Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I recently found myself getting mired in stress.  I was stressing about those big questions that inevitably haunt me from time to time, such as "What's the next step for me in my career?" to the more mundane, "What am I to blog about next?"  These are the sometimes difficult-to-answer questions that keep me up at night.

In an effort to get unstuck and in hopes of maintaining my generally positive outlook on life, I decided to focus my energies on something fun.  Because it's fun, I think, that helps one to rise above the stress and shake off "the will to be dreary", as Dorothy Draper would say.  And what I consider to be great fun is to explore old cookbooks and drinks manuals for a taste of the past, specifically the 1930s.

I perused my copy of The Complete Hostess, written by Giovanni Quaglino, who founded his namesake Mayfair restaurant, Quaglino's, in 1929.  The 1920s had been a gay decade for London society, one in which, according to Barbara Cartland,  "we danced from breakfast until dawn the following day."  (It was Cartland who famously claimed to have found a pearl in her oyster at Quaglino's.)  But by 1929, the Bright Young People were starting to mature, and a taste for dancing gave way to a taste for good food.  In his sophisticated restaurant, Quaglino served up equally sophisticated fare, which included such dishes as Truite aux Raisins de Moissac, Homard à la facon du Maitre Louis, and Emincé de Volaille à la King. Quaglino is also remembered as being one of the first to serve hot hors d'oeuvres, such as Croquettes de Homard and Flan Chez Quaglino.  And entertainment rounded out a meal at Quaglino's, with acts like the Gregory Novelty Tango Quintette and Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson performing for the well-heeled clientele.  (If you're not familiar with Hutch, Google him right away.  Trust me.  You'll spend a good half hour reading about his scandalous exploits.)

Quaglino's is still around today, albeit in an updated form.  In the early 1990s, Terence Conran revamped the restaurant, thus bringing some of the sparkle and polish back to the Quaglino name.  And today, the restaurant is about to reopen after being closed for a major renovation.  As glamorous as the new and improved Quaglino's might be, it's the 1930s-version that most appeals to me.  I'll take bias-cut satin dresses, Hutch Hutchinson tinkling the ivories, and Flan Chez Quaglino  over DJ booths and artisanal cocktails any day.

Quaglino's as it appeared in the 1930s.

Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson performing at Quaglino's.

White Lady Cocktail (recipe from The Complete Hostess)
2/3 Gin
1/3 Cointreau
the juice of a 1/4 of a lemon

Stuffed Celery Chez Quaglino (recipe from The Complete Hostess)
Take some very selected sticks of celery. Equal proportions of Rocquefort cheese and butter. Mix together well with a little cream and sherry and some paprika until it becomes a smooth paste. Fill up the celery and serve.

Back in the mid-'90s, no trip to London was complete without a visit to Quaglino's.  And no visit to Quaglino's was complete without purchasing one of their ashtrays.

Friday, September 12, 2014

An End of the Week Pick-me-up

Time got away from me this week, so rather than leave you with a blog post full of illuminating text, I'm going to leave you with a blog post full of illuminating images.  The photos seen here, which appeared in the September 1984 issue of Architectural Digest, capture a Manhattan apartment that was decorated by Mario Buatta.  Like me, you might at first be taken with the apartment's overall warmth and coziness, which feels like cashmere on the eyes.  But please don't overlook the details.  Filled with porcelain, wicker cachepots, Chinese garden stools, wall brackets, brass occasional tables, and needlepoint pillows, this apartment is a case study in good old-fashioned, classic decorating, which really isn't old-fashioned at all.

All photos from Architectural Digest, September 1984, Peter Vitale photographer.

