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.


Anonymous said...

I.Love.This.Room. My god. It reminds me of Edith Wharton's description of the New York townhouse of the Countess Olenska. Is that a book of Paul Bourget poetry I see on the endtable? KDM
P.S. Thank you both

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Count among those who let this space slip out of my memory; nicely done! But the proportions of the room certainly help!

Toby Worthington said...

Why don't more people reference Tessa Kennedy?
Thank heavens for Home Before Dark, who can always be counted on for the unexpected. This post has got me unearthing old World of Interiors back issues in search of more Tessa Kennedy whose other claim to fame, by the way, is being mother to that dishy actor, Cary Elwes.

Janet said...

Oh my, hbd. From a wooded wonderland to Tessa Kennedy...all in one week. It is like Christmas morning. Thank you both. I can only hope for who's up next!

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

Home,funny I was looking at Nureyev's apartment last night and a Bennison design too-all the references are there. What did I spy in the Nureyev's apartment but curtained crazy quilt by the the yards. The opulence of both interiors is stunning, along with the tossed in tartan-which makes that room to my mind. I love all the links in this post, Well done,well said and thank you for being a consistent reader and friend of my own. You have enriched my world this year, as have the many other commenters here-always finding a stellar gathering over at Emily's atelier.

The Peak of Chic said...

Gobsmacked indeed! What a fabulous choice HBD. Simply fantastic!

Rose C'est La Vie said...

Home, you have revealed yourself at last beyond the
very particular and generous comments you leave.
This is a delicious, lively post and there must now be mounting pressure for you to start your own Blog.
Hurry up!

soodie :: said...

Home, not only do I love your sense of humor, but you've let it seep through your glorious and vivid description of this room.

Finding your description rife with mystery, humor, depth and rich color -- much like our beloved Caravaggio's St. John the Baptist!

home before dark said...

Thank you Emily for including me in your birthday week. I was humbled before the week began and absolutely, resolutely convinced that I didn't belong in this constellation after reading the other wonderful posts!

To all of who responded to my guest post, thank you. At 60, I can now cross one of last few "I'm a virgin in..." off my list.

Kerry Pitt-Hart said...

what do you do when you need CPR, but happen to be alone at the moment?! a fabulous post!