Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Macy's Thanksgiving Day Feast

Some of you might be traveling to your Thanksgiving destinations today, while others are at home, likely baking a Pumpkin Pie or setting the Thanksgiving table. Speaking of holiday tables, I couldn't let Thanksgiving pass us by without featuring another of Jonathan Preece's inspired holiday settings. (Click here if you wish to see previous installments.)

For this Thanksgiving table, Jonathan's clients gave him carte blanche, only asking that their table setting be "unique, creative, and visually stimulating."  Jonathan, whose creativity seems to know no bounds, settled on a scaled-down version of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for the table's theme.  After all, watching the parade is one of this country's most cherished Thanksgiving customs.

Look closely at the photos below, and you'll see that the table runner is actually an enlarged, laminated map of the parade route, which runs from the Upper West Side of Central Park West to Midtown and its eventual destination of Macy's at Herald Square.  Blocks of Oasis, which were covered with moss, bark, and autumn colored flowers and foliage, mimic the trees one might find along the Central Park-portion of the parade route.  (Along the "street-grid gaps" of the parade route runner, small concrete planters were used to provide touches of greenery.)   You'll also see small painted sculptures that represent the buildings and high-rises which dot the parade route.  But the crowning touch to these little buildings are their attached "balloons", which are actually hand-made of painted papier-mâché by artist Liz Fleri.  Among the balloons making their way down the table, you'll find Kermit the Frog, Garfield, Humpty Dumpty, and Mr. Potato Head.

At each place setting, Jonathan placed napkins that had been folded in such a way as to resemble the top tiers of the Chrysler Building.  Each place card was printed with a historical fact regarding the parade.  And guests were given small mementos, which included Macy's key chains adorned with images of the parade's most classic balloons.  

Wherever you may be, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving! And to you, Jonathan, thank you, as always, for the beautiful holiday inspiration.

All photos courtesy of Jonathan Preece.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Frederic March and Henry Sleeper

High on my list of places that I wish to visit is Beauport, the Gloucester, Massachusetts house of Henry Davis Sleeper. Built by Sleeper in the early twentieth century, Beauport was decorated in myriad historical styles and furnished with an array of objects, both of which attest to Sleeper's flair for decorating (he was one of this country's earliest professional decorators) and his passion for collecting.  Even if you're not overly familiar with Beauport, you have likely seen photos of two of its more famous rooms: the China Trade Room and the Octagon Room.

This post, however, isn't really about Beauport, but rather Sleeper's work as an interior designer.  Sleeper's clients included Isabella Stewart Gardner and Henry Francis du Pont, who enlisted Sleeper's guidance in decorating both his Long Island house, Chestertown, and his more famous residence, Winterthur.  But what I find to be curious was the fact that this New England decorator also worked for Hollywood actors, including Joan Crawford and Frederic March (pictured above.)

I recently discovered photos of March's Sleeper-designed Beverly Hills house in a 1936 issue of House Beautiful.  According to my research, Sleeper decorated the house in 1934, the same year in which he (Sleeper) died.  (I don't know if he died before or after completion of the March house.)  The House Beautiful article shows three photos of the home's exterior, which was described as French Provincial with whitewashed brick walls and blue doors, but just a scant three photos of the home's interior, namely, the dining room and a playroom.

The dining room, which you can see below, was furbished with a hunting-and-fishing-motif Zuber paper and "woodwork and damask curtains a soft azure blue-green."  Don't you wish that we could see that dining room in color?  The playroom is charming, though a bit unusual, in that it "reproduces a kitchen in an old Normandy house- fine copper and brass on the hearth, brown toile curtains, yellow quilting on the chairs and sofa."  Though not pictured in the article, the living room was described as having been decorated "after an 18th Century salon, with laurel green paneled walls, lots of books, a piano in one corner, secretary in another, 18th Century furniture in deep yellow brocade and a dark brown chintz on the couch."

According to the Beauport website, Sleeper described his early design focus as "Norman and English Country Houses- 17th and 18th century American Interiors."  Later, however, that focus shifted slightly to "English and French Interiors- 17th and 18th century American Paneling."  Sleeper was obviously well-versed in a range of historical styles, and I think that range is quite evident in the March house. 

