26 February 2009

Your Own Private Karl

If you were in the tents during Fashion Week, you may have espied the great Kaiser Karl and thought to yourself, "My, he's taken his diet to an extreme." But fear not, it was the pocket-size Karl LagerFELT making the rounds, escorted by Project Runway alumnus Jack Mackenroth.

With my lovely editor Isabel Venero and designer and author of Tartan JeffreyBanks...

Only front row for Karl - natürlich...

Kit from PR gives Karl leather pants....

Two of my favorite men....

Click here for more of Karl Lagerfelt....

25 February 2009

The Park Avenue Armory: An Aesthetic Movement Moment

If your last name was Harriman, Belmont, or Schermerhorn in the 19th century, you were probably a member of the Seventh Regiment, a volunteer militia of the National Guard who were the first to answer Lincoln's call-to-arms. This silver stocking brigade was culled from the top echelons of New York society and as the Manhattan swells continued to push the northern boundaries of the city uptown to escape the masses, they brought their Armory with them to Park Avenue between East 66th and 67th street.

As much a gentleman's club as a venue for drill and rifle practice, this sanctum of the elite was lavishly kitted out between 1877-79 by the same decorators that created the opulent interiors of their own homes: Louis Comfort Tiffany, Stanford White, Herter Brothers and others.

Today many of these schemes are intact and are rare survivals of the American masters of the Aesthetic Movement - which isn't to say that in some cases they aren't hidden under layers of paint and not in need of extensive excavation and restoration. Lucky for us, they are in the hands of the Conservancy of the Park Avenue Armory, who are approaching their mission of preserving this important piece of history with erudition and sensitivity.

The Veterans Room, better known as the Tiffany Room, was decorated by Louis Comfort Tiffany, Associated Artists, and architecture by a young Stanford White and is the most expensive room in the building. Although they are cropped out of the picture, used wallpaper rollers were used for the capitals of the columns flanking the fireplace above. Armchairs and spitoons furnished the room which was used by older members as a lounge. Metallic paint and upholstery (by Candace Wheeler) ensured that this room glittered and gleamed in the flickering gaslight.

The very top photo is a detail of the frieze that ran around the perimeter of the room and tells the story of soldiers through the ages set between tracery incorporating the weapons of the respective period.

In the hallway they recently cleaned the paneled wainscoting (above) and found an inset Congressional medal of honor dating back to the Civil War buried under layers of wax. Hanging above is the portrait of the honored Colonel. Our guide noted that the Regiment loved to put brass dedicatory plaques on everything, even radiators!

Next to the Tiffany Room is the Library which then became the Trophy Room....

The basket-weave painted ceiling by Stanford White was probably originally a salmon-color which would have evoked the sunset in the gaslight.

The glass trophy cases were originally filled with books with sliding lattice screens, like this last remaining one.

The ladies reception room labeled the Mary Divver room and the work of the Herter Brothers is paneled with paler prettier maple - elsewhere the more manly mahogany and oak were employed.

Its fireplace has tiles recounting scenes from the Arthurian legends. All the fireplaces in the building had beautiful tiled surrounds and floors.

The Herter Brothers also did the sensational Commanders Room. The turquoise walls are handpainted with gilt daisies, and the ceiling retains much of its original decoration.

Upstairs are the company rooms. The Seventh Regiment had 10 companies in the 19th century - A though K (J was excluded because it looked too much like I and could cause confusion on the battlefield). Each company took great pains to decorate its own room.

Company K was by far the richest company. They turned to Sidney Stratton of McKim, Mead and White who chose the Queen Anne style with sumptuous oak and mahogany paneled lockers.

The room leads to a balcony looking over the drill room - which is now used throughout the year for art and antique shows...

Company H's room by the Herter Brothers....

Company G's room....

With its fabulous armor chandelier by Mitchell Vance and Co.

Click here for more information on the Armory. Many thanks to the Institute of Classical Architecture for arranging the tour.

Photos by author

23 February 2009

Eltham Palace: A Deco Delight

While researching RR and looking for examples of Deco Greco interiors, I came across the sensationally jazzy Eltham Palace (pronounced El - tem). Located a convenient short train ride from London, this is a stately home unlike any other and well worth the trip.

Virginia and Stephen Courtauld, the swelligant couple in the portrait above with their lemur Mah-Jongg, purchased the medieval palace in the 1930s and set out to build a high style modern residence with the most up-to-date domestic technology AND conserve the remains of the 15th century Great Hall constructed by Edward IV.

Stephen was an heir to the vast family fortune based on the manufacturing of rayon and Ginie was a vivacious Italian with a tattoo of a snake on her ankle. Together they were lovers of the arts, animals, and architecture.

Upon entering the house, there is a gentlemen and ladies cloakroom to the left and right - just as if one had arrived at a trendy boite de nuit. Once visitors disposed of their sables and minks, they entered what English Heritage now calls the Entrance Hall, but Phenomenally Chic Cocktail Party Room may be a more apt description.

The Australian blackbean-veneered walls are inlaid by Swedish artist Rolf Engstromer with a Roman and Viking soldier standing sentry by the door along with with the Cortaulds' favorite buildings from across Europe. Replicas of the original round Marian Dorn carpet and furniture by Engstromer complete the swanky setting.

