Thursday, October 09, 2014

Inspired by Tradition: The Architecture of Norman Davenport Askins

It's not often that I can say I have a history with the subject of a high-profile book, but such is the case with the soon-to-be-released Inspired by Tradition: The Architecture of Norman Davenport Askins.  You see, back in the late 1980s, Norman, the influential Atlanta architect and classicist, was hired by my parents to renovate our 1920s-era house.  They greatly admired Norman's work, and they trusted Norman to do a sensitive renovation, one which would respect the integrity- and the age- of our house.  Of course, back at that time, I was all of sixteen years old, so I don't remember a lot about the renovation process- except the fact that the young male architects who worked for Norman were really cute.

Years later, and my parents and I still think that Norman is one of Atlanta's best architects, one who is deserving of his new monograph.  Having lived in the South all of his life, Norman is steeped in the history of old houses and traditional architecture.  Capable of working in a number of styles, Norman's body of work includes houses executed in the Federal style, for example, as well as those influenced by rural Italian architecture.  But as diverse as Norman's work can be, what ties all of his houses together is the fact that they are rooted in tradition.

I think it's this diversity of classical styles that makes both Norman's work and his book so interesting.  Written with Susan Sully, who also served as the book's photographer, Inspired by Tradition takes the reader on a tour of Norman's work in cities, in the mountains, and at the beach.  While it's the exterior photos of each house that lull me into daydreams, it is the interior shots that make me sit up and take notice.  Norman has an incredible eye for detail, and I think that really comes through in the houses' interiors.  (These details are also highlighted beautifully in Susan Sully's photographs.)

If tradition, gracious homes, and classical architecture inspire you, then I suggest reading Norman's book.  Now that I have done so, I am fantasizing about hiring Norman to update my condo.  I'll let you know if that fantasy ever becomes a reality.


All photos from Inspired by Tradition: The Architecture of Norman Davenport Askins by Norman Davenport Askins and Susan Sully, © The Monacelli Press, 2014.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


I experienced design serendipity last week. I was catching up on my World of Interiors reading when I saw the article about the Castilian home of Paco Carvajal, the Count of Fontanar.  Great decor throughout the house, but what especially caught my eye was the vintage blue and white tile-motif wallpaper that Carvajal used around a bedroom fireplace.  (See above.)  According to the article, Carvajal found the old rolls of paper in his grandmother's pantry.  Hadn't I just seen that wallpaper somewhere recently???  Why, yes.  That is the same paper that was used in the bedroom of the old Denning and Fourcade residence, which I featured on my blog a few weeks ago:

These two photos brought to mind yet another interior where the paper was so strikingly used:

Here, you can see it in the blue and white sunroom of Oscar and Françoise de la Renta.  Three chic homes, all of which featured this stylish paper.  The only trouble is that I haven't a clue as to who produced this paper.  Any ideas?

Top photo from World of Interiors, September 2014, Pablo Zuloaga photographer.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

A Tribute to Jane Marsden

Jane Marsden, one of Atlanta's preeminent antiques dealers and interior decorators, was a fixture in our city's design community for decades. In addition to decorating some of Atlanta's finest homes (one of which I featured on my blog a number of years ago,) Marsden also founded her eponymous antiques shop, which she ran with her daughter, Janie Marsden-Willis. (You can see mother and daughter in the photo above.)  Jane Marsden's shop became a coveted source for French and English furniture, Chinese Export porcelain, and antique lighting, just to name a few of the areas in which Marsden specialized.

Sadly, Marsden died last week, and it's a loss that Atlanta designers and collectors have felt immensely.  As a tribute to the talented Marsden, I am featuring these photos of her Atlanta residence, which was located above her shop.  As you can see, Marsden had real flair and a taste for beautiful objects, both of which influenced the way Atlantans decorated their homes.  Her legacy will live on in the many homes she decorated, not to mention the myriad antiques that left her shop for places far and wide.

