Monday, March 28, 2016

Villa Albicini

One of Georgia's more architecturally-intriguing houses is Villa Albicini, the Philip Shutze-designed Italianate house located in the city of Macon. Built in 1927, the house was not originally named Villa Albicini. That moniker came about much later when Macon native Betty Hay Curtis purchased the house in the mid-1960s. Hoping to restore the then-faded house to its former glory, Curtis enlisted the help of her decorator friend, Charles Townsend, who found an exquisite pair of embroidered panels for the home's dining room.  (I believe these panels date to the late-seventeenth or early-eighteenth century.)  The panels had been stitched by French female embroiderers who, at the invitation of Maria Theresa, Marchesa Albicini, traveled to Italy to practice their craft at the Albicini Palace in Forli, Italy. It was the panels' lineage that inspired Curtis to refer to her new house as "Villa Albicini."

What strikes me about this house is that it is not particularly large. (Don't we wish that some homeowners and their architects would follow in Shutze's footsteps by building houses in smaller yet architecturally-meaningful ways.) Upon entering the house's entrance gallery, you'll find a dining room to the left and a drawing room to the right. Walk straight ahead through  a small rotunda and down a few steps, you'll discover a light-filled morning room, which looks out onto the gardens. Off of the rotunda are a kitchen, breakfast room, and (I believe) two bedrooms and baths, while an additional bedroom and bath, which was a later addition, is located upstairs, above the morning room.

A few things to note while looking at these circa-1979 photos: Above both doors leading to the dining and drawing rooms are trompe l'oeil-painted overdoor moldings. The dining room's Venetian chandelier was made for the house, while hand-painted Chinese wallpaper graces the morning room's walls. And it should be mentioned that decorator David Byers also worked on the home's interiors. I assume that one of his contributions was the set of red-lacquered dining chairs with seats upholstered in a Chinese-medallion silk fabric. Byers sold my parents another set of these chairs covered in the same fabric, although in a robin's egg blue colorway. We still dine in these chairs today.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Villa Albicini, whose current homeowner is breathing new life into the home. While much about the house remains the same (with the exception of the Albicini panels, which live elsewhere these days,) a sense of renewal permeates the house.  With a sensitive homeowner at the helm, Villa Albicini is poised once again to delight future generations. 

The Drawing Room.  The hand-screened, damask-print wallpaper was one of the first decorations selected for the house.

The door leading from the Entrance Gallery into the Dining Room.  The trompe l'oeil molding can be seen above the door.  You can also see the pair of Albicini panels, which flank the painting beyond.

The Dining Room

The rotunda leading to the Morning Room

The Morning Room

The Morning Room

The Upstairs Bedroom

Photos from Southern Accents, Spring 1979, Sutlive/Warren photographer

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Dinner in a Paris Kitchen

It recently dawned on me that it's been ages since I've written an entertaining blog post- that is, a post about entertaining.  Let's hope you've found at least some of my recent posts to be entertaining.

Who better to coax us into preparing a casual weeknight dinner than Marie-Paule Pellé, an "inventive Parisian style maker," according to this Nineties House Beautiful article.  It turns out that Pellé, a designer and stylist, was responsible for some of Henri Bendel's interiors when it reopened at 712 Fifth Avenue in the early 1990s.  As inventive as Pellé seems to be, she is also an inveterate hostess, able to whip up a delicious meal in half an hour.  (If only I could be that efficient when cooking for dinner guests.)  For the dinner party seen here, Pellé created a doable menu of store-bought brioches filled with truffle-flavored scrambled eggs, mustard-coated salmon, goat cheese rolled in ground hazelnuts, and poached peaches for dessert. 

But what I find more inspiring than the menu is the setting: Pellé's rue de Rivoli apartment.  While her home might be big on Gallic charm, its small-size makes entertaining a challenge. Nevertheless, Pellé is able to seat twelve for dinner in her pocket-sized kitchen.  The saving grace, however, has to be her miniature garden located in a light well (see photo above.)  Planted with lush greenery and a few hydrangea bushes, the garden is an airy-yet-cozy setting for champagne and biscuits, seen below, or, as I imagine, an intimate dinner for two.

Crottin de Chavignol and Hazelnut Rounds

1 16oz. log Crottin de Chavignol or other fresh goat cheese, chilled
1 cup finely chopped hazelnuts

Slice the cheese log into 16 1-ounce rounds.  Roll cheese rounds in ground hazelnuts until completely covered. Allow cheese rounds to come to room temperature before serving with a loaf of crusty French bread.  Serves 6.

