Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Very Branca Holiday

Like it or not, the holidays are here (not to be a scrooge or anything, but I'm just really not ready for the onslaught). So, to help get us- and especially me- in the mood, let's look at how Branca the store has gotten into the Christmas spirit. Of course, Alessandra's signature red is woven throughout the store vignettes, and it's particularly festive at this time of year. And I am a sucker for a pretty Christmas tree, and this one looks especially nice surrounded by the antlers.

But what I'm really excited about are some of Branca's holiday items. The gifts are all very Branca looking,and the nice part is that they're not pricey. Oh, and with the exception of the pillar candle, they're unique to Branca too, so you're not going to find them everywhere. To order, call the store at 312-787-1017.

Branca Carpe Diem Agenda Book, available in black, brown, silver, and gold. Small- $40, Large -$75.

Branca Glass Balustrade Candleholder. $200

Branca Solid Beeswax Red Striped White Pillar. $40.

Branca Leather Partial Cover Flip Notepad. Small- $30; large- $50.

Red Goat Skin Leather Mini Credit Card Envelope, $40.

Large Hand Blown Clear Glass Suspension Radiometer Ornament, $170. The radiometer (that metal thing on the inside) reacts to light in the room, causing it to spin. And if you thought I knew what a radiometer was, then you don't know me very well! I had to have it explained to me, and I believe after the third go at it that I finally got it. But it is a very cool ornament, and sophisticated ornaments that actually do something are hard to find.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mark Hampton circa 1992

I mentioned a while back that I thought Mario Buatta deserved to have a book published about his life and work. I still do, and I think I need to add Mark Hampton to that list. Not only did Hampton have style in spades, but it seems as if he was quite knowledgeable and smart as a whip too. Why a book on Hampton has not yet been published is a mystery to me. Let us hope that someone remedies this situation soon! In the meantime, here is a Manhattan apartment decorated by Hampton that was published in HG, Sept. 1992. I think the look here is quite classic and comfortable, but I also know that this style of interior decoration has fallen out of favor a bit. Do you think we'll ever come back to this look??

I also might add that Hampton seemed like the type of designer who would have kept up with the times. Were he alive today, don't you wonder what his aesthetic would be like?

(Apologies for the not so crystal clear photos. Alas I'm having scanner issues.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Daydreaming with Hermès

I don't know about you but I could really use a little getaway right now. Unfortunately, that wish will remain a fantasy and not a reality for the next month or so. So in the meantime, I'll just play hooky and spend some time dreaming about these Hermès vignettes. I love the Hermès website, and it's a great way to get lost for an hour or so. But by far my favorite section of the site is the slideshow of past and present images of the Faubourg Saint Honoré shop windows. Are these gorgeous or what? And even better, the trip didn't cost a dime!

(Navigating the site is a little tricky. Go to hermes.com, then click on "travel the world of Hermès." Find the "Indian Fantasy" photo like that at the top of the post and click. The slide show will begin.)

1989 window decorated in the theme of "In Praise of Silk".

"Cheval d'Orient" from 2006. Don't those columns remind you of Brighton Pavilion?

A detail from the "Cheval d'Orient" window. Fabulous.

Leopard prints, Greek keys, red stars... enough said. Oh, except about the saddle, which makes me want to take up riding.

A window from 1954 with fantastical seahorses.

"Iridescent Fountain" from 1984.

Gorgeous colors in this 1977 window.

Image at top: 2008 window- "Indian Fantasies". All images courtesy of the Hermès website.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rose Cumming and an Ode to the Eccentrics

A few weeks ago I lamented the dearth of true and passionate collectors. In that same vein, I've decided to write about the vanishing eccentric. Whatever happened to those individuals who were bizarre, squirrely, or downright kooky? Of course, where I come from we have our fair share of eccentrics, and they hold a special place in our hearts. After all, they make for good story telling during family affairs. But sadly they are a dying breed.

And in the design world, was there anyone more eccentric than Rose Cumming? Stories abound about this force of nature. First, there was her unusual appearance. A powder puff mass of blue hair was the first clue that this woman was no shrinking violet (or perhaps I should say shrinking periwinkle). In
Legendary Decorators of the Twentieth Century, Mark Hampton wrote of the time that Cumming attended a party at Sister Parish's home wearing a very long bright green crepe dress that was cinched around her waist with a gold tieback. And in her hair were plastic fern fronds! That's certainly a look I could not pull off, but I admire the effort nonetheless.