Greenville County Museum of Art's Antiques, Fine Art and Design Weekend

I am honored to be a featured speaker at this year's Antiques, Fine Art and Design Weekend, which is organized by the Greenville County Museum of Art in Greenville, South Carolina.  The show, which raises funds for the Art for Greenville campaign, will feature twenty-five antiques dealers from across the country, who will exhibit antique furniture, silver, porcelain, linens, folk art, and fine art.  The weekend will kick-off on Thursday, October 16 with a gala Preview Party, where benefactors will get the first look at dealer booths.  On Friday, October 17 at 11 am, noted decorator Richard Keith Langham will speak about how his Southern background has influenced his work for such illustrious clients as Jackie Onassis and Pat Buckley.  And then on Saturday, October 18 at 2 pm, I will be presenting my In with the Old lecture, in which I will discuss some of my favorite examples of classic design as well as a few of my favorite tastemakers,  (Marie Antoinette, Nan Kempner, Billy Baldwin, and Hubert de Givenchy are among those whom I profile.)

Now in its 29th year, the show is considered to be one of the South's premier antiques shows.  And not only that, it is supposed to be a great deal of fun, too.  I hope that you'll join me during my visit to Greenville.  For more information on the show, or to purchase lecture or Preview Party tickets, please visit their website.

Silver and porcelain, always popular in the South, are among the many antiques that will be on display at this year's show.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Tribute to Harry Hinson

Yesterday, I learned the sad news that Harry Hinson died last week.  Although I can't claim a close relationship to Harry, we were pen pals for a number of years.  Harry often emailed me in response to my blog posts, especially those which pertained to the New York design scene of the last four decades.  Harry was always able to relay connections and back stories because he had borne witness to what many consider the golden age of American design.  Actually, Harry was much more than a witness.  He was a key figure in American design, and I don't think it's a stretch to say that he, along with Albert Hadley, Van Day Truex, Billy Baldwin, and a few others, helped to define what we today call classic American design.

Harry, a native of North Carolina who thankfully never lost his Southern accent, moved to New York in the early 1960s, working as a designer first at Bloomingdale's and later with Bonwit Teller.  In 1972, Harry founded Hinson & Company, his eponymous fabric and wallcovering line which is still highly-regarded today.  Of all of the fabric lines that I admire (and there are many,) it is Hinson that is probably the dearest to me.  The Hinson "look"- classic yet modern, tailored, never trying too hard, and thoroughly American- most closely aligns with my aesthetic.  And if  another reason is needed to explain my love of Hinson & Company, let's look no further than the year of Hinson's founding, which also happens to be my birth year.  That can't be a mere coincidence, can it?

For all of Harry's talent as a businessman, it was his skill as a designer that I find even more remarkable.  Harry had a knack for taking a traditional design element or motif and making it modern.  In fact, if you have ever wondered how something can be both traditional and modern at the same time, simply take a look at a Hinson print, such as Spatter, and you'll see how.  Many of those wonderful Hinson prints, what I consider to be the hallmark of the Hinson look, possess historical pedigrees.  And yet, under Harry's tutelage, these prints shed any old-fashioned sentiment and became thoroughly up to date.  What I have been trying to do over the last eight years with my blog and, more recently, with my book- namely, championing classic design elements as worthy partners to contemporary decor- is more or less what Harry did with his Hinson fabrics and wallpapers.  This, perhaps more than anything else, explains the kinship that I feel with both Harry and Hinson & Company.

In a 1981 Architectural Digest interview, Harry said that what he hoped to contribute to design were "honest uses, simple approaches, comfort; integrating style with technology.  And an understanding that designs must adapt to the way we live."  Thirty-three years later, and I think it is evident that Harry did just what he set out to do.  Although it's tempting to write that Harry's death will leave a void in the design world, I don't think that is entirely true.  We may no longer have this talented man with us, but we still have his body of work.  And that body of work will continue to remain an influence on American design for decades to come.

Harry in a photograph taken in 1981.

Harry's living room in his East Hampton house.  Merlin fabric by Hinson & Company was used to cover the two slipper chairs.

A photo of Harry, taken sometime during the 1990s, with his Merlin fabric in the foreground.

