Friday, March 22, 2013


As far as I know only one bookshop survives in Atlanta – that is, within the part of town where I live. So, when I want to evaluate an interior design book, I rarely go the the bookshop – I go instead to one of two shops, neither of which is a bookshop – one is furniture store that sells interesting (frequently Belgian) books about European and American design, and the other a not-so-run-of-the-mill gift shop whose inventory always includes the latest designer monographs. I find little point going to the Big Box Bookstore (the single-surviving bookshop mentioned above) despite it being down the street. Too sad, too tired and the model hasn't changed since my father-in-law set up what was then Waterstone's in what had been the Conran's Habitat building in Boston in the 80s. 

A charismatic man was the Celt's father, who would have been horrified at what has happened to publishing since his time. When attired in his formal kilt, arrayed with sporran and sgian dubh, glass of single malt in his hand, he was the most interesting of public speakers, charming the knickers of his audience (as the Brits say) with a combination of erudition and humor – but, I digress...

Buying books online for me is a double-edged sword – the lower price is always welcome but increasingly I'm dissatisfied with bent corners and imperfections in book jackets caused by shrink-wrapping and (occasionally) inadequate packaging. In fact, there's a book in a box in the hall right now, awaiting its journey back to the post office. It's not being returned for the reasons above but because it is a big let-down – another disadvantage of buying online if one has not first assessed the book firsthand beforehand. 

"Order them online," suggested the Celt as I picked up both Fritz von der Schulenberg's and Tino Zervudachi's books. But I'm not a fan of delayed gratification, so as a compromise, I bought one immediately – no reduction there – and the other, online that evening. Thankfully, it arrived in perfect condition. Books other than interior design books – smaller books – tend to arrive in a better condition, which suggests there might need to be a reassessment of packaging methods in some executives' minds. It is, after all, a simple design problem and could be solved very quickly. No biggie, as we used to say. 

We all know, or should know, Fritz von der Schulenberg's work. One of the best photographers of interiors there is, whose photographs I've known since I bought my first issue of The World of Interiors (December 1982 - January 1983) – and whose book I very much looked forward to. When I saw Luxurious Minimalism: Elegant Interiors in the Rizzoli bookstore earlier this year I was not disappointed but, as usual, decided to buy it online, which I eventually didn't. 

Two things impressed me most – first, the delicious silk(-like) covered boards and spine, gold stamped without a jacket (luxurious minimalism, indeed), and second, the table of contents which heralds a fundamental lesson in interior decoration written and illustrated by the best: 

The Art of Elegance, an introductory essay by Fritz von der Schulenberg; followed by Rhythm with Nicholas Haslam and John Minshaw; Colour with John Stefanidis; Light with David Collins; Space with Anthony Collett and Annabelle Selldorf; Texture with William Sofield; Composition with Axel and Boris Vervoordt and Robert Kime. 

Rather than scan from this book I photographed it lying the desk in our new office. In case you're wondering, the wood is zebra wood. 

A quotation from the Foreword by David Mlinaric suffices to explain to those who have not heard – I cannot imagine there are many – of Tino Zervudachi. This Foreword is also an elegant assessment of the present-day state of interior design (not a negative assessment by any means), and well worth reading rather than being passed over on the way to the pictures. It's a short quotation but one that shows how young this man was when he became successful and now, not quite fifty, is the owner of the firm.  

".... Tino's work shows both a respect for the existing or the old and an enthusiasm for the new. It never crosses the threshold of excess and yes is glamorous and quietly luxurious. Tino was brought up in London and moved to Paris to start a branch of our design company, Mlinaric, Henry & Zervudachi, in 1991, when he was 27. He had joined the studio in London when he was 19..." 

Tino Zervudachi: A Portfolio is big book, beautifully illustrated, very well-written and makes clear that Continental interior design, at its best, is elegant, cultured and dapper. Actually, the exactly the same as the best American design, but with a completely different accent. 