All photos from House Beautiful, Elizabeth Zeschin photographer.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Ultimate in High-Rise Living

I love the high-rise in which I live.  It's located on the most prominent street in Atlanta.  All kinds of interesting people live here.  And, important to me, it's been around since the late Sixties, meaning it reminds me of the old Atlanta in which I grew up.  But the building's one annoying deficiency is that it lacks a restaurant to provide room-service dining.  Thirty-plus years ago, there was a high-style restaurant in the lobby called "Tango", but sadly, those days are long gone.  If it were still around, I would likely never cook for guests again.  Instead, I'd simply call down and order dinner.  How great- and easy- would that be?

My fixation on having a downstairs restaurant might be why I was so taken with this 1990s House Beautiful article about designer William Hodgins' three-room apartment, which was located in the residential tower at Boston's Ritz-Carlton Hotel.  Without a doubt, Hodgins' great taste and beautiful possessions are really the reason why I clipped this article, but the photo of a waiter pushing the room-service dining table into Hodgins' apartment hooked me, too. 

You might remember Hodgins' earlier home, which I featured on my blog a few months ago.  That apartment was located in an 1887 building.   So, why would a traditionalist like Hodgins choose to live in a modern building?  For its conveniences, of course, which included room service provided by the hotel's dining room.  Rather than create an old-world backdrop for his "old things," Hodgins wisely chose instead to play up the modern aspects of his apartment, eschewing curtains on some windows, painting walls bright white, and laying faux-concrete tile on the floor.  Said Hodgins, "Trying to make a new apartment look old never works."  So true.  And Hodgins' preferred neutral color-palette meant that his antiques adapted quite nicely to their modern surroundings, making the age discrepancies between possessions and architecture seem minimal.

But back to room service.  Despite the fact that Hodgins claimed to rarely order it, he certainly knew how to personalize a room-service meal: with place settings of antique creamware.  Now I want a restaurant in my building even more.

All photos from House Beautiful, Oberto Gili photographer

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Meaningful Decorating

Patina...personality...layering.  Call it what you want, but a house furbished with a lifetime accrual of bobs and bits is so much more compelling, and far more memorable, than a house whose decorations are brand-spanking new.  The compelling house is becoming a rare thing, a victim of the immediacy with which most people approach decorating their homes.  Why spend time patiently searching for an antique dining table or waiting for a custom one to be built when a new one can be rush delivered by Restoration Hardware within a few short days?

I was reminded of the rewards of meaningful decorating while studying these mid-Nineties photos of the late Ronald Grimaldi's Southampton house.  Grimaldi, a designer and one-time president of Rose Cumming, had renovated and sold a number of houses in the area before purchasing this one, which had once served as the "hobby house" on a Stanford White-designed estate.  But instead of sinking a lot of time and money into a costly renovation, Grimaldi chose the economical route of refreshing it.  A few of the rooms were updated with fresh coats of paint, while others were treated to wallpaper.  And other than purchasing a few pieces of furniture for the house, Grimaldi furbished it with pieces he had amassed over time.  Nineteenth-century chinoiserie wallpaper, a 1940s-era mirrored table, and Chippendale chairs were just some of the diverse decorations that the designer chose to accompany him to his new home.  As unexpected as these furnishings might seem for a coastal house, so, too, are Grimaldi's choice of silk taffetas and damasks, whose inclusion seems only natural considering the designer's association with Rose Cumming.  The result is a house that is refreshingly not beach-y nor sporty nor casual but rather comfortably genteel and dignified.

(To read my blog post about Grimaldi's Manhattan apartment, please click here.)

All photos from House Beautiful, Robert Starkoff photographer

Thursday, March 03, 2016

A Continental Take on Christmas Decor

It might seem strange to post a cache of Christmas photos when the holidays are well behind us and Spring is right around the corner.  But when said Christmas photos involve lots of blue and white ceramics and alluring fabrics, then no time seems the wrong time to post them.

The photos seen here, which show the home of Madrid-based designer Lorenzo Castillo, appeared in the December issue of Vogue Espana- which, by the way, only just landed at my local newsstand a few weeks ago.  Castillo's work, a curious blend of styles that seem to reflect the designer's catholic tastes, has earned him fans not just in Europe but on these shores as well.  Castillo's eclectic sensibility is on full display in his own home, an enticing mix of Chinese porcelains, Asian-motif fabrics, flamestitch velvet, and glimmers of gilt.  Looking at this somewhat baroque and rather maximalist decor, I am reminded of Duarte Pinto Coelho and Hutton Wilkinson, both designers whose work has more than a soupçon of flair.

While my American sensibility requires a Christmas celebrated in more traditional fashion- think Fraser Firs, red ribbon, and even the token Nutcracker- I like way in which Castillo marked his Christmas in high style.  The effect is as rich as a Christmas confection- and every bit as delicious.

All photos from Vogue Espana, December 2015, Aaron Serrano photographer.