The dining room adjoins....

where we see the imprint of Italian decorator Peter Malacrida who invoked here the Deco Greco interior I included in RR.

Down a hallway is Stephen's handsome library....

The "Indian mahogany" paneling was ingeniously designed as vertically sliding shutters to accomodate Stephen's collection of watercolors and other topographical works.

Stephen abhorred the telephone so he made sure that this one - which only made internal calls - could be concealed.

Upstairs is Virginia's spectacular bedroom...
and her ensuite bath....
complete with gold-plated taps. The scent of gardenias - Ginie's fave - perfumed the air. Stephen's bedroom, by contrast, is much smaller and far less grand.

Jonggy's quarters are also on the second (or first floor for my British readers) floor. A bamboo ladder down to the floor below gave the Cortauld's beloved lemur freedom to move about and bamboo forest scenes were sensitively painted by a Miss G E Whinfield.

One of the highlights of the visit is the Venetian guest suite

so-called after the 1780's Venetian paneling that was incorporated into the scheme. Today it is set up as a screening room where visitors can watch delightful home movies of the Cortauld's with their friends and exotic pets.
Afterwards, enjoy the stunning gardens where you are invited to picnic, and by all means explore the gift shop which has many divinely Deco items including my favorite tea towel ever.

All photos courtesy of English Heritage

19 February 2009

Nina Campbell Gets her Groove on

Was I the only whose mouth was agog while looking at the pictures of Nina Campbell's latest residence in the April issue of Domino?

If All that Glitters is Gold, then Nina is 24 karat (which in this economy is one of the only things holding its value).

I have been a long-time fan of Campbell's decorating and her book The Art of Decoration is one I turn to again and again. As an alumna of Colefax and Fowler, she decorated her flat at the time (1996) in typical glorious English Country House style, with chintzes, glazed walls, lots of books and bric-a-brac - which have all been thrown over in her new digs for a more moderne, swanky look.

To have built such a prolific career obviously demands dedication and long hours - and most likely, she held back from all nighters at Studio 54 and Annabel's (the latter of which she decorated). But now, in her sixties, the English Doyenne of Decorating is wearing heart-shaped glasses and kicking up her heels ....proving that life only gets better with age. Brava, Nina!

Her sitting room in 2004.... already moving away from the cluttered C&F look...

in 1996...
An earlier arrangement

Her bedroom now...
In 1996....

And a bit earlier....

Photos #1, 2, 3, 7 by Bill Batten for Domino; #5, 6, 8, 9 from The Art of Decoration

16 February 2009

Film Decor: Easy Living

The dazzling sets of this Mitchell Leisen romantic comedy are guaranteed to transport you away from all your worries, just as it did for audiences in 1937 at the height of the Great Depression. Some considered Leisen more a window dresser than an auteur, and certainly his days as an art director resulted in extraordinarily chic sets, including the über-haute hotel suite in Easy Living, co-starring Jean Arthur and Ray Milland.

Easy Living opens with millionaire J.B. Ball in an outrage over his wife's profligate spending, so much so that he tosses her newest sable coat out the window and into the arms of working girl Mary Smith. Mary in turn gets fired by the magazine where she works on account of the sensational sable they believe she has immorally acquired.

Mrs. J.B. Ball giving chase through her bedroom with the sable that will soon soar down from their penthouse aerie.

Not down on her luck for long, Mary is mistaken for Ball's mistess and given the premiere suite at the Hotel Louis Louis to reside in.

The Entrance....presided over by two Classical busts and a magical Murano glass sculpture atop a rather fantastic center table.

Two Views of the Main Sitting Room...a confectionery of blanc de blanc

The Bedroom....with intriguing trellis-mounted ceiling and walls

12 February 2009

The Del Rio - Gibbons House: Made for black and white?

In Hollywood, if what you're doing is not in front of the camera, what's the point?

No one knew better how to design for the screen than MGM Art Director Cedric Gibbons and the house he built for himself and movie star wife Dolores Del Rio was custom-made for a cinematic life. (Unfortunately, it wasn't enough for real life as they divorced in 1941.)

This 1930s masterpiece of Deco has all the high style flourishes we would hope for: mirrors everywhere, shiny surfaces gratis of a polished black rubber floor, and mysterious zig-zag walls and staircases that hint at glamorous intrigues. I firmly believe that this house was made to be seen in black and white - which was how everything was photographed in the 1930s. (Click here and here for a fascinating post from Mrs. Blandings about seeing rooms in b&w vs. color.)

Compare these period photographs when CG and DDR lived here to the house in the 1980s when owned by Adelle and Ira Yellin to now as decorated by Michael Smith for movie producer Joe Roth. What do you think?

In 1980.... photographed by the genius Derry Moore for the book The Dream Come True: Great Houses of Los Angeles (which I just rushed out and bought after reading Nick Harvill's book list for The Peak of Chic)

Derry also captured some of the rooms in b&w:

In the hands of Michael Smith, courtesy of Scott Frances for Architectural Digest....

Some may think Smith an unlikely choice for this Deco time capsule, but I think he acquitted himself well. However, I might have not as put as much furniture in the room above....