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.

Atlanta Magazine's HOME

If you live in Atlanta, be on the lookout for the newest local shelter magazine. Atlanta Magazine's HOME recently debuted its premiere issue, and it looks great. Of course, I'm a little biased considering that I wrote an article for the issue.  Titled "From Generation to Generation", the article focuses on some of Atlanta's most successful designers and architects and their equally successful protégés, including Norman Askins, Yong Pak, Dan Carithers, Heather Dewberry, Will Huff, Charles Gandy, Barbara Westbrook, Amy Morris, Carol Klotz, Margaret Bosbyshell, and Clary Bosbyshell Froeba.

For this article and much more, please visit your local newsstand or Atlanta Magazine's website.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Modern Approach to Traditional Fabrics

I have been a fan of Brunschwig & Fils fabrics for as long as I can remember. It is their snappy prints to which I really gravitate, because they seem the natural companion to my preferred style of decor: classic; polished; well-mannered yet not at all boring.  They also remind me of the good ol' days of American decorating.  But I think that one of the biggest assets of Brunschwig & Fils' prints is that they are versatile- perhaps more versatile than some people realize.  To see this versatility in action, look no further than the Palm Springs home of designer Michael S. Smith and James Costos, the U.S. Ambassador to Spain.

Recently published in the April issue of Architectural Digest, the house, which was built in the early 1970s, was designed by architect Howard Lapham.  What I find remarkable about the house- in addition to its spectacular setting, of course- is its unusual architectural style, one with which I was completely unfamiliar.  The house was designed in the Mayan Revival style, hence those striking carved motifs that appear both on the home's exterior and in its interior.

When it came to decorating the house, Smith went for a blend of sophisticated 70s-era furniture and new pieces from his Jasper line, while the predominate color palette, which evolved from the hues found in the home's travertine floors, is a pleasing mix of neutrals and green.  What really caught my eye, though, were the Brunschwig & Fils fabrics that Smith used throughout the house.  Smith is the Consulting Creative Director of Brunschwig & Fils, so his use of their fabrics might be expected.  But perhaps what isn't so expected is how some of Brunschwig's more traditional prints can look so at ease in a quintessential 1970s Palm Spring house.  This is the versatility to which I referred earlier.  Who knew that the much-loved fern print, Les Fougères, could look so at home in a Mayan Revival house?  Michael Smith, that's who.

Les Fougères

I believe that most of us are familiar with Les Fougères, that classic fern-leaf print which is so closely associated with Elsie de Wolfe.  For me, Les Fougères has traditionally conjured up thoughts of garden furniture, sunrooms, and wicker.  (In fact, in the illustration that accompanied my book's entry on "Faux Bois", it was Les Fougères that covered a rustic faux-bois bench.)  But when covering the walls of Smith's guest bedroom (see above), the fabric has a more modern feel to it.  The print seems earthier than when I've seen it in the past, something which I attribute to the room's desert color palette and sophisticated mix of furniture.

Les Touches

New Athos

Another print which needs no introduction is Les Touches, Brunschwig & Fils' classic snow-leopard print cotton fabric, which was introduced in 1965. Michael Smith joins the ranks of Geoffrey Beene, Van Day Truex, and Billy Baldwin, all of whom employed this fabric to stylish effect. But the green colorway, which Smith chose for another guest bedroom, is a nice departure from the oft-used black and cream colorway.  It was also the most logical choice for a home in the desert.  In the AD article, Smith mentions that he "wanted to do whole rooms in prints.  It's the 18th century fast-forwarded to the 1970s."  And using a single print throughout a room is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to use Les Touches.  It's also easier to do now that Brunschwig offers Les Touches in a coordinating wallpaper.