None of the interior design books I've gone through in the bookstore have appealed to me for a long, long time. There seems to be plenty of majestic titling belying a dearth of substantive content. Also, it is apparent that mid-century or early-twentieth-century furniture still plays a role in the minds of designers who wish to appear original. So this is a refreshing change. Either – or better, both – of these books illustrates how to live in the present whilst appreciating the past, and neither book rigidly defines what that present might be. I highly recommend them.

I was not asked to review either of the books but have done so purely out of the pleasure of finally finding books worth buying.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Giggles, how to grow potatoes, royal burials and ... has anyone here seen Kelly?

The numbingly damp cold of early spring in England seeping through every layer of tweed, leather and wool, did nothing to lessen my enthusiasm for my first visit to Windsor Castle. For someone who is interested in architecture and interior design it is perhaps surprising I'd waited so long – especially having lived (a long time ago) within an hour's train journey. But I knew the castle well from photographs, or so I thought.

Queen Mary's Doll House is surprisingly uninteresting – dimly lit, behind glass, rather twee and maybe, just maybe, methinks, I'm too old and cynical for it and, anyway, I have the book. I moved on to the small exhibition of portraits of the Queen in The Drawings Gallery. Celebrating both the Diamond Jubilee and the anniversary of the Coronation, the exhibition The Queen: Portraits of a Monarch, was more interesting than I thought it would be given how familiar the Queen's face is, but... and I know this is not an original thought... despite these portraits being of the Monarch rather than the person it is impossible, I feel, for anyone born in the United Kingdom to disassociate the person from the role – especially a person one has never met, yet one feels one knows well, despite being someone who has never given a media interview in her life. Nonetheless, the surprise of the exhibition was the portrait by Lucien Freud – not just surprising in how small it is but also in how much I liked it this powerful depiction, with so luscious a paint layer, defiantly, I thought, facing the glitter of Warhol on the opposite wall.

The State Rooms, the work of King George IV and his architect Jeffry Wyattville, are some of the most magnificent rooms I've ever walked through, except perhaps for the Vatican Museum, but they are more corridor-like than photographs show. Unless one is attending an Easter Court, these rooms are never seen as the photograph of the Crimson Drawing Room below suggests, for most of the year the room is divided by a strip of red carpet and rope barriers. Perhaps walking along a red carpet rolled out at one's feet offers a certain psychological succour, for none of this detracts from the magnificence of the decor: gilded ceiling and cornice; crimson draperies matching the upholstery of the walls and the gilded furniture; inlaid floor replacing that lost (as, indeed, was all the decoration of these rooms) in the fire of the 1990s, and the chandeliers, so big breathtakingly large and brilliant as to be almost, in their sublimity, invisible.

There is much for the eye to light upon in the Crimson Drawing Room and for me the most magical were the portraits of Queen Elizabeth (which one sees first) and her husband, "the old King" as I know him, George VI on either side of the fireplace, by Gerald Kelly.

"At the same time the King and Queen were both having much more formal state portraits painted by Gerald Kelly, a distinguished portraitist and later president of the Royal Academy. Kelly had been lodging at Eton while he worked at Windsor Castle, but after the outbreak of war he gratefully accepted an invitation from the Queen to move in Windsor Castle until he finished his work. The Royal Family were rather surprised that the artist ended up living for much of the war with them in the Castle. Fortunately he was witty and entertaining. The historian Kenneth Rose noted, 'It was said that to prolong his stay he would steal down to the studio at dead of night to erase the previous day's work.' The paintings were finally ready to go on show after the war ended in 1945. That year he was also given a knighthood – the band at the investiture played 'Anybody Here Seen Kelly?' " 

The Green Drawing Room can only be viewed from the roped-off doorway, for facing one at the other end of the room are the doors to the Cream (or White) Drawing Room which belongs to the private apartments. 