An interesting footnote to this story is that March's house, which was designed by architect Wallace Neff in 1934, had several subsequent prominent owners, including Shirley and Flobelle Burden (the parents of Carter Burden, who grew up in this house,) Wallis Annenberg, and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston.  Pitt supposedly removed some of the home's original paneling, which really doesn't surprise me at all.

The two photos above show the March dining room.

The old Norman kitchen-inspired playroom.

The Winterthur Collection at Currey & Company

I had the privilege of touring Winterthur a few years ago, and it was truly remarkable. What is equally remarkable, though in a much different sense of the word, is the number of designers who have never even heard of Winterthur.  That really amazes me.

I have written about Winterthur before, so I won't repeat myself by explaining what it is and who Henry Francis du Pont was.  You can read my previous Winterthur-related blog posts by clicking here.  But what I do want to bring to your attention is Currey & Company's Winterthur Collection. The collection, which includes lighting and furniture, was inspired by pieces at Winterthur.  Some of the furniture, such as the "Powell" dressing table, below, was based on pieces collected by du Pont himself, while books and ephemera in Winterthur's library were the source for many of the motifs used to embellish Currey's new lamps.

For more information on the collection, please visit Currey & Company's website.  And if you have never before visited Winterthur, I encourage you to do so soon.

 This Currey & Company "Powell" dressing table was based on an early eighteenth-century Philadelphia dressing table in the Winterthur collection.  Like the contemporary version you see here, the original dressing table had ogee-arched carved front and side skirts, which is a characteristic of the "Early Baroque" or "William and Mary" style.

It was an early nineteenth-century Massachusetts fancy settee, part of the collection at Winterthur, that spawned the Currey & Company version, which is named "Chestertown", above.  The original settee was decorated with gilded grapes and leaves.

Currey & Company's "Chestertown" Rocking Chair.

Currey & Company's "Victor" lamp.

The floral motif on this table lamp was inspired by the 1881 pattern book, Suggestions in Floral Design, by Frederick E. Hulme.  The book featured chromolithographed plates of plant and floral specimens, some of which were highlighted in gold.  A copy of this book is in the library at Winterthur.

Monday, November 17, 2014

No Time for Tea

If you'll recall, I recently wrote about how I relished the thought of afternoon tea.  I was reminded of that blog post after reading Jeremy Musson's book, The Drawing Room, and attending his recent lecture in Atlanta.  In his book, Musson discusses the relationship of afternoon tea and the drawing room, writing:

...a new meal emerged in the drawing room in the 1830s and 1840s.  By about 1840, afternoon tea had become a feature of the English country house day, probably related to the main meal of the day having moved to the evening from the middle of the day during the course of the eighteenth century.

I have a living room, which serves as my version of a drawing room, and I have a tea set, sundry sets of dessert plates, pretty teacups and saucers, and plenty of table linen.  But what I don't seem to have is the time to serve afternoon tea to guests or, for that matter, to myself when I'm home alone.  In fact, the closest I come to afternoon tea is preparing tea sandwiches for my dinner.  (That is one of the perks of being single; I don't have to take another person into consideration when choosing what to have for dinner.)

I'm guessing that most of the women featured in this blog post had the time, not to mention the assistance of a staff, to serve afternoon tea.  Nevertheless, these photos will likely serve as the impetus I need to invite guests to tea.  And until I figure out how to carve time out of my schedule to host the occasional tea, I'll simply have to make do with the occasional tea sandwich supper, perhaps served with tea or, better yet, champagne.

Billy Norwich's Cucumber Society Sandwiches

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped dill
1 large seedless cucumber
1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
24 slices white bread cut into 2-inch rounds
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley.

Place butter and chopped dill in container of a food processor using the steel blade, process with a few pulses. Set aside. Peel cucumber and cut into 1/4" rounds. Toss cucumber slices in a bowl with vinegar and salt.  Drain liquid.

Spread one side of each bread round with dill butter. Place a cucumber slice between the buttered sides of two bread rounds. Roll the outside edge of each sandwich in chopped parsley. Cover with a damp cloth until ready to serve.

