Monday, September 10, 2018

Kenneth Battelle at Home

"The top". "An institution". The "Secretary of Grooming". These were just some of the titles and accolades given to Kenneth, the legendary hairdresser who tended the locks of Jacqueline Kennedy, Lee Radziwill, Brooke Astor, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe, to name just a few of his high-profile clients. Although Kenneth did have a last name (it was Battelle), he became so famous that he was always referred to by his first name only. You'll recall that it was Billy Baldwin whom Kenneth hired in the early 1960s to decorate his Manhattan salon, a Brighton Pavilion fantasy of bamboo and tented rooms.  Baldwin once wrote, "I'm  told a woman will keep dentists and dinner dates waiting before she'll miss an appointment at Kenneth's." But for all of the glamour and celebrity surrounding his salon and his clientele, Kenneth never seemed to lose his head, saying, "What I do is only a shampoo away from being nothing."

His lack of pretension comes across in these photos of his East Side penthouse, which were published in the February 1989 issue of HG. (Incidentally, the following year brought Kenneth much grief when his salon burned to the ground; receiving no insurance money for his loss and unable to rebuild his salon, he moved his business to the Helmsley Palace Hotel first and later the Waldorf-Astoria.)  Although elegantly appointed, his home was neither grand nor overblown. I'm intrigued by Kenneth's curious blend of styles and furnishings. The apartment's finishes were sleek, modern, and very suited to the night: dark-brown walls in both the living room and bedroom; what appears to be a polished brass fireplace mantel; and a kitchen entirely sheathed in mirror and lit by track lighting. And yet, the apartment was furnished rather traditionally, too, with French chairs, displays of antique boxes, and a Brunschwig chintz used throughout the bedroom. It was an apartment of a man who had confidence in his taste.

The best shot of the entire feature, however, has to be that of Kenneth reading the morning paper in his garden and wearing a dressing gown, which kept his work attire, a suit, pristine. If that photo doesn't perfectly capture the immaculate ways of a bygone generation, I don't know what does.

All photos from HG, February 1989, Eric Boman photographer.

What's New What's Next

I hope you'll join the Kravet team and me this week at What's New What's Next, where I will be interviewing three of my favorite designers, Alexa Hampton, Markham Roberts, and Tom Scheerer, on who and what inspires them. The day-long event at the New York Design Center features an outstanding line-up of panel discussions and receptions. For more information or to RSVP, please visit

Monday, August 13, 2018

Chez Princesse Ghislaine de Polignac

A friend recently gave me the most interesting book about Marie Antoinette: To The Scaffold, by Carolly Erickson. To borrow my friend's description of the book, it is gripping. Although I knew well the history of the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette's sad fate, I found myself on the edge of my seat as I turned each page. But one central figure that I had forgotten about until reading this book was Yolande de Polignac, one of Marie Antoinette's closest friends and confidantes. Polignac's close relationship to the Queen brought Yolande and a whole host of Polignacs great wealth and power, which in turn led to much resentment among both the nobility and the average Parisian. A controversial figure, Polignac eventually fled to Switzerland, escaping the wrath of the Revolution.

What a coincidence, then, that I found a 1978 Architectural Digest article about another Polignac: Princesse Ghislaine de Polignac (1918-2011). Like Yolande, Ghislaine courted controversy. While married to Prince Edmonde de Polignac, Ghislaine engaged in affairs, including one with Duff Cooper, who, at the time, was also involved with Gloria Rubio (later Guinness) and Louise de Vilmorin. Recalling a party given by Gloria, where all three girlfriends were present, Cooper likened it to a ball in Balzac: "Everyone looking at everyone in suspicion." Later, after Ghislaine divorced Prince Edmonde, she was befriended by the wealthy American socialite, Rosita Winston, who generously flew Ghislaine to New York, where Winston treated her to a new Dior wardrobe. The only glitch was that just prior to a party they were to attend, Winston walked in on Ghislaine in bed with her husband. Later, at the party, a furious Winston proceeded to tell everyone about her discovery, before putting Polignac on the next plane back to France. Naturally, a gleeful Cecil Beaton wasted no time spreading word of the scandal to everyone, including Lady Diana Cooper, who responded: "I'm awfully sorry for her. True, in 100,000,000 Americans she was foolish to pick Mr. Winston, but poor girl to have to crawl back to Rheims, tail gripped between those ungovernable legs. Humiliation."

