful in Spring, but so is anywhere I think. Had to cancel a trip next weekend because of work.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Small pleasures

Tonight over dinner we were talking about what to recommend to friends honeymooning in Amsterdam and Paris and we came up with the usual places to visit and things to do but we also remembered small pleasures that are easy to walk by if one is not told of them. Here are two, one in Amsterdam and the other, perhaps more well-known than I think, in Paris.

The first, a magical thing, the kind that makes you laugh with wonderment and pleasure - a tiny statue of a man sawing into the tree limb. How easy to walk underneath the tree and not even see it!

The second, in Paris, is an articulated device, clock in part, that hangs in an alley behind the Centre Georges Pompidou. On the hour, Le Défenseur du Temps, a gilded, armored warrior defends the passage of time against a dragon, crab and cockerel, each representing the elements of earth, air and water.

Small pleasures, all the more delightful for being somewhat tucked away.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Road rage

I'm cannot pinpoint when this day began to go sour but it sure as hell did. There I was, merrily going about my own business and eventually it came upon me that other people were having really bad days and for some reason it seemed to be my fault or, at least, I was in the neighbourhood, therefore .... In the end I slipped out the office early, dueled trucks on the interstate for an hour or so, and my phone rang - a very sweet woman informed me in the most reasonable, almost jocular, manner that the field trip she'd arranged for one of my classes had been cancelled by her manager because she felt there were sufficient private tours that day and mine was simply one too many!

Navigating a freeway and trying to control a disproportionate amount of anger, rage actually, and railing at the pertness of some people, ain't easy, let me tell you.

So, one glass of sherry, one aggressively stirred but perfectly turned-out asparagus risotto, a hug and a kiss from my beloved who'd breezed in the front door like one of Jesus' little sunbeams, I'm feeling a little calmer and wondering what it is that makes simple quotidian events of no actual importance take on such monstrous proportions.

The sherry I drank – and I must tell you I have no pretensions to knowing anything about sherry except that I like what I like and I like it usually after dinner instead of dessert – is a Deluxe Cream Capataz Andrés by Lustau. Going straight to the bottle after a bad day is not quite the way one should begin the evening but the sweetness of the sherry had its way with me and reminded me in a round about way of the wonderful rooms you see posted here.

Jaime Parlade's house at the foot of the Sierra de Alcuzcuz seems to me such a welcoming place to arrive at when feelings or feet are bruised, when the need to be loved but left alone for a while is paramount, too have a drink or cup of tea placed by one's hand, a newspaper and a footstool proffered, then to hear the door gratifyingly clicking closed as one is left to sip of the geniality of the host and his house.

Being hospitable is such an important aspect of life, not only in the way of invitations to dinner, to cocktails, for tea, but more the feeling that guests are, however temporarily, welcomed, loved, valued and really rather interesting.

I think again, as I have thought these past weeks when writing about decorators from the 1980s, that my preference is for the lucid but not the facile, for the uncluttered but not the austere, the simple but not the simplistic and the tactful rather than the maladroit. Consequently I write about decorators whose work, generally speaking, seems to embody my own predilections. Some of those decorators have created suffocatingly ostentatious spaces but others, like Mr Parlade, are able to beget houses and rooms worthy of simple human qualities like love and friendship, rage even.

Photos by James Mortimer from an article written by Frances Partridge for The World of Interiors, May 1988.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hang your knickers on the line

Saturday morning it was, the clock had just struck the half hour when from the other side of the living room came the refrain What's the time? Half past nine, hang your knickers on the line. If a policeman comes along, take them off and put them on. There is not much to say in reply to the rhyme known to every British child and from whom that word knickers will always raise a titter.

Not really anything to do with decorating you might think, but hearing the rhyme made me think again of the kind of ballooning shades, immensely popular in the 1980s, resembling tart's knickers. That tarts ever wore such voluminous undergarments is debatable and unrecorded in any history of tartdom I have ever read but, nonetheless, they have lent their nomenclature to a kind of window dressing. Some can be seen in the de la Renta living room.

