21 December 2009

Interior Inspirations, Part IV: Reggie Darling

Editor's Note: When Reggie Darling first commented on EEE, I was instantly intrigued - who is this man with the P.G. Wodehouse name and the waspish WASP wit to accompany it. While searching for a way to contact him, I was delighted to discover that he had just launched his own blog which is now one of my must-places to visit.

When contacted by the inestimable Emily Evans Eerdmans with the request to write a guest piece about an interior that has inspired or influenced me the most, it was both a great honor and a predicament. Which to choose?

After a great deal of deliberation, I narrowed the list down to two that have most inspired and influenced the restoration and decoration I and my spouse have undertaken at Darlington House, our Federal-era country place in the Hudson River Valley.

The Grange and Hamilton House:
Jewels of the Early-Period Colonial Revival

The Grange today

Hamilton House today

The rooms I have selected are found in “The Grange” in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and in “Hamilton House” in South Berwick, Maine. Both houses were owned by and sympathetically re-decorated at the turn of the last century in high-style early-period Colonial Revival style by owners of rigorous taste and elevated sophistication. Miraculously much of their interiors remain largely intact to this day. Both of these properties are today owned by Historic New England and are open to the public as house museums. I encourage you to visit them, as they are both handsome and beautifully-situated.

What distinguishes The Grange’s and Hamilton House’s interiors from later Colonial Revival interpretations is that their owners did not seek to create slavish museum-type period interiors in their rooms, but rather ones that were informed by history, and where the contents are arranged for modern-day use and comfort. I call them period-ish. They are emblematic of the early-period Colonial Revival, when interiors were designed to recreate a period mood while still retaining elements that were not, by definition, of the American Colonial period.

Such interiors often would include a mix of furnishings from differing eras and countries of origin, not just from America but also from France and England. Successful practitioners of this early-period Colonial Revival style included Elsie de Wolfe, notably in her decorations of the original Colony Club in New York, and McKim, Mead, and White, as seen in their “restoration” of the White House’s principal rooms under Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency.

It is important to distinguish this early period of the Colonial Revival from the later-period Colonial Revival, which evolved to become more strictly-focused on creating period-consistent interiors heavily influenced by the restorations at Colonial Williamsburg. All ball and claw.

The Grange
Lincoln, Massachusetts

The Grange in the 1890s

Ogden Codman, co-author with Edith Wharton of The Decoration of Houses, is one of the greatest architects of the early-period Colonial Revival, along with McKim, Mead, and White. Codman’s work is thoroughly discussed in Pauline Metcalf’s able monograph Ogden Codman and the Decoration of Houses, a book that should be in every student of interior design’s reference library and takes pride of place in mine.

Grange sitting room 1890s

Grange sitting room today

The Grange was built by the architect’s ancestors in 1740 as a country seat outside of Boston and substantially enlarged and updated around 1800 in the Federal style. By the time Ogden Codman assumed influence over its interiors in the late 1890s the Grange’s rooms were largely populated with furniture and decorative objects from the 1860s and 1870s. He didn’t care for their dated look, which he considered to be at odds with the house’s architecture, and redecorated several of the rooms with a lighter and sophisticated mix of 18th-century American, English, and French furnishings.

The most iconic of these rooms, a sitting room, features its original paneling installed in 1740, painted white, and mostly (although not-exclusively) furnished with Louis XVI furniture and Chinese porcelain lamps. The same toile de Jouy is used throughout the room to upholster or slipcover the seating, and also as curtains.

Grange Sitting Room 1980s

Over 100 years later this room still appears fresh, light, and comfortable to me, and an ideal place to wile away a summer’s evening. It has had a profound influence on the decoration of our drawing room at Darlington House, where we have sought to capture a similar atmosphere with a mix of American Federal, Louis XVI, and English Regency furniture, along with Chinese and English porcelains.

Hamilton House
South Berwick, Maine

Hamilton House in the 1890s

Built circa 1785, Hamilton House was acquired by the comfortably-circumstanced Emily Tyson and her stepdaughter, Elise, in the 1890s as a summer retreat. They bought the house at the urging of their friend Sarah Orne Jewett, the author of The Country of Pointed Firs, who lived nearby. The Tysons embarked on a major restoration and renovation of the house and in so doing created one of the gems of the early-period Colonial Revival. The house sits in an idyllic setting, overlooking the Salmon Falls River, and it is noteworthy for the beauty of its situation, gardens, house, and interiors.

