24 September 2009

Villa Bettencourt: Less is More when it's only the Best

On the few occasions I venture out of my monastic cell, invariably I'm asked what I think about the Banier-Bettencourt Brouhaha. For those of you not familiar with the current court case involving the photographer François-Marie Banier and the billions of the richest woman in Europe (and heiress to the L'Oreal fortune) Mme Andre Bettencourt, read here.

This isn't the first time Banier's friendships with older women have stirred controversy. In fact, it was reported in the French press that Madeleine Castaing's family were asked to testify on behalf of the prosecution. Banier befriended MC in the '60s and they became inseparable - forming what her biographer Jean-Noel Liaut called a Harold and Maude relationship. In her last moments, Banier captured MC, who was always very particular about her appearance, sans perruque - ruffling many feathers.

This summer while trolling the Strand, I came across photos of Mme Bettencourt's villa outside of Paris in the Architectural Digest book International Interiors. I don't know about you, but I was more than a little curious to see what the wealthiest woman in Europe's residence looked like.

The villa, conceived in the Classical style, was built in 1951 - a rarity in a time when the wounds from WWII were still healing and few had resources to expend on residential architecture.

Besides the priceless sculpture and paintings we would expect to find in such an exalted domain, sumptuous furniture commissioned by Mme Bettancourt's father from the Art Deco maestro Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann enrich the cooly elegant and restrained interiors created by interior designer Serge Royaux.

The Rotunda: Even the piano is by Ruhlmann! Royaux, whose disdain for superfluity much appealed to Madame, designed the large semi-circular sofa.

Photos by Pascal Hinous

16 September 2009

Mirabile dictum: Virgil Thomson

"Dancers are auto-erotic and entirely without conversation."

So said Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) whose quick wit informed his dual careers as composer and music critic. Thomson lived a full and fascinating life and - lucky for us - described it all with delectable aplomb. For more, you could start here. (Many thanks to the brilliant GG for introducing me to Mr. Thomson.)

Photo: © Leonard de Raemy/Sygma/Corbis

14 September 2009

You are not a couch potato

Madame Recamier on an Empire-period couch, painted by David, c. 1800

You are a SOFA potato.

The couch is a form of bench used since ancient times. One could use it for lounging, dining, and sleeping. It was backless - although the Romans did use a version with a partial back - with one or two end supports.

Ancient Egyptian couch found in King Tutankhamun's tomb

The sofa on which you so love to sprawl while watching the Real Housewives on Bravo has a back and two armrests the same height. One of the earliest versions dating to the early 17th century is the so-called Knole sofa named after the eponymous Sackville ancestral home in Sevenoaks, Kent.

A Knole sofa at Upton House, Warwickshire

The Knole's high armrests, which dropped down for more comfortable snoozing, offered protection from drafts and are said to have provided privacy from the prying eyes of servants.

A duchesse brisée

One day I hope to be a duchesse brisée potato, which is a chaise longue (that's long chair, NOT chaise lounge!) with the foot end enclosed (which is just a duchesse) AND then brisée, i.e. broken into two or three parts: a bergère and footstool(s).

09 September 2009

Everywhere I look

is this dashing black lacquer and steel table by Jansen...

in the entrance hall-cum-dining room of Pierre and Suzy Delbeée's Avenue Foch apartment (see more courtesy of the Aesthete here)

this kitchen in France, 1950s...

in the dining room of the Prince and Princess Michelangelo Caetani...

and today, in the living room of decorator Sandra Nunnerley courtesy of NY Social Diary

Four very different rooms and it looks smashing in all of them. Now that's good design.

08 September 2009

Back to School

As you may have guessed, I have been crazy busy this past week preparing for my first classes at F.I.T. It's a wild experience being on the other side of the desk and one I take very seriously.

To get to know my students, I asked each one of them to share who their favorite interior designers are, and the results were interesting. The two names at the top of the heap? - drum roll -

Jamie Drake known for his fearless use of the rainbow in all its hues


the well-muscled David Bromstad of HG TV's Color Splash, whose show reminds us that most people are still living under the tyranny of white walls...

and after...

what all this means, my dears, is that Color is In. And what's more transformative (not to mention cheap) than a can of paint?

Watch David in action here or take a walk down shocking pink lane chez Mr. Drake courtesy of NY Social Diary

And who would YOU have said?

Top Photo: Room for 2007 Kip's Bay Showhouse by Drake Design Associates

01 September 2009

The EEE Carnet d'Addresses: Seamstress

Claudine Rahkar: my lady of the magic needles

Having worked for a top antiques dealer for years, I have accumulated a rolodex bursting with movers, refinishers, caners, and upholsterers - all of which I can recommend without question. My friends have long come to me for names and sources for the obscure (like a cobalt blue glass liner for a Georgian silver salt cellar) to the essential, and now I'd like to share it with you.

There could be no better way to launch this series than with Claudine Rahkar whose skills I've been putting to the test: shower curtain, bolster pillow, seat cushions, and the latest....

this table cover which has a front flap allowing me to access all the unsightly boxes and files I've stored below. $75 plus my own material.

For some one whose ambitions far exceed her pocketbook, Claudine has been a godsend. And just how did I find the divine Claudine? Craig's list!

Claudine may look young, but her fresh bloom and apple cheeks belie her years of experience. From the age of eight, Claudine was stitching away and eventually assisted her mother in the family business of shoulder pads and bra cups in their native Trinidad. Several years ago, they set up shop in New York and once the business was Claudine's own, she embraced her love of interior design and began sewing soft furnishings - and how!

Claudine is an avowed traditionalist and describes her own decorating style as French Country. And the book she turns to again and again for inspiration?