Thursday, August 14, 2014

I Want to be Alone

A few months ago, I finally got around to reading Cecil Beaton's autobiographical Memoirs of the 40s. At the risk of offending any Beaton devotees, I confess that the book got on my nerves. Specifically, it was Beaton's chronicle of his obsessive love affair with Greta Garbo that I found to be most tiresome, if for no other reason than Beaton kept up the Garbo mania for more or less the entire book.

In Beaton's diaries, Garbo is portrayed as an enigmatic figure, a quality for which she was and still is well known.  And, if Beaton's reminiscences of Garbo are to be believed, she could also be quite manipulative too.  Not knowing very much about Garbo other than her famous movie line, "I want to be alone", and her penchant for privacy, I can't say if Beaton's portrait of Garbo is faithful to the woman or not.  More research on my part is needed.

However, long before I read Beaton's book, I was familiar with Garbo's reputation for having very good taste.  I had heard that her Manhattan apartment was beautifully decorated, which was confirmed over the weekend when I found photos of her apartment in the April 1992 issue of Architectural Digest.  The glitz and glamour of Hollywood seemed left far behind, and in its place was an elegance and refinement that was thoroughly Continental.  Garbo surrounded herself with French and Swedish furniture, Chinese porcelain, and, most notably, a fabulous collection of paintings, which included works by Renoir, Bonnard, Delaunay, and Jawlensky.

For all of the home's elegance, though, warmth and comfort did not appear to be lacking.  It seems that Garbo had innate talent when it came to decorating, furnishing her home with her blue-chip pieces in a way that was neither showy nor pretentious.  The result was an apartment that looked both very personal and incredibly inviting.

The apartment's entry hall boasted brown flocked wallpaper, whose Victorian demeanor was tempered by that modern-looking geometric patterned rug.  It was Garbo herself who designed the rug, which was one of many that she designed in conjunction with V'Soske.

Renoir's Léontine et Coco (1909) was hung above the living room's fireplace, on which Chinese porcelain was displayed.

The two photos above show just some of Garbo's collection of paintings, which included works by Bonnard and Jawlensky.

Yet another Renoir, this one titled, Enfant Assis en Robe Bleu (1889)

A painting by Jean Atlan, Composition,  and a painted chest in the master bedroom.

Garbo's closet.  The rug was designed by Garbo.

Paneling from a Swedish armoire, which Garbo disassembled and used in various guises in her bedroom.

All photos from Architectural Digest, April 1992, photos of apartment by Fritz von der Schulenburg; photo at top part of the MGM Collection.

Kara Ross's Rock Lobsters

In an effort to bring pizzazz back to the dining table, I want to bring to your attention jeweler Kara Ross's debut collection for the home, which is aptly named Rock Lobster.  Embellished with pearl resin and crystals, Ross's bejeweled crustacean hark back to a time when noted hostesses often decorated their dining tables with porcelains, objects, and jeweled bibelots.  The fact that these rock lobsters have flexible legs and antennas means that they can be used in myriad table settings.  Already, they have appeared in a trompe l'oeil table setting in Ross's store window as well as on her own dining table in the Hamptons.  (See photos below.)

The lobsters are available exclusively through Ross's Madison Avenue boutique, and additions to the collection are planned for the future.  In a world dominated by monastic tableware, don't you think it's time to treat our dining tables to some well-deserved whimsy and pizzazz?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Those Luxurious Greens

Look at any book on elegant French interiors, and you'll likely find a number of rooms where the color green dominates. Not any old green, mind you, but sumptuous shades like bottle green, forest green, and emerald. These rich greens typically aren't introduced into a room through anything as mundane as wall paint.  Instead, they appear in the guise of luxurious fabrics, such as velvet, silk, and damask.  And I can't forget to mention lamp shades.  In handsome French homes, many a lamp is adorned with a shade made of splendid green silk. It's enough to make you pea green with envy, no?

I most associate Hubert de Givenchy with these sophisticated shades of green.  Peruse the various rooms of his Paris hôtel particulier, and you'll see that M. de Givenchy seems drawn to green velvets as well as green silk lamp shades.  And Henri Samuel and Alberto Pinto, those late-yet-still-lauded French interior designers, often used green in their design work, namely emerald velvet.

So what is the attraction to these dignified shades of green?  Well, taken at face value, they can be quite attractive.  But I also suspect that deep-bodied greens, especially in the form of velvets and silks, are often chosen because they recall lavish nineteenth-century decor, which remains an exemplar of elegance still today.  I have included an image of an early 1860s watercolor, Living Room in Second Empire Style, which depicts a well-appointed room that is awash in green fabrics.  It really doesn't look much different from some of the recently taken photos featured below, a testament to the classic good looks of those luxurious greens.  

The three photos above, plus the image at the top of the post, show both the Green Salon and a larger living room in the hôtel particulier of Hubert de Givenchy.

In the Paris home of designer Henri Samuel.

Alberto Pinto's green velvet-dominated dining room.

The gallery of the late Alberto Pinto's Paris apartment.

Another view of Alberto Pinto's dining room, which is swathed in green velvet.

In the gallery at Château de Bataille, which is the residence of designer Jacques Garcia.

Designer Alain Demachy's dining room.

Karl Lagerfeld's library.

A bedroom in the Paris apartment of Jacques Garcia.

The Paris house of designer Guy Thodoroff.