Back in Paris, Polignac settled into an apartment at Hôtel Lambert and pursued a career in public relations for Galeries Lafayette and Revlon. Later, she moved into the apartment you see here. Decorated by her friend, Baron Fred de Cabrol, the apartment was a jewel-box, both in size and appearance. Intended as an elegant backdrop for entertaining, the apartment's salon was dramatically lavished in red, reminding the article's author, Philippe Jullian, of "a box at the Opera." Taking heed of her friend Christian Bérard's advice, "You must always be careful to mix many different shades of red," Polignac and her decorator selected velvets and tapestries in a range of reds to accompany those richly colored walls. By contrast, Polignac's bedroom had a much lighter and more feminine feel. Even this room was a testament to Polignac's energetic social life. In addition to the numerous invitations tucked into her mirror's frame, there were also framed seating arrangements for her many dinners, charmingly sketched by the hostess herself.

Describing Fred de Cabrol's skill at mixing Second Empire decorations with other periods in the Salon, Jullian wrote, "He is able to adapt the past to the contemporary scene...careful never to indulge in a purely period décor. Actually only serious collectors--or perhaps the nouveaux riches--will have rooms that are impeccable Louis XV or Empire."

Like the Salon, the Dining Room was enveloped in red.

Ghislaine de Polignac's bedroom with evidence of her active social life. Note the attendees to one of her dinners, which she commemorated with an illustrated seating chart seen above: The Prentice Hales, Robert de Balkany, Paul Louis Weiller, and Baron de Rédé.

All photos from Architectural Digest, January/February 1978, Pascal Hinous photographer.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

What I've Been Up to Over the Past Year: Inspired Design

Goodness. It feels strange writing a blog post after a year-long hiatus. I was worried that I may have forgotten how to blog, but it seems that after eleven years of writing The Peak of Chic, blogging has become second nature. It feels good to be back.

As some of you know, I have spent the past year writing my latest book, Inspired Design: The 100 Most Important Interior Designers of the Past 100 Years (Vendome Press). I spent countless hours doing research (thank heavens for my library of design books and shelter magazines), writing, and selecting the photos that defined the careers of the featured 100 designers. In fact, I spent so much time working on this book while cloistered in my home, some of my neighbors assumed I had died or moved.

Now that the hard work is behind me, I can say that it was well worth it. The end result is a book that I feel honors a very diverse, influential, and talented group of individuals. The featured designers hail from around the world, including America, England, Yugoslavia, and even Iran. There are living designers who are currently at the heights of their careers, while others experienced their heydays back in the 1930s and '40s. A number of the designers can be classified as traditionalists, but for each of them, there is a designer whose work was, or is, at the cutting-edge. Some were known for their reserved personalities, while others aren't afraid to make statements with their appearances. Peter Marino, that would be you.

Did your favorite designer make the list? You'll have to wait until October 2, the book's publication date, to see the list in its entirety. In the meantime, we'll be releasing glimpses via my blog as well as on Instagram. For those who can't wait, visit the Vendome Press website today for a peek.

To pre-order the book, please visit Vendome's website for more information.

I'll be embarking on my book tour later this fall, so I hope to see many of you soon!

Thursday, June 01, 2017

I Need Your Help!

You may not hear from me frequently this summer as I’ve just started work on my next book, which I’m happy to announce will be published by Vendome Press and edited by Stephen Drucker. Commissioned by Kravet to celebrate its centennial anniversary, the book will profile the 100 most important designers of the past 100 years.

In order to write this book, I need your help. Who do you think is the most influential designer of the last century? Your answers will be used to compile the book’s list of designers, so please do let me know. You can submit your comment below, or, if you prefer, you may email your answers to me at

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Return of the Canopy Bed

There were many highlights of last month's High Point Furniture Market, but one in particular made quite an impression on me: the gratifying appearance of canopied beds at a number of furniture showrooms. After playing second fiddle to upholstered headboards for years, it seems that the canopy bed is once again captivating furniture designers.

For Kindel's Dorothy Draper Collection, Carleton Varney debuted the Tuxedo Park Poster Bed, which was inspired by Draper's own bed at her Carlyle Hotel apartment.  Dressed in Fazenda Lily and Ballroom Satin fabrics, both from the Dorothy Draper fabric collection, the bed held court alongside the Pinwheel Chest in green painted lacquer and the Double Camellia Bench.  Like so many pieces in this collection, the Tuxedo Park bed is available in twenty-five painted lacquers and a number of wood finishes.  I think Draper would be very pleased.

Tuxedo Park Poster Bed photos courtesy of Kindel

A few examples of the bed that inspired Kindel's version.

Image courtesy of Bunny Williams Home

Like Varney, Bunny Williams also introduced a new canopied bed, this one notable for its aesthetically-pleasing Greek Key design.  Made of hammered metal, the Ellsworth Bed, part of the Bunny Williams Home collection, has a hand-applied, wrought iron finish.  For those with a more restrained sense of style, this is a canopy bed that seems sure to suit.

