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.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Nicky Haslam's Folly de Grandeur



I recently spent the most enjoyable evening reading Nicky Haslam's newly released (as in today!) book, Nicky Haslam's Folly De Grandeur: Romance and Revival in an English Country House. As most of you are probably aware, the book profiles the Hunting Lodge, Nicky's enchanting country house that once belonged to John Fowler.  Perhaps it was the allure of these two designers that had me eagerly anticipating the release of this book.  Whatever the reason, the book turned out to be exactly as I had hoped: interesting, inspirational, and hands down a fun read.

Nicky's book is charming and engaging for a number of reasons.  First, he is an excellent writer, one who throws out all kinds of interesting historical tidbits and practical decorating advice along with humorous, and at times naughty, quips thrown in for good measure.  For those of you who are eager to learn about Nicky's thoughts on fabrics, floors, and like, you won't be disappointed as he includes numerous chapters focused on such aspects of decorating.  And if you are a devotee of the country house style, then you'll enjoy reading about the evolution of the house as well as studying the luscious photos of forty years worth of decorative layers.

In fact, even without Nicky's well-written narrative, the book would still be a success, I think, because of Simon Upton's photos.  There are large room shots as well as many detail photos that capture all of Nicky's amusing and entertaining mementos.  There is just so much to look at in this house- and this book- that one could spend hours studying these pictures.  Wait, I did spend hours studying the book's pictures!

I'm not sure what Nicky's follow-up book is going to be, but whatever it is, I am eagerly awaiting that one too.








© Nicky Haslam's Folly De Grandeur: Romance and Revival in an English Country House by Nicholas Haslam, Rizzoli New York, 2013. Images © Simon Upton may not be reproduced in any way, published, or transmitted digitally without written permission from the publisher.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A New Take on Mountain Living


For many Southerners, heading to the mountains means venturing to western North Carolina.  But amongst these same people, mountain style means many different things.  While traditional mountain decor is still alive and well in this area, there are some homeowners, architects, and designers who are taking a different approach to mountain living.  Rather than color schemes of browns, creams, and dark greens, steely grays and cool blues are often their colors of choice.  Furniture is sleek and spare, and contemporary art has replaced antique oil paintings. 

One North Carolina mountain home that reflects this new spirit appears in the April issue of House Beautiful.  Owned by a Charlotte, North Carolina based couple, the home was designed by talented architect Ruard Veltman in tandem with the wife, who is a designer.  Respecting the home's location in a 1920s-era community, the exterior architecture is deliberately traditional.  And yet, the interior is a departure from its surroundings, a blend of luxurious materials and urbane furnishings.  But despite the home's gussied up interiors, there is a sense of comfort that permeates the house, one that invites relaxation.  It's really a most striking mountain house.

Here are a few images for your perusal, but you can read the entire article in the April issue, which hits the newsstands tomorrow.








All photos from the April 2013 issue of House Beautiful, Eric Piasecki photographer.  Images used with express permission from the publisher.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Frenchwoman's Bedroom




Appearances can be deceiving.  I was reminded of that the other day while reading a friend's copy of The Frenchwoman's Bedroom by Mary-Sargent Ladd. During my initial flipping through, I saw a photo of Jacqueline de Ribes, a woman whose style I greatly admire.  Just look at her, above, wearing that fabulous silk caftan not to mention her perfectly made-up face and coiffed hair.  And yet, when I turned the page to see photos of her bedroom, I was a little surprised.  Not that there is anything wrong with her bedroom (see above), but it just wasn't what I was expecting.  I suppose that I assumed her bedroom would be brighter and layered with matching fabrics.  But it wasn't.  Well, as they say, you should never assume anything.

The entire book is really a gem with loads of photos showing chic French women in their homes.  (How refreshing that many of these women actually had wrinkles on their faces!  That's reassuring, don't you think?)  Their bedrooms are equally as chic and are filled with Porthault linen, Braquenié fabric, and all kinds of pretty things.  And while some bedrooms come as no surprise- the late Andrée Putman's bedroom was contemporary looking, as would be expected- there are still some like de Ribes' room that were unexpected.  Who would have guessed that the Marquise de Ravenel, photographed in her floral housecoat while holding her wire-haired dachshund, would have decorated her bedroom in such a crisp, orderly, and surprisingly modern-looking way!



Madame Sylvie Boutet de Monvel, daughter of famous aesthete Bernard Boutet de Monvel, lived in her father's home for her entire life. She maintained some of her father's decor, including the painted cupboards in her dressing room. Each cabinet was painted with women's clothing, including shoes, hats, and fans.




The bedroom of La Princesse Jeanne Marie de Broglie boasts sofa and curtain fabric from Geoffrey Bennison.




The elegant Mademoiselle Jacqueline Delubac had an equally elegant bedroom with furniture by Jansen. Paintings by Vuillard and Picasso stood alongside Porthault sheets.




You know that La Baronne Antoinette de Gunzbourg's bedroom would be cozy considering that she, like a few other women in the book, was photographed with her dog. Much of the bedroom was covered in a Chinoiserie print fabric from Lauer.




Madame Irith Landeau's bedroom is tranquil and warm.




The late Andrée Putman's bed was screened behind gray mosquito netting.




