Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Face from the Past: Billy McCarty

William "Billy" McCarty was once a bright young thing in the world of decorating.  Hailing from Miami, McCarty's career as a designer took off in Swinging Sixties' London, where, after briefly working for the great David Hicks, he opened his own design firm and landed such high-profile clients as the Marquess of Londonderry, Kenneth Tynan, and Vidal Sassoon Salons.  It was also in London where McCarty began affecting a British accent- at least, according to what I have read.

In 1971, McCarty raised his profile further- especially in America- thanks to both his first-prize win in the Burlington House Young Designer competition and his debut collection of fabrics and wallcoverings for Kirk-Brummel.  Titled "Noble Savage", the collection, which you can see above- that's McCarty standing among his designs- was a modern riff on American Indian motifs.  With names such as "Hopi", "Geronimo", "Shawnee", and "Seminole", the prints were McCarty's attempt to "give people another viewpoint into Indian designs.  I think one's eye has been dazzled by the super-plastic pop art thing, which is a definite chore to live with.  The idea here was a softer, more fluid look."  Looking at these designs forty-plus years after their debut, I'm not really sure that I would call these prints soft and fluid.  However, I suppose that if one compares them to the riotous patterns that were so popular in the late Sixties and early Seventies, one could say that McCarty's designs were not quite as harsh. 

Whether McCarty designed subsequent collections, I'm not sure.  But McCarty's design work was featured often in Architectural Digest during the Seventies and Eighties.  Take, for example, the London flat seen below.  Published in 1976, the home displayed a sophistication and a maturity that refrained from appearing too serious thanks to a profusion of patterned walls and ceilings.  But as he did with the rest of the décor, McCarty took a disciplined approach to pattern, choosing more or less one printed fabric per room.  The result is a home that is spirited, yet dignified, too.

As compelling as much of McCarty's work was, it was his personal life that also gained the designer attention.  As a young man in London, McCarty embarked on a relationship with the wealthy art collector, Douglas Cooper, who had previously been involved with Picasso biographer John Richardson.  Cooper eventually adopted McCarty as his son, a move meant to ensure that the designer would inherit Cooper's vast estate.  It also resulted in the designer changing his name to Billy McCarty-Cooper.  Sadly, around the time of Cooper's death in 1984, McCarty-Cooper learned that he had contracted AIDS, a disease to which the designer eventually succumbed in 1991.  Fortunately, his work lives on, at least in the pages of decades-old issues of Architectural Digest

*Click here to see a previous blog post that features McCarty's work during his David Hicks days.

McCarty/Kirk-Brummel photo and quotation from House Beautiful, June 1971; London flat photos from Architectural Digest, March/April 1976, Michael Nicholson photographer.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Jonathan Preece Does It Again

Passover might have ended this past weekend, but it still seems a good time to show photos of a Passover table conceived by Jonathan Preece.  Jonathan, as you will recall, is Creative Director and Special Projects Designer for Bunny Williams Inc. and Bunny Williams Home.  He is also the mastermind behind a number of highly-clever table settings, many of which have appeared previously on my blog.  If you remember those Jonathan Preece-designed tables, then you know that Jonathan draws inspiration from history and the decorative arts, two subjects that certainly influenced the Passover table you see here.

Jonathan's clients, whose Park Avenue apartment was decorated by Bunny Williams, wanted a Passover table that was colorful, unique, child-friendly, and evocative of Damien Hirst's spot paintings.  Keeping in mind both the clients' wishes as well as the meaning of the holiday, Jonathan first settled on a theme for the table: the second plague of Egypt.  According to the Book of Exodus, God unleashed ten plagues against Egypt as a result of the Pharaoh's refusal to free the Israelites from slavery.  The second of the ten plagues involved masses of frogs that emerged from the Nile and overran Egypt.  After the tenth plague, the Pharaoh finally freed the Israelites, an event which is commemorated during Passover.

