Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rustic Chic

We spent part of the weekend in Highlands NC, at our friends' cabin. A simple, rustic place it is not; architecturally, it might resemble the log cabins the Finns introduced to America but the kinship isn't close. Wise enough to leave the structure as they found it, and knowing only too well the so-called mountain style available locally, our friends employed a young Atlanta designer, Niki Papadopoulos, to furnish and decorate the place. No easy job, I think, given client's requirements, budget, and the physical limitations of a two-story cabin (placement of doors, hallways, etc., ) but it is a successful one. There's nothing even faintly resembling an "Orkney" chair or any other form of rusticity (one exception is a belated housewarming gift of a fox doll given by a friend which perches on the fireplace against the frame of a beloved painting by the late mother of one of the owners), and certainly nothing that indicates any understanding of straw (see below). 

One of life's pleasures, and one so easily forgotten when one lives in a high-rise, is a Saturday morning on the sofa reading in front of a fire. My friend David had the Sotheby's catalogue of Mrs Paul Mellon's Jewels and Objects of Vertu which for him, as a jewelry designer and certified gemologist, is of great interest. I find objects of vertu endlessly fascinating though I am not given to whole troves of them spread out over our table tops, but two of Mrs Mellon's caught my eye. One, the tri-color gold box resembling overlapping oak leaves by Verdura and the second, a gold, gem-set and enamel table ornament in the form of a pomegranate, also by Verdura. I could clear a surface or two for those.

Mrs Paul Mellon, repeatedly, whilst alive and despite an indomitable guarding of her privacy, was epitomized as a nonpareil of taste and, now that we can see some of her interiors, she seems to have enjoyed large pleasant, conventional and discrete rooms – so ordinary unstudied, in fact, some people are hard-pressed to find anything spectacular about them and are reduced to making quite silly statements about her. Before you read the following from Miles Redd, let me say I have nothing against understanding straw, settees, (even when pronounced settays), "Orkney" chairs or, even, Mr Redd.

"Someone very grand  once told me that it takes a lot of style to understand straw, and I do believe Mrs Mellon almost invented that notion. To be able to see the rustic chic in an Orkney chair and then walk to the other side of the street and appreciate the refined curves of the gilt and chalk Settee takes a special eye, and she had it."

The Orkney chair – given its present-day form in the late nineteenth-century. The original developed in circumstances in which these modern-day extollers of "rustic chic' would be horrified to find themselves. 

In conclusion: who would not wish to have had time in Mrs Mellon's library, browsing her books and, taking advantage of her hospitality, read at leisure as fancy struck. I, for one, would have loved it.

Sotheby's Auction Lot 930 A Scottish Pine and Rushwork 'Orkney' Chair
Estimate $200 - 250

Sotheby's Auction Lot 42 An 18 Karat Tri-Color Gold and Colored Diamond Box, Verdura
Estimate $15,000 - 20,000

Sotheby's Auction Lot 39 A Gold Gem-set and Enamel Table Ornament, Verdura
Estimate $10,000 - 15,000

Photographs of Mrs Mellon's tricolor gold box, pomegranate table ornament, and books from the catalogue.


  1. Oh how I do love your blog; you just tell it like it is and I heartily agree, even on the points you just hint at so drolly ;-). The post you link to made me want to stab my eyes out with a very long dull fork.
    I admire Mrs Mellon because there could have been enormous pressure on her to be a style setter -and instead she was herself and lived as she liked. Her rooms weren't meant to impress (obviously as they weren't published until after her death) but rather were comfortable spaces to spend time and as you say read a good book or have a cup of tea (which based on the interiors catalog she was fond of doing). I think people could learn a lot from the interiors relaxed air which I appreciate. It's not often one finds relaxed interiors with such important pieces.
    The box you highlight is so beautiful, but then again I just love anything 'fall'.

    1. ArchitectDesign, thank you. I had a good laugh when I read those comments about Mrs Mellon's style. I wonder if we'll find "it takes a lot of style to understand straw" embroidered on pillows?

      The box is magical, isn't it? In the catalogue there's a whole row of the pomegranates – imagine those marching down the centre of a candle-lit dining table.

  2. Some rusticity can be found in that marvel of a fireplace. I also very much appreciate the painting. From what I can tell of it, it is very good even without the added sentimental value it has being by your friend's mother.

    1. gésbi, thank you. I owe you so many replies, one way or the other – bear with me. The fireplace came with the cabin and is one of the better of its kind. I like the painting too. My friend's mother was a talented woman judging by her work at his place in town.

  3. After seeing images of the interiors of Mrs. Mellon's house, I was reminded of how much effort is often put into making a house look like something expected of the rich. Ralph Lauren comes to mind, with rooms looking overwrought and stuffed with aesthetic stereotypes. In contrast, Mrs. Mellon, with enough wealth to make King Midas feel inferior, achieved rooms that look elegantly simple, livable, and personal. How refreshing to see someone with the self-assurance that only occurs among the truly monied...Like you, I would have loved to have had tea in that incredible library, full of books she actually read, studied, and loved. Quite a contrast to Mrs. Astor's red library with its rows of unread leather-bound sets. Mrs. Mellon was a rare character from a bygone age.
    Mrs. S.

    1. Mrs S, thank you. Ralph Lauren's rooms epitomize the overwrought and the stereotypical – as they must being the exemplars of salesmanship they are. I have never found any of that company's room sets attractive nor, for that matter, its clothing – I despise visible logos.

      I agree about the contrast with Mrs Astor's library, glamorous though it was – Mrs Mellon's was a working library and one feels she knew everything in it.

  4. "Wise enough to leave the structure as they found it". How very too rarely we see that phrase anymore in this era of 'gimme more, gimme lots of it, and get rid of whatever is already there' (I'm still depressed about the demolition of the Loring House at Pride's Crossing by a vacuum cleaner magnate).

    As to 'understanding straw', I'm going to hazard that many others, a company as diverse of Eugenia Arrazuiz and Nancy Lancaster, understood straw long before Mrs. Mellon, no? And even as I posit this, i think of a divine colonial house here in Maine, whose very sophisticated and understated interiors done up in the very early 1900s depend on straw matting for essential contrast to the rest of the decoration

    1. Ah, you must be talking about lovely Hamilton House -- those are remarkable interiors.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. It was pointed out to me, kindly and politely, that the removed comment above made no sense as, indeed, it did not because of one missing letter.

      My comment thanked both Nick Heywood and the Down East Dilettante for their comments and also I would look for photographs of the Hamilton House interiors.