The printed fabric that is seen below the photo of Les Touches is New Athos in spring/aqua, which Smith selected to cover the bedroom's sofa.  Like Les Touches and Les Fougères, New Athos has a long and interesting history.  The print, which was inspired by an 18th-century hand-painted Chinese silk fabric, was introduced by Brunschwig & Fils before World War II, making it one of the longest-produced prints in Brunschwig's history.  The print was updated in 1980.

New Watson

And finally, we have New Watson, a woven fabric that was first introduced by Brunschwig & Fils in the 1980s.  It has since been updated in new colors and with a weightier feel to it.  Smith chose New Watson in the pewter colorway for banquette in the home's living room.

Interior photos from Architectural Digest, April 2015, Roger Davies photographer.  Fabric swatch photos courtesy of Brunschwig & Fils.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Sister Parish Connection

The first thing that one typically does after buying a home is to furnish and decorate it to one's liking.  That might mean a fresh coat of paint, discarding curtains, or ripping out carpet.  But what if Sister Parish had once decorated your new home or, even better, lived there?  Would you strip away all of those Sister Parish touches?  I wouldn't, because any Sister Parish leftovers would make me love my new home even more.  However, not everybody feels as I do.  Take the Manhattan apartment seen here.  Located at 960 Fifth Avenue, this is the maisonette in which Parish once lived.  By 1990, when these photographs were published, the apartment had a new owner, who hired Keith Irvine of Irvine & Fleming to decorate it.  Assisted by Richard Keith Langham, Irvine set out to take the apartment "in a different direction" from the one Parish had taken, which, according to Irvine, had made the home feel like "a Yankee vision of a London house."  The homeowner concurred, deeming Parish's décor "country and gardeny... It took me four months to get her presence out of the apartment."  Well, each to his own.  I would have been thrilled to have had Parish's presence in my home, but that's just me.

Nevertheless, Irvine's work on this apartment is worth discussing.  The dining room's Directoire wallpaper, which is one of my favorite Brunschwig & Fils papers, is quite handsome, as is the living room's yellow striped wallpaper from Clarence House.  Look closely at those curtains.  I realize that today's preference is for clean-lined window treatments, but we can learn a lot about craftsmanship and technique from the curtains seen here.  And take note of the mirror above the living room sofa.  This was one of the few remnants of the apartment's Sister Parish décor.  Installed by Parish, the mirror remained in the new design scheme, although Irvine added a Clarence House wallpaper border to the edges.

Of course, time marches on and so does this apartment's décor.  You'll recall that not too long ago, Mario Buatta decorated this maisonette for a later owner, Patricia Altschul, who sold the apartment about two years ago.  I haven't seen nor heard about the apartment's current décor.  Have you?

The Living Room

The Dining Room

All photos from House & Garden, September 1990; Michael Mundy photographer.

Nina Campbell for oomph

One of the more talked-about product debuts at the upcoming High Point Spring Market will likely be designer Nina Campbell's new collection for oomph.  The collaborative line includes two designs by which I'm particularly taken.  The first is the What Not, an étagère which becomes a pair of end or side tables when separated.  The other is the Billy Tray, which looks like it's ready-made for use at tea time or the cocktail hour.  What these two pieces have in common is that both were inspired by antiques that Nina owns.  In fact, Nina based the entire collection on antiques, which just goes to show that everything old can be new again.

Below, you can see photos of the what not and tray plus the antique pieces that inspired them.  And of course, in the oomph tradition, the designs are available in an array of colors and finishes, including four new colors that are exclusive to this collection.  For more information, please visit the oomph website

Monday, March 16, 2015

Spring Book Releases: Anouska Hempel

I read Anouska Hempel last week, and I have to confess that I'm having difficulty putting my thoughts into words.  Designer monographs typically provide readers with an even-keeled reading experience.  There are some design books in which the featured work looks more or less the same throughout the entire book, while there are other monographs- Nicky Haslam's comes to mind- whose photographs capture a range of looks and styles.  However, even when a body of work is diverse or eclectic, its collective similarities are often obvious enough to make it look cohesive on paper, something which usually guarantees that reading design books will be smooth-sailing.