Spatter on the walls and windows of Harry's East Hampton home.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Hercule Poirot and The Labours of Hercules

I've been savoring the final episodes of Poirot via Acorn TV, and there was one episode that I found especially appealing.  In "The Labours of Hercules", the opening scene depicts an elegant soirée that takes place in an equally elegant London residence.  What struck me about this scene- in addition to the murderous intrigue that was starting to percolate, of course- were the decorative details.  There was Chinese wallpaper, damask-covered walls, a chaise percée, and some terrific-looking red silk lampshades.  Basically, everything that one might expect to find in a well-appointed London residence during the 1930s.

Now that Poirot has ended and while I wait for the long-anticipated season three of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, I need to find another mystery series to help pass the time.  I love murder and intrigue, but I like to take it with a heavy dose of glamour.  Any recommendations?   

Upcoming Appearances

My book and lecture tour will be resuming soon after a summer hiatus.  For you Southerners (and non-Southerners who want to travel down South,) I invite you to the following:

On Wednesday, September 24th from noon until 3pm, I will be signing copies of my book at Place on the Pointe in Albany, Georgia.  You can pre-order copies of my book by calling (229) 883-8585. It's been forever since I've visited Albany, and I'm looking forward to my trip down there, especially since I keep hearing great things about Place on the Pointe.   For more information, please visit the shop's Facebook page.

Then, on Thursday, October 2nd, I will be speaking alongside Paige Albright at Tastebuds: Define Your Style, part of the Antiques at the Gardens show at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  Sponsored by flower, Taigan, and Tammy Connor Interior Design, the talk will focus on personal style and classic design and is geared to those design enthusiasts who are under 40.  Lunch will be provided, and I'll be signing books after the event.

Other Antiques at the Gardens events include lectures by Mario Buatta and Shane Connolly.  This year's Tastemakers, who are tasked with curating special areas on the show floor, include Christopher Spitzmiller, Kinsey Marable, Ware Porter, Henry Sprott Long & Associates, and many more.

For more information or to purchase tickets to Tastebuds or other show events, please visit the Antiques at the Gardens website.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Ava Gardner's Abodes

When I think of Ava Gardner, it's not her Oscar-nominated performance in Mogambo nor her upbringing as a North Carolina sharecropper's daughter that come to mind.  I also don't immediately think of her tumultuous marriage to Frank Sinatra.  Rather, it's her penchant for bullfighters that inevitably pops into my head before all of her other claims to fame.  I don't know why, but there it is.

It was the bullfighter thing that I thought of when I first saw photos of Gardner's George Stacey-decorated Madrid residence in Katherine Tweed's 1964 book, The Finest Rooms, and, more recently, in Maureen Footer's enjoyable and informative monograph, George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic. (If, like me, you gravitate to books about design greats, then you should consider adding Footer's book to your library.)  One might have expected a home that was overtly sensual, much like the sultry characters that Gardner so often played.  And yet, her home was in reality rather prim and proper thanks to an attractive assortment of refined antiques, sumptuous fabrics, and traditional paintings.

In her later years, Gardner quit Madrid for London, where she eventually took up residence in a Knightsbridge flat.  According to Footer, Stacey decorated both a house and an apartment in London for the actress, although the Architectural Digest issue from which the photos below were taken make no mention of Stacey.  Nevertheless, Gardner's London flat, like her Madrid apartment, was a model of elegant- and some might say aesthetically cautious- decor.  But for all of the home's play-it-safe furnishings, the residence wasn't lacking in glamour.  It was a fitting last home for a woman whose earthy good-looks and, at times, earthier lifestyle helped to make her a true Hollywood star.

