Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Did you read the April issue of French AD? If so, you probably saw the article about the late French designer Henri Samuel. Samuel was one of the all-time design greats, having created interiors that were, and still are, the epitome of French chic. Although some of his work could be described as grand (his work for the Gutfreunds, for example, was notable for its tasteful splendor,) not all of Samuel's work was quite so lavish. His own home, seen here, was supremely sophisticated and yet, a tad bit more relaxed than what one might expect. Perhaps you could liken Samuel's casual decorative gestures to a blue blazer, Hermès pocket square, neatly pressed blue jeans, and loafers rather than a hoodie, sweatpants, and flip-flops, an outfit which is, unfortunately, most people's definition of casual.
While Samuel could craft some purely traditional interiors, he was equally drawn to contemporary furniture, as is evidenced by the modern pieces with which he lived. Samuel was very adept at mixing, say, Guy de Rougemont-designed furniture (like that brass cloud table, below) with antiques and refined accessories in such a way that these super-sleek pieces were elevated to the sublime. I hate to say it, but in lesser hands, this type of contemporary furniture is often used in ways that ultimately look a little seedy, and seedy is a word that will never describe Samuel or his work.
If you missed the article, take a look below. Although some of these photos have appeared in a few design books, it's important to revisit them again. This is the work of a true master.
All photos appeared in the April 2013 issue of French AD.
Monday, May 20, 2013
The period between the World Wars has always fascinated me, and for a number of reasons, too. Fashion was never chicer, homes never looked more cocktail party ready, and cars reached the pinnacle of their sleek elegance. But the other reason for my interest is that this era also saw a lot of innovations that captured people's imaginations. Take, for example, the airplane.
During the 1920s and 1930s, many social swells were besotted with the airplane, a fascination that was fostered by no less than Vogue, which encouraged its female readers to buy their own recreational planes. (As one Vogue article noted, "As surely as the woman of yesterday was born to ride in a limousine, the woman of today was born to fly in an aeroplane.") A number of society ladies engaged in such high-flying pursuits, including the Duchess of Bedford, who unfortunately disappeared in her plane during a trip from Woburn Abbey.
One had to dress the part, wearing aviation attire designed by Poiret and Patou. In fact, the Vicomtesse de Sibour (née Violette Selfridge, daughter of Gordon Selfridge) went flying around the world with her husband, and because their small plane meant small luggage, Violette brought along four beige Patou outfits to get her through the journey in style.
Airplanes, or rather, the airplane motif, sometimes made their way into the home, appearing on wallpaper and fabric. One such wallpaper, which you'll find below, was Aeroplane. Designed by Raymond McGrath, an Australian architect, during the early 1930s, the paper was thought to have been conceived for the house of an aviatrix. (The house, referred to as Rudderbar, was never built.) I can just see this paper in the late 1920s home of the fictional Phryne Fisher, who, like many of her trailblazing female counterparts, knew how to pilot a plane.
As World War II approached, the airplane motif began to appear as a symbol of a different kind of freedom, one from Nazi tyranny. Patriots, both in the U.K. and here in the U.S., proudly wore airplane-emblazoned attire as both an act of support for their troops and of defiance against the enemy.
Although airplanes may no longer hold the same appeal that they once did (frankly, they make me think of germs spreading through the air and passengers walking barefoot to the bathrooms,) it's interesting to see how they once inspired fashions for the body and for the home.
P.S.- If you want to watch a brief 1928 film clip that shows Mr. Selfridge sending off his daughter and son-in-law on their airplane trip around the world, click here.
Aeroplane wallpaper, designed in the early 1930s by Raymond McGrath, is still available today through Bradbury & Bradbury.
In 1926, Vogue suggested wearing a "knitted chiné woollen suit by J. Suzanne Talbot" when flying.
The interior of John Hay Whitney's two-motored Sikorsky Amphibian looked more like a residential interior than a plane.
An Art Deco Airplane Smoker's Companion, designed by J.A. Henckels in the 1930s, is available through M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans.
Vogue featured planes announcing the Paris openings on their March 1932 cover. This image is available for sale as a print through the Conde Nast store.
