Friday, August 19, 2016

That Was Entertaining

As you well know, vintage magazines are my one of my biggest indulgences.  Copies of House Beautiful from the 1930s?  Divine!  Late Sixties issues of House & Garden? So Age of Aquarius!  And Architectural Digest from the Seventies?  Fantastic!!  But the issues that, frankly, rather bore me are those from the 1950s and very early 1960s.  The design mood of that era was a little bland.  But what I do enjoy about magazines from those years are the entertaining features, because entertaining at home was serious business back then.

First, there were often suggested themes for sophisticated dinner parties and buffets.  A flambé supper?  Hmmm, maybe not, but I can get on board with a soup buffet supper or even an omelette party.  (Hiring a chef to make those omelettes would be a must.)

Also, all of the accoutrements of gracious entertaining were encouraged, not pooh-poohed.  Chafing dishes, coffee services, and casseroles were on full display in the magazine photos.  And while I realize these photos were staged, many people had- and actually used- these kinds of table accessories for their at-home entertaining.  Oh, and they dressed up for dinner, too.  How novel.

As much as I pore over these old entertaining photos and wax rhapsodic over elegantly-set buffet tables of yesteryear, the reality is that I'm not going to host an elaborate buffet supper anytime soon.  My excuses are lack of time, too much work, and a kitchen that is awaiting a renovation.  But it certainly doesn't hurt to fantasize about being a hostess par excellence. Who knows?  Maybe someday I just might host that omelette party.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ralph Rucci at Home

It's been a while since I first reviewed Ralph Rucci: Autobiography of a Fashion Designer, and four years later, I still enjoy perusing it. An autobiography that is told through images of the fashion designer's home and office, the book is an intimate portrait of one man's interests and tastes, both of which reflect a life seemingly well-lived.

I thought it worthwhile to revisit the photographs of Rucci's Manhattan lair, which was decorated with the assistance of designer Susan Gutfreund. Dark and dramatic, the apartment is a jewel-box gleaming with mirror and lacquer, an elegant backdrop to the furniture, books, and, above all, objects that Rucci seems to have chosen with exactitude.  Meanwhile, Asian influences abound, which is to be expected considering Rucci named his fashion house for chado, the Japanese tea ceremony.  But perhaps what strikes me most about Rucci's home is that while it's very personal, personality was not allowed to run amok.  There is a sense of restraint that brings harmony to the home of a man who, like so many of us, has great interest in the art of the interior.

All photos from Ralph Rucci: Autobiography of a Fashion Designer; Baldomero Fernandez, photographer

Friday, August 12, 2016

Where to Spend a Saturday Night

There was a time in my life when weekends were spent going out, catching up with friends, and having too much fun.  Well, that time has come and gone, because as much as I still enjoy being out and about, I love nothing more than spending a quiet Friday or Saturday night at home.  But the more time I spend at home, the more I understand how important it is for one's home to be inviting, comfortable, and, above all, cozy.  Because if you're going to spend a Saturday night at home, you want your home to give you a warm embrace and not the cold shoulder.

One home that must have been supremely cozy on a Saturday night (or any night, for that matter) was the Mayfair apartment of the late decorator, Geoffrey Bennison.  Seen here in photos from the April 1987 issue of House & Garden, the apartment was filled with all kinds of interesting furnishings, which was hardly surprising for a man who began his career as an antiques dealer.  But look beyond the pictures and objects, and you'll see the pieces that really contributed to the home's cozy atmosphere: comfy upholstered sofas and chairs, generous curtains that kept the hustle and bustle at bay, glowing lamp light, loads of books, and a most impressive canopy bed.  If that were my bed, I would have a difficult time getting out of it in the mornings.

Now tell me, wouldn't you rather spend a Saturday night at home in digs like these rather than the enduring the agony of a hip and trendy restaurant?  I know that I certainly would.

All photos from House & Garden, April 1987, Christopher Simon Sykes photographer

Monday, August 08, 2016

Slim's Pickings

OK, so the title of my blog post is corny, but there is nothing the least bit feeble about the Manhattan apartment of the late socialite, Slim Keith.  A California girl who went on to become one of New York's most soignée socialites, Keith led a remarkable life.  She was a wife to a few highly-successful men (including film director Howard Hawks and theater producer Leland Hayward), a mother to prominent interior designer Kitty Hawks, and a friend to Truman Capote, who later based an unflattering character on her in his controversial book, Answered Prayers.  Needless to say, the friendship ended.

