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.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Last Weekend

I love movies, and I love interior design, and when the two meet to make movie magic, well, all the better. That's the case with Last Weekend, a new film that was written and co-directed by Tom Dolby. Starring Patricia Clarkson, the movie chronicles the last weekend spent by a wealthy San Francisco family at their beloved Lake Tahoe home.

What makes this movie especially appropriate for my blog is the film's ever-present Lake Tahoe summer house, which not only plays a major role in Last Weekend, but in the lives of Dolby and his family as well. The house, which was built in 1929, has belonged to the Dolby family since the late 1970s. Tom's parents have lovingly maintained the house, retaining all of the original (and wonderful) architectural details and decorating it in a style that is both rustically quirky and immensely comfortable. And of special importance to those of us who are fans of classic film, the house also happened to be the setting of 1951's A Place in the Sun, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Talk about a house that was made for the movies.

In a recent interview, Dolby said, "The house provided the greatest inspiration of all for this film. She is the grand old lady that anchors the family and provides them with a sanctuary."  I think the film's characters- and Dolby's family in real life- are lucky to call this grand old lady home.

*Last Weekend is available in selected theaters, video-on-demand, and iTunes. 

The three photos seen above are taken from Last Weekend.

The house as it appeared in A Place in the Sun.

Photos that show the house as it appeared in 1930.

Lecture in Memphis

And one more speaking engagement to announce...

On Saturday, October 11 at 2 pm, I will be speaking at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art as part of the Decorative Arts Trust speaker series.  My lecture, which will focus on both my book and the history of classic design, will be followed by a book signing reception.

The Decorative Arts Trust is one of the country's leading decorative arts support groups, and in my opinion, one which should serve as an example for other like-minded museum support groups.  The group's success is due in large part to the enthusiasm and passion of its members, no small feat in an age when the decorative arts tend to take a back seat to contemporary art and photography, for example.

For more information on my lecture, or to learn more about the Decorative Arts Trust, please visit their website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I recently found myself getting mired in stress.  I was stressing about those big questions that inevitably haunt me from time to time, such as "What's the next step for me in my career?" to the more mundane, "What am I to blog about next?"  These are the sometimes difficult-to-answer questions that keep me up at night.

In an effort to get unstuck and in hopes of maintaining my generally positive outlook on life, I decided to focus my energies on something fun.  Because it's fun, I think, that helps one to rise above the stress and shake off "the will to be dreary", as Dorothy Draper would say.  And what I consider to be great fun is to explore old cookbooks and drinks manuals for a taste of the past, specifically the 1930s.

I perused my copy of The Complete Hostess, written by Giovanni Quaglino, who founded his namesake Mayfair restaurant, Quaglino's, in 1929.  The 1920s had been a gay decade for London society, one in which, according to Barbara Cartland,  "we danced from breakfast until dawn the following day."  (It was Cartland who famously claimed to have found a pearl in her oyster at Quaglino's.)  But by 1929, the Bright Young People were starting to mature, and a taste for dancing gave way to a taste for good food.  In his sophisticated restaurant, Quaglino served up equally sophisticated fare, which included such dishes as Truite aux Raisins de Moissac, Homard à la facon du Maitre Louis, and Emincé de Volaille à la King. Quaglino is also remembered as being one of the first to serve hot hors d'oeuvres, such as Croquettes de Homard and Flan Chez Quaglino.  And entertainment rounded out a meal at Quaglino's, with acts like the Gregory Novelty Tango Quintette and Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson performing for the well-heeled clientele.  (If you're not familiar with Hutch, Google him right away.  Trust me.  You'll spend a good half hour reading about his scandalous exploits.)

Quaglino's is still around today, albeit in an updated form.  In the early 1990s, Terence Conran revamped the restaurant, thus bringing some of the sparkle and polish back to the Quaglino name.  And today, the restaurant is about to reopen after being closed for a major renovation.  As glamorous as the new and improved Quaglino's might be, it's the 1930s-version that most appeals to me.  I'll take bias-cut satin dresses, Hutch Hutchinson tinkling the ivories, and Flan Chez Quaglino  over DJ booths and artisanal cocktails any day.

