24 November 2009

Style and Substance: The Interiors of Maureen Footer

Whether you are going home for the holidays or staying in with a few friends, here is a visual repast to tuck into.

The work of interior designer Maureen Footer is something to savor - sumptuous, sensuous and substantive (no empty carbs here). When I first saw her blue and white tented room at Kip's Bay in 2005, it was an instant coup de foudre and I have been following her work closely ever since.

Upon meeting Maureen, one is struck by her elegance and the kind of impeccable manners that harken back to the days of starched monogrammed napkins and lunches at La Côte Basque. But what makes her endlessly fascinating in my books are her warmth and lively intelligence which are readily apparent in her rooms. Just see for yourself....

Maureen mixes the best of today and yesterday to smashing effect

Maureen was kind enough to let me grill her and share some of the secrets of la vie Footer. I hope you enjoy her thoughtful answers as much as I did.

One of the things I love about your work is that you're not afraid of color. Any general thoughts about how you like to use color?

Color and light create the emotional center of a space.

Color is the single most defining element of a space. In highly layered interiors reflecting elements of many eras, cultures and continents, modern pieces and modern conveniences (telephones, computers, and televisions, color brings unity to a room; color wraps around and embraces all in a harmonious cloak. I can’t imagine working without color.

A past rendition of Maureen's own apartment where the walls *glow*...complemented by the silver-sage and forest green of the knock-out verdure tapestry; her current scheme is chic, chic, chic - calling all magazines!

By the way, even white or beige can be a powerful unifying agent, but they must be used actively, with total commitment or they run the risk of looking like a default choice.

With a new project, where do you start? Do you build the room around one object, around a theme, a mood?

I start with the clients first of all: who are they, what they dream of attaining, what is their aspired life, what is the reality of their life , and what is the architecture they have handed me. With this in hand, I start to identify the mood we want to capture, then move on to defining a color scheme and drafting a design, including a furniture plan. After we establish this, the rest follows.

You have a deep appreciation and understanding of craftsmanship and design history - was there something in particular that inspired you to change careers and pursue design?

I have always been fascinated by interior space and how easily it can be transformed. As a girl I used to lie in bed and muse on my bedroom’s reflected ceiling plan and imagine living in my room upside down! I also continually rearranged every room in my mother’s house, to her amusement and the decorator’s chagrin.

As an investment banker at the age of 30, I was in Paris with my nose pressed against every dealer’s window in the Carré Rive Gauche. The eve of my departure from Paris I sat on the bed in my hotel room and realized my calling was to exercise that fascination with living space and make rooms for others that enrich their lives.

When you return to Paris, what are your must-stops?

Still, my old neighborhood of the 7th arrondisement and the Carré Rive Gauche are my touchstones.

a canapé chez Galerie Anne-Marie Monin

I often start with a stroll on the Quai Voltaire, with stops at Chevalier for tapestries, Anne-Marie Monin for her unerring chic eye, and of course Le Voltaire, the charming restaurant. I love Christian Béalu of J.M. Béalu & Fils and Marc Perpitch at Galerie Perpitch on the Rue de Bac. Both have a unique point of view: Bealu with porcelain and perfect sober 18th century pieces, Perpitch with items from the Louis XIII and Louis XIV époques, tapestries, walnut tables, vasques, etc. Every dealer on the Rue de Lille and Rue de Beaune harbor absolute gems too. Further down the Seine there is, of course , Kugel.

Do you have a favorite period style?

For years my answer would be the period of Louis XV. It was a sophisticated, intellectually curious, and lighthearted time relative to the more rigid, formal era of Louis XIV and the deeply troubled time of Louis XVI. I can’t look at the furniture of the Louis XVI era, even some exquisite piece by Riesener, without feeling a foreboding of events to come. Louis XIV design is grand and balanced, but lacks the joie de vivre so inherent in the time of Louis XV.