Above the fireplace in the State Dining Room hangs a painting, one of the strangest, of Queen Victoria by Benjamin Constant. The guard took me behind the rope barrier so I could look at it more closely. As I say, a strange thing – not quite a portrayal of a woman, more a depiction of an archetype, ethereal, symbolic, and looking quite bemused. The guard told me Victoria was displeased with it because the painter had given her Garter sash the wrong shade of blue. However displeased she was, the sash remains as it was painted. He and I also discussed how the chairs didn't match the black gothic revival table, and it seems that the matching chairs I'd seen elsewhere were considered too heavy and, quite early on, were replaced by regilt lighter klismos variations.

As I walked through Saint George's Hall I overheard one guard advising the other of how she might grow potatoes in a large trash bag on her balcony, and I decided I would join the conversation. It's not that I'm fascinated by the subject of potatoes, or have ever seriously thought of growing them – but the idea of being able to do so on an east-facing eleventh-floor terrace has its attractions. Saint George's Hall, rebuilt after the fire in 1992, like other rooms that burned were restored, the guard told me as we walked out of the hall, (not sure if I was being moved along or not but, if so, it was done with grace and a smile) in such a way that it is equivalent to the pre-fire appearance, whatever that in practice might mean.

I removed my cap (a sign of respect long gone in other walks of life, for who any longer observes the tradition of taking off one's hat as a funeral goes by?) as I entered Saint George's Chapel, thereby forestalling the man who was just beginning to gesture that I should do so. Respect was on my mind a lot as I walked around the church though not so much when I spotted a docent in robes standing on a heating grate having a Marylyn Monroe moment.

I don't know how I'd come to forget that Saint George's Chapel, besides being the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter, is the burial place of many a British monarch, Henry VIII included. The most immediate for me in historical terms was that of King George VI, the present Queen's father – I remember him, though vaguely. What I remember more is the sorrow in our house and in our neighbourhood when he was gone.

"And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'

And he replied: 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.' ”

The above words, quoted in 1939 in his first Christmas Message of the Second World War, broadcast the the Empire, by King George VI, were used again by his daughter for the gates of the King George VI Memorial Chapel where the King is interred and yet again in 2002 when the words were read out at the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Small, with windows by John Piper, the King George VI Memorial Chapel, resembles the medieval chantries that line the aisles – not that masses for the departed are said anymore at Saint George's Chapel – and holds the bodies of George VI, his wife, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the ashes of their daughter, the Princess Margaret. The broken slab is a memorial to Princess Margaret from her children, I understand. 


As I headed towards the Galilee Porch, I saw a Japanese couple enter the church and bow deeply more – not to me nor to the docent, but to the church. What I spotted in the Galilee Porch, or the western narthex, was this face, thought to be that of King Edward III.

Near the exit, I was surrounded by a group of young Japanese who, all the while giggling, took photographs of one of their more intrepid comrades playacting next to the sentry near the tourist exit of Windsor Castle. When I stepped back, having taken my photograph and received my own personal glare (or so I thought) from the guardsman, I thanked the ineffably polite young people as I walked away. From a few feet away I heard, "You're welcome" at which everyone, including me, broke out into giggles all over again.

Images of the Crimson Drawing Room, The Green Drawing Room, The Cream Drawing Room, the State Dining Room from For the King's Pleasure: The Furnishing and Decoration of George IV's Apartments at Windsor Castle, The Royal Collection, text by Hugh Roberts, 2001.

Quotation about Gerald Kelly from The Queen Mother, The Official Biography, William Shawcross, Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., New York. 2009. An eBook.

Quotation (Wikipedia) from God Knows, a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins used, in part, by King George VI in his Christmas radio broadcast, 1939.

Image of John Piper's Study for window in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, St. George's, Windsor from here.

Image of the King George VI Chapel from St George's Chapel, Windsor Chapel guidebook. Photograph, Angelo Hornak.

Other photos my own. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wherein ...

... an angel plays bagpipes under Arms, Thistles and Lierne-vaults in a high kirk, a cigarette transformed into a quill, and a dismembered felon confident of resurrection.