The Tysons in the Hamilton House dining room

The decoration of the rooms of Hamilton House, in particular its dining room, have influenced our work at Darlington. The dining room is noteworthy for its asperity.

Hamilton House dining room

It is simply furnished with painted fancy chairs, plain mahogany furniture, and gilt mirrors. The floors are covered with rush matting. One of the most delightful aspects of the room is its walls, painted with classical Italian views in 1905 after the Tysons returned from a tour of Europe. Prettily-painted wood window pelmets add a pleasing and decorative touch, from which hang (in certain photographs) plain white dimity curtains.

These are rooms that I come back to again and again, both for their simplicity and their integrity, and I believe that there remains much to be learned from them today -- whether one is seeking to create interiors informed by the past or more modern ones rooted in contemporary living.

For more information on the Grange and Hamilton House: http://www.historicnewengland.org/

Reggie Darling’s updates on the progress at Darlington House can be found on his quite charming blog: http://www.reggiedarling.blogspot.com/

18 December 2009

Gil P. Schafer: Profile on a Modern Classic

We have all been captivated by the timeless work of architect Gil Schafer. (How do I know this? Schafer was the top search term that brought readers to EEE over the past year.) Many inches all over the blogosphere have been dedicated to his NYC townhouse flat and his upstate country house, both of which are graceful expressions of Classical design (and feature the snappy decoration of Miles Redd).

Schafer's NYC triple parlor flat

The tremendous level of interest in his work makes it clear that Classical architecture is alive and well.

As the icing on the EEE birthday cake, Gil was gracious enough to answer some questions, many of them purloined from Proust...

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sleeping late

What is your greatest extravagance?

A house in the country

What is your current state of mind?

Freaked out by the economy

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Hideous” and “Chic”

Which talent would you most like to have?

To be able to watercolor and to play the piano

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Surviving childhood

Where would you most like to live?

Right where I am!

What is your most treasured possession?

Friends and family—but you don’t really possess them

What is your most marked characteristic?


What do you most value in your friends?

Their patience with me

Which architect past or present has most influenced you?

There are several: Lutyens, David Adler, Charles Platt, and George Washington Smith are some from the past. And I learned a great deal from Mark Ferguson for whom I worked for nearly 10 years.

When did you first know you wanted to be an architect?

Early childhood.

What is your favorite historical house?

an outdoor tiled room at Val Verde

Hard to limit to one: Tudor Place in Georgetown, Mount Vernon, Boscobel in Garrison, the Wheeler House by Adler, Greywalls by Lutyens; Val Verde in Montecito

Your country house looks like it could have been built 200 years ago. What were ways you adapted the house for the comforts of today?

an exterior view of Schafer's country house

Central heating and AC; a good kitchen with the necessary modern appliances; French doors that are slightly larger than they would have been in the 1840’s to make it more comfortable to get in and out of the house; great, albeit simple, bathrooms. Otherwise it’s pretty much like an old house.

What relevance does Classical design have in the 21st century?

It’s a timeless language that works in any century. And because it is a “language” more than a style, and a very flexible one, it allows you to use it to solve all sorts of design problems, from whatever century you find yourself in.

All photos courtesy http://www.gpschafer.com/, except top: Phil Mansfield for the New York Times; and #8: Spencer Weiner for the Los Angeles Times

17 December 2009

Interior Inspirations III: Toby Worthington

The Hunting Room at Clandon Park, Surrey

Editor's Note: A blazing fire struck Clandon Park weeks ago, reducing the house to a shell.  While the National Trust is still assessing the damage, the good news is that a large amount of the collection was saved and that perhaps a restoration of the house, along the lines of Uppark, might be possible.  What is lost forever however is the John Fowler overlay of interpretation and decoration the house received in the late 50s and 60s.  In memoriam, we are reposting this 2009 ode to the house by Toby Worthington.