The era was aesthetically defined by the elegant Madame de Pompadour, a cultivated, witty, lady of letters (protector of Voltaire, commissioner of the first encyclopedia); patron of the arts (champion of Gabriel, the great architect, commissioner of Le Trianon) and intellectual force behind the French dissemination of the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which engendered the Neoclassical era.

Louis XV design was characterized by the use of the sensual French curve, the rocaille. Rooms became more intimate and scaled to human life, more suitable to conversation, intellectual exchange, and human interaction. We find the loveliest, most optimistic colors during this time—the beautiful roses, blues, greens that we still see mirrored in Sevrès porcelain.

Furniture responded to the rooms and social climate, becoming smaller, more luxurious, more comfortable, more adapted to human use. The design elements were just perfect-- marquetry is exquisitely rendered and fanciful, often floral or the elegant diaper (aka lattice) pattern; ormolu mounts are curvy, flowing, sensual . How can you not adore a period which produced Bernard van Risenburgh, Vandercruse-dit-La Croix, and Migeon, the most restrained, elegant craftsman of all?

Maureen's Migneon commode - one of her favorite pieces in her own collection (if unfairly asked to choose!)

And yet suddenly I am drawn to the 17th century Roman palazzo and its interiors.

Art and design in Rome have always been such reflections of the cosmopolitan influences that continually have shaped Rome . In the 17th century, baroque Rome attained a golden age. Rome was the center of the political, art, religious, intellectual and commercial world. There was no more worldly, sophisticated, sensual, adaptive design than what we see in Rome at this time.

the inlaid marble floor at the Pantheon

When I was in Rome this summer visiting friends at the American Academy, I couldn’t stop looking at Roman floors---at the Villa d’Este, the churches of Il Gesu, Borromini’s elegant San Carlo alle Quatro Fontane, the Pantheon --they encapsulated all that Roman history in their very design, their sources of material, their grandeur and again, a sensous delight in life. Stay tuned…this is very much in my current thoughts on design!

Do you have a favorite historical house?

Madame de Pompadour’s Chateau de Champs-sur-Marne.

It is light, carefree, elegant, beautifully scaled and not at all pompous. And it has some of the most charming singerie panels I have ever seen. I just love those monkeys imitating courtiers—they represent the ultimate in light-hearted sophisticated self-deprecation.

Who are your style/design icons?

Are you surprised if I say Madame de Pompadour? Also Madame de Montespan for her famous sumptuous looks combined with her celebrated diction and wit.

More recent icons are Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s sister, for her joyous, all-encompassing approach to life and interiors.

Vanessa Bell painted by Duncan Grant

I was also smitten when I saw photos of Jackie Kennedy’s Georgetown house in the 1950s in the Sotheby’s catalogue for her sale;the house had the warm, off-hand, layered grace that makes a successful room.

Ava Gardner's Madrid apartment by George Stacey

I researched George Stacey a few years ago for a project I was working on and was so impressed with his use of enveloping color, his Titian-like addition of strong colors to create drama, his love of painted furniture, gilded wood, and his erudite selection of French and Italian furniture. If I were to write a book, it might have to be on the talented Mr. Stacey.

You also worked at Vogue. Do you see a connection between fashion and interior design?

I think interiors are like clothes. They are highly personal—even, intimate—reflections of the individual, who they are, where their life has taken them, how they view themselves, what they value. At best, clothes and interiors enhance and enable life to be lived at its fullest, effortlessly, elegantly.

You're always beautifully dressed - is there a certain designer you like?

Yves Saint Laurent—vintage and some of the new designs by the brilliant Stefano Pilati. Also Italians—Prada, Moschino and Valentino have produced other go-to pieces in my current closet.

Pilati's recent take on YSL's classic Le Smoking

There are of course the non-designer essentials, too—J Crew, Tretorns, 3 Dot t-shirts.

And finally - am dying to know - you are one of the busiest people I know - how do you stay so energized and balanced???

Life is like design. The best things come when you can find that quiet interior space to edit, to distill to the important and essential, from the extraneous.