Quaglino's as it appeared in the 1930s.

Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson performing at Quaglino's.

White Lady Cocktail (recipe from The Complete Hostess)
2/3 Gin
1/3 Cointreau
the juice of a 1/4 of a lemon

Stuffed Celery Chez Quaglino (recipe from The Complete Hostess)
Take some very selected sticks of celery. Equal proportions of Rocquefort cheese and butter. Mix together well with a little cream and sherry and some paprika until it becomes a smooth paste. Fill up the celery and serve.

Back in the mid-'90s, no trip to London was complete without a visit to Quaglino's.  And no visit to Quaglino's was complete without purchasing one of their ashtrays.

Friday, September 12, 2014

An End of the Week Pick-me-up

Time got away from me this week, so rather than leave you with a blog post full of illuminating text, I'm going to leave you with a blog post full of illuminating images.  The photos seen here, which appeared in the September 1984 issue of Architectural Digest, capture a Manhattan apartment that was decorated by Mario Buatta.  Like me, you might at first be taken with the apartment's overall warmth and coziness, which feels like cashmere on the eyes.  But please don't overlook the details.  Filled with porcelain, wicker cachepots, Chinese garden stools, wall brackets, brass occasional tables, and needlepoint pillows, this apartment is a case study in good old-fashioned, classic decorating, which really isn't old-fashioned at all.

All photos from Architectural Digest, September 1984, Peter Vitale photographer.

Greenville County Museum of Art's Antiques, Fine Art and Design Weekend

I am honored to be a featured speaker at this year's Antiques, Fine Art and Design Weekend, which is organized by the Greenville County Museum of Art in Greenville, South Carolina.  The show, which raises funds for the Art for Greenville campaign, will feature twenty-five antiques dealers from across the country, who will exhibit antique furniture, silver, porcelain, linens, folk art, and fine art.  The weekend will kick-off on Thursday, October 16 with a gala Preview Party, where benefactors will get the first look at dealer booths.  On Friday, October 17 at 11 am, noted decorator Richard Keith Langham will speak about how his Southern background has influenced his work for such illustrious clients as Jackie Onassis and Pat Buckley.  And then on Saturday, October 18 at 2 pm, I will be presenting my In with the Old lecture, in which I will discuss some of my favorite examples of classic design as well as a few of my favorite tastemakers,  (Marie Antoinette, Nan Kempner, Billy Baldwin, and Hubert de Givenchy are among those whom I profile.)

Now in its 29th year, the show is considered to be one of the South's premier antiques shows.  And not only that, it is supposed to be a great deal of fun, too.  I hope that you'll join me during my visit to Greenville.  For more information on the show, or to purchase lecture or Preview Party tickets, please visit their website.

Silver and porcelain, always popular in the South, are among the many antiques that will be on display at this year's show.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Tribute to Harry Hinson

Yesterday, I learned the sad news that Harry Hinson died last week.  Although I can't claim a close relationship to Harry, we were pen pals for a number of years.  Harry often emailed me in response to my blog posts, especially those which pertained to the New York design scene of the last four decades.  Harry was always able to relay connections and back stories because he had borne witness to what many consider the golden age of American design.  Actually, Harry was much more than a witness.  He was a key figure in American design, and I don't think it's a stretch to say that he, along with Albert Hadley, Van Day Truex, Billy Baldwin, and a few others, helped to define what we today call classic American design.

Harry, a native of North Carolina who thankfully never lost his Southern accent, moved to New York in the early 1960s, working as a designer first at Bloomingdale's and later with Bonwit Teller.  In 1972, Harry founded Hinson & Company, his eponymous fabric and wallcovering line which is still highly-regarded today.  Of all of the fabric lines that I admire (and there are many,) it is Hinson that is probably the dearest to me.  The Hinson "look"- classic yet modern, tailored, never trying too hard, and thoroughly American- most closely aligns with my aesthetic.  And if  another reason is needed to explain my love of Hinson & Company, let's look no further than the year of Hinson's founding, which also happens to be my birth year.  That can't be a mere coincidence, can it?

