Thursday, April 30, 2009

Orlando Diaz-Azcuy

Sometimes it's easy for the ennui to set in. You know, you see images of interiors and think "Been there, done that". Sometimes, you just want to be shown something new. Well, I found that in Diane Dorrans Saeks' upcoming book Orlando Diaz-Azcuy. Of course, Diaz-Azcuy is not a Johnny come lately. In fact, he has been in the design business for more than forty years. And while I was familiar with his name, I knew nothing about the Cuban born, San Francisco-based designer's work- until now.

I certainly wouldn't call Diaz-Azcuy's look traditional, but there is a luxuriousness to his interiors that appeals to this traditionalist. Some of his interiors are spare, some are edgy. But on the whole, they make me want to step outside of my comfort zone and try a little something new. I think that the rooms that appeal to me most, though, are the richly layered ones. There is one media room that had me swooning. Unfortunately, I can't show the image here, but trust me, it's to die for (think dark green silk walls, gold painted ceiling, and marbleized door frame).

I've long been a fan of Diane's books, so I had high hopes for her newest tome. Fortunately, the book did not disappoint. The author gives the reader great insight into Diaz-Azcuy's design process- both the nuts and bolts and the inspiration too. I love how she described Diaz-Azcuy's work as minimal but with a "touch of va-va-voom". Each chapter focuses on a specific project, including the designer's own homes, and there is also an interesting section titled "Talking Design", a conversation between the author and the designer. And the icing on the cake? Diaz-Azcuy has included a brief list of books that have inspired him. Beautiful images, a story well-written, AND a book list? What more could you ask for?

(Diane Dorrans Saeks is currently at work on her upcoming blog,
The Style Saloniste. Look for the official debut in the next few weeks. I'm confident that not only will it be well-written (would you expect anything less?), but supremely stylish as well!)

This tableau seems quite poetic. In fact, it's Diaz-Azcuy's Pacific Heights penthouse. (© David Duncan Livingston, reprinted from Orlando Diaz-Azcuy by Diane Dorrans Saeks, Rizzoli New York, 2009)

A closet cum media room. Definitely va-va-voom. (© Tim Street-Porter, reprinted from Orlando Diaz-Azcuy by Diane Dorrans Saeks, Rizzoli New York, 2009)

The lush outdoor terrace of one of Diaz-Azcuy's homes. (© Matthew Millman, reprinted from Orlando Diaz-Azcuy by Diane Dorrans Saeks, Rizzoli New York, 2009)

Image at top of Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, © Tim Street-Porter, reprinted from Orlando Diaz-Azcuy by Diane Dorrans Saeks, Rizzoli New York, 2009.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Raymond Loewy and His Theory of Evolution

Industrial design is not one of my areas of expertise. But even if you're like me, you've probably heard of the name Raymond Loewy. Loewy was considered to be one of the most prominent industrial designers ever. In fact, I'm sure you've seen many of his designs: the Lucky Strike cigarette logo and package; the Greyhound bus and logo; and numerous refrigerators, ranges, and cars. He was also responsible for the design of numerous retail and commercial interiors, including this bake shop (at top). The man was truly prolific.

Loewy was a major proponent of streamlined design (as is evidenced by the bake shop and his iconic pencil sharpener, seen below, from 1934). So much so, in fact, that in the early 1930s Loewy created a series of evolution charts which showed how everyday objects had become more streamlined through the years. I hate to describe these charts as charming because it's a fluffy word to use in association with industrial design. Still, I did find these charts charming. In this era of everything being supersized, streamlined design is a breath of fresh air.

Loewy's famous pencil sharpener.

The evolution of chairs. Loewy would have been dismayed, I believe, to see those grossly oversized upholstered chairs and sofas that have been popular over the last twenty years.

The evolution of clocks. I still have a weakness for streamlined clocks.

The bathing suit. The big question mark? I suppose that ended up being the thong bikini!

The automobile.

The telephone. Just look at how streamlined our cell phones are.

Women's clothing. Thank goodness for streamlining here. That atrocity of 1980s fashion- the pouf skirt- was simply a hiccup along the way.

Stemware. Nothing beats a sleek champagne flute.

(All images from Depression Modern: The Thirties Style in America.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Want Everything In This Room!

I can't stop looking at this photo of antiques dealer Louis Bofferding's (former?) Manhattan living room that was featured in the 1996 book The Table. One reason of course is because the room is just so good looking- clean, uncluttered, airy, masculine, restrained, and immensely chic. What I also like about it is that there isn't a shred of mediocrity in this room. Each piece is magnificent on its own, but when mixed with other important pieces? Decorative Arts Heaven! Would you expect anything less from such an admired dealer?