THE FOWLER TOUCH: In which guest blogger Toby Worthington shares his first impressions of Clandon Park, Surrey, and a Favorite Room

Travel does not entirely suit me. Preferring the comfort of my own bed and the meals that emerge from my own kitchen, I am content to sit in a comfortable armchair surrounded by piles of books on English houses. One of those books, indeed the best of the lot, was John Cornforth's The Inspiration of the Past; and on one occasion when I was poring over the author's evocative passages about the restoration of Clandon Park, my companion stirred me out of a trance with the simple question:"Why not see it for yourself?" That was twenty years ago and the journey was, I realize now, something of a pilgrimage that led to a close inspection of the finest example of John Fowler's work for the National Trust.

Built by the Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni for the 2nd Earl of Onslow in the 1720s, Clandon Park is a house that has been described, variously, as gaunt, forbidding, and unwelcoming~no doubt because, by the late 1960s, most of its contents had been dispersed; what funds there were had been spent on essential structural repairs, so that as a result, there was little to show for this in the appearance of the interiors.

A fairy godmother appeared, not a moment too soon, in the form of a bequest, along with a substantial endowment, from Mrs David Gubbay (born Hannah Ezra, her mother was a Sassoon), and though her unrivaled collection of porcelain birds and satinwood furniture would seem at odds with the robust architecture of the house, those discrepancies of scale and weight would produce, in the skilled hands of John Fowler, one the most appealing rooms in all of Clandon Park, the Hunting Room. More of that anon; but first, a brisk tour of other parts of the house.




CEILING OF GREAT HALL, attributed to the plasterers Artari and Bugutti.

THE PALLADIO ROOM, in which the bold 1730 ceiling and the 1780 Revillon wallpaper were linked by color.

with Mr Fowler's coloring~an object lesson in how to paint architectural ornament

The overmantel, formerly whitewashed, was marbled to restore integrity to the chimney wall.

DOOR SURROUND IN THE SALOON Another lesson in architectural painting.


A room at the south east corner of the house, of a relative intimacy, the Hunting Room seems to
me a demonstration of John Fowler's well-mannered( but never boring) approach to assembling materials, furnishings, pattern and colour in a way that is endlessly satisfying. As mentioned earlier, Mrs Gubbay had a penchant for Chinese porcelain birds, and over the years bought a number of fine rococo brackets on which to display them in an authentic 18th century way.

The room takes its name from a set of understated tapestries that were installed against an equally understated background of Mr Fowler's much loved diamond cloth dyed in tobacco brown and outlined, surprisingly, in a braid of sharp green grosgrain.

Typical of John Fowler's approach, the woodwork is dragged in 3 shades of stony white and the skirting boards follow the universal Palladian system of being painted off-black.

with its elegant chandelier bag.

now in the Morning Room. Note pancake squab cushion.

Festooned chintz at the windows in the Hunting Room.

For reasons of appearance as well as economy, John Fowler introduced festoon curtains made of
printed cotton in the brown and white Seaweed pattern, edged in bittersweet chocolate brown chintz and decked out in maltese bows at the headings. It was at this stage that I began to understand the brilliant counterpoint of elements both humble and grand~indeed, that was the secret of Mr Fowler's magic touch~but my musings were interrupted by an opinionated woman who was stationed in the room as guide on that particular afternoon. She gave those charming curtains a withering glance.

"All wrong, those curtains. Very Laura Ashley." A remark which seemed to me at the time, to be putting the cart before the horse. But nothing could deflate me on that occasion. From that point on, a sense of calm came over me regarding my own work~all doubts put temporarily to rest in the presence of this, the "real thing" that was before me at nearly arm's length, to study, analyze, and savor. No more guessing, or being teased by photographs in books or magazines.

The details of a house have an altogether different impact when witnessed, like a meal actually tasted as opposed to the printed recipe. In this instance, what might have been a house of icy grandeur was transformed into something that met the highest aesthetic standards while putting the visitor completely at ease. As James Lees-Milne said at John Fowler's funeral, "No art scholar whose learning had been instilled into him by professors, but one of nature's enthusiasts whose immense knowledge had been picked up by the wayside, John was the least academic of men. Yet nothing was allowed to stand in the way of getting a thing right."