In terms of her work as a decorator, Cumming's look was hard to define. In the book
The Finest Rooms, Cumming wrote that she liked Gothic, Chippendale, Austrian Baroque, and early Victorian, just to name a few of the periods she admired. She loved "lush things", birdcages, silk fabrics, and pure color. Her dislikes were as extensive as her likes: faux beams on ceilings; figural wallpaper (unless it was a silver paper or old Chinese); and coffee tables. Oh, and wall to wall carpeting too, unless it was in a bedroom or on a staircase. When Cumming decorated a room, she tended to throw a lot of her likes into a room, making it a melting pot of styles. But in a weird way it seemed to work. Many times her work was quite beautiful, and at the very least it was unforgettable. In his book, Hampton did a wonderful job at describing this enigmatic figure. He remarked that "her version of reality was not like anyone else's". I think that would describe most noncomformists. They certainly march to the beat of their own drummers, but they also possess the courage of their convictions. Perhaps there is something that can be learned from Cumming and her ilk, plastic fern fronds and all.

I first saw these images around ten years ago, and I've never forgotten them. This sitting room was in Cumming's brownstone in New York. Cumming chose to use macabre objects in this room, supposedly as a "reaction against the usual conception of prettiness in decorating." Note the Audubon prints above the sofa that represent animals of prey. The fireplace was adorned with plates of snakes. The unusual curtains were really Indian saris. And what about that unusual lampshade? It's an Indonesian parasol. It's all rather bizarre... but quite interesting too.

Cumming's bedroom was evocative of the 1920s. The curtains are blue lame, which in this room actually works against the backdrop of blue-mauve metallic wallpaper. The 18th century Persian child's bed was used as a low table. Hampton wrote that
Cumming preferred to show her home at night. Can you just imagine what this room must have looked like, especially if it was lit by candlelight?

Cumming could also decorate rooms that were down right gorgeous. I am so smitten with this room, especially that black wallpaper with the gold stars. This room was in Cumming's home circa 1929.

Images at top: A young Rose Cumming in her drawing room circa 1930. An older Cumming appeared in a Harper's Bazaar article in July 1964. Here Rose was photographed in her legendary shop. Thank you to a very kind reader for providing me with these two images.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gene Moore and His Magical Windows

The holidays are almost here, and store window dressers everywhere are gearing up to wow holiday shoppers. Shop windows will be bedecked, festooned, decorated, and fluffed with vignettes that are fantastical, edgy, traditional, and magical. So I thought it was a fitting time to show the work of Gene Moore- truly the most famous of all window dressers (or as the New York Times called him, a window display artist. This might be a more appropriate term.) Moore began his career as a window designer for Bonwit Teller, I. Miller, and other legendary department stores in New York. He joined Tiffany & Co. in the 1950s and set the bar for excellence in window display with his amazing mini-sets. Moore's windows ranged from the surreal to the sweet. His windows were oftentimes humorous. But most importantly they were never boring. Oh, and the merchandise that was featured was never overshadowed by the decoration. Moore struck the right balance between creativity and commerce. I suppose that might be why he stayed at Tiffany's for almost 40 years.

Here are some of my favorite images from Windows at Tiffany's: The Art of Gene Moore. The book is chock full of Moore's windows through the years, and I think that many of you will find it quite interesting- even if you are not a window display artist!

A Valentine's window from 1959. The knitted heart was made of red yarn.

I just love the humor of this window, and that trompe l'oeil needlepoint placemat is divine! This vignette was from 1969. Note the classic All-Purpose Wineglass which was designed by Van Day Truex.

The gumdrop watermelon is a perfect backdrop for the fancy jewels. Designed in 1966.

A witty window circa 1965. The partially unzipped zipper frames the simple vase with iris and the gorgeous jewelry perfectly.

Image at top: This window was part of a series of windows with a geometric theme. Moore felt that the sphere would only work with pearls, hence the broken pearl necklace.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Great Candle Controversy

While I was giving my talk at the bookstore the other night, a reader asked me about the posts that seem to generate the most controversy. And I could easily answer that question- colored candles and flowers. It seems that we have very strong opinions on the subjects. Now I know that this all seems rather trivial. After all, there are far greater and more pressing issues in our lives today. But this is a design blog and I figure if I can give my readers two minutes of escapism and design inspiration, then that's just fine.

So I've been feeling a bit mischievous lately and had been planning on writing another post on colored candles for a while. The first post I wrote that involved the candle issue was really inadvertent- I showed images of Aerin Lauder's dining room which featured blue candles. Some people thought it was quite chic, while others cried foul and found the whole thing to be the height of tackiness. I for one am a big fan of colored candles. I adore black candles on my dining table. I also have gray, turquoise, and coral candles that I use for various occasions. In order to pull off the look, you really should choose colors that work with the color scheme of your home. And I probably wouldn't fill a house with a variety of brightly colored candles- restraint is really best.