All photos from Paper City, Erica George Dines photographer.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Two More Books for Your Consideration

Two fall book releases that I have highly anticipated are The Drawing Room: English Country House Decoration by British historian and writer, Jeremy Musson, and The Private Houses of France: Living with History by French writer Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery.  I collect books by both authors, and their latest efforts were well worth the wait.

As the title of Musson's book implies, The Drawing Room explores "one of the defining spaces of the English country house."  The author's introduction gives a concise history of this room, which evolved from the modest, early seventeenth-century "withdrawing" room to a space that, by the late seventeenth century, stood almost equal in importance to the dining room, thus earning the drawing room the sometimes expensive, usually well-appointed decor that defines these rooms today.  Musson has divided his book into chronological sections that trace the evolution of drawing room decor from the sixteenth century up to today, using numerous examples of well-known (and perhaps not so well-known) country house drawing rooms.  In the section devoted to the sixteenth- to eighteenth-century drawing room, expect to find photos of South Wraxall Manor, Kedleston Hall, and Broadlands.  Attingham Park and Renishaw Hall represent the elegant nineteenth-century drawing room, while the "opulence" of the later nineteenth-century can be seen in the rooms of Knebworth and Madresfield Court.  The drawing rooms of David Hicks, Detmar Blow, and Nancy Lancaster are prime examples of how tastemakers decorated and used these rooms during the twentieth century.  Finally, the book ends with a look at what the twenty-first-century drawing room looks like, specifically rooms decorated by Veere Grenney and Chester Jones.  (All of the country houses I have mentioned are but a fraction of the houses featured in Musson's book.)

As tempting as it might be ignore the text in favor of the book's beautiful photos by Paul Barker, don't.  Musson's brief but illuminating surveys of each drawing room are chock full of architectural history, social history, and descriptions of furnishings and decor, all of which tend to interest people like us.  And one more thing- Musson's book will make a nice companion to Mark Girouard's Life in the English Country House, a book that many of us own.

 The South Drawing Room at Althorp

The drawing room at Renishaw Hall, home of the Sitwells.

Deene Park 

The drawing room of Stanway House, with its pair of Thomas Chippendale Chinoiserie daybeds.

Veere Grenney's The Temple, whose drawing room is always a crowd pleaser.

Moving on to France.... I'm an ardent fan of author Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery, whose books give readers an insider's view of life in aristocratic French residences.  Although the concept of her latest book, Private Houses of France, is not markedly different from that of The Finest Houses of Paris or even The French Chateau, that's okay with me.  I never grow tired of looking at big, beautiful photos of sumptuously-appointed French homes.

De Nicolay-Mazery's latest endeavour profiles such private houses as Château d'Anet, Champchevrier, and the Paris apartment of Princesse G. There are also chapters on Hubert de Givenchy's Paris residence, Hôtel d'Orrouer, as well as Baron de Redé's first floor residence of Hôtel Lambert. (I believe that the book's photos of both residences have never before been published.)  Like Musson's work, the text in this book deals mostly with the history of each residence, although the author does delve into how the various aristocratic homeowners live in their luxurious abodes.  But it's the book's photos that might well send the reader into a reverie.  In addition to large, overall room shots, there are plenty of detail photos as well, which capture the personal details that say so much about a home.  Just take a look below:

The Paris residence of Hubert de Givenchy 

 A guest room at Château d'Anet

 The dining room in a hôtel particulier in the Marais

At Château d'Anet

*The Drawing Room is available via Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound. Private Houses of France also available through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound.

Photos from The Drawing Room by Jeremy Musson, copyright © Rizzoli Publishers 2014. Photos from Private Houses of Frances by Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery, copyright © Flammarion Publishers 2014. Francis Hammond photographer.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Markham Roberts: Decorating the Way I See It

Today's post marks the first in a spate of upcoming fall book reviews.  (After a year of book touring, it's nice to once again have time to both read design books and review them.)  First up is Markham Roberts: Decorating the Way I See It.  I am a huge fan of Markham's work, so one might think that makes me a biased reviewer.  If anything, though, it makes me a tougher critic.  I expected a lot from this book, and Markham delivered.