Top photo courtesy of National Trust; all other photos courtesy of Toby Worthington

16 December 2009

Interior Inspirations, Part II: Magnaverde

Editor's note: Not that Magnaverde needs any introduction, but it's impossible to resist saying a few words about the man who introduced me to Rue Winterbotham Carpenter and the most drop-dead glam interiors I have ever laid eyes on at Chicago's Casino Club. A comment from Magnaverde is something every blogger looks forward to - and many readers as well as he currently ranks in my top 10 search terms of the year. (Keep guessing #1 for a free copy of RR)

When Emily asked me to contribute something to her anniversary week posts, I couldn’t tell her no. In fact, I said yes before I even had a clear idea of exactly what the topic was supposed to be—Inspiring Interiors or Influential Interiors, something like that--but hey, that’s never stopped me before.

Anyway, if it was “Influential Interiors”, I can think of a slew of them: a large, high, lustrous-walled yellow salon in overcast London; a tiny brown-lacquered jewelbox of a studio apartment high above Manhattan; a monochromatic parchment-covered room in France; a glittering black-&-white dining room in Lake Forest, all of which have influenced several generations of later designers—but why talk about rooms that many Fans of Emily could describe better, especially considering that, unlike me, many of those people have probably seen said rooms in person, and know, (or have known) some of those rooms’ creators? So I’ll leave that subject to those who know what they’re talking about.

And I can hardly talk about rooms that have inspired my own work, since there’s not much of that & what there is is pretty insignificant. A few weeks ago I went to a reception in the ultra-glamorous Chicago penthouse that David Adler did for the Charles Goodspeeds in 1927,

Bobsy Goodspeed at home in her David Adler designed penthouse

and the very first person to greet me when I walked in the door was Joe Nye. Now, I’ve always been a fan of David Adler, and after seeing Joe’s wonderful apartment in last summer’s House Beautiful, I instantly became a huge fan of his, too, but I can’t imagine either of them being particularly thrilled to know that they’ve ‘inspired’ me.

Joe Nye's high style in his small-scale apartment

Basically, they inspire me in the same way that, say, an opera singer inspires the person humming along with the aria in row seven. The impulse toward beauty is inborn & the instinct to copy is innate, but sometimes, seeing (or hearing) the mediocre results, you wish they weren’t. So I’m not going to try to invite comparisons with the work of others by saying that ‘So-&-so has inspired me’. It would only embarrass everyone.

So I’ll avoid the potential pitfalls of those two excellent topics and simply say that the interior that made the single biggest impact on me was one I never saw in person. It ceased to exist a decade before I was born, and by the time I first saw a black-&- white photo of it when I was twelve, its creator had been dead for more than twenty years. Back then, that was a lifetime.

These days, of course, we have the Internet, and blogs, which act on printed history the way the ocean currents act on the sea floor, constantly casting up flotsam from the cold, dark depths of the sea onto the densely populated beach. Sometimes, it’s nothing, sometimes, in among the sea-wrack, you spot a gem. Other times, you looking away for just a moment & turn back just as the undertow grabs the gem & sends it straight back to the bottom. Like Ferris Bueller says, if you don’t keep your eyes open, you could miss it.

So, why, even in the days of the Internet and Google searches, is the name of William Odom so little known? Sure, he’s in Wikipedia & in the footnotes in all the design history books (if you know to look him up in the first place - Editor's Note: Erica Brown's book on the storied firm McMillen is a good place to start)—but, basically, he’s the Millard Fillmore of Interior Design: just another name in a list of names. To most people--even to most designers--his name means absolutely nothing. For me, though, Odom opened up a view of a different world, one unlike anything I ever saw in Danville, Illinois, or in Clinton, where we lived next. My dad was the head of the Chamber of Commerce, so we knew people with money, but none of their houses, not even the mansions of the town’s millionaires, looked anything like this. Then again, this room, Odom’s music room, was already thirty years old when I first saw it. It had a double-page spread in my mother’s copy of the 1947 edition of House & Garden’s Complete Guide to Interior Decoration.

