Monday, March 31, 2014

Revisiting Diana Cooper

I recently read Darling Monster: The Letters of Lady Diana Cooper to Her Son John Julius Norwich 1939-1952.  (The book has not yet been released in the U.S., but you can do as I did and order it from the U.K.)  At 465 pages, the book might seem like it would be a bit of a slog, but it really isn't.  It's a brisk read that is delightful and entertaining.  In fact, I'm now anxious to read Diana Cooper's autobiography, although that will have to wait until I plow through the waist-high stack of books next to my bed.

Darling Monster prompted me to revisit the 2006 publication, Rooms, which featured Derry Moore's 1984 photos of Cooper's London flat.  I showed these photos on my blog many years ago, but it seems worthwhile to take another look as they capture the mementos- and attractive ones at that- of a life lived to the hilt.  Although I appreciated these photos when I first saw them a number of years ago, I now have a greater understanding of some of the photos' details thanks to Darling Monster.  For example, that seemingly incongruous yachting cap that Cooper is wearing in one of the photos?  It seems that this wasn't a one-time occurrence; she referred to wearing just such a cap in a number of her letters to her son.  And now I know that she wrote much of her correspondence from her bed, just as she seems to be doing in a different Moore photo.

While Diana Cooper's home might reflect her personality, it is her letters and written remembrances that truly capture it.  If Diana Cooper's home piques your interest, then by all means consider reading Darling Monster.

To purchase a copy of Darling Monster, visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

*The caption that accompanied this photo mentioned that Cooper's trompe l'oeil panels had been painted by Rex Whistler. As John Julius Norwich noted in Darling Monster, the panels were in fact painted by Martin Battersby for the Coopers' Chateau de Chantilly.  The panels were later moved to Cooper's London residence.

All photos from Rooms by Carl Skoggard, Derry Moore photographer.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

West Coast Bound

I'm off today for a ten day trip to California, and I decided that this would be a good time to take a few weeks off from blogging to recharge my battery.  But before I sign off, I want to remind you that I will be signing books at Hollyhock in Los Angeles this Wednesday, March 19 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm.  If you plan to attend (and I hope that you do!), please RSVP to the email address or phone number listed above.

Then, on Wednesday, March 26, Hudson Grace in San Francisco will be hosting a book signing event for me from 5 to 8pm.  The party will be just one of the retail-oriented events held as part of House Beautiful's Shop America night on Sacramento Street.  Many of the shops on Sacramento Street will be participating.  For more information, please see the invitation below.

And to those who plan to attend either event, I look forward to seeing you very soon.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Michael Devine and An Invitation to the Garden

After four months of a grueling travel schedule and a whirlwind (but fun!) book tour, my immune system is shot.  Last week, I became sick for the third time in three months, and to say that I was ready to cry over the situation is an understatement.  However, in an effort to be positive about the situation, I will say that the silver lining of being sick was that it gave me an opportunity to spend an afternoon reading my friend Michael Devine's fabulous new book, An Invitation to the Garden.  Simply put, the book was tonic for my soul.

Michael's book documents the entertaining that he and his partner, Thomas, do in their lovely Kinderhook, New York garden.  Michael is an avid gardener who has brought to life the most lovely and lush garden, which is a bounty of roses, lilacs, bachelor's buttons, tomatoes, green beans, and other vegetal delicacies.  But Michael doesn't treat his garden merely as a backdrop for entertaining.  An avid cook, too, Michael uses both the produce and the flowers that grow in his garden to create simple but elegant dishes that are inspired by his time spent living in France.

The book is comprised of chapters that are devoted to seasonal dinners and soirees, all of which are held in the garden or in the couple's charming tool shed cum bagatelle.  There is a Lilac Brunch, a Butterfly Luncheon, a Harvest Lunch, and an Elegant Christmas Eve Dinner, just to name a few.  Each chapter features a menu, photographs of the garden, the tablesetting, and the food served, and finally, recipes, which include Strawberries with Rose Water Syrup, Tomato Tartare with Parmesan Tuiles, Poulet Pot-au-Feu, Tomato Soup, and many more.

Among the many published tomes on entertaining, Michael's book is unique in that his style of entertaining is elegant yet completely doable, too.  You won't find any contrived or over the top dos in this book.  Much like Michael, his book is hospitable, one that those of us who love food, flowers, gardening, tablesettings, and, yes, entertaining will find most welcoming.

To purchase a copy of the book, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

All photos from An Invitation to the Garden by Michael Devine; Michael Devine and John Gruen photographers.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Speed Lamkin at Home in Louisiana

One of my favorite Mark Hampton-designed houses has to be that of the late author and playwright, Speed Lamkin.  The Monroe, Louisiana house, in which the writer and his sister, socialite Marguerite Littman, were raised, was built in 1936 by Lamkin's parents. After many years spent in the whirl of New York City, Lamkin returned home to Monroe to refocus his energy on his writing career and to take up residence in his childhood house.

