30 March 2009

Los Angeles April 7 Lecture: What IS Hollywood Regency?

Tuesday, April 7, 11am
Regency Redux Lecture & Book Signing
SilverScreen Theater, G291
8687 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA
RSVP - Lynda Brenner 310-360-6418

"Hollywood Regency" has become a label much used by the design industry, but few seem to know exactly what it means. Design historian Emily Evans Eerdmans will discuss the historical Regency style and how it was restyled by Hollywood's art directors in the twentieth century to create bold and glamorous settings - often on a dime.

27 March 2009

The Death of Quality

There's been much talk about the shuttering of various shelter magazines - the collapse of Domino most notably stunned and saddened many. In an overcrowded market, one could assert that a correction is taking place and that the fittest and most desirable will be still standing once this recession-depression is over. However when it's the cream of the crop that's evaporating instead of the powdered milk, one wonders if the problem doesn't lie elsewhere.

A similar winnowing is going on in the English antiques trade. The rule of thumb has always been that when times are tough, the demand for middling goods disappears while there will always be a demand for the best. (This was borne out by the YSL sale recently.) Over the past few years however, several of the top English furniture dealers have closed their doors - even the leader of the pack, Mallett, has recently staged a coup d'etat, ousting long-term director Lanto Synge for a younger director who will promote their contemporary furniture line Meta.

The latest casualty is Norman Adams, founded in 1923, and the remnants of their collection will be offered by Sotheby's London this April.

Why this is particularly sad is that the institutional knowledge that has been passed down through the generations is disappearing. This struck me again after watching Valentino: The Last Emperor. The loss of Valentino to the couture trade means the slender threads connecting fashion to its past traditions of Dior and beyond are even more tenuous.

So why is it that quality is no guarantee of survival? Perhaps it is that tastes have so radically changed that the outmoded must disappear and when the pendulum swings back, a new crop of dealers, designers, et al will find their way. Perhaps it is that we are becoming less educated and appreciative of craftsmanship and materials, instead prefering the thrill of the easy and often acquisition over something more substantial and costly.

In the case of the media, when even a magazine very much in demand like Domino can't survive, something more seismic seems to be afoot. Clearly the business model of relying on ad revenues isn't sustainable, but would it be enough to charge more for a subscription? Even though blogs are here to stay - constant and instantaneous information flow as well as a sense of community are two major factors, they can't replace the high production values of magazines unless they too started paying photographers and writers.

House and Garden was one of the first shelter magazines, launched in 1901. It was closed for the second time in 2007.

What do you think? Will all magazines become virtual? Would you pay to subscribe to a blog?

Top image of the Execution of Marie Antoinette

26 March 2009

The Loop Chair Update

Gather your pennies - this may be your only chance to own a pair of bona fide Frances Elkins loop chairs. In the Sotheby's New York In Celebration of the English Country House sale on April 9th, all four of the extant documented Elkins loop chairs will be on the block.

Click here to read more or here to bid.

Sold as pairs - lots 84 and 85 - circa 1934, each with an estimate of $6000-$8000.

You may see a pair of white ones for sale at Doyle New York attributing them to Frances Elkins. Caveat emptor: they do not have the dipped seat and they are not documented! If you're after the look alone, then the estimate is a friendlier $1200-1800.
UPDATE: Each pair of Elkins Loop chairs sold for $5938 (including buyers premium) at the April 9, 2009 Sotheby's New York sale. A very good buy.

23 March 2009

Do you care about houses?

Illustrious biographer of interior decoration Mario Praz divided people into two camps: those who care about the appearance of their homes and those who don't.
Praz elaborates:
"I am suspicious of the taste of a professor of Italian literature who can dwell under the same roof with a living room 'suite' in the most rickety Liberty style. I imagine that he must feel towards Petrarch the same indifference that allows him to tolerate such a desecration."

and explains:
"...'tell me how your house looks and I'll tell you who you are'...For a man may realize the impossibility of giving any grace or elegance to his external appearance, even with the aid of the most expert tailor, and he may therefore give up dressing with care; but he can always, even if he is deformed, project about himself his ideal of harmony and beauty so that his spirit may be constantly reflected in it."