Of course, considering that this was to be a celebratory table, Jonathan softened the plague theme with whimsy and animation.  Jonathan was reminded of the famous Green Frog Service, which was the Wedgwood china service commissioned by Catherine the Great. The Green Frog pattern features a naively-painted jumping frog within a heraldic emblem, and it was this non-menacing frog that inspired Jonathan's table.  He sought the assistance of his artist friend, Liz Fleri, who made both papier-mâché and ceramic versions of frogs.  Down the center of the table stood the papier-mâché frogs, which were encrusted with Austrian Glass dust, faux cabochons, and glass beads.  (It was both Damien Hirst's bejeweled skull sculptures and Judith Leiber's animal minaudieres that inspired this decorative finish.) 

Nestled between the frogs were ceramic lily pads by Global Views, in which Jonathan planted exotic orchids, succulents, mosses, pods, and date palm seeds.  Damien Hirst's spot paintings, or, at least, the idea of them, were introduced via the polka-dot table cloths, whose colorful spots informed the color scheme of the setting, including those fuchsia ballroom-chairs.  And in lieu of place cards, place settings were marked by small ceramic frogs etched with guests' names.

If only real frogs looked as charming as those imagined by Jonathan.

The Inspiration:

A color engraving depicting the Second Plague of Egypt.

Two images of Catherine the Great's Green Frog Service.  Note the frog emblem at the top of the platter.

Table setting photos courtesy of Jonathan Preece.

Legends 2015 : Where Muses Dwell

I am excited to announce that I will be attending next month's Legends event as one of its social media ambassadors.  Legends 2015: Where Muses Dwell is a three-day design extravaganza (May 6-8) that will take place in and around the La Cienega Design Quarter, Los Angeles' design mecca.  Events include keynote presentations, exhibitions, trunk shows, book signings, and, of course, parties.  Also central to the Legends event are the windows of La Cienega's design shops and studios, which will be decorated by a number of talented designers.  Each designer will decorate a window based on his or her favorite muse, hence the theme of the event, "Where Muses Dwell."  (For a complete list of designers who will be decorating windows, please click here.)

I hope that you will join me in Los Angeles for these three sensational days.  For more information, please visit the Legends website.  VIP passes, which will allow you to attend all of the official events, are available for purchase by clicking here.  And if you're unable to attend Legends, you can always follow the buzz on social media by searching on the hashtag #LCDQLA.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Bunny Williams: On Garden Style

The garden section of my library is woefully slim, which is likely due to the fact that I'm not a gardener, nor do I consider myself much of a gardening enthusiast. I come by this lack of fervor honestly. First, neither of my parents are into gardening. Our house always had lovely landscaping, but a professional was brought in to handle it. And second, I'm a city girl through and through, with most of my adulthood having been spent in residential buildings, where gardening means planting a few pots for the balcony.

That being said, I do admire beautiful gardens and landscapes. It would be strange if I didn't considering that gardens and interiors have much in common. I also admire beautiful gardening books, although they have to be particularly inspiring and dreamy for me to want to add them to my library. I found such a book in the newly revised edition of Bunny Williams On Garden Style, which was first published in 1998.

In the book's introduction, Williams says that she was inspired to write On Garden Style because many gardening books dealt more with horticulture and "few communicated the importance of a garden's whole design."  This is one of the reasons why I so enjoyed this book.  Had the book been bogged down with horticultural minutiae, it would have sent me packing.  Instead, it taught me much about considering a garden's overall structure as well as achieving the desired mood, or personality, of a garden.  Williams makes a point of treating gardens as outdoor rooms, and it's that comparison which particularly resonated with me.  I now realize that well-conceived gardens are about so much more than the flowers and plants that grow in them.

Speaking of well-conceived gardens, there are plenty to gaze at in this book.  Featured gardens include those of Williams, Piet Oudolf, Oscar de la Renta, and Jack Lenor Larsen, to name but a few.  Also, there is much visual diversity in the photos, for they're not all depictions of flowers or plants.  There are paths, fences, espaliered trees, hedges, and more, which means that all of us- even those, like me, who are gardening clueless- can find something to appreciate.  By the way, all of the photos in this revised edition are new, so if you own the original edition of this book, you'll have plenty of new material to savor.  And savor is likely what you'll do with those photos.