 Nancy Mitford and her Mappin and Webb tea service in 1940.

 Mrs. Winston Churchill pouring tea in her sitting room at 10 Downing Street, 1940.

 Mrs. Thomas Hitchcock taking tea at her Canadian lake house in 1986.  I love her wicker furniture, the straw matting on the floor, and her Belgian loafers.

 Mrs. Dwight F. Davis and her pooch taking tea in 1938.  Alfie would be envious if he were to see this photo.

Ann Bonfoey Taylor, relaxing at her après-ski afternoon tea.

Tea and cigarettes for Pamela Turnure.

Mrs. Alma Spreckels in her San Francisco home.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Speaking Engagements

Over the last year, I have lectured at antiques shows, museums, women's groups, and cultural events.  My speaking engagements have kept me on the road for much of the year, and yet, I have loved every minute of it.  Speaking about design and design history excites me, and I believe that my enthusiasm for the subject comes through in my lectures.

I am currently working on my 2015 lecture schedule.  If you are organizing an event and are looking for a speaker who can both entertain and educate an audience, I hope that you will keep me in mind.  Not only do I speak about classic design and watershed moments in design history, but I also pepper my talk with anecdotes about some of the twentieth century's most stylish legends, including Nan Kempner, Billy Baldwin, and Cecil Beaton.

For more information, please email me at

Revisiting Denning and Fourcade

Truth be told, I am not an ardent fan of the work of designers Denning and Fourcade. I feel guilty writing that, because Robert Denning and Vincent Fourcade were awfully talented. My hang-up - perhaps mine alone though I suspect not- is that I often find their work to be a little too rich for my taste.  Their lavish use of sumptuous fabrics and grand furniture makes me think of chocolate truffles, in that a little bit goes a long way.

That being said, I really do appreciate their body of work, and when I come across photos of a Denning and Fourcade-decorated home, I always stop to look.  You can't glance at their work and expect to absorb it quickly.  The layers and layers of, well, stuff require close examination.  Only then can one see the method that went into their multi-layered approach to decorating.  I don't get the impression that they simply threw a lot of furnishings into a room without any forethought.

Although that opulent Denning and Fourcade look is quite the opposite of today's style of decorating, there is still much we can learn from it.  Their work is a lesson in quality, which is often sadly lacking in today's world.  When you look at photos of their work, let your eyes sift through the multitude of furnishings, and what you'll find are impeccable fabrics, excellent antique furniture, and rarefied objects.  Now imagine how just one antique rug, for example, or a gilt mantel clock could raise the level of refinement and sophistication in a room of one's own.

By the way, the photos below show the designers' Manhattan apartment, circa 1990.  "Refreshing" may not be the first word to pop into your head while looking at these photos, and yet, I do think it's refreshing to see a home in which elegance, luxury, and comfort coexist so peacefully. 

All photos from HG, October 1990, Karen Radkai photographer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tiger Tiger!

I always look forward to new No. 9 textile collections thanks in large part to designer Richard Smith's inventive and sometimes whimsical designs. Smith's extensive knowledge of history and the decorative arts coupled with a curiosity for the exotic seem to provide endless, not to mention fruitful, inspiration for his collections, and this seems to be the case with his latest, named Tiger Tiger.

The collection sprang from Smith's interest in Tibetan tiger rugs, specifically a 1990 exhibit, "The Tiger Rugs of Tibet", that was held at the Hayward Gallery, London.  The star print of the collection- at least, to me- is Tiger Tiger, which depicts a tiger ensconced in a bamboo forest.  These tigers really do look like Tibetan tiger rugs come to life.  Other fabrics include Lhasa (a trellis print), Xara (a fretwork woven fabric), and Tibetan Maze.  Additionally, there are two embroidered tapes.

For more information, please visit the Jim Thompson Fabrics website.  And to learn more about Tibetan tiger rugs, click here to read my recent blog post.

 Tiger Tiger


 Tibetan Maze


Peony Trellis



Maze Border

Elements Border

All images courtesy of No. 9/ Jim Thompson Fabrics.