What say you? If you are reading this, then chances are you are in the camp that cares about houses, but is this a fair classification? For my part, I find Praz' passion for interiors reassuring in knowing that I'm not alone in giving a lot of mental space to a subject many find frivolous.

Excerpts from An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration; all images of the Museo Mario Praz, Rome, Italy by Massimo Listri

"You can go to Sears-Roebuck for a self welt!"

So said a friend as she was advising me on the recovering of several items. Gimp, fringe, tape, cord, tassels - the world of passementerie can be an overwhelming one to navigate, but it is these details which can transform a plain Jane chair into a Zsa Zsa Gabor.

While revisiting the Safra sales catalogue last week, I remembered how struck I was by the beautifully detailed upholstery when viewing the sale at Sotheby's a few years ago. As I am increasingly in a Castaing frame of mind, it is probably no surprise that I'm responding to the many Napoleon III touches Mrs. Safra and her decorator Howard Slatkin adopted.

Here are a few for your pleasure....

a set of 6 Directoire painted and parcel gilt chairs

Mid 19th Italian Painted and Parcel Gilt Stool in the form of a chaise longue

20 March 2009

Le Style Safra

So Empress Bianca is now on her fourth husband and they have just moved to New York where she is determined to climb her way to the loftiest heights of high society. Her first step is to acquire a twenty-four room duplex on Fifth Avenue in one of the best buildings. She then picks up one of the sharpest weapons in her arsenal , decorator Valerian Rybar, with whom she forms "one of the most compelling relationships of her life." Besides providing Bianca with a suitably opulent backdrop from which to realize her social ambitions, Valerian gives her the skinny on everyone worth knowing and all the things they did to become so.

Naturally, my curiosity was aroused as to who was the Valerian Rybar to Lily Safra, the alleged real-life Bianca. The answer is Howard Slatkin about whom I know very little, except that he is very exclusive, very discreet, and has impeccable taste (and that his brother Harry has a scented candle line).

Below are several rooms he did for the Safras in various residences - all photographed by Fitz von der Schulenberg for the Sotheby's 2005 sales catalogue of the property of Lily and her late husband Edmond J. Safra.

This room looks as if one were meant to just pass through. It seems a bit cold, but the pair of side tables were too fantastic to not show you.

I initially found the dining room wall color a surprising choice, but by candlelight it probably glows. Billy Baldwin loved brown walls for entertaining as they are warm and flattering.

Although it is all undoubtedly exquisite, I prefer more color and a little less perfection - what do you think?

18 March 2009

Lessons from Empress Bianca

I have been so enjoying Mrs. Blandings' recent posts on the New York apartment of Diana Vreeland. This made me contemplate taking up needlework, and this made me reconsider ceramic Spaniels, that old WASP standby.

But when I read that much of DV's collection was given as gifts by her friends and admirers, who were surely legion in number, I thought - what I am doing wrong?!

That very night the answer came to me in the pages of Lady Colen Campbell's delectable page-turner Empress Bianca (buy it this week from Potterton for 25% off!) - Bianca knows that half the pleasure in giving is seeing how delighted the recipient is by your efforts. And can't you just imagine how thrilling it would be to be thanked by DV - she no doubt thanked with gusto and flair. A proper thank you in fact is a gift in itself, which is why hand-written notes will never go out of style.

N.B. Bianca's philosophy of thanking includes being enthusiastic even if you don't love the gift - it's not about the gift, tell yourself, it's the gesture. Eventually they'll give you something you really do like - a priceless diamond demi-parure, anyone? - and it will all be worth the while! Empress Bianca is full of all sorts of helpful tips, particularly if you're looking for advice on how to get away with murder in Mexico or Monaco...

16 March 2009

Mad For: Pagoda Pelmets

John Fowler often advised clients to "pig it in" in a new residence before they started decorating thereby allowing time for the space to tell them what it wanted. After a year and a half in our Brooklyn Heights digs, the living room is insisting on a pair of pagoda pelmets and it's time to comply.