Now I know that there are many of you whose minds cannot be changed, and that's okay because ivory candles will always be the ne plus ultra of elegant table settings. But if you're willing to experiment, I think you'll find that by replacing your neutral candles with those in your favorite color, it's a great way to change things up without spending very much. Amazingly, while I was writing this post I opened my December issue of House Beautiful, and guess who is an advocate of colored candles? Robert Rufino! That man has pitch perfect taste so I suppose I feel even more confident in my argument for choosing color.

(A while back I lamented that Williamsburg Candles- my old stand-by- had been discontinued. I recently discovered
Colonial Candle, although I'm sure many of you have known about them for years. I've been using the Colonial ones for a few months now and they have become my new favorite candles... and they come in a myriad of colors too!)

Blue pillar candles in these crystal hurricanes are a nice alternative to plain vanilla candles- and speaking of which, avoid placing those scented candles on your dining table. Your guests might lose their appetite. (Interior design by Kari Cusack; styling by Grant K. Gibson; Karyn R. Millet photographer. Image from House Beautiful, Jan '07)

I love the use of different colored candles in the Atlanta home of artists Carolyn Carr and Michael Gibson. It's something slightly unexpected in these very traditional and formal candelabras. (Image from Paper City, 2005)

Don't these red candles add some flair to this sleek, Art Deco town house in London?

These silver, corkscrew candles are perfect for this poudreuse cabinet in the ornate Gallery of Mirrors at the Palazzo Gangi in Palermo, Italy (click on the image to get a better view of the sconces). Ivory candles would be too jarring, and really, if you have a room like this in your home, why not gild the lily?

Miles Redd obviously approves of black candles too. (Image from Rooms to Inspire; Tim Street-Porter photographer)

Robert Rufino suggests trying a mix of festive colors for this holiday vignette. (Image from House Beautiful, Dec 08; Jose Picayo photographer)

Image at top: The photo that started the controversy- the dining room of Aerin Lauder.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Book Klatch

For those of you in Atlanta, I'd like to invite you to a talk I'm giving tomorrow night on one of my favorite subjects- design books. The event is scheduled for Tuesday, November 11 at the Barnes & Noble at the Peach shopping center (2900 Peachtree Road). We'll start gathering around 7pm, and the talk will begin at 7:30. The proceeds from sales will benefit the Cathedral Preschool. Come support a worthy cause!

A Very Chic Party

I'm sorry that I won't be able to visit the Veranda show house at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills because it sounds pretty incredible. I'm even more disappointed that I didn't attend the opening night party because I hear that was quite an event!

Nathan Turner (whose career is on fire right now- see below) chaired the opening night party with Mary McDonald and Ann Getty and was kind enough to forward these photos to me. Nathan and Mary worked with the theme "Chinoiserie au Jardin", and just look what they came up with. I know that I got a few ideas for my next party from these images, but unfortunately I'll have to do it on a smaller scale- on my 8th floor balcony!

The show house runs through November 16. In addition to Nathan and Mary, the roster of design talent includes Suzanne Rheinstein, Windsor Smith, Peter Dunham, Tim Clarke, Ames Ingham, Kathryn Ireland, and many others. For more information, visit the

(Not only does Nathan have a
wonderful store in Los Angeles, but he also just finished his second collection for Elite Leather. I don't know how he does it all and still manages to look so young!)

Image at top: Nathan Turner, Ann Getty, and Mary McDonald

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Let the Good Times Roll

When I planned this post over the weekend, I intended for the topic to be solely about home bars from the 1920s through the 40s. And then I realized that this post would be published today- the day after the election. So I suppose I could say that these images might serve as some inspiration for those of you who are celebrating today.

All kidding aside, have you ever thought about putting a bar like one of these in your home? It would certainly be a far cry from the drinks tray or table that most of us have. Back during Prohibition, some of the design magazines gave tips for designing home bars. Since you couldn't imbibe in public, you had to drink your bathtub gin at home (far safer than hanging out at a gin joint). And it couldn't just be any old bar. It had to be rather swell. The kind of place that would elevate your hooch into something far more refined.

While most of us don't have the luxury of space to create a home bar, it's fun to imagine what it would be like to have a room devoted entirely to recreational fun- or vice, depending on how you look at it!

Elsie de Wolfe designed this bar for her Beverly Hills home After All. That black and white tented ceiling is pretty fabulous, but I would think that it might cause a little dizziness after one too many Singapore Slings.

This bar was designed by the old design firm Thedlow. Rather gutsy to render the doors as giant playing cards.

This was a serious little bar for the hardcore home barkeep. But how great is that floor?

Image at top: This bar decorated by Frances Elkins is seriously cool. And those bar stools have to be the all-time best bar stools ever designed. Period.