Image courtesy of Highland House's Facebook page

And finally, there is the Courtney Upholstered Bed, part of the Bungalow Classic collection for Highland House.  To be accurate, the bed debuted at High Point last fall, but at this Market, the bed remains a real show-stopper, not least of all because of its fabric canopy and upholstered bed posts.  Designed by the design and retail super-couple, Courtney and Randy Tilinski, their version of the canopy bed is unabashedly pretty.  It's awfully dreamy, too.

Speaking of dreamy, I'm including a few take-a-step-back-in-time photos of glorious canopy beds, including those slept in by Evangeline Bruce (the chintz-festooned version seen directly below) and Baron Philippe de Rothschild (the French-inflected bed with the ruffled pillows.)  These older versions, combined with the new introductions featured above, confirm that the canopy bed will never go out of style.  

Mario Times Two

And while we're on the subject of High Point, another favorite introduction of mine are the Mario Twins, a set of bunching tray tables designed by the great Mario Buatta.  Part of Kindel's Designer Artist Series, the tables have removable tray tops, meaning they're the perfect tables on which to serve tea or hors d'oeuvres or on which to enjoy a tray supper.  Available in any of Kindel's wood or painted lacquer finishes, the Mario Twins just might be my next furniture purchase.

Image courtesy of Kindel

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Kirill Istomin and his World of Fantasy

One of my biggest complaints about social media is the sometimes deleterious effect it seems to have on creativity.  On the one hand, it could be argued that Instagram, Pinterest, and blogs have introduced people to a whole host of new images, new places, and new things, all of which, to some degree, have fostered a spirit of discovery.  On the other hand, the pitfall to a group of people looking at the same images is that too many people are drinking from the same well of inspiration, resulting in an uncomfortable amount of sameness in, for example, styles of dress and decorating.  Whichever opinion you prefer, I think we can all agree that seeking inspiration solely online is a recipe for dullness.  Now, more than ever, it's important to spend time away from our phones and find motivation in travel, art, film, books, or anywhere else that strikes one's fancy.

One designer who credits a range of sources for influencing his work is Kirill Istomin, a Moscow and New York-based designer whose interiors have been featured in numerous shelter magazines, both here in the United States and abroad.  Having trained at venerable Parish-Hadley, Istomin and his work are rooted in good, solid decorating.  But what makes Istomin stand out is that he has a particular love of fantasy, one which manifests itself in interiors that are highly decorative while remaining functional, too.  The designer credits film (Zeffirelli's La Traviata, especially), dance (George Balanchine's The Nutcracker), and even great designers from the past (namely Henri Samuel, John Fowler, Rose Cumming, Mario Buatta, Parish-Hadley, and Stephane Boudin) with inspiring his work.  But it's history that especially interests the designer, who cites 18th-century French and Russian history as particular areas of concentration.

Istomin's purpose for indulging in fantasy is that, "it takes us away from reality."  Below, you'll find images of Istomin's fantasy-infused work, including the inspiration behind some of the interiors.    I think you'll find that for the next few minutes, as you study these photos, you'll find yourself lost in a world of richly appointed and sumptuously pretty interiors.

For a lady's bathroom, above, Istomin based the idea of the wall's thin pilasters on those in the Porcelain Study of Catherine the Great at Tsarskoe Selo, outside of St. Petersburg:

Meanwhile, for the dressing room of the same lady client, the designer took his cue from Brighton Pavilion:

whose palm-motif columns inspired those surrounding the dressing-room shelving:

In fact, the spirit of 18th-century Russia pervades a number of Istomin-designed interiors, including this dining room below, which is located in a house in the Chinese Village, Tsarskoe Selo:

Here, the floor and door moldings are reminiscent of Catherine the Great's Chinese Study at Peterhof:

It's the historical inspiration that I find so interesting, but even without referencing the specific sources, Istomin's work is fascinating.  Take a look below, and I think you'll agree.  And if you happen to be attending Legends at La Cienega Design Quarter this week, be sure to swing by the Sherle Wagner showroom, where Istomin has designed a window vignette. I have a feeling it will be a real show-stopper and fantastical through and through.

All images courtesy of Kirill Istomin

Monday, May 01, 2017

Spring Book News

In between visits to the Southeastern Designer Showhouse, High Point, and Design ADAC, I have managed to carve out some time to enjoy Spring's bumper crop of new book releases. Below are a few of the highlights from my stack of nightly reading.