The Paris house of Jean-Luc Gaüzère.

The Paris salon of Hugo Dujour.

Living Room in Second Empire Style by Fernand Pelez, possibly 1862. Mario Praz Collection, Rome.

Image #1 and #2 from The Givenchy Style; #3 and #4 from The Finest Houses of Paris; #5 and #6 from The Best of House & Garden; #7 from Table Settings by Alberto Pinto; #8-#13 from The Grand Book of French Style; #14 and #17 from Private Paris; #15 and #16 from Parisian Interiors; #18 from An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration by Mario Praz.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Zajac and Callahan: The Later Years

If you have followed my blog for the last few years, you know that I have frequently featured the work of designers Edward Zajac and the late Richard Callahan. Zajac and Callahan, as the design duo was better known, became design-world darlings in the late 1960s, when their work appeared almost constantly on the covers of American shelter magazines. What made their work so popular at that time was the designers' enthusiasm for zesty color and bold patterns. In fact, it was not uncommon to see five or six different patterns used within one Zajac and Callahan-decorated room. But rather than mixing color and pattern in random fashion, Zajac and Callahan concocted their pattern-laden decor with planning and forethought, something which resulted in rooms that were cohesive in spite of their variety and robustness.

Throughout their careers, Zajac and Callahan remained committed to marrying disparate patterns in their work.  In the Long Island home of Callahan's sister and brother-in-law (seen here and originally published in House & Garden, January 1999), the designers took an exuberant and playful approach to the home's decor, which H&G described as "American rococo."  Here, the Zajac and Callahan medley included Chinoiserie-motif wallpaper (a custom print designed by Zajac,) floral chintz, geometric-print ceiling paper, damasks, and even foliage wallpaper.  And tucked amongst this pattern-on-pattern was a collection of antique furniture in an array of styles, something which elevated this decorative play of prints to a level of maturity that was appropriate to its surroundings.

More than anything else, though, I think this home- and really all of the other Zajac and Callahan projects that I have shown on my blog- was evidence of the design duo's love of decorating.  Only enthusiastic decorators like Zajac and Callahan could have concocted such an enchanting blend of fabrics, color, prints, and furniture under one roof.

Image at top: The house's entrance hall.  The unique window valances were designed by Edward Zajac.

The living room.  The sofa was covered in "Fairoak", a Rose Cumming chintz.

The fireplace in the master bedroom.  The floral-print carpet was by Stark.

The dining room walls were covered in a custom paper designed by Edward Zajac.

The study with its foliage-papered walls ("Foret Foliage" wallpaper by Brunschwig & Fils.)

The master bedroom.  The bed canopy was based on a valance seen in a Venetian palazzo.

All photos from House & Garden, January 1999, Melanie Acevedo photographer.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A Guest Room Primer

Articles about the well-appointed guest room aren't really relevant to me considering that my home's second bedroom now serves as my study. If, however, that well-appointed guest bedroom can serve as inspiration for my own bedroom, well then, that is relevant. Such is the case with this January 1999 House & Garden article, which featured a guest room that was exquisitely decorated by Howard Slatkin. Slatkin also penned the article's text, which laid out the gracious necessities that all guest rooms should have.  According to the designer, these include adequate light for reading, snacks, a well-stocked medicine cabinet, and disposable slippers.

As helpful as this checklist is, it is the room's decor that is the real draw here.  The painted floor, the lit à la polonaise, and the rose-print fabric used on walls, windows, and bed canopy all help to create a space that few guests would ever want to leave.  And then there are the details: small wicker baskets that hold roses and hyacinths; elegant notepads with matching pencils; Porthault bed linen.  Really, it is enough to make me exasperated by my own bedroom.  Perhaps I need to spoil myself as I would a guest in my home and create an oasis of beauty in which to slumber.

P.S.- The rose-print fabric was custom designed by Slatkin.

All photos from House & Garden, January 1999, Claus Wickrath photographer.

Friday, August 01, 2014

The French Château

When a friend recently gave me a copy of the book The French Château, I was ecstatic. You see, the book's author, Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery, also wrote The Finest Houses of Paris, which happens to be one of my very favorite books. I had a feeling that I would be equally as taken with The French Château, and after reading it, I can say that I am.

As the book's title suggests, The French Château profiles some of the loveliest châteaux in France, including Château Lafite, Courances, and Brécy. But rather than focus on the grand rooms of these grand houses, the book captures the intimate side of life at these châteaux. There are lush snapshots of back staircases, family dining tables, elegant bedrooms, and family memorabilia. What I found to be most striking about all of the featured châteaux is the sense of comfort and coziness (really) that they all possess, coziness that was achieved through that always-enticing blend of rich color (reds and greens especially), traditional printed fabrics (chintzes), lustrous fabrics (damasks and velvets), and comfortable upholstered-seating.  Of course, the generations-worth of family treasures also help by further adding to the lived-in feel of these houses.

Life in a château looks awfully appealing, does it not?

*The French Château is out-of-print but can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Abebooks.

Image at top: The library looking into the salon at Montgraham.

Sandy seemed to find the château at Courances quite cozy.

One of the many well-appointed bedrooms at Le Fresne.

The salon-library at Château-Lafite.

A painting of the dowager Marquise de Ganay at Courances.

Two shots of the big salon at Brécy.

The Great Hall at Courances.