I am always trying to find those moments---in the drawing studio, with early mornings in Central Park, sometimes in my kitchen preparing food for friends, in quiet hours in my apartment to read and muse. When I can find these moments, I can do all those other wonderful, fun things with more focus and pleasure.

(Maureen also doesn't own a television which no doubt helps keep the mind uncluttered.)

I thought I would end the piece with Maureen's logo - called an herisson (translating to "hedgehog"). It was taken from an 18th century French typeface and used to close paragraphs, chapters, etc.


22 November 2009

"What's wrong with this picture?"

...scrawled my Uncle Mame on this photo of Maryalice Huggins whose book on the stupendous Aesop's Fable mirror behind her was charmingly profiled in the New York Times here.

It took me a minute...

Photo by Erik Jacobs for The New York Times

20 November 2009

toot, toot, toot went my horn

I was astonished and tickled pink to be included in one of my favorite magazine's "Top Four Design Forces" feature.... Thank you, House Beautiful!

Like fellow "accessorator" Iris Apfel says, put everything on and then add one more thing!

17 November 2009

Trompe Foolery

Lady Diana Cooper by Derry Moore

After seeing Lady West's yachting cap homage to the great Diana Cooper here, yours truly just had to show off and remark on the Rex Whistler painted decoration behind her which I had seen before and included in Regency Redux.

Duff and Diana Cooper's London flat decorated by Sibyl Colefax, 1937

Well, Ms. Know-it-all was a little hasty - as Toby Worthington kindly pointed out, the trompe l'oeil trophies in the Derry Moore portrait were done by Martin Battersby in the 1950s for the Coopers' French chateau in Chantilly and later relocated to London.

Battersby was a one-time assistant to the hyper-competitive Cecil Beaton who was no doubt peeved that Diana, a close friend, didn't consult him instead.

One example of Beaton's cut-throat tendencies was when fellow designer Oliver Messel asked Beaton his opinion on the considerable fee Messel was proposing for designing the sets of Caesar and Cleopatra, Beaton told him it was fine and then submitted his own estimate at a much reduced rate. Meow!

Another view of the Battersby trophies - AND the Regency sofa which also featured in the 1937 Colefax scheme

Battersby photographed by Angus McBean in 1960

I was mortified by my misappropriation of the facts on several counts - not least of all that I didn't give credit to one of my heroes of interior design history. He didn't just give us magnificently conceived and realized decorative schemes...

such as this one for Lady Kenmare at La Fiorentina in St Jean Cap Ferrat (later purchased by advertising dymano Mary Wells Lawrence ), but two of my favorite books The Decorative Twenties and The Decorative Thirties, without which no design library is complete. That I do know.

Battersby's jazzy hall decorated with blue and silver paper and textiles of his own design

09 November 2009

Carolands House Visit, Part II: The Buatta Touch

The Ladies Lounge - the curtains reminded me of those made for Evangeline Bruce by John Fowler, an early mentor to Buatta

Many times the only difference between "good" and "great" is a small detail, but what a difference it makes. While touring the storybook Chateau Carolands, I found my attention constantly drawn to the beautifully finished soft furnishings dreamed up by the Maestro of Passementerie, Mario Buatta.

The Men's Lounge

Students of curtains, take note of the generous length of the panels that puddle most attractively on the floor - lining and interlining are key to achieving this look.....

A favorite Buatta chintz in the Loggia

Taffeta Festoons - is there anything more swoon-inducing?

a symphony of blue and yellow - cording, buttons, and tassels finish the seat cushions in the dining room

The Johnsons, the owners of Carolands, love to play cards - who needs real cards when you can have needlepoint ones which very conveniently leave hands free for highballs

06 November 2009

Carolands House Visit: Part I

Forget Three Men and a Baby - it's all about Three Women and a Chateau.* The chateau in question is Carolands, a magnificent 98 room, 65,000 square foot Beaux-Arts residence commissioned by Harriett Pullman Carolan, heiress to the luxury railroad car fortune.