But Anouska Hempel's work- and Anouska Hempel, for that matter- is altogether different.  It seems to shift course dramatically, moving from one end of the style spectrum to the other.  Take, for example, the designer's country house, Cole Park, which is featured prominently in her monograph.  When I studied the book's photos (see below), words like "lavish" and "baroque" came to mind.  I was even reminded of a perfume that I frequently wore back in the early 1990s: Guerlain's Samsara, which is a heavy, oriental-type fragrance.  It must have been Cole Park's surfeit of objects and rich, deep colors that evoked this olfactory memory.  And yet, in just one flick of the page, the home's opulent redolence evaporated, for there on the page was a photograph of Cole Park's attic bedroom, a palate-cleanser of a room if there ever was one.  Like the rest of the house, this room has a sharply-defined look, but its non-color colors and earthy fabrics convey a mood that is altogether different from the rest of the house.

Such radical shifts in style and aesthetics have the potential to exhaust and confuse the reader.  But Marcus Binney, the book's author, manages to create a sense of harmony out of interiors that may seem discordant at first glance.  In the book's introduction, Binney writes of those hallmarks of Hempel's work, including the use of screens ("to add an air of mystery, partially concealing, but also hinting at what lies beyond"), grouping of objects, and attention to light and reflections.  Once armed with this information, the reader will start to see that Hempel's rich, decadent interiors and her zen-like spaces are not as dramatically different as they might at first seem.  It takes a thorough reading and careful study of this book to understand why Hempel designs as she does.  If you're not prepared to do both, then this book may not be for you.  But, if you're up to the challenge, what you are rewarded with is a book that will likely encourage you to think differently- and more deeply- about the design process.


Porcelain displays such as this at Cole Park are a constant feature of Anouska Hempel interiors © Cameron Maynard

The dining room lighting at Cole Park is designed to create shimmering opulence © Fritz von der Schulenberg

Hurricane lamps in the dining room of Cole Park © Cameron Maynard

The attic bedroom at Cole Park © Adrian Houston

The Lion’s Cage suite at The Hempel © The Hempel

Image credit: © Anouska Hempel by Marcus Binney, Rizzoli New York, 2015.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Baron de Redé and his Headdress Ball

Although the late Baron de Redé, the noted French aesthete, host, and financier, might be better known for his 1969 Oriental Ball, he is almost as famous for an earlier fête: his "Bal des Têtes", which was held in 1956 at Hôtel Lambert, Redé's Paris residence.  As the title of this blog post indicates, the ball's theme was headdresses, with guests encouraged to wear fanciful creations.  Redé asked three of his guests, Elsa Maxwell, the Duchess of Windsor, and Charles de Beistegui, to help him judge which party-goer wore the best headdress.  The winner was Jacqueline de Ribes, who modeled a most fetching feather-and-jewel number.

According to Redé's memoirs, Yves Saint Laurent, then an assistant at Dior, was hired to design the ball.  I don't know the extent of Saint Laurent's contributions, but I do know that he designed a number of headdresses for some of the lucky female guests.  You can see sketches of his headdress designs below.  He also illustrated a rendering which depicted the theme of the party (see the two images above.)  If you own a copy of Redé's hard-to-find memoirs, then you know that this illustration was used for the book's endpapers. 

Of the fancy-dress balls that he and his ilk hosted, Redé wrote that they were "the excuse for dressing up and competing for imaginative outfits."  Although the days of such balls are long gone, it does make me pine for the days when people actually made an effort with their appearances, especially when going to a ball. 

Baron de Redé with his fellow judges, the Duchess of Windsor, Charles de Beistegui, and Elsa Maxwell.

Jacqueline de Ribes and her winning headdress.

Bal des Têtes guests included Princess Ghislaine de Polignac, the Duke of Windsor, Elsa Schiaparelli, and the Duchess of Windsor.