When you start to dissect the room and study each piece, it's hard not to be impressed by the provenances. A 1950s Jansen table with blue steel legs. Fornasetti faux malachite plates. An iron elephant mounted on a red silk pedestal from Geoffrey Bennison (on table). A Louis XVI armchair with antique Chanel purple silk velvet. And barely visible in the far left hand corner, an iconic "Bird Table" by Meret Oppenheim, c. 1939. Yep, I swooned too. But rather than seeming ostentatious or even "full of it", the room- gold chip furniture and all- comes across as personal and well-thought out. It is truly the room of an erudite man who really knows his stuff!

This Royal Dining Table by Maison Jansen looks similar to that of Bofferding except for the legs which are black steel rather than blue. (Available at Todd Merrill Antiques)

Gold leafed Bird Table by Meret Oppenheim, available at Eccola. The listing on 1st dibs says this specific table is 21st century, so obviously this table is a much later version than that of Bofferding.

Bofferding's table was set with these Fornasetti plates. Also, you can get a better look at the Bennison piece.

A pair of Fornasetti gold and malachite plates, available at Gallery 25.

The pineapple on Bofferding's console appears to be tole. This pair of lamps from John Salibello Antiques have a similar look.

(Images of Bofferding's apartment from The Table, Diane von Furstenberg)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hall of Mirrors

And it's not the one at Versailles. Those clever guys at Downtown- David, Robert, Onik, and Carlos- as well as Elizabeth Dinkel and Kim Alexandriuk created a fabulous entrance hall (see above) at the recent Los Angeles Antiques Show. The array of mirrors included examples of Art Deco, Modernism, and French 20th century. Note too the trompe l'oeil painted walls. Wouldn't this be great to do at home in a hallway, an entry hall, or even on an outdoor terrace?

Downtown's booth included pieces by Arturo Pani, Jay Spectre, Line Vautrine, and Mito Block. David and Robert are always on the cusp of the next hot thing, so it's no wonder that everyone pays attention to what they display.

At Home with William Powell

One of my favorite actors from the old days is William Powell. He could be suave and debonair, had a way with the witty repartee and the ladies, and displayed a wicked sense of humor, all the while being downright likable. I always thought it would have been fun to play Nora to his Nick Charles. And since he was a star during Hollywood's Golden Era, you wouldn't expect his home to have been anything less than glamorous. His Beverly Hills manse, featured in the February 1936 issue of House & Garden, was designed by architect J.F. Dolena and decorated by that decorator to the stars Billy Haines. Whether Powell played an active role in the design of his home is anybody's guess, but I suppose that doesn't really matter as he at least had the good sense to live in a Dolena house. While the interior looks a little dated, I think the architecture of the home- Regency inspired- was divine and completely befitting a Hollywood star of Powell's caliber.

Powell's terrace with intricate wrought iron detail.

The courtyard with a bay window that was really a two-way bar. How great is that? I also love those metal patio chairs.

The pool house. Fabulous metal canopy above the door.

The recreation room decorated by Haines. The walls were knotty pine, the curtains were blue cashmere, and the fabric on the furniture ranged from blue and white plaid to blue, green, red, and white striped. Hmmm. What I do like, though, is the fireplace to the right with blue and white delft tiles.

(All images from House & Garden, Feb. 1936)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Don't Spare Me The Symmetry

One thing I notice about pre-1970 interiors is the rather rigid symmetry on and around fireplace mantels. I suppose that one reason for this is because rooms used to be more formal than those of today, and formality many times begets symmetry. The other explanation may have been the popularity of garnitures- porcelain or other decorative objects that were sold as a group and meant to be displayed together. Many of the garnitures I've seen are comprised of two identical objects plus one central object. I suppose garnitures have gone the way of period rooms- out of style. Still, they did make an impact.

Today, I still like a symmetrical grouping of objects on mantels and flanking fireplaces. There is something very calming and orderly about this fireplace-centric symmetry. That said, things do have to be loosened up a bit. Call me uptight, but I have to have bookend symmetry, meaning that the outermost objects on a mantel have to be identical and symmetrical. I then loosen things up by displaying unique items in between, placing them to the right or left of an imaginary central axis. Basically, the central objects are artfully off-kilter while the outermost objects serve as sentries. Heaven forbid if this formula is reversed and the symmetry is in the middle rather than the ends- that would truly send me into orbit!

So after that little explanation of what my symmetry sensitive mind can and cannot handle, I'm curious if you decorate your mantels using strict symmetry, relaxed symmetry, or absolutely none at all!