With a life as rich as hers, it comes as no surprise that her Manhattan apartment, seen here in 1987, was equally as rich.  Not rich as in expensive (although her furnishings were exquisite,) but rather, rich in character and personality.  More Continental and English in feel than American, the interiors were a lesson in quiet sophistication.  No jarring colors, no outré art, and nothing that visually lunged at you.  Rather, her home was tasteful and pretty, just like Slim Keith.

If you're interested in learning more about Keith, you should read Slim: Memories of a Rich and Imperfect Life.  I read my mother's copy of the book back in the summer of 1990, and as I recall, it was a good read.  It might be worth reading again.

All interior photos from House & Garden, January 1987, François Halard photographer. Photo of Slim Keith by John Engstead.

Monday, August 01, 2016

The World of Jerry Zipkin

Walker of walkers.  Social moth.  Humpty Dumpty.  If you read W back in the Eighties, you will likely remember these now-classic zingers that the magazine's editor and publisher, John Fairchild, frequently hurled at Jerome "Jerry" Zipkin, one of Nouvelle Society's more memorable figures.  Perhaps best known for his friendships with Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale, the often acid-tongued Zipkin seemed to frequent all of the Eighties' most fashionable spots, including Le Cirque, Mortimer's, and the Reagan White House.  It seems like only yesterday that I, a young teenager in Atlanta, anxiously awaited the latest issues of W in hopes of finding out what Zipkin, Nan Kempner, Pat Buckley, Georgette Mosbacher, and Manhattan's other leading socialites had been up to, where they had been, and which ones had made W's infamous "In and Out" list.

Although Zipkin died in 1995, his name continues to crop up in articles about Eighties' society.  For years now, I've been searching for photos of Zipkin's Park Avenue apartment, where he resided his entire life.  (His real-estate-developer father built the building.)  And thanks to my good friend from Macon, Carey, I now have the 1987 issue of House & Garden that features two rooms of his apartment: his sitting room and bedroom.  To say that he packed a lot of stuff into these two rooms is putting it lightly.  But instead of finding the dizzying array of objects and art a turn-off, I'm taken with these rooms because of their personality.  Zipkin was an enthusiastic collector, and his myriad collections and interests- Meissen leopards, shells, snakes, and needlepoint- were on full-display.

So what explained his popularity as a walker?  According to everything I've read, he was cultured and attentive, though quick to give his lady friends unsolicited advice on their clothes and their appearances.  But he was supposedly discreet, too, something which gained him his friends' trust.  According to his New York Times obituary, written by the great Enid Nemy, Zipkin chalked up his popularity among females to the simple fact that he was a man.  "A woman cannot have a best woman friend.  A best woman friend will do her in."

The red sitting room was massed with objects, mementos, and art.

The bedroom's yellow walls were a zesty counterpoint to the adjacent sitting room's red palette.  Even his bedside table was laden with objects.  Dusting and tidying up must have been a nightmare for his poor maid.

All photos from House & Garden, October 1987, Eric Boman photographer.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Smedmore House

If the name Smedmore House doesn't ring a bell, then perhaps the photo of its ravishing pink dining room, copiously adorned with blue and white Fürstenberg china, will.  (See above.)  Has there been a prettier dining room in recent memory?

I was first introduced to Smedmore House, the ancestral home of British author and historian, Dr. Philip Mansel, in World of Interiors, followed a year later by an article in Country Life.  An 18th-century Georgian house located in Dorset, Smedmore is especially appealing to me because, although effusively decorated, the interiors have maintained a comfortable amount of breathing room between objects and furnishings.  Because country houses suffocating with stuff disconcert me, I appreciate the fact that Dr. Mansel took a measured approach to decorating his home.

Also enticing is the home's stately environment- not surprising, perhaps, considering that Dr. Mansel is a founding member of The Society for Court Studies, an organization that encourages the study of royal courts.  The yellow drawing room is equal parts elegance and coziness, while the dining room, whose dignified shade of pink was chosen by architectural historian Gervase Jackson-Stops, is a picture of refinement.

If you find these photos enticing, you're in luck.  According to its website, Smedmore House can be rented for holidays and events.  

All photos from World of Interiors, September 2014, Tim Beddow, photographer

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Lord Weidenfeld and Geoffrey Bennison

As I read last Saturday's edition of the Financial Times, I came across a small version of the photo above, which accompanied an article on London real estate. The rich wall color, more of an egg-yolk shade in the paper's version of the photo, first caught my eye, followed by those walls of books, books, and more books. The apartment seemed familiar to me, and yet, I couldn't place it.  The only information I could glean from the article was that the three-bedroom apartment was located in an 1879 building in Chelsea.