Although Lamkin was known for his refined taste and his passion for collecting, he had the good sense to hire some very talented designers during his lifetime.  While living in New York, Lamkin engaged Billy Baldwin to decorate two different apartments. But for his Louisiana house, the playwright hired Mark Hampton, who helped Lamkin redecorate the house's interiors.  Lamkin had long wanted a drawing room with mirrored paneled walls like those in Coco Chanel's salon, something which Hampton made a reality.  And in what had once been the house's porte cochere, Lamkin envisioned a winter garden room.  Hampton complied and layered the room in yards of a charming Brunschwig & Fils floral chintz.  What a chic collaboration.

The photos that you see here appeared in the September 1981 issue of Architectural Digest.  Although I had seen photos of the house before (such as in Duane Hampton's book on Mark Hampton,) there are a few- namely, the master bedroom- which are not familiar to me.  Take a look below and tell me that this house didn't strike just the right balance between high-style, big city flourishes and Southern comfort and graciousness.

In the house's entrance hall, family portraits are displayed.  The wallpaper is a David Hicks design.

Two photos of the Coco Chanel-inspired drawing room. The bureau plat (to the left in the first photo) once belonged to Empress Eugenie.

The crimson dining room. The draperies were designed in the Regency style.

The winter garden room was referred to as the "Edwardian Room". You can see the garden and pool beyond the glass door.

The master bedroom with its very inviting-looking velvet canopy.

All photos from Architectural Digest, September 1981; Horst, photographer.

Join Me at Hollyhock

I'm heading to California next week where I'll have book signing events in both Los Angeles and San Francisco.  More on the San Francisco event later, but first, I want to invite those of you in Los Angeles to join me for a booksigning and cocktail reception at Hollyhock next Wednesday, March 19 from 5:30 to 7:30pm.

Considering the style and entertaining prowess of both Suzanne Rheinstein and her Hollyhock staff, the event should be a very fun time.  If you do plan to attend, please RSVP to the number of email listed above.  I look forward to meeting some of you next week.

Friday, March 07, 2014

A Country House in the City

And so we end the week with a trip back in time to London, more specifically, a townhouse decorated by the late Tom Parr of Colefax and Fowler. Photographed by Derry Moore for the May 1978 issue of Architectural Digest, the townhouse was located at the end of a private lane, where it was surrounded by trees and a small garden, thus giving visitors a sense of being in the country. Because of the townhouse's bucolic surroundings, Parr decorated this city house in the manner of a English country house.

The article's author, Elizabeth Lambert, noted that "the English are exceedingly good with their country houses, be they city versions or truly in the country. They know how to live in them, and they know how to decorate them- the living and decorating so entwined that to mention either attribute separately is almost impossible." So true. And Tom Parr was quoted as saying, "The best country houses are always totally relaxed, cottony and simple. Above all, they are easy to live in." I think that both Lambert and Parr's statements sum up exactly why Americans are so enamored of the English country house style.

Parr filled the townhouse with furnishings that epitomized both comfort and elegance. Comfy-looking seating, warm light, easy-on-the-eyes colors, and pretty fabrics all add to the relaxed atmosphere of the house. Thirty-five years after being published, these interiors don't look the least bit dated, a testament to Parr's skills as a designer. As he noted, "Decorating must not be ephemeral. The idea of changing colors every year is absolute rubbish. It's too expensive, for a start. There should be a timelessness about every room, and if enough thought has been given to what makes a particular house livable, then a decorator will be very good friends with the owners when the work is finished."

Can you imagine a better spot in which to read? The drawing room was filled with books, comfortable seating, and the homeowners' collection of Liverpool transfer-printed cream ware jugs.

Another view of the drawing room with its 18th-century marble fireplace.

The yellow dining room.

Parr conceived this Print Room for the homeowners, who were avid collectors of North American prints and engravings. Parr added a brown felt-covered table to give the homeowners a place to spread out and study their prints.

The Master Bedroom featured an exuberant use of a Brunschwig & Fils French floral chintz, rendered in shades of blue and brown...

...while in the Dressing Room, a different colorway of the same chintz was chosen for use on the room's walls and sofa.

All photos from Architectural Digest May 1978, Derry Moore photographer.

Monday, March 03, 2014

At Home with Danny Taylor

I spent a few days last week in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I helped my friend, Danny Taylor, celebrate the opening of his new full-service design studio and retail shop, @home with DT. The bijou studio is located practically next door to Danny's other venture, DT and Co., which is a real-estate and development firm. To say that Danny is a busy person is an understatement.

The new studio is filled with all kinds of treasures that Danny has found, including antique chests and secretaries, vintage chairs and accessories, and new finds like candles and books.  (I signed books during Danny's party, which explains the stacks of my book in a few of the photos.)  So successful was Danny's party that most of what you see in these photos has been sold.  However, the shop's inventory will be replenished soon thanks to Danny's knack for shopping and antiquing.

And I really think that Danny should add the title "host" to his resume, because Danny certainly knows how to throw a party.  The opening was a good old-fashioned Southern drinks party replete with cocktails (the DT Champagne Cocktail), cheese straws and ham biscuits served on silver trays, and, most importantly, some of the most gracious and down to earth guests you'll ever meet.

Danny, good luck with your new venture!

Danny and me

All photos by Jennifer Boles for The Peak of Chic