(All images are from Decoration (Vol II); the book goes to great lengths to explain the importance of symmetry.)

The composition at Petit Trianon, Versailles was as tight as a drum. According to the book, "The objects surrounding the centre piece are strictly aligned like soldiers on parade."

The drawing room at Château de la Lorie, where the symmetry was described as being "precise".

Château de la Verrière. Woah! There is a lot going on here. The author wrote, "A profusion of ornaments creates a fantastic display on Romantic mantelpieces. The little symmetry that remains is hardly perceptible: small objects are huddled together, merging with the background so that they become almost indistinguishable." Do you agree?

While I think there is too much stuff on the mantel, there is some symmetry here which I do find appealing- like those two candlesticks at both ends of the mantel. The off-center fireplace and the varied composition of paintings keeps things from being too rigid. (Room by J.P. Hagnauer)

Image at top: The drawing room of Charles de Beistegui. Major symmetry here...and yet, it looks fabulous.

(All images from Decoration (Vol II), Librairie Hachette, 1963)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Picnic on My Balcony

Have any of you caught the recent airings of Picnic on Turner Classics? I have, and it's one of those movies that sucks you in. If you're not familiar with it, the 1955 movie stars William Holden and Kim Novak as two people in a small Midwestern town who find themselves mighty attracted to one another. One of the most famous scenes in the movie- and one of the sexiest dance scenes of all time- is when Holden and Novak share a charged dance together during the town's Fourth of July celebration. Had I been a teenager back in '55, I know that I would have been on the floor after seeing that scene. Not out of shock mind you, but because I know that I would have been wishing that I could live out that scene in real life!! Even in 2009, this movie seems to have held up pretty well.

Every time I see this scene, I'm captivated by the music and the attraction between the two characters. But the other thing that gets me are those gorgeous lanterns that were strung along the dock of the river. Those colors! The shapes! The tassels! It's so beautiful that I find myself struggling to pay attention to the acting. I'm planning a party for my sister this summer, and I've decided to string a few on my balcony for some colorful illumination. Am I trying to recreate the Picnic scene? I don't know, but I'd sure be willing to try!

I like this accordion style lantern from Pearl River. Great color combo.

The upside is that these lanterns come with LED lights that flicker. But, they lack the interesting shape and pattern that those from Picnic had.

Nothing like the movie, but this reminds me of that great Clarence House print "Flowering Quince".

This silk lantern is a bit more along the lines of those in the movie. At $19 each, a little pricey, though.

And though I don't usually include You Tube videos on my blog, here is the scene that got everybody hot and bothered fifty years ago. Just try to ignore the fact that Holden wasn't the world's best dancer:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Evangeline Bruce Went Out On A Limb

I have wanted to feature the image at top for a while. And just this minute you're probably asking yourself "Just what in Sam Hill is that? " Well, it's Evangeline Bruce's attempt to prettify her television circa 1984. Some of you might have hives just looking at that floral chintz. And if you're like me, you might even think it looks like a turban wrapped around a TV. Still, there's something rather enchanting about it, in an eccentric sort of way. As the French say, it's jolie laide.

Here's the thing, though. I must admit that my opinion of Mrs. Bruce's taste- which I think was fabulous, by the way- might have tainted my judgement. Had this fabric festooned TV been in a not so grand environment, I really might have questioned the homeowner's taste and even his sanity! But the fact that this TV belonged to Mrs. Bruce somehow made it OK. (Not great, but amusing.) Perhaps I shouldn't admit that, but it's true. It's the same thing as flipping through a fashion magazine. You might see a dress or a jacket that looks so-so, but when you read the credits and see that it's Chanel or Balenciaga, it starts to look a lot better. Am I the only one guilty of this?

So, what's the point? I suppose that if you've got style in spades, if you're a rule breaker or an iconoclast, or if you've led a life of exemplary chicdom, then perhaps you can get away with doing some weird things- like chintzing up one's television.

John Fowler decorated the Bruce's London dining room. That jib door alone gave Mrs. Bruce license to later swaddle her TV.

The Bruce's drawing room by John Fowler. This shade of yellow has inspired many a room. Note too the oyster silk curtains, some of the most famous curtains ever made.

Mrs. Bruce bought this Gothic chair from Nancy Lancaster, who previously had it installed in her bedroom at Haseley Court. If you own chairs that are this fabulous, people won't care what you do to your television set!

(Image at top, courtesy Architectural Digest, 12/84; photos of the Bruce's London flat from John Fowler: Prince of Decorators; image of chair from House & Garden, 10/02, Eric Boman photographer)