I was going to write about one of the more fascinating aspects of 1980s decoration - the democratization of an aristocratic style of curtaining and drapery, a trickle down (to use a term popular at the time) or rather a torrent of expensive stuffs down the economic scale. It occurred to me, too, that I might discuss the books written by English ladies showing how to contrive dainty trappings for windows large and small. Also, I would have liked to have talked about the affectation of spuriously aging chintz by dipping in baths of strong tea (no sugar or milk, thank you) or liquid plant food, but it will not happen, because today, (I wrote this yesterday, Sunday), we went to a big Greek Easter celebration - lamb, goat and pork spit-roasting, the bishop blessing the assembly, kids being loved all over the place, never-ending pouring of wine, music, and food, food, food, and more food - so after the most generously hospitable event I've been to in a long time, I'm a little in my cups, thoroughly tired out, have heartburn up to my earlobes, and am far too happy to discuss any curtains I may have lost, loved or hated.

Instead, I would like to show you photos of a place I wish I could have seen, rooms that had such an effect on me when I first saw them in 1984 - I found them utterly beautiful. These rooms belonged to Mr Gep Durenburger, an antiques dealer, whose home was in San Juan Capistrano, California. I look through them again nearly thirty years later and still they are a source of wonder to me. The rooms speak for themselves.

Photos by Tim Street-Porter for an article written by Mr Durenburger, from The World of Interiors, September 1984.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Mayor's house

I said yesterday how it could be interesting to compare work done by Geoffrey Bennison for the Rothschild family during the 1980s, with the creations of Denning and Fourcade who worked in a so-called Style Rothschild. So, today I show work Bennison did at Chateau de Reux for the Mayor of Pont l'Evêque and his wife. Perhaps an unfair comparison given that this country interior has Bennison toning down the grandeur, and there is much of that in these photos, of 18th century embossed leather walls, Queen Anne red lacquer, the most beautiful 17th century mirror, Baroque painted chairs, Chinese ceramics, scagliola table tops, et al, with rush matting that needs frequent watering, faux bois painted paneling, 18th century crewel-work curtains, printed linen for upholstery, walls and curtains, and none-too-formal gardens designed by the Mayor's wife's aunt, Arabella Lennox Boyd.

So, today no invidious comparisons, just photos of beautiful rooms in Normandy where the Mayor and his lady could spend weekends and in August, entertain family and friends to meals, created by the family chef, up from Paris for a month, using vegetables grown in the grounds and fish and meat from the local markets.

Photos by James Mortimer from an article written by Patricia Hipwoood from The World of Interiors, April 1983.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lamentations for Holy Saturday

I rarely listen to music in the car, or the radio for that matter, despite driving 130 miles a day, preferring when on my own to listen to the world around me and what's going on in my own head. When I do listen to music, Palestrina is my first choice for solitary journeys and seemingly I don't tire of Missa Papae Marcelli, or what I listened to today Lamentations for Holy Saturday - brief, but just enough for a few minutes of not thinking - and for reminding me, lamentably too late, that I had intended to make hot-cross buns for Saturday, I had not posted today, I had not replied to an email, that .... well, the road to hell ..... etc.

However, musing on my grandmother's favorite phrase, (always so miserably unhelpful, that sort of expression) isn't going to get me far when really I want to talk, but really am too tired, about Denning and Fourcade's creation of an interior for Oscar de la Renta and his first wife, one of the most densely layered and stylish accretions of le goût Rothschild loot from the 17th century to the 19th centuries.

le goût Rothschild is such an appealing phrase. I said last week it would be interesting to compare Denning and Fourcade's version to Geoffrey Bennison's who actually did work for the Rothschilds and for whom he had to buy very little. All are terribly impressive, but of them Bennison's most tender Rothschild's interiors were created for Baron and Baroness David de Rothschild in Normandy, but more of that tomorrow.

These rooms speak for themselves. I could say that they are so very far removed from the reserved interiors by Shelton and Mindel where nothing is superfluous, but that would be redundant. I could catalogue the contents, discuss the styles, the mix, from the Boulle cabinets, the Orientalist paintings, copies in miniature of the Colonne Vendôme, Empire Egyptian Revival chairs, Regency mirrors, Adam Weisweiler console and Russian neoclassical dining chairs in the stenciled faux bois dining room, the snow on the muntins of the windows ... I could, but there's that road to hell again ...

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