Intrigued and wanting to see more, I visited the website of the brokerage firm, Hamptons International, to see the listing. Described as having been under the same ownership for the past forty years, the apartment is touted as "of historic importance." And two photos into the slideshow, I quickly understood its importance, recognizing it as the Geoffrey Bennison-designed apartment of the late Lord Weidenfeld, publisher extraordinaire.  Decorated in the early 1970s, the apartment, which can also been seen in Gillian Newberry's  Geoffrey Bennison: Master Decorator, seems to have changed little through the decades, a testament to Bennison's design genius.

Considering that Weidenfeld, who died at 96 earlier this year, was a prominent man-about-town and an avid entertainer, Bennison decorated the apartment to accommodate the homeowner's frequent gatherings.  Seating seems never more than a few steps away, while the open plan of the drawing and dining rooms provides flexibility: spacious enough for large gatherings, but with a few intimately-sized areas, conducive to small get-togethers and dinners, too.

There are more photos on the Hamptons International online listing, so I encourage you to visit the website to see more.  And in case you're wondering, the apartment is currently listed for £9,250,000.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Valerian Rybar's Feverish Eclecticism

Recently, two neighbors of mine, both fellow children of the Eighties, joined me in watching my all-time favorite mini-series, Lace, which I sheepishly admit to owning on DVD.  I adore Lace, because everything about it captured the flash and the cash of the 1980s, though in slightly dramatic fashion.  Most of the characters were chauffeured around in Rolls-Royces, donned high-fashion wardrobes (think Ungaro by day, Vicky Tiel by night), and plotted revenge and love affairs while frequenting only the most glamorous locales, including Ascot and various French chateaux.  Life wasn't bad for the lead characters, except for that secret that almost led to their undoing.

With Eighties decadence on the brain, it seems fitting to talk about The Carlyle, a Houston, Texas restaurant that, no doubt, would have been just the sort of establishment that the ladies of Lace would have been drawn to.  Decorated by that virtuoso of haute luxury, designer Valerian Rybar, The Carlyle was a veritable den of design iniquity, all mirror, velvet, wanton red, and risque black.  Named after the Upper East Side hotel, The Carlyle was opened in 1983 by Houston businessman, Harold Farb, who gave carte blanche to Rybar.  And it's a good thing he did, too, because otherwise, we might not have had the opportunity to behold such a lavishly appointed restaurant.

There was a mirror-clad Entrance Foyer that led to the Reception Room, which was outfitted in an Eighties-inflected version of the Neoclassical style.  "Although I call it Neo-Classical, the result incorporates elements deriving from ancient Rome, the Baroque, the Directoire period," opined Rybar.  "The cool discipline of a Neo-Classical frameworks allows you to get away with some feverish eclecticism!"

Dinner and dancing took place in red-drenched rooms, which, like the other spaces, was embellished with Rybar's profuse use of mirror.  And finally, there was the Venetian Room, a private dining room that was swathed in chic black. Said Rybar, "This all-black decor makes guests appear extraordinarily glamorous."

"A public space of the scale and ambition of this one will surely attract all manners of adventurers," predicted Rybar.  But based on what I've read online, those adventurers never really came, forcing Farb to later close the supper club.  A shame, really, because for all of the interiors' flashiness, the restaurant had a flair that, today, seems rather novel and even exciting.  After a decade of dining among rough-hewn wood, industrial light fixtures, and Edison bulb-lighting, I, for one, would be thrilled to spend a Saturday night ensconced in crimson and mirror.

The Entrance Foyer that was kitted out with strip after strip of beveled mirror.

The Reception Room with Rybar's flamboyant interpretation of the Neoclassical style.  Beveled mirror serves as architectural embellishments on the walls, while the painted domed ceiling provides a cloudy vista.  The silver-metallic-lacquered piano was the finishing touch.

The Main Dining Room was fiery red and silver intensified by a lavish use of mirror. The red and silver scenic wall murals were painted by Robert Walker.

Also crimson was the Red Room, yet another dining room that was also used for dancing. The walls were upholstered in red satin, while the carpet, a Patterson, Flynn & Martin design, had the appearance of inlaid marble. The stainless-steel panels on the wall bore paintings of nymphs and Muses.

The Venetian Room, which was a private dining room.  The chandeliers, mirrors, and girandoles were made in Venice of blown black glass.  The walls were covered in a black moire fabric from Kravet.

The Men's Lounge was clad in marble and mirror.

All images from Architectural Digest, September 1983, Jaime Ardiles-Arce photographer