The book was a wedding shower gift—it says so right in the faded inscription—so it must have been in our bookshelves for my whole childhood, but for some reason I never noticed it before that day in 1963. Who knows why I happened to pull it off the shelf that first day? But I did, and ever since, I’ve cared about the way houses look, and even more, how they ought to look. I was certainly the only kid on the seventh grade softball team that went home after practice to learn about pickled wood & Monel metal & moss fringe, all of which had been long out of fashion by the time I first heard the terms. But how would I know that? That’s the beauty & innocence of childhood. So I had no crippling fear of my newly-budding tastes being ridiculed as already dated or my new interest in such things being branded weird. Not, of course, that I made a point of telling my classmates what I was up to, either. In Clinton, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was standard operating procedure. After all, I had classmates whose families still made moonshine in the woods.

Anyway, that’s how it all started: me & a book & William Odom’s music room. Back then I loved the room because it seemed absolutely modern & white, 'modern', of course, being a relative term when you grow up in a house full of inherited black walnut furniture. Today, what impresses me is how Odom created that feel of crisp modern glamor--this could be a set for Jean Harlow movie--without using a stick of Modern furniture or resorting to any of the cliches of the period. There's no Marion Dorn rug on the floor, no chromium torcheres, no plaster palms on the walls. Instead, Odom used what could have been, in other hands, a dog's-dinner hodgepodge of period pieces: Louis XVI & Regency chairs, a Chinese Chippendale table, Venetian mirrors above unmatched console tables on either side of the fireplace, all of it topped off with a pair of spectacular bronze-&-marble Empire lamps in glossy paper shades. Yet the final result of all that is brilliantly Modern. Of course, an acre of plate glass mirror, plain white upholstery & gleaming white Venetian blinds to pull it all together didn't hurt. But the most remarkable thing about this room--and that thing that you don't notice at first glance--is that there's absolutely no art on the walls. But then, mere paintings would have been superfluous, because the whole room is a work of art. No wonder I was smitten at once with this thing called interior decoration. William Odom was my hero.

Magnaverde's own apartment which appeared in O at Home

Of course, I know now that I’ll never, ever have a room as beautiful and serene as this, but I still haven’t given up hope of someday finding a pair of those Egyptian lamps. In the meantime, I have a pair of tall black-&-gold candlestick lamps of the same general size, with shades in the same shape holding down either end of a long sideboard in my apartment: they’re nothing special, but that’s ok, because they’re just place holders anyway, waiting until the real things show up. They're out there somewhere.

Around here, though, EEE’s the real thing. Congratulations on your first year, Emily. And thanks for inviting me to your party. I’m honored.

15 December 2009

Interior Inspirations, Part I: Home Before Dark

Editor's Note: When blog commenter extraordinaire "Home Before Dark" first arrived on the scene, she instantly made a splash. Her smart and sassy insights have lit up my and many others' sites.

When EEE asked me to write about a room I thought was most hauntingly beautiful, I demurred and said while flattered I simply didn’t fit into her comrades' stratosphere. [Editor's note: Nonsense!] She wrote back and said, “I’m glad you’re in.” After a career in public relations, I was amused and impressed by that little sash-say of hers. So, how do you say no to a girl who wears a red turban with aplomb, doesn’t mind setting lose a few bombs (see post on AD) and when seeing the Miles Redd decorated apartment of her friend reported back that the floors make you want to dance?

The room I would write about, once I realized I had to write about one, was never in question. It would be the London apartment of Tessa Kennedy. I saw it first in the article “Right on Red” written by Tristram Holland that appeared in a 2004 edition of House and Garden. I have mentioned this room to several bloggers. No one else remembered it. I am fascinated by what gobsmacks someone to near asphyxia and leaves others yawning. I was the one who needed CPR.

Before Holland’s words begin, there is this picture: red—can it be crushed velvet on those extraordinarily tall walls (yes!), Am I seeing one wall in aubergine (so it appears). With a dazzling crystal chandelier in the room there is enough ormolu and gilt on the picture frames hung salon style, on the mirror over the fireplace and on the chairs to float a yacht. And, yes, one of the paintings came from her grandfather’s yacht.Then there is all of that marvelous metallic embroidery, some looking like they were ripped from the vestments of various clergy (not ripped it appears, but reappearing as pillows).

Looking right at home in this oriental dream is a tartan upholstered sofa. It’s as if Scheherazade left the occident with steamer trunks filled to overflowing with dazzling fabrics and carpets, popped over to Morocco for lanterns and decided to go on a mad shopping trip through the British Isles, starting first in the highlands of Scotland and buying every eccentric gothic piece of furniture that spoke to her heart until she landed in London. And there she twirled around three times and everything she had bought or been given fit perfectly. As she knew all along it would. Be still my heart. Here’s a room that says: I know what I love, and I love what I know!