Her Madrid Home:

Her Home in London:

All photos from Architectural Digest, April 1992, with the exception of photos #2 and #3, which appear in George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Modern Bedrooms

You know how enamored I am with 1920s and 30s-era design, so I was especially excited to receive a 1939 copy of Modern Interiors: Today and Tomorrow from a friend.  Written by Emily Genauer, once Editor of the Fine and Decorative Arts Sections, The New York World-Telegram,  the book is a "critical analysis of trends" that were seen at both the 1937 Paris International Exposition of Arts and Techniques and later the 1939 New York World's Fair.  The critical analysis part might sound a little dry, but it's not thanks to both Genauer's upbeat writing style and the book's copious photos of exhibition rooms done up in modern decor.  Just like many decorator showhouse rooms of today, exhibition (or model) rooms were often fantasy concoctions of exaggerated scale, exuberant colors and pattern, and luxurious finishes.  Of course, not all exhibition rooms were quite so dazzling, with many of them being about as exciting as watching paint dry.  But it was the innovative and sometimes over-the-top rooms that often set trends in motion, most notably when the 1925 Paris Exposition introduced modern decoration to the general public.

While reading this book, it was the sheer volume and decorative range of exhibition bedrooms that piqued my interest.  There were bedrooms for women (Genauer noted that French decoration and art "has always been Woman", with 1930s-era Frenchwomen preferring "modern furniture that is a little more flamboyant and a little less functional" in their bedrooms,) as well as for the men (the author wrote that Dickens "dubbed that masculine sanctum sanctorum reserved for the busy leisure of tobacco and books and meditating on life, 'The Growlery'").  Children and toddlers were not overlooked, with some pretty spiffy model nurseries having been designed to inspire both parents and their little ones.  Even the infirm got a model room that was addressed to their needs.

If only the photos were in color, we might be able to experience seeing these rooms as the myriad exhibition visitors did back in the late 1930s.

For the women:

One of the bedrooms on display at the 1937 Paris Exposition of Arts and Techniques. Note the unusual wall shelves to the left, which held pots of feminine, cheery flowers.

No surprise here that this luxuriously-appointed bedroom appeared at the Paris Exposition. Much of the furniture, including the bed, was made of laced metal accented by glass leaves. The floral motif was continued on the rug as well as the upholstery and bed curtain.

Although I think that a man might have been comfortable sleeping in this bedroom, the decor seems meant for a woman. As striking as the decor is in this Paris Exposition room, it's the room's massive scale that is more impressive.

Yet another Paris room, this one accented in quilted satin. Genauer included this room as an example of the "dressmaker touch".

For the men:

The author deemed this masculine bedroom "one of the most effective rooms in all the Exposition."  The room was meant to be a chamber for sleeping as well as a study.

Again, at the Paris Exposition.  In this bedroom for a man, white leather was chosen to cover the beds' head and foot boards and the fronts of cabinets.  Genauer wrote that "leather somehow is a traditionally virile material."

For a couple:

This bedroom, which was exhibited at the World's Fair exhibition at Bloomingdale's, was decorated by Count Alexis de Sahknoffsky.  In typical American fashion, there were electronic bells and whistles added to the single headboard: radio and reading lights.  I have to say that I find this room rather lackluster.

The book makes no mention of where this room was exhibited.  Nevertheless, this bedroom is a mix of curvy and angular lines, thus making it appropriate for both a man and a woman.

For the children:

A child's nursery where the painted wall decorations added a dash of whimsy.

Of this French modern nursery, Genauer wrote, "No frills or furbelows bedizen this modern nursery- instead, it is decorated with simple, sturdy furniture and gay, imaginative accessories."

In Paris, a ship-themed boy's room had a bed suspended from the ceiling with rope.  The book's text notes that the bed was also sanitary as it allowed air-flow beneath the bed.  Hygiene and easy housekeeping were often selling-points of modern decoration.

For the sick and infirm:

According to Genauer, "Modern design can bring beauty even to a hospital room as this one." This room, which, as you probably guessed, was part of the Paris Exposition, would be entirely impractical in today's hospitals with their spartan (and often germy) rooms. Still, this type of room, and especially the chic metal bed, could actually make a hospital stay halfway tolerable.