Dour is a word one might use about the architecture of the High Kirk of Edinburgh and one would not be far off the mark, yet for those of us whose hearts beat a little faster at the sight of stone buildings, Saint Giles' Cathedral, as it is better known, sited as it is on the descending greyness of the Royal Mile in the Old Town, brought a certain not-quite-palpitation-more-a-wobble to this non-presbyterian heart.

bombolone I'd eaten at breakfast, repeating as it did, had created something of a dour mood in me as I stepped through the modern abstract blue glass porch, screened in steel, to the sunlit interior – an interior of rigorous stone bald of decoration but for a kneeling angel which, despite being a copy of one by Thorvaldsen, is more fitting as garden ornament than font; tombs; monuments (one by Saint Gaudens who, because of offense to the church fathers' sensibilities, changed the cheroot held by Robert Louis Stevenson to something resembling a quill); memorial plaques to men lost in wars and at sea; a memorial chapel to the Marquis of Montrose whose parts, having being hung, drawn and quartered, were scattered across Scotland, but now are gathered again in one place under these lines

Scatter my ashes, strew them in the air 
Lord, since thou knowest where all these atoms are 
I'm hopeful thou'lt recover once my dust,
And confident thou'lt raise me with the just;

a bronze statue of John Knox (his body lying, as came an English king also to do, under a parking lot), bosses marking the coming-together of ribs in the vaulting, chandeliers reminiscent of phalanxes of space craft, a white-ribbed, blue ceiling to the nave, a red-encased organ, and some of the most beautiful stained glass windows (one by Burne-Jones) this side of that Undiscovered Country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, etc. (I said, I began the day in a dour mood).

Beyond its associations with John Knox and the Scottish Reformation, the real glory of Saint Giles' is a space called the Thistle Chapel or the Chapel of The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle – a lushly Edwardian feast for the heart and eyes.

A Gothic Revival jewel-box, small, abundantly enriched, reminding one of a reliquary, as indeed it is, but not of any saint's bones – for here the relics are Heraldry, Chivalry, Nobility, Sovereignty and Scottish History, interwoven with angels – some on the walls holding lamps, others holding symbols of the Christian Virtues, a cross for Faith, an anchor for Hope, a heart for Charity, and one, most fittingly, blowing the bagpipes. Atop most of the pinnacles surmounting the stalls, nineteen in all – one for the sovereign, two for accompanying royals and sixteen for the Knights and Ladies of the Order – are Knights' crests which correspond to a stallplate in the stall. Some are wonderfully tacky though, having said that, I realize that modern taste has nothing to do with heraldry.

The ceiling, breathtaking in its complexity – lierne-vaults encrusted with bosses, almost a hundred of them, with the five largest ones representing the Royal Arms, Saint Giles and his hind, the Badge of the Order of the Thistle, Saint Andrew (patron saint of the Order) with his saltire, and the Pelican (ancient symbol of Christ's sacrifice), all placed along the central spine – is, despite the difference in scale, as beautiful as that of Saint George's, Windsor Castle which I'd visited but days before.

I could go on all day describing details of The Thistle Chapel. Suffice to say, if you are in Edinburgh or closeby, take the detour and take the time to sit and and marvel.

"Hip and happening" is a phrase that makes my heart sink, for it means only one thing to me – noise. Nonetheless, hip and happening is where we were at, as it were, and I must say the Hotel Missoni – despite one night being woken by Breughel-like howling and singing from Victoria Street below the window – is where I would stay on a return visit to Edinburgh. Incidentally, we ate the best Italian food at the hotel restaurant (I cannot say the best Italian food in Edinburgh because other than lunching at The New Club we ate all meals in the hotel. It was that good.)

I am conscious I need to catch up on replying to comments to the last post, and I shall. The only excuse I have for tardiness is that last week we took a last-minute trip across the Atlantic – business for the Celt, pleasure for us both.