Victory V cotton dress fabric, printed in 1941 by the Calico Printers' Association of Manchester, England, was just one patriotic dress fabric produced during the Second World War. The border features a pattern of three dots and a dash, which was Morse code for "Victory". (Collection of Victoria & Albert Museum)
Photo at top: Amelia Earhart, the most famous aviatrix of all.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Michael Smith lecture about his new book, Building Beauty: The Alchemy of Design. Prior to the event, I knew of the premise of the book, which chronicles the evolution of a house from conception to reality. But until I heard Michael speak, I had not realized how truly special this home really was.
Built to evoke a Palladian villa, this Malibu, California house was a labor of love, one seen through to fruition by the homeowners, the designer, the architect (Oscar Shamamian), the contractor, and various artisans. The tales that they share are the heart of this book, and they give much insight into what makes a spectacular home. But what I find to be most remarkable about this story- and what intrigued the most about Smith's lecture- is both the care and the detail that was lavished on this house. From imported stone to mosaics to a smattering of furniture once owned by Bill Blass, nothing but the best would do for this house, although there was nothing ostentatious in the result. It all worked well together splendidly.
As most of you know, the house has since been sold to new owners and the contents of the home were auctioned off by Christie's last month. Thank goodness that we have this fascinating book that documents this one-of-a-kind house.
© Building Beauty: The Alchemy of Design by Michael S Smith, Rizzoli publishers, 2013.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Over the last ten or fifteen years, there has been a lot of clucking over the popularity of hotel-inspired residential design. I scratch my head every time I see a home that could be mistaken for a W hotel. What's fine for a hotel is rarely good for the home, where comfort and, more important, the homeowner's personality should be in abundance. Except, of course, if one's home was inspired by the hotels featured in the terrific book, Parisian Hideaways: Exquisite Rooms in Enchanting Hotels.
I have mentioned this book before, but upon reading it again over the weekend, I felt it was worth a revisit. The beauty of these hotels is not just that they are incredibly chic, but they look like residential interiors. These are the kind of hotels that I pine for when I am stuck at one of those slick, too-cool-for-school hotels where everything seems so impersonal. When I'm staying at a hotel, I want cubby-hole sized bars, canopied beds, jewel-box libraries, and boiserie panels. And when I'm at home, well, I want the very same.
Photo at top: The Salon at Le Daniel, which boasts custom-painted wallpaper by de Gournay.
All photos from Parisian Hideaways: Exquisite Rooms in Enchanting Hotels by Casey O'Brien Blondes.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
With last weekend's release of The Great Gatsby, not to mention the film-inspired merchandise currently being sold at Tiffany & Co. and Brooks Brothers, the 1920s is coming back into vogue. The timing couldn't be better for Wright auction house, which will be selling this extraordinary Art Deco-style chair- the work of American furniture designer Walter von Nessen- at an upcoming auction in June. The armchair, thought to have been one of a pair, is both important and rare, with a pre-auction estimate of US$200,000-$300,000.
First exhibited in 1928 at the International Exposition of Art in Industry, Macy's answer to the 1925 blockbuster L'Exposition Internationale des Artes Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, the chair features a curved aluminum back and base, with cast bronze armrests and cut brass ornamentation. Most striking, at least to me, are both the cut and applied ziggurats, a classic motif of the Art Deco style. What adds to the chair's allure is its peculiar, and almost tragic, history. Housed at a movie theater in upstate New York, the chair was sold along with other metals to a scrap metal hauler in the late 1970s. Thankfully, the hauler recognized that this chair likely had value, so he contacted a couple who had recently sold their important Art Deco collection. The couple bought the chair, and it has remained in their care for the last forty years. To think that this chair almost ended up in the scrap metal pile!
The chair, a notable example of the American Art Deco style, has a documented history of its early years. Featured in a November,1928 article in The Metal Arts magazine, the chair also appears in a period photograph that was included in At Home in Manhattan: Modern Decorative Arts, 1925 to the Depression.
Wright's Important Furniture auction will take place in Chicago on June 6. For more information, please contact Wright.
A photo showing the chair in situ at the Macy's exhibition. This photograph appears in At Home in Manhattan: Modern Decorative Arts, 1925 to the Depression.
All photos used with express permission from Wright.
scarf collection. And what an attractive collection it is!
I received a scarf very similar in color to the one featured above, and I was very pleased with the quality. The scarf is made of silk twill and looks and feels much as my Hermès scarves do. The nice thing about this particular scarf is that its square pattern and subtle colors are a nice departure from my more exuberantly printed Hermès scarves.