A bird's eye view of the atrium, said to be the largest interior space in the country

I had the enormous pleasure of a private tour of the house which is located in the tony town of Hillsborough, just outside of San Francisco, kindly given by estate manager Meg Starr.

Conceived by Harriett to be the grandest residence of San Francisco's bon ton, it was lavished with nothing but the best: from the top residential architect in France, Ernest Sanson, and the highly acclaimed landspace designer, Achille Duchêne, down to the finishing touches of firegilt hardware and parquet de Versailles floors.

The dining room and one of its Champagne fountains

Carolands cost Harriett not only most of her fortune, but her social aspirations as well. She had hoped for the chateau to be completed in time to entertain royalty attending the Pan-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, but it was not to be. Two years later, Harriett cut her losses and was back on the East Coast.

The Library

For decades the house stood empty until another fearless lady took on the chateau. Countess Lillian Remillard Dandini, whose brick company attracted the attention of a dashing Italian count "of no account," purchased a house worthy of her new title.

The Loggia - one of my favorites

The Countess was very generous with Carolands and opened it up for all manner of causes. But a house this big can swallow one up, and at the end of her life, much of her resources had been exhausted leaving her reduced to living in a small corner of the house.

The Ballroom: Meg said when the sun sets, the melon walls become infused with a rosy glow

The house went in and out of a few owners' hands, and became more and more derelict as time passed. Because of Hillsborough's town edict that all buildings must be residential, it couldn't be converted to another purpose and it was but a whisker away from the wrecking ball. Finally in 1998, the current owners, Charles and Dr. Ann Johnson, not only rescued "the last of the great homes" but restored it exquisitely AND, in a move that Harriett would have approved, engaged the BEST interior decorator, Mario Buatta.

Details from a circular room Harriett bought lock, stock and barrel and shipped over from France; the masterfully carved plasterwork depicts the four seasons

And like the Countess, the Johnsons often share the house for worthy causes. It is their intention that Carolands be preserved in perpetuity.

The extensive service rooms included a silver polishing room, a flower-cutting room, a pastry room, a fruit and vegetable room, and the laundry which houses this floor to ceiling dryer for sheets - talk about a place for everything and everything in its place!

*Three Women and a Chateau, the documentary about the house's history, is fascinating and has now gone to the top of my list as THE hostess gift to give. Click here to purchase. There is also a very thorough book on Carolands including original plans and correspondance relating to the house.


Photo credits: all photos taken by EEE except: top courtesy of Luna Films, and #2 by Eric Luse for the San Francisco Chronicle

STAY TUNED FOR PART II: Mr. Buatta's Passementerie

03 November 2009

Of Old Houses

There's nothing like an historic house to make the pulse quicken. That said, perhaps a medical advisory should accompany the lavishly illustrated Restoring A House in the City by Ingrid Abramovitch.

In her new book, Abramovitch discusses the joys and tribulations of renovating and decorating townhouses and brownstones - all the while dazzling us with an inside peek at 21 different residences, including those of Julianne Moore, Robert Duffy (Marc Jacob's business partner), and the above Greek Revival house in my very own neighborhood.* Get ready to experience major real estate envy.

If you're in New York, you're in luck - Ingrid is making a sweep of the city, signing copies and divulging behind-the-scenes details you can only get in person:

Thursday, November 5th, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum - Lecture and slideshow, followed by book signing
2 East 91st Street
New York, NY
Info: 212-535-2526
Email: info@friends-ues.org
Web: events.cooperhewitt.org

Click here to visit Ingrid's blog and here for her full schedule of appearances.

*Picture Gallery Red by Farrow and Ball. Another bold choice from designer Ellen Hamilton whose room at this summer's Hamptons Designer's Showhouse bowled me over. Ben Baxt was the architect who oversaw the project.
The oak banister and staircase newels, all original to the house, were "taken apart and put back together," says Baxt.