One of our naked windows

The pagoda, most often associated with Chinese architecture, is a multi-tiered building used as a place of worship or as a reliquary for sacred objects. Below is a replica of a Chinese pagoda in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

It was designed in the mid 18th century by Sir William Chambers who actually visited China and adhered more faithfully to the Chinese aesthetic than his contemporaries. Today, most people associate this period of English chinoiserie with furniture maker Thomas Chippendale whose designs are unbridled confections of fantasy - rather than replications.

A mid 18th century japanned pagoda display cabinet, maker unknown, at Uppark House

Virtuoso overdoor carving, c. 176os, by the sublimely named Luke Lightfoot at Claydon House. John Fowler advised on its restoration.

Pagoda pelmets fall most definitely in the latter category and the more over the top, the better - as far as I'm concerned.

Decorator to the stars Billy Haines designed these pelmets for a client in the 1930s...

In the Lake Forest dining room of the Leslie Wheeler house, Frances Elkins installed these mustard-yellow curtains with white plaster valances in 1934....

Haines designed a modified pagoda-form here for the Garden Room at Winfield House, London for US Ambassdor Walter Annenberg in 1969. Love the detail of the tassels at the ends.

Who does OTT better than Diamond and Barratta?

Traditionalists with a twist Brockschmidt and Coleman winningly paired their pelmets with a festoon shade. I'm going to follow their lead, but with an Austrian instead!

Top Photo, a bedroom by Miles Redd - the blue walls with white curtains is so Butterfield 8

12 March 2009

March Madness Sale at Potterton Books NY

What: the creme de la creme of design books but for less: 25% percent off new titles and 10% or more off rare and out-of-print titles

Where: Potterton Books New York in the lobby of the D&D Building, 979 3rd Avenue between East 58th and 59th - but you can call too! 212.644.2292

When: Starting Monday, March 16 through the 20th, 9:30am to 5:30pm

Why: Because a beautiful book can take you to far-away places for a lot less than a plane ticket. Because it's important to support local bookstores. Because it's on sale! Because you've always wanted a copy of Vogue's Book of Houses, Gardens, & People*, or Empress Bianca, the (alleged!) expose on Lily Safra, whose first printing was pulped because of its scandalous content.

The dynamic duo Beth Daugherty, Potterton NY's managing director, and Melissa Dixson in their lair

My guru of trims Beth Martell cooling her heels while enjoying Carleton Varney's latest on our recent fringe and raffia reconnaissance mission

*SOLD as of 3/18

11 March 2009

Villa Fontanelle: Versace's chateau de Guermantes

I must admit that when the Sotheby's sales catalogue of the contents of Gianni Versace's Lake Como house arrived last week, I didn't tear it open. In fact, it took a good few days to get around to it and even then I approached it with reluctance.

Much to my surprise and delight, instead of being assaulted by brash clear colors and over-the-top gilt and gilt-mounted furniture suites, my eyes took in a restrained - although very high style - villa that was right up my alley (although maybe not so many nudes).

Built by Lord Charles Currie who was so enamoured by Italy that he took up Italian citizenship, the house is in the neoclassical style but as seen through the prism of an English mi'lord. Versace set out to furnish it sympathetically with Empire period and inspired pieces.

Two Views of the Salon

My interest was further piqued by the introduction - unsigned but presumably by Donatella - which notes that Gianni called it "a Proust house", one full of memories, sensations, and feelings, which of course made me think of Madeleine Castaing who even kept of photo of the author in her library . Who knows - perhaps she sold Versace some of his Napoleon III pieces?!

The Library

A Landing - a Rex Whistler-esque moment of whimsy

Amusing. Either that little boy is two feet tall or the mustachioed painter has giantism.

The Dining Room

Smashing. The dining table below is loosely based on a table in the bedroom of Caroline Murat, the Queen of Naples, in the Elysee Palace, and now in the Trianon (estimate: $8,900 - 14,800)

Another dining room....

Gianni's Bedroom

I think I like the wall-covering - what do you think?

A Guest Bedroom
The painting on the wall could inspire some home projects...

To die for. Truly an earthly paradise. Especially since George Clooney is probably nearby.