If you're a hardcore gardener, then I believe you will learn as much from this book as I, the novice, did.  But as informative as this book is, it also has that quality which I mentioned earlier: dreamy.  When read before bedtime, On Garden Style will lull you into a verdant dream world.

*I recently learned that Bunny Williams and John Rosselli's beloved garden store, Treillage, will close at the end of June.  The last event that will be hosted there will be a book signing event for On Garden Style on April 14.  A sale will begin the next day, April 15.   

Join Me at a Pink & White Party

The Spring show house season is in full swing, and one of the nation's longest running show house events is the St. Margaret's Hospital Guild Decorators' Show House and Gardens in Indianapolis. Founded in 1907, St. Margaret's Hospital Guild raises funds for Eskenazi Health Services. This year, the guild will be organizing and hosting its 54th Show House.

I'm honored to be speaking at the event's Pink and White Party on Friday, May 1 at noon.  The party will honor survivors of breast cancer (the "Pink" referred to in the party's title) and pulmonary disease (the "White").  In addition to my lecture, there will also be a tour of the Show House.  Tickets for the Luncheon Package, which include a lunch presentation and tour, are $45.  Or, you might prefer the Patron Package at $75, which means you will also be able to attend a Champagne reception the evening before at Charles Mayer & Company, one of Indianapolis's most stylish stores.  I will be signing copies of my book at the Champagne reception.

To purchase tickets or for more information, please visit the Show House website.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Schumacher Floral Prints, a Perennial Favorite

While reading about Geoffrey Bennison's passion for antique textiles, especially those floral-print documents which he was so fond of, I was reminded of Schumacher's 125th Anniversary collection. It's a collection that has been on my mind since last fall, not to mention a topic which I've been meaning to write about.

I'm sure many of you are already familiar with the fabric collection, which was conceived by Schumacher's Creative Director, Dara Caponigro. Dara, who has a passion for the history of design, went through Schumacher's extensive archives (the textile company has been in existence since 1889) in search of those fabrics that could be refreshed, rejuvenated, and reintroduced as part of the company's milestone collection. One of my fantasies is to be able to immerse myself in a textile archive with the task of pulling old fabrics and updating them for use today. Dara is living out my fantasy, so I confess to feeling pangs of good-natured envy.

The anniversary collection features flamestitch, chevron, leopard, and toile. But floral prints in all their glory figure prominently in this collection, hence the Geoffrey Bennison connection I made earlier. There is Boughton House, a wonderful poppy, peony, and rose print which was based on a Victorian-era document from the Schumacher archive. The Porcelain colorway would look especially striking when used alongside blue and white porcelain. One of my favorites is Manor House, a cheery chintz that was designed by Dorothy Draper, who, by the way, created a number of fabrics for Schumacher. Indian Arbre dates back to the 1920s, when it appeared as a block-printed linen. And then there is Song Garden, which is a striking combination of flowers and pagodas. Inspired by an 18th-century French document, this print has been rescaled and colored so that it now has a graphic flair to it.

With such a range of floral fabrics, there is sure to be a print to please even the fussiest of flower lovers.

 Boughton House in Porcelain

 Boughton House in Gris

 Manor House in Pink Lady

 Manor House in Breeze

Manor House in Nightfall

 Indian Arbre in Tea

 Indian Arbre in Spring

Indian Arbre in Hyacinth

 Song Garden in Chartreuse

 Song Garden in Cocoa

 Song Garden in Greige

Song Garden in Lacquer

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Long Time in Coming: the Geoffrey Bennison Monograph

Like fellow designers Henri Samuel and François Catroux, the late British decorator Geoffrey Bennison's name is not as well known in America as, say, Billy Baldwin or Dorothy Draper.  And I'd be willing to bet that some designers don't realize that Bennison Fabrics is named for the designer, whose reproductions of 18th and 19th-century textiles, which Bennison used often in his design work, form the nucleus of the collection. But Bennison deserves to be better known here in the States, for he was remarkably talented and a true "decorator's decorator", one who was equally admired as an antiques dealer.  This might explain why there is so much buzz over the long-awaited monograph, Geoffrey Bennison: Master Decorator, which was written by his former assistant and Bennison Fabrics founder and president, Gillian Newberry.