Then when I thought well, this will settle down, I came to the picture of the hall with its tented ceiling, and walls and doorways swathed in miles of gold taffeta edged with tribal belts from Turkistan and Afghanistan.

She explained to Holland the simple magic of it all was that the hallway’s fabric masked the fact the smallish area had six doors opening into it, and added filtered light. Magic indeed. It reminds me of an enclosed garden—a definition of paradise—that creates a portal to a different world. It is the perfect opening into the Fantasy of Red.

This apartment is unabashedly sentimental, sensual and revealing. A close friend of Rudolf Nureyev, two tallboys of his grace the drawing room and his Aubusson curtains adorn her bedroom (another gasp-making room). The influence of imperial Russia is never out of focus in this apartment, nor in her career. She throws that old saw about no family photographs in public rooms and celebrates her family (framed with exquisite frames, of course). She may be an original green decorator as she confesses she never throws anything away and just make it work as she has moved to new homes.

Her story (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tessa_Kennedy) is like her work: storybook fairy tale, bold, filled with emotion, crossing continents many times (the Jordanian royal family is on her client list), of pluck, of conviction. Holland compared Kennedy, who once worked for David Mlinaric, to Geoffrey Bennison. I leave that for you to contemplate. This apartment and this decorator taught me there are no rules: you either have it or you don’t.

Photographs by Pascal Chevallier. Original story produced by Cynthia Frank for the March 2004 issue of House and Garden.

Blowing out a Candle: EEE turns 1

And what a year it has been.

When I first started my blog 365 days ago, little did I know how my world would expand and explode.

Your wise and wonderful comments, suggestions and - yes - corrections have opened my eyes and deepened my understanding of style and design -sure - but also of how much more rich and fun something is when you share it.

The celebration lasts all week as a few of the design blogosphere's most illustrious commenters (who constantly occasion everyone to ask, "When are they going to get their own blog?") have agreed to dazzle us with their wit and wisdom here. PLUS a feature presentation on the most searched term on the blog. (A free copy of Regency Redux to the first person who guesses who it is.) Meanwhile I'll be eating cake.

Stay tuned for some delicious guest appearances...

Photo © Bettmann/CORBIS

11 December 2009

Of Little Princesses and Lord Fauntleroys

It's La Blyberg's annual book week where you're sure to find thoughtful and off-the-beaten track recommendations.

I was tickled to be asked to contribute and found myself channeling my inner-six-year-old... Click here to tune in.

09 December 2009

You've got to be kidding.

The Princess Firyal of Jordan's salon by Mongiardino, courtesy of Architectural Digest

Am I the only who is flabbergasted by Architectural Digest's latest list, "The World's 20 Greatest Designers of All Time"? If not, the only reason can be that you haven't seen it yet.

I won't ruin the shock for you, but let me give you a taste of where it went wrong....

Ted Graber? Naomi Leff? John Dickinson? (Amusingly, Valerian Rybar also makes an appearance.) There's no denying the real talent of the aforementioned - but when the pool is supposed to encompass any designer who ever lived anywhere, the selection seems so ridiculous as to be tongue-in-cheek.

Ted Graber's bedroom for the Reagans at the White House

So who would be on my list?

Well, I would probably keep Renzo Mongiardino, Jean-Michel Frank and perhaps Henri Samuel who were the highlights of the AD list. But lets not limit ourselves to Americans with an occasional Euro (or Yugoslavian with a suspicious accent) thrown in...

Jacques Grange, John Fowler, Eero Saarinen,

Josef Hoffman,

Mies van der Rohe, Paul Poiret - who did interiors as well as harem pants...

And surely Eileen Gray was more important than T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings who "borrowed" heavily from the ancients...

But lets go even further back in time than the 1930s....

William Morris,

Robert Adam,

Jean le Pautre,

and how about the sculptor Phidias who was entrusted by Pericles to supervise the building of the Parthenon, which many believe to be the most perfect building in the world, and after whom phi, the symbol for the golden mean, is named....

And who are your nominees?