I adore La Marquise de Ravenel's bedroom which boasts a mixture of graphic prints. The Marquise needlepointed her bed, rug, and bed throw pillows.




La Baronne Edmond de Rothschild chose the famous Verrieres fabric for her bedroom.




La Baronne Gérard de Waldner hired her friend, designer François Catroux, to decorate her bedroom. Designer and client chose two floral prints from both Braquenié and Le Menach to create a flowery, feminine room.



All photos from The Frenchwoman's Bedroom by Mary-Sargent Ladd.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dining by Design




I have written before about the homes of London-based designers Paolo Moschino and Philip Vergeylen .  What I enjoy about their work is that it is layered, a word that I realize has become ubiquitous.  But it really does describe their delectable interiors where each piece has flair and obviously been chosen with great care, and yet, no one piece appears conspicuous.  All of the room's elements create a lovely whole, with each piece only revealing itself upon a thorough inspection of the room.

Their Sussex farmhouse is featured in the March issue of House & Garden (UK), an issue which most of you have probably already read.  My neighborhood bookstore only just got the issue last week, so the article is current news to me.  Anyway, what really bowled me over was the farmhouse's dining room.  The room's blue and white mural (pictured above) was inspired the18th century French screen that hangs alongside it.  The effect is so pretty and elegant.  Is it typical of a farmhouse?  No, but that seems just the way the duo like it.  If this were my dining room, I would an especially happy person.

In fact, Moschino and Vergeylen seem especially talented when decorating dining rooms.  When bestowed with their handiwork, these rooms become positively magical.  Take a look below and see if you don't agree.




Three different views of the same dining room, above.


Moschino and Vergeylen's dining room in their London flat.



A slightly more casual yet not less polished dining room.


Photos #1 and #2 from House & Garden, March 2013, Simon Brown photographer. #6 from Architectural Digest, April 2012, Tim Beddow photographer.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Paella Party


I so enjoy food and entertaining articles from the late 1960s and early 1970s because hosts and hostesses were then just starting to forgo elaborate dinner parties and numerous courses in favor of a simple style of entertaining. These bygone articles about one-pot dinners, make-ahead recipes, and stylish, comfortable table settings still inspire today, especially considering that most of us continue to prefer simplicity over fussiness when preparing our meals.

The photos featured in this post came from a 1971 House & Garden article. The fetching couple was Adriana and Dan Rowan, whose name some of you might recognize from the television show "Laugh-In". I admit that it was Mrs. Rowan's pink and black paisley hostess gown that initially caught my eye, but I also found the Rowans' dining room so attractive with its tile floor, the potted flowers placed everywhere, and that chic yet casually set table.  Terracotta potted tulips, Mexican tin chargers, brown earthenware plates, and plain crystal stemware were the proper accompaniments to a dinner in which paella was the main course.  (As Mrs. Rowan noted, "I like to cook in five languages- French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Mexican.")  And Mr. Rowan assisted in the preparations, too, by choosing wine from his well-stocked cellar.

Little about this dining room or the table looks dated, and I think the same can be said for that hostess gown too.  (The kitchen's linoleum floor and double ovens, on the other hand, scream 1970.) In fact, considering that paella, still a popular entertaining dish today, was on the menu, you might not know that this dinner party took place over forty years ago- until you see photos of the kitchen, of course.


Menu

Salted Soybean Nuts and Crudites

Paella

Green Salad with Raw Vegetables

Cheese Garlic Toast

Fruit Salad with Cointreau

Cheeses: Gourmandise, Blue, Swiss, Brie

Wine: Pouilly Fumé la Doucette 1964






Monday, March 04, 2013

Frescoes and Papal Conclaves


Much of the world will be following the upcoming Papal conclave including those of us who are not Catholic. Two aspects of the conclave especially intrigue me: the white smoke signaling the election of a new pope and the conclave's location in the Sistine Chapel. I have toured the Sistine Chapel on three separate occasions, and each visit was never long enough to soak in the Chapel's beauty. Although the term "awe-inspiring" is used with too much frequency today, I do believe that Michelangelo's frescoes are indeed just that. I can only imagine what it must be like to meet beneath such a masterpiece.

So, in honor of the Sistine Chapel, the Papal conclave, and all of the other activity swirling around the Vatican at the moment, I am posting some photos of Italian houses (and one Spanish house) that also boast breathtaking frescoes. For someone who lives in a late 1960's high-rise, I can only assume that it must be pretty glorious to cast one's eyes on these frescoes everyday.  I even managed to find the fresco featured above, which was conceived by designer Renzo Mongiardino.  Considering that it depicts a bishop, it seemed the appropriate photo to lead off this post.



The library in Villa Burlamacchi Rossi in Gattaiola.


The library in a home in Palma de Mallorca. (Yes, technically this home is located in Spain rather than Italy, but I do love that frescoed ceiling.)


In an old Venetian palazzo, a bedroom was once a reception room.


A room with 18th century decorations in Villa Malaspina near Carrara.


Restored frescoes from the 17th century grace the walls of this Renzo Mongiardino decorated space.



The two photos above were taken at a villa that overlooks Genoa. The villa was built at the end of the 16th century.


Photos #1 and #6 from Roomscapes: The Decorative Architecture of Renzo Mongiardino; #2-#5 from The Anti-Minimalist House (Archives of Decorative Arts); #7 and #8 from Living Well.