For all of Harry's talent as a businessman, it was his skill as a designer that I find even more remarkable.  Harry had a knack for taking a traditional design element or motif and making it modern.  In fact, if you have ever wondered how something can be both traditional and modern at the same time, simply take a look at a Hinson print, such as Spatter, and you'll see how.  Many of those wonderful Hinson prints, what I consider to be the hallmark of the Hinson look, possess historical pedigrees.  And yet, under Harry's tutelage, these prints shed any old-fashioned sentiment and became thoroughly up to date.  What I have been trying to do over the last eight years with my blog and, more recently, with my book- namely, championing classic design elements as worthy partners to contemporary decor- is more or less what Harry did with his Hinson fabrics and wallpapers.  This, perhaps more than anything else, explains the kinship that I feel with both Harry and Hinson & Company.

In a 1981 Architectural Digest interview, Harry said that what he hoped to contribute to design were "honest uses, simple approaches, comfort; integrating style with technology.  And an understanding that designs must adapt to the way we live."  Thirty-three years later, and I think it is evident that Harry did just what he set out to do.  Although it's tempting to write that Harry's death will leave a void in the design world, I don't think that is entirely true.  We may no longer have this talented man with us, but we still have his body of work.  And that body of work will continue to remain an influence on American design for decades to come.

Harry in a photograph taken in 1981.

Harry's living room in his East Hampton house.  Merlin fabric by Hinson & Company was used to cover the two slipper chairs.

A photo of Harry, taken sometime during the 1990s, with his Merlin fabric in the foreground.

Spatter on the walls and windows of Harry's East Hampton home.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Hercule Poirot and The Labours of Hercules

I've been savoring the final episodes of Poirot via Acorn TV, and there was one episode that I found especially appealing.  In "The Labours of Hercules", the opening scene depicts an elegant soirée that takes place in an equally elegant London residence.  What struck me about this scene- in addition to the murderous intrigue that was starting to percolate, of course- were the decorative details.  There was Chinese wallpaper, damask-covered walls, a chaise percée, and some terrific-looking red silk lampshades.  Basically, everything that one might expect to find in a well-appointed London residence during the 1930s.

Now that Poirot has ended and while I wait for the long-anticipated season three of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, I need to find another mystery series to help pass the time.  I love murder and intrigue, but I like to take it with a heavy dose of glamour.  Any recommendations?   

Upcoming Appearances

My book and lecture tour will be resuming soon after a summer hiatus.  For you Southerners (and non-Southerners who want to travel down South,) I invite you to the following:

On Wednesday, September 24th from noon until 3pm, I will be signing copies of my book at Place on the Pointe in Albany, Georgia.  You can pre-order copies of my book by calling (229) 883-8585. It's been forever since I've visited Albany, and I'm looking forward to my trip down there, especially since I keep hearing great things about Place on the Pointe.   For more information, please visit the shop's Facebook page.

Then, on Thursday, October 2nd, I will be speaking alongside Paige Albright at Tastebuds: Define Your Style, part of the Antiques at the Gardens show at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  Sponsored by flower, Taigan, and Tammy Connor Interior Design, the talk will focus on personal style and classic design and is geared to those design enthusiasts who are under 40.  Lunch will be provided, and I'll be signing books after the event.

Other Antiques at the Gardens events include lectures by Mario Buatta and Shane Connolly.  This year's Tastemakers, who are tasked with curating special areas on the show floor, include Christopher Spitzmiller, Kinsey Marable, Ware Porter, Henry Sprott Long & Associates, and many more.

For more information or to purchase tickets to Tastebuds or other show events, please visit the Antiques at the Gardens website.