There is so much positive that I can say about this book, because it's a master class in first-rate decorating.  A Geoffrey Bennison-interior never flaunted its superb and often singular furnishings and finishes.  Instead, it presented itself as comfortable, unpretentiously elegant, and even a little time-worn.  Bennison effected a style of decorating that on the surface looked so effortless, and yet, a great deal of effort was involved in achieving it.  And Bennison was a marvel at conjuring up that most elusive and hard-to-create quality: atmosphere.

If you are a design student or a new-to-the-profession designer, this book will not only introduce you to the work of one of the twentieth century's most talented  designers, but it will also educate you about the significant roles that quality, craftsmanship, and connoisseurship should play in interior design. And if you're an old-hand in design, this book will remind you of the days when all three qualities were considered noble pursuits.

Bennison photographed at his Pimlico Road antiques shop, 1981.

The library in Peter Glenville's Manhattan apartment, which was decorated by Bennison beginning in the mid-1960s. Glenville's close friend, Bennison continued to work on the apartment up until his death in 1984.

One of Bennison's most high-profile projects was for publisher Lord Weidenfeld. In this photograph, Weidenfeld can be seen in his Bennison-decorated Riverside apartment in Chelsea.

These two photos show the Paris dining room of Princess Firyal of Jordan. Bennison considered his work for Princess Firyal to be some of his best work.

Image credit: © Geoffrey Bennison: Master Decorator by Gillian Newberry, Rizzoli New York, 2015.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Seventies Redux

You've likely heard by now that Seventies style is back in fashion...again.  Much has been written about this latest bout of Seventies fever, which seems to strike those who didn't experience this decade the first time around.  Under the circumstances, it only seems fitting that we revisit a few interiors that were published in 1970.  I don't think we should copy that decade's decorating room for room, but there are elements in each of these chosen interiors that, when taken out of their 1970s context, are really kind of fabulous.

So, what were prominent decorators up to at the dawn of the 1970s?  Let's start with Albert Hadley, whose Manhattan living room is shown at the top of the post.  I'd say that's a room that looks terrific no matter the decade.

Editor's Note: Since I wrote this article last week, I have read two more articles about the allure of 1970s-style, one in Bazaar and the other in T.  I think this post will be the last on Seventies style for a while. 

You could say that the bedroom of designer François Catroux and his wife, Betty, reflects a very specific moment in time. However, you could also say that Catroux was forward-thinking in the way he decorated this space. Innovation helped to drive decorating through the 1970s.  It was anything but a stagnant decade in design history.

The U.N. Plaza apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Schneider, which was decorated by Burt Wayne and John Doktor.  I admire the chrome furniture as well as the David Hicks carpet, but those vertical blinds and stalactite diffused lighting?  Not so much.

The London dining room of Mrs. John Duffield, which was designed by Count Alessandro Albrizzi.  Albrizzi also designed the octagonal glass dining table as well as the carpet.  Just imagine the dinner parties Mrs. Duffield hosted in this room...and just imagine how exhilarated Albrizzi must have felt while decorating this room.

Designer Val Arnold was behind the décor of this card room, which boasted then-de rigueur flamestitch fabric.

A sophisticated pink palette, courtesy of Milo Baugham, who designed this living room.

Designer Arthur Elrod chose this colorful triptych by artist Helen Munkacsy for his Palm Springs vacation house.  Bright, bold colors were a hallmark of 1970s decorating.

Designers Stuart Blaine and Robert Booth used colorful wall decorations (the canvases were painted by the designers) as a counterpoint to their living room's neutral color palette.  The furniture, not to mention that Stark antelope-print rug, look just as good today as they did back then.

Between you and me, I kind of like vinyl wallcovering, but only if it's high-quality.  The dark brown vinyl-covered walls and ceiling look dramatic, if not slick, in the Milan home of antiques dealer Dino Granzin.

Designer Thomas Britt went for it with camel-colored plaid in the New York City apartment of Bernard Relin.