What has long drawn me to Markham's work is the fact that there is nothing forced nor contrived about it.  A rarity in today's world, Markham is one who doesn't seem to feel the need to prove anything nor to beg for attention, and the same probably goes for his clients, too.  (Isn't it reassuring to know that a few low-key, unassuming people still exist?)  What's important to Markham- and what he stresses in his book- is that the interiors he decorates reflect the lifestyles and personalities of his clients, something which, as Senga Mortimer notes in the book's foreword, means that Markham's work lacks "a recognizable stamp for which so many decorators become known."  Instead, Markham's work has range, though it's a range that is ably supported by a mastery of decorating.  While looking at the book's photographs (many of which, by the way, have not been published before,) I was reminded of the work of Albert Hadley and Mark Hampton (Markham's mentor,) both of whom also worked within an impressive range of styles.

In addition to the "can't take your eyes off of them" photos, the book's text, which was written by Markham, should not be overlooked.  The designer has included sound decorating advice in his book, all of which is written in a breezy, down-to-earth style.  But the book isn't solely about decorating; it's about living, too.  You really can't have one without the other, and that is something that Markham inherently understands.

Markham Roberts's comfortable approach to decorating and living is a breath of fresh air, and that's what helps to make his book so inviting.  It's a book that you will want to add to your design library.  And after reading the book, you just might find yourself either wanting to hire Markham as your decorator or inviting him to your house for dinner.

Markham Roberts: Decorating the Way I See It is available through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound.

All photos copyright ©2014 The Vendome Press

Life on the Road

The interesting thing about a book signing event is that I never know who is going to show up to buy a copy of my book.  Such was the case this week when the ladies of Place on the Pointe, a shopper's paradise in Albany, Georgia, hosted a book signing for me.  Amid the two-legged customers was George, with whom I had a nice chat as I inscribed a copy of my book to him. (I didn't get a chance to ask him if the lack of opposing thumbs made holding a book difficult.)  If only I could figure out how to get Alfie interested in reading.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Facing the Music

Don't ask me how I got on a roll with music motifs, but somehow, I did. I think that it was a glimpse of Mrs. Antenor Patino's music-themed table linen (seen above and below), which appeared in The New Tiffany Tablesettings, that led me down a rabbit hole filled with treble clefs, ledger lines, and notes. Although I don't have a musical bone in my body, I do like a musical motif, which, when used in attractive and not kitschy ways, can strike a note of elegant whimsy to whatever it adorns.

 Image above and at top: a beautifully set table by Mrs. Antenor Patino

 A music-themed buffet from the early 1960s.

A 1937 Elsa Schiaparelli dress, which was embroidered with musical notes.

"Moon River" china from Tiffany & Co., now discontinued.

Musical motif linen from Loretta Caponi.

It's difficult to see, but the trompe l'oeil design that graces the top of this Regency occasional table includes an illustration of sheet music.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Revisiting Denning and Fourcade

Those of you who own a copy of  The New York Times Book of Interior Design and Decoration are probably already familiar with the former Manhattan townhouse of designers Robert Denning and Vincent Fourcade.  Their residence, which was decorated in the designers' signature opulent style though mixed with touches of late 1960s-era hipness, garnered four photographs in the New York Times book.  And if memory serves me correctly (though it may not,) I believe that the designers' master bedroom may also have appeared in a House & Garden book.

And now thanks to a kind reader who lives in Geneva, I have many other photos of this townhouse, which I had not previously seen.  Although the Denning and Fourcade look is usually a bit too rich for my taste, I do think that there is much to appreciate about their work.  Take their townhouse, for example.  There is no denying that the two designers possessed some fine-looking furniture and employed fine-looking fabrics.  Their master bedroom, which is memorable for its blue and white patterned walls and plaid curtains and bedspread, is appealing, despite the fact that the bed is placed diagonally within the room.  And their patio is positively timeless-looking, what with that abundance of green trellis and blue-and-white-striped fabric.

Although few people live like this anymore (which, in a way, is a shame,) it's worth taking a look at the residence of two men who lavishly made their mark on American design.