Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Dining Room of Marguerite Littman

Look through the chic cookbooks on your bookshelves- specifically R.S.V.P.: Menus for Entertaining from People Who Really Know How by Nan Kempner and Alex Hitz's My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist, if you have them- and you'll find mentions of that famous Southern belle, Marguerite Littman. Born in Monroe, Louisiana but a resident of London for decades, Littman has charmed legions of people and amassed numerous interesting friends throughout her life. Well-known for both teaching Elizabeth Taylor how to "speak Southern" for her role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and supposedly being the inspiration for Truman Capote's Holly Golightly, Littman is also a noted hostess, often gathering her guests in the dining room of her Chester Square townhouse.

According to the book David Hicks: A Life of Design, David Hicks decorated the home that Marguerite shares with her barrister husband, Mark, sometime in the 1960s. Hicks's work included covering the dining room's walls, windows, and table in a red floral print cotton. Hanging above the round dining table was an antler chandelier that evidently had an eyeball spotlight placed above it. What the book doesn't mention is whether the chandelier was Hicks's choice or that of the Littmans.

Fast forward to the 1993 when Diane Berger's book, The Dining Room, was published. In the book, a photo of the Littmans' dining room appears, still wearing the same vibrant floral fabric. But, by 2000 when Nan Kempner's book was released, the dining room had undergone a big change.  Gone was the crimson fabric, with stripes now taking the place of flowers on the room's walls.  The antler chandelier did, however, remain a prominent feature in the room.  I do wonder how the room looks today.

So what about the food served in this beautiful room?  Kempner wrote that Southern and Creole food is often on the menu as is traditional English fare, including such dishes as Barbecued Spring Lamb with Rosemary (English yet Southern because it is marinated in barbecue sauce) and Sautéed Bananas.  But what both Kempner and Hitz wax rhapsodic about are Littman's famous Twice-Baked Potatoes.  After reading the recipe in Hitz's book, I certainly am eager to make one of Marguerite's Stuffed Potatoes for myself.  I'll just have to pretend that I'm enjoying it while sitting beneath an antler chandelier.

The room as it appeared in the 1960s, having recently been decorated by David Hicks.

In the early 1990s, the room looks very much the same. Only the table cloth has changed.

And by the time Nan Kempner's book came out, the room had been redone, this time with around with striped fabric on the walls.  The antler chandelier?  It's still there.

Photos #1, #4, and #5 from R.S.V.P.: Menus for Entertaining from People Who Really Know How. #2 from David Hicks: A Life of Design. #3 from The Dining Room by Diane Berger, Fritz von der Schulenburg.


  1. Marguerite Littman is one of my Circles within Circles subjects and an early responder to the AIDS crisis.

    1. Blue, she really is to be applauded for her efforts in raising money for and awareness of the AIDS crisis. She seems like a real go-getter.

  2. Antler chandeliers are just timeless. Thanks for the inspiration.
    xo, Lissy

  3. If I may say, perhaps after too much booze and food at La Grotta, I really hate antler chandeliers, et al. Really hate 'em.

  4. Anonymous7:51 AM

    The chintz in the original design looks to be very similar, but not identical, to what Billy Baldwin used in Diana Vreeland's "garden in hell"? The stripes come off as a little dull in comparison

  5. Jennifer!

    I was just reading of Ms. Littman, in the Dominick Dunne foreword to the Tony Duquette book- so it was with much pleasure that I just read your lovely and erudite post on her! I feel that, for London, her "salle a manger" has a disarming informality and warmth that would charm any one lucky enough to have a meal there-

    Dean Farris

  6. Dahhling love the way transition of the room & the point you make that most beautiful spaces are really a collaboration, even if not by choosing an item, certainly in the influence the personality of someone has in the design scheme of a room.... as you noted perhaps she picked the chandelier herself, perhaps it simply captured something about her perfectly enough to live on...

  7. Absolutely stunning! I am a huge fan of David Hicks.

    The Glam Pad

  8. With the exception of the awful antler chandelier, I love it. It's elegant and fancy, yet also inviting.

  9. Anonymous2:52 PM

    I prefer the David Hicks incarantion to the others. Classic and timeless with one exception. The chandelier? Trendy.

  10. awesome chandelier!