Wednesday, September 30, 2009

That Door!

It all started for me with this image:

The carved door frame in this New Jersey home had been a gift to previous homeowners by Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Not just any old door, but one with provenance.

Then there was Ruthie Sommer's door, a Pagoda and fretwork topped affair. Love it.

Going back in time to the early 20th c.- Henry Sleeper's Gloucester, Massachusetts home Beauport featured the China Trade Room with, yes, a fabulous door frame. Simple, but fabulous.

And my love affair with Chinoiserie style doors continues. Just look at this door in the dining room of the English House in Atlanta. Philip Shutze was the architect responsible for this glorious example; both door and frame are richly detailed with Chinese Chippendale style carving. Do you think a door like this would look out of place in a 1968 my 1968 condo??

(Image 1: House Beautiful, Feb 2005; #2, In Style Home, Spring 2007; #3 via Emily Evans Eerdmans; #4 from American Classicist: The Architecture of Philip Trammell Shutze)

Silhouette: The Art of the Shadow

Bear with me and my book reviews. You know that the Fall is like Christmas to those of us who love design books!

One of the more intriguing books to come out this season is
Silhouette: The Art of the Shadowby art historian Emma Rutherford. I've long been drawn to these graphic visages, and I'm not alone. Think of Lulu Guinness whose logo includes a silhouette (in fact, Guinness wrote the forward to the book), or Diamond Baratta who introduced a great silhouette fabric a few years ago.

Rutherford traces the history of the silhouette all the way back to Etruscan vases that are considered to be the precursors to this graphic art form. The book explores the silhouette's popularity in 18th c. France and of course the Victorian age (those Victorians were awfully crazy for silhouettes...), and many 20th c. examples are included as well, most notably the provocative work of artist Kara Walker. Rutherford reminds the reader that silhouettes have long been created in many forms besides paper cutouts- paintings and carved and molded pieces were also favorite mediums for the silhouette.

After reading this book, I find that I now have far more of an appreciation for silhouettes; to me, they're no longer just a Victorian novelty. Is it fine art? Well, no, not really, but to dismiss silhouettes as mere decorative trifles would be quite a shame.

Roger Palmer, Lady Dorothy Bradshaigh (c. 1705–1785), life-size head, hollow-cut on blue paper, 9-3/5 inches high, Private Collection

A Jockey at Newmarket, Pringle (dated 1827), painted and bronzed on card, 3-1/2 inches high. Lidstone Collection.

The Hunt, Master Barber, aged 9 (fl. c. 1851), cut-out paper, 5 inches high, Ian Cross Collection.

(All images ©Silhouette: The Art of the Shadow by Emma Rutherford, Rizzoli New York, 2007)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


This 1936 photo of a cocktail room stopped me dead in my tracks. (Yes, we can just stop the post right here. A cocktail room. How utterly fantastic and so very civilized. I'm going to call my living room a cocktail room from now on because it is where the cocktails are drunk in my home.) Everything about this room sums up what I love best: Chinoiserie; a mural; cocktails; a dark floor (perhaps linoleum or some type of composite?) with what appears to be metal inlay.

The mural was painted by Allyn Cox, famous for his murals at the US Capitol. You may also remember
my post about the Peacock Mansion here in Atlanta with its Allyn Cox mural in the dining room (see below). How I wish the cocktail room photo were in color, but here is a description of the room:

A corner of a cocktail room in a house in Glencoe, Illinois, with murals by Allyn Cox. The background is pale yellow, the figures are a luminous blue-white, with black touches in hair and shoes. The room itself is done in grey, with splashes of vermilion.

Perfection. Enough said.

The dining room of the Goodrum House (aka the Peacock Mansion) with its Allyn Cox mural.

The Peak of Chic is a Bride!

An Elegant Bride, that is. I'm sure that's news to my family. It's news to me too! Don't know who the lucky groom is either. Even better, the reception is an ode to Dorothy Draper, the Peak of Chic's favorite decorator! Oh, and Antony Todd, another Peak of Chic favorite, designed the event.

Sounds like my ideal wedding. And to think that I didn't even have to do any dating before my walk down the aisle!

(Image from Elegant Bride, Fall 2009, Jonny Valiant photographer.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

David Hicks: A Life of Design

One fall book release that I have anxiously been awaiting is David Hicks: A Life of Designby Ashley Hicks. And right about now, many of you may be rolling your eyes and thinking "yet another book on David Hicks?" I realize that the Hicks revival of a few years back has run its course, so why this book?

First, this book has much more biographical information than the previous Ashley Hicks project. That book gave you a glimpse into the life of David Hicks, but this tome really fleshes out the story of how Hicks got his start and created his design empire. Hicks was certainly ambitious (perhaps one could say aggressively so), and when opportunity knocked on his door, he didn't hesitate to make the most of it. Perhaps that's not such a bad thing as we are still talking about Hicks today.

The other point I'd like to make is that Hicks' work went beyond that mod, graphic, zingy look that he is so associated with. Much of Hicks' later work is actually restrained, elegant, and even at times subdued. I think that this phase of his career is often overlooked, and it's one that should be explored by young designers.

Granted, many of the photographs included in this book appeared in Ashley Hicks' earlier book as well as many of David Hicks' own books. However, there are Hicks interiors that I have never seen before, especially those of his early career. If you are a Hicks fan, or if you collect monographs of great designers, I think this book will be a worthy addition to your collection.

The ballroom at Claridges transformed for an event by David Hicks and this then business partner Tom Parr, c. 1957.

A Hicks Parr room from the 1950s.

The Belgravia drawing room of Princess Guirey, designed by Hicks in the 1950s.

One end of the Long Gallery at Baronscourt, the seat of the Duke of Abercorn, c. 1978.

(All images © David Hicks: A Life of Design by Ashely Hicks, Rizzoli, 2009.)

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Want to know a secret? I love mirror. I love mirrored walls, mirrored doors, mirrored screens, mirrored furniture, and mirrors on a wall. (I don't, however, do mirrored ceilings.) Am I a narcissist? Do I like to admire my reflection? Well, no. OK, so maybe a little.

What I'm drawn to most is mirror that has something interesting going on. Think smoked or antiqued mirror or better yet verre églomisé. And mirror that has been incorporated into a room's architecture really pushes me over the edge- in a good way. What I find a shame is that so few artisans or designers are doing unique things with mirror today. (An exception is my friend
Ray Goins who is a master at verre églomisé, but that's a post for another day.) Back in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, mirror really was the height of sophistication, and the imaginations of furniture craftsmen, architects, and designers knew no bounds when it came to using it. Take, for example, this door:

Now, a door like this could not have been in the apartment of a milquetoast. Instead, it graced the New York apartment of screen legend Gloria Swanson circa 1928. I can't quite figure out where the door actually is or how it opened, but that's not the point. The mirrored panels were outlined in steel molding, and in the middle was an electric fountain backed with a bright gold niche. Yes, the fountain shows questionable taste, but hey, it was Gloria Swanson. And you have to admit it was pretty creative.

Above is an outdoor ballroom designed by Nancy McClelland, a very talented and prominent designer whose name has been somewhat forgotten through time. That rather rotund fountain, the shell above the door, and the stylized tree were all made from mirror mosaic. This is really pretty fantastic. Gaudy? A bit. Do I want it on my balcony? No. But can you just imagine how this outdoor ballroom looked at night with guests attired in dinner jackets and satin bias-cut gowns, champagne coupes in hand, dancing among the mirrored decorations? Now tell me, when have you seen anyone go to this much trouble lately to do something different?

OK, so this example above might be more to your taste. A bedroom in Paris c. 1936 in which the door and window frames, the radiator covers, and tables were covered in mirror. I'm not so crazy about the commodes (or are they the radiator covers?) with the strips of mirror on them, but that door...perfection. That was some glamorous architecture!

And finally, a dining room from 1941. The mirrored fluted pilasters framed panes of mirror. The diamond inset behind the clock was a nice touch.

If mirroring walls, doors, and radiator covers seems a bit complicated, you could always buy a mirrored screen like the one at top, available from
David Duncan Antiques. It's obviously not the type of mirror in which to preen, but it looks pretty smashing nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mother Goose and Trim

Bullion fringe reminds me of that old nursery rhyme about the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. (Click here if you're not familiar with it.)

When it's good, it's very, very good.....

Tory Burch's library (Vogue, François Halard photographer)

Madeleine Castaing's home (French Interiors: The Art of Elegance, Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe photographer)

Carolina Herrera's home (Fernando Bengoechea, photographer)

Miles Redd interior (Elle Decor, Simon Upton photographer)

Bedroom of Oscar and Annette de la Renta (Vogue, François Halard photographer)

...but when it is bad it is horrid!

(Bullion trim at top from Lewis and Sheron)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mally Skok Fabrics

I was over at the Travis showroom the other day and was introduced to a fantastic new line of fabric by designer Mally Skok. Inspired by her love of antique and modern textiles, Skok recently debuted her line with the India Collection. Each print is charming, but I think what makes the line truly appealing is the hand crafted look of the fabric. I guess that's not surprising as all of Skok's fabrics are hand screened by Peter Fasano. For more information about the line, visit Mally's website, or do as I did and contact Dolly at the Travis showroom in Atlanta, (404) 237-5079.

Update: For you New Yorkers, Skok's fabric is also available at the Hinson showroom.

Julia in Pink on Oyster

Julia Double in Blue on Oyster

Nichola Aqua/Sand on Canvas

Rohet Multi on Oyster

Rohet Flora Multi on Natural

Rohet Stripe on Natural

Samode in Blue on Oyster

Monday, September 21, 2009

Go Dark!

The House Beautiful Color Institute took place here in Atlanta last week, and the turnout was huge.  No surprise, really, as Atlantans are design obsessed...but I think the rest of the country has its fair share of design savvy citizens as well.  Stephen Drucker led a lively discussion on color, and when the topic of current design trends came up, Stephen mentioned that dark colors seem to be captivating us today.  Case in point...the deep navy kitchen of Windsor Smith and the black entryway designed by Rob Southern (seen above), both of which were featured in the September issue of House Beautiful.  This trend is one that has really struck a chord with me, perhaps because I recently painted my powder room navy.  All of the talk of deep, dark rooms got me thinking...

...about designer Courtney Giles' den.  Look at the fair-haired version of the room when it was featured in Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles.  It's light and bright, yet that fabulous corduroy sofa, the geometric rug, and the deep brown wicker chair lend coziness to the room.  And then compare it to the current version in rich chocolate brown.  The same pieces are in the room, but the mood is so very different.  It used to be Grace Kelly, but it became Liz Taylor.

Stephen also mentioned that painting a room black is one of the most daring things you can do (design wise, of course).  I'm dying to try my hand at this.  When I think of black rooms, this one comes to mind:

A room designed by Mark Hampton in the early 1970s. I love the crisp white molding against those black walls. Can you imagine the way this room must have looked at night??  Smashing!  (Speaking of Mark Hampton, I am so excited about Duane Hampton's upcoming book on her genius late husband, Mark Hampton: An American Decorator, to be published by Rizzoli in Spring 2010.  This is the book I have been waiting for!!)

(Photo of kitchen: House Beautiful 9/09, Victoria Pearson photographer;  entrway: House Beautiful 9/09, Victoria Pearson photographer.  Giles' den, light version, from Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, September, 2007, Erica George Dines photographer; dark version via Giles' website, Emily Followill photographer.  Hampton room from House & Garden, September 1971)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Don't Forget!

Big design events happening in Atlanta this Thursday....

House Beautiful will be hosting its Color Institute Event at ADAC this Thursday, September 17.  The Keynote Presentation will take place at 10am and will be led by Editor in Chief Stephen Drucker.  Panelists include Suzanne Kasler and Eric Cohler.  Afterwards, showrooms will be hosting colorful events throughout the day.  RSVP is required; please email for more information, or visit their website.

Later that afternoon, you can meet designer Jamie Drake at a 3pm presentation at The Madison Gallery (ADAC Suite 226) followed by a reception at Deadwyler Antiques (ADAC Suite 322).  The event is a benefit for DIFFA; admission is a minimum $50 charitable contribution to DIFFA.  For more information and to RSVP for this event, please contact or call 404-816-4033.  Reservations are required no later than September 14.

George Barbier: The Birth of Art Deco

Are you familiar with George Barbier, shown above? I was vaguely aware of his name and knew that he was an illustrator during the Art Deco period. But beyond that...nothing else. Evidently, I'm not alone.

Barbier was one of the leading figures of the Art Deco era, enjoying fame and notoriety with fellow artists Léon Bakst, Erté, and Aubrey Beardsley. Much of Barbier's work centered around fashion illustration (including very stylish works for Cartier), although book and magazine illustrations and theater designs (set and costume) rounded out his oeuvre. His illustrations were so very evocative of the Deco era; they were lavish, stylized, and at times erotic. They captured the modernity and frivolity of that time.

Unfortunately, Barbier's name has been obscured with time. Bakst and Erté's stars continued to shine bright through the years, while Barbier was relegated to the annals of time. And amazingly enough, no exhibitions of his work had been staged since 1932 until this year when the Fortuny Museum in Venice held a retrospective of Barbier's work. An accompanying book was recently published entitled George Barbier: The Birth of Art Deco, edited by curator Barbara Martorelli (distributed in the U.S. by Rizzoli New York).  The book is a fascinating study of the man who helped define the Deco aesthetic.  There are numerous color plates of Barbier's work, and I think you'll be charmed by them.  (I know that I was, especially by his theater designs.)  The text is informative and concise, but the book really is all about Barbier's illustrations.

If you have an interest in illustration, in fashion, or in the Deco period, I highly recommend this well researched book.  After reading it, I think you might agree that it's high time more people are familiar with George Barbier.

(Those of you in New York might be interested in an upcoming lecture by the author on November 17 at the Art Deco Society.  Sponsored by the American Association of University Women, the event will take place from 6-8pm, $20 for ADSNY members and $25 for guests & non-members.  For more information, please call 212-679-3326)

Mademoiselle Spinelly chez elle, 1921 from Le Bonheur du Jour ou les Grâces à la Mode, 1924

Mademoiselle Sorel en grand habit, 1921 from Le Bonheur du Jour ou les Grâces à la Mode, 1924

Costume Study, Chinese Dancer, c. 1920

La Fontaine de coquillages, from Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914

Falbalas et Fanfreluches, almanach des Modes présentes, passées et futures, 1924

The Romance of Perfume, 1928; a promotional book for Richard Hudnut and Richard le Gallienne.

(All images copyrighted George Barbier: The Birth of Art Deco edited by Barbara Martorelli, Marsilio, 2009)