Veranda Entertaining by Clinton Smith; Hearst Books, 2017

Veranda Editor-in-Chief Clinton Smith has done it again, writing a book that you will no doubt want to add to your library. Smith's latest effort focuses on entertaining and includes copious photos of table settings, flowers, dining rooms, and outdoor spaces that have been featured in the magazine. As expected, the photos are gorgeous, but the real draw here is Smith's commentary about the art of entertaining. Organized alphabetically, the book espouses nuggets of wisdom on all aspects of entertaining, from candlelight to glassware and place settings. And because the text is informative but concise, you can dip into the book as you wish, reading it from cover to cover or, if you prefer, a few chapters a night. Even if you consider yourself an armchair host or hostess, by the time you finish reading this book, you will want to become a prolific party-thrower.

Creating Home: Design for Living by Keith Summerour; Rizzoli 2017

One of the South's most respected architects, Atlanta-based Keith Summerour returns with his latest tome, one that features nine of his residential projects in such locales as Atlanta, Blackberry Farm, and Greenwich, Connecticut. An architect whose work is classically rooted, Summerour taps into his Southern heritage, creating houses that are both soulful and respectful of the land on which they sit. Whether located in the city or the country, a Summerour-designed house is not just dreamy to look at, it's a lesson in how to live comfortably, too.

Daily Life by Gert Voorjans; Lannoo Publishers, 2016

You may not be familiar with Belgian designer Gert Voorjans, and neither was I until recently.  But what a pleasant discovery his work has been.  Voorjans is no Johnny-come-lately to the world of design.  A protégé of Axel Vervoordt, the Antwerp-based designer opened his own firm in 1996 and has been decorating around the world ever since.  To be sure, Voorjans' work can be eccentric, but that's what makes it so very interesting.  I've made one pass through the book thus far and look forward to diving into it again soon.  Unique and personal, this book will likely hold your interest well into the future.

The Decorated Home: Living with Style and Joy by Meg Braff; Rizzoli 2017

Though now based on Long Island, New York, designer Meg Braff remains a Southern girl at heart, one who has maintained a very Southern love affair with bright, clear color. In her debut book, Braff shares with readers her upbeat design work that brims with color, pattern, charm, whimsy, and joie de vivre. While reading her book, I kept thinking how much of an "old-school" decorator Braff is, a term that I use as a compliment. There is nothing weird or outré about Braff's work. What is in evidence is Braff's enthusiasm for fabrics, furniture, and other tools of her craft, all of which she so obviously enjoys working with.

Entertaining in the Country: Love Where You Eat by Joan Osofsky and Abby Adams

When I received a review copy of this book, I was completely unfamiliar with the authors, one of whom owns Hammertown Barn, a lifestyle store with locations in Hudson Valley and the Berkshires. I gather that they are a big deal in that area, and I can see why. Their latest effort, a guide to casual entertaining, is brimming with recipes for the kind of food we all enjoy eating: chicken pot pie; corn and tomato salad; gazpacho; and berry cobbler. With recipes for simple yet fulfilling dishes and photos of pared down but stylish table settings, the book captures the joys of down-to-earth entertaining.

The New Chic: French Style from Today's Leading Interior Designers by Marie Kalt and the Editors of Architectural Digest France; Rizzoli 2017

Don't get the wrong idea. I haven't gone contemporary on you. Although I remain a traditionalist at heart, I do try to stay on top of what's happening in the world of modern design, which is why I chose to review this book. Considering that some of the best contemporary interiors being produced today are being executed by French designers, it seems fitting that the work of twelve leading French designers is the focus of this new book, one that was produced by the editors of Architectural Digest France. Even if modern-looking interiors aren't your thing, I think you'll appreciate the caliber of these designers' work, which, if nothing else, should serve as a lesson in the importance of quality and elegance.

The Art of Elegance: Classic Interiors by Marshall Watson; Rizzoli 2017

And last but not least, designer Marshall Watson's new monograph, a deserved one for a designer who has worked in the business for over thirty years.  What struck me about Watson's work is its confidence.  Watson eschews the gimmicks, choosing instead to give his clients' homes interiors that are comfortable, attractive, livable, and normal.  How refreshing.

Image credits:
© Veranda Entertaining by Clinton Smith, Hearst Books, 2017. © Creating Home: Design for Living by Keith Summerour, Rizzoli New York, 2017; photos © Andrew and Gemma Ingalls. © Daily Life by Gert Voorjans, Lannoo Publishers, 2017; photos by Tim van de Velde. © The Decorated Homes: Living with Style and Joy by Meg Braff, Rizzoli New York, 2017. © Entertaining in the Country by Joan Osofsky and Abby Adams, Rizzoli New York, 2017; photos © John Gruen. © The New Chic by Marie Kalt, Rizzoli New York, 2017; #1 photo © Gonzalo Machado, #2 © Jerome Galland, #3 © Gonzalo Machado. © The Art of Elegance by Marshall Watson, Rizzoli New York, 2017.