Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Pondering the Next Hot Color

By now, you have likely heard that the 2015 Pantone Color of the Year is Marsala.  I typically don't give much thought to the Color of the Year, if only because I'm focused on other things.  But this year, I did slow down long enough to look at and ponder next year's hot color, and I have come to the conclusion that Marsala isn't really piquing my interest at the moment.  Although I do appreciate a range of wine tones, Marsala seems a little tepid, almost like a watered down shade of wine.  It lacks the full-bodied robustness and edge that I like to see in colors.  And, it doesn't have enough "oomph".  Shall I go on?

I'm trying to keep an open mind here, so I perused my old design books in order to find bygone examples of Marsala-accented decor.  I learned a few things.  First, Marsala is a difficult color to identify, with its slightly dusty quality making it appear quite similar to other shades of wine, red, and even brown.  Old photography makes identification even more difficult.  Also, Marsala does not seem to have been a terribly popular shade in years past.  I looked through books from the 1930s onward, and it seems that the color did make occasional appearances in interiors of the 1940s and later during the 1980s, when the Neo-Edwardian look, which embraced deep shades of red and wine, was considered quite the thing. 

You can find what I found below.  Truth be told, many of the examples are not terribly attractive, which is a shame because I prefer to feature attractive interior images on my blog.  The one image that I do find appealing is the McMillen-decorated living room.  Technically, the color in that photograph is dusