Monday, September 29, 2014

Two More Books for Your Consideration

Two fall book releases that I have highly anticipated are The Drawing Room: English Country House Decoration by British historian and writer, Jeremy Musson, and The Private Houses of France: Living with History by French writer Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery.  I collect books by both authors, and their latest efforts were well worth the wait.

As the title of Musson's book implies, The Drawing Room explores "one of the defining spaces of the English country house."  The author's introduction gives a concise history of this room, which evolved from the modest, early seventeenth-century "withdrawing" room to a space that, by the late seventeenth century, stood almost equal in importance to the dining room, thus earning the drawing room the sometimes expensive, usually well-appointed decor that defines these rooms today.  Musson has divided his book into chronological sections that trace the evolution of drawing room decor from the sixteenth century up to today, using numerous examples of well-known (and perhaps not so well-known) country house drawing rooms.  In the section devoted to the sixteenth- to eighteenth-century drawing room, expect to find photos of South Wraxall Manor, Kedleston Hall, and Broadlands.  Attingham Park and Renishaw Hall represent the elegant nineteenth-century drawing room, while the "opulence" of the later nineteenth-century can be seen in the rooms of Knebworth and Madresfield Court.  The drawing rooms of David Hicks, Detmar Blow, and Nancy Lancaster are prime examples of how tastemakers decorated and used these rooms during the twentieth century.  Finally, the book ends with a look at what the twenty-first-century drawing room looks like, specifically rooms decorated by Veere Grenney and Chester Jones.  (All of the country houses I have mentioned are but a fraction of the houses featured in Musson's book.)

As tempting as it might be ignore the text in favor of the book's beautiful photos by Paul Barker, don't.  Musson's brief but illuminating surveys of each drawing room are chock full of architectural history, social history, and descriptions of furnishings and decor, all of which tend to interest people like us.  And one more thing- Musson's book will make a nice companion to Mark Girouard's Life in the English Country House, a book that many of us own.

 The South Drawing Room at Althorp

The drawing room at Renishaw Hall, home of the Sitwells.

Deene Park 

The drawing room of Stanway House, with its pair of Thomas Chippendale Chinoiserie daybeds.

Veere Grenney's The Temple, whose drawing room is always a crowd pleaser.

Moving on to France.... I'm an ardent fan of author Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery, whose books give readers an insider's view of life in aristocratic French residences.  Although the concept of her latest book, Private Houses of France, is not markedly different from that of The Finest Houses of Paris or even The French Chateau, that's okay with me.  I never grow tired of looking at big, beautiful photos of sumptuously-appointed French homes.

De Nicolay-Mazery's latest endeavour profiles such private houses as Château d'Anet, Champchevrier, and the Paris apartment of Princesse G. There are also chapters on Hubert de Givenchy's Paris residence, Hôtel d'Orrouer, as well as Baron de Redé's first floor residence of Hôtel Lambert. (I believe that the book's photos of both residences have never before been published.)  Like Musson's work, the text in this book deals mostly with the history of each residence, although the author does delve into how the various aristocratic homeowners live in their luxurious abodes.  But it's the book's photos that might well send the reader into a reverie.  In addition to large, overall room shots, there are plenty of detail photos as well, which capture the personal details that say so much about a home.  Just take a look below:

The Paris residence of Hubert de Givenchy 

 A guest room at Château d'Anet

 The dining room in a hôtel particulier in the Marais

At Château d'Anet

*The Drawing Room is available via Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound. Private Houses of France also available through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound.

Photos from The Drawing Room by Jeremy Musson, copyright © Rizzoli Publishers 2014. Photos from Private Houses of Frances by Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery, copyright © Flammarion Publishers 2014. Francis Hammond photographer.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Markham Roberts: Decorating the Way I See It

Today's post marks the first in a spate of upcoming fall book reviews.  (After a year of book touring, it's nice to once again have time to both read design books and review them.)  First up is Markham Roberts: Decorating the Way I See It.  I am a huge fan of Markham's work, so one might think that makes me a biased reviewer.  If anything, though, it makes me a tougher critic.  I expected a lot from this book, and Markham delivered.

What has long drawn me to Markham's work is the fact that there is nothing forced nor contrived about it.  A rarity in today's world, Markham is one who doesn't seem to feel the need to prove anything nor to beg for attention, and the same probably goes for his clients, too.  (Isn't it reassuring to know that a few low-key, unassuming people still exist?)  What's important to Markham- and what he stresses in his book- is that the interiors he decorates reflect the lifestyles and personalities of his clients, something which, as Senga Mortimer notes in the book's foreword, means that Markham's work lacks "a recognizable stamp for which so many decorators become known."  Instead, Markham's work has range, though it's a range that is ably supported by a mastery of decorating.  While looking at the book's photographs (many of which, by the way, have not been published before,) I was reminded of the work of Albert Hadley and Mark Hampton (Markham's mentor,) both of whom also worked within an impressive range of styles.

In addition to the "can't take your eyes off of them" photos, the book's text, which was written by Markham, should not be overlooked.  The designer has included sound decorating advice in his book, all of which is written in a breezy, down-to-earth style.  But the book isn't solely about decorating; it's about living, too.  You really can't have one without the other, and that is something that Markham inherently understands.

Markham Roberts's comfortable approach to decorating and living is a breath of fresh air, and that's what helps to make his book so inviting.  It's a book that you will want to add to your design library.  And after reading the book, you just might find yourself either wanting to hire Markham as your decorator or inviting him to your house for dinner.

Markham Roberts: Decorating the Way I See It is available through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound.

All photos copyright ©2014 The Vendome Press

Life on the Road

The interesting thing about a book signing event is that I never know who is going to show up to buy a copy of my book.  Such was the case this week when the ladies of Place on the Pointe, a shopper's paradise in Albany, Georgia, hosted a book signing for me.  Amid the two-legged customers was George, with whom I had a nice chat as I inscribed a copy of my book to him. (I didn't get a chance to ask him if the lack of opposing thumbs made holding a book difficult.)  If only I could figure out how to get Alfie interested in reading.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Facing the Music

Don't ask me how I got on a roll with music motifs, but somehow, I did. I think that it was a glimpse of Mrs. Antenor Patino's music-themed table linen (seen above and below), which appeared in The New Tiffany Tablesettings, that led me down a rabbit hole filled with treble clefs, ledger lines, and notes. Although I don't have a musical bone in my body, I do like a musical motif, which, when used in attractive and not kitschy ways, can strike a note of elegant whimsy to whatever it adorns.

 Image above and at top: a beautifully set table by Mrs. Antenor Patino

 A music-themed buffet from the early 1960s.

A 1937 Elsa Schiaparelli dress, which was embroidered with musical notes.

"Moon River" china from Tiffany & Co., now discontinued.

Musical motif linen from Loretta Caponi.

It's difficult to see, but the trompe l'oeil design that graces the top of this Regency occasional table includes an illustration of sheet music.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Revisiting Denning and Fourcade

Those of you who own a copy of  The New York Times Book of Interior Design and Decoration are probably already familiar with the former Manhattan townhouse of designers Robert Denning and Vincent Fourcade.  Their residence, which was decorated in the designers' signature opulent style though mixed with touches of late 1960s-era hipness, garnered four photographs in the New York Times book.  And if memory serves me correctly (though it may not,) I believe that the designers' master bedroom may also have appeared in a House & Garden book.

And now thanks to a kind reader who lives in Geneva, I have many other photos of this townhouse, which I had not previously seen.  Although the Denning and Fourcade look is usually a bit too rich for my taste, I do think that there is much to appreciate about their work.  Take their townhouse, for example.  There is no denying that the two designers possessed some fine-looking furniture and employed fine-looking fabrics.  Their master bedroom, which is memorable for its blue and white patterned walls and plaid curtains and bedspread, is appealing, despite the fact that the bed is placed diagonally within the room.  And their patio is positively timeless-looking, what with that abundance of green trellis and blue-and-white-striped fabric.

Although few people live like this anymore (which, in a way, is a shame,) it's worth taking a look at the residence of two men who lavishly made their mark on American design.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Last Weekend

I love movies, and I love interior design, and when the two meet to make movie magic, well, all the better. That's the case with Last Weekend, a new film that was written and co-directed by Tom Dolby. Starring Patricia Clarkson, the movie chronicles the last weekend spent by a wealthy San Francisco family at their beloved Lake Tahoe home.

What makes this movie especially appropriate for my blog is the film's ever-present Lake Tahoe summer house, which not only plays a major role in Last Weekend, but in the lives of Dolby and his family as well. The house, which was built in 1929, has belonged to the Dolby family since the late 1970s. Tom's parents have lovingly maintained the house, retaining all of the original (and wonderful) architectural details and decorating it in a style that is both rustically quirky and immensely comfortable. And of special importance to those of us who are fans of classic film, the house also happened to be the setting of 1951's A Place in the Sun, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Talk about a house that was made for the movies.

In a recent interview, Dolby said, "The house provided the greatest inspiration of all for this film. She is the grand old lady that anchors the family and provides them with a sanctuary."  I think the film's characters- and Dolby's family in real life- are lucky to call this grand old lady home.

*Last Weekend is available in selected theaters, video-on-demand, and iTunes. 

The three photos seen above are taken from Last Weekend.

The house as it appeared in A Place in the Sun.

Photos that show the house as it appeared in 1930.

Lecture in Memphis

And one more speaking engagement to announce...

On Saturday, October 11 at 2 pm, I will be speaking at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art as part of the Decorative Arts Trust speaker series.  My lecture, which will focus on both my book and the history of classic design, will be followed by a book signing reception.

The Decorative Arts Trust is one of the country's leading decorative arts support groups, and in my opinion, one which should serve as an example for other like-minded museum support groups.  The group's success is due in large part to the enthusiasm and passion of its members, no small feat in an age when the decorative arts tend to take a back seat to contemporary art and photography, for example.

For more information on my lecture, or to learn more about the Decorative Arts Trust, please visit their website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I recently found myself getting mired in stress.  I was stressing about those big questions that inevitably haunt me from time to time, such as "What's the next step for me in my career?" to the more mundane, "What am I to blog about next?"  These are the sometimes difficult-to-answer questions that keep me up at night.

In an effort to get unstuck and in hopes of maintaining my generally positive outlook on life, I decided to focus my energies on something fun.  Because it's fun, I think, that helps one to rise above the stress and shake off "the will to be dreary", as Dorothy Draper would say.  And what I consider to be great fun is to explore old cookbooks and drinks manuals for a taste of the past, specifically the 1930s.

I perused my copy of The Complete Hostess, written by Giovanni Quaglino, who founded his namesake Mayfair restaurant, Quaglino's, in 1929.  The 1920s had been a gay decade for London society, one in which, according to Barbara Cartland,  "we danced from breakfast until dawn the following day."  (It was Cartland who famously claimed to have found a pearl in her oyster at Quaglino's.)  But by 1929, the Bright Young People were starting to mature, and a taste for dancing gave way to a taste for good food.  In his sophisticated restaurant, Quaglino served up equally sophisticated fare, which included such dishes as Truite aux Raisins de Moissac, Homard à la facon du Maitre Louis, and Emincé de Volaille à la King. Quaglino is also remembered as being one of the first to serve hot hors d'oeuvres, such as Croquettes de Homard and Flan Chez Quaglino.  And entertainment rounded out a meal at Quaglino's, with acts like the Gregory Novelty Tango Quintette and Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson performing for the well-heeled clientele.  (If you're not familiar with Hutch, Google him right away.  Trust me.  You'll spend a good half hour reading about his scandalous exploits.)

Quaglino's is still around today, albeit in an updated form.  In the early 1990s, Terence Conran revamped the restaurant, thus bringing some of the sparkle and polish back to the Quaglino name.  And today, the restaurant is about to reopen after being closed for a major renovation.  As glamorous as the new and improved Quaglino's might be, it's the 1930s-version that most appeals to me.  I'll take bias-cut satin dresses, Hutch Hutchinson tinkling the ivories, and Flan Chez Quaglino  over DJ booths and artisanal cocktails any day.

Quaglino's as it appeared in the 1930s.

Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson performing at Quaglino's.

White Lady Cocktail (recipe from The Complete Hostess)
2/3 Gin
1/3 Cointreau
the juice of a 1/4 of a lemon

Stuffed Celery Chez Quaglino (recipe from The Complete Hostess)
Take some very selected sticks of celery. Equal proportions of Rocquefort cheese and butter. Mix together well with a little cream and sherry and some paprika until it becomes a smooth paste. Fill up the celery and serve.

Back in the mid-'90s, no trip to London was complete without a visit to Quaglino's.  And no visit to Quaglino's was complete without purchasing one of their ashtrays.