That's not to say, however, that all of Neisha's scarves are so minimal. For those with a penchant for pattern, there are florals, sunbursts, and the like, all of which have a slight vintage feel to them. (Vintage in a good way.) While some of the scarves are made of silk or silk twill, there are also versions made of cashmere or wool. Take a look below for a small sampling, or visit Neisha's website. Although the site is based in the U.K., international shipping is available.
Sunburst in Coral
Zebra in Brown
Starfish in Black
Monday, May 13, 2013
Unless you've been a recluse over the past week, you have likely seen photos of last week's Met Gala. I'm not going to get into too much detail about it except to say that my picks for the three best-dressed guests were Lauren Santo Domingo, Vanessa Traina, and Plum Sykes, all of whom work in the fashion world. Plum Sykes's decision to wear scarlet satin Manolo Blahniks with her pale pink column dress especially captured my attention because the color combination was a bit unexpected. And yet, it was really quite smashing, with Sykes's red shoes making her prim gown sing. It also reminded me of how much I love this color pairing. (I did not want to fool with obtaining permission from Getty Images to use their photo of Sykes, so you'll have to click here to see her stepping out to the Gala.)
Rarely do you see pink and red used together within the same room. In fashion layouts, however, you do. When standing alone, pink can appear slightly (or sometimes sticky) sweet. But when dashes of red are thrown in for flavor, the effect can be sophisticated and effervescent. Could this be why Babe Paley wore pink and red for her Round Hill, Jamaica portrait?
One interior designer who did mix the two colors together to great effect was David Hicks. Hicks, however, took a brash approach to the pairing, using pinks that had vigor and swagger. Cerises, scarlets, and magentas mingled to create rooms of bravado, fit for even the most manly of men. If all of this sounds too swashbuckling, you could take your cue from Hicks (or even Mark Hampton, whose 1970s-era Manhattan apartment included a red and pink bedroom) but tone it down for more feminine sensibilities. Paint a room's walls in lacquered aubergine and upholster its furnishings in pink silk and red damask. I think that such a room would like really pretty...or, to use a phrase that gets on my nerves, such a room would look "very gala."
The early Manhattan apartment of Mark and Duane Hampton. Their bedroom was decorated in shades of magenta and pink with some red thrown in for good measure.
Serge Obolensky photographed by Slim Aarons at the St. Regis Roof, New York. I can't really tell if the room was mostly pink or if there was some red somewhere (perhaps the ceiling?)
Photo of Paley and Obolensky from A Wonderful Time: An Intimate Portrait of the Good Life by Slim Aarons; Hicks and Hampton photos from David Hicks: Designer; Maharaja of Jaipur photo from The World in Vogue 1893-1963.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Today's post is an introduction to the exquisite fabrics of Peter D'Ascoli. Peter is an American who lives in India with his family and dog, a Cavalier, no less. (That's Peter, above.) Fascinated by the history and culture of his adopted homeland, Peter was inspired to apply his American entrepreneurial spirit to the art of traditional Indian textiles, thus creating an eponymous fabric collection that celebrates Indian heritage. Although the collection is currently being sold to Indian designers and architects, Peter is developing a new collection of hand-printed linens, woven cottons, and embroidered fabrics that will be sold very soon at select U.S. showrooms.
Of his current collection, the "Parsi Gara" group of fabrics is especially steeped in Indian history. The Parsis are Indians of Persian descent, having fled religious persecution during the eighth to tenth century A.D. (By the way, both Zubin Mehta and the late Freddy Mercury claim Parsi lineage.) Eventually settling in India, the Parsis later flourished and prospered during the British Raj, with some Parsis emigrating to China for trade purposes. This mixture of Persian, Indian, European, and Chinese influences is evident in the "Parsi Gara" fabrics, which includes Marsh Multi, Parsi Gara, Canton Multi, and Mandarin (see below.) The other part of the current collection includes beautiful silks like Gilded Age chintz, Tiger and Ming.
The entire collection is really quite beautiful, and the stories that these fabrics tell only add to their allure. I for one am eagerly awaiting Peter's American debut, and as soon as it happens, I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, you might want to visit Peter's site to learn more about these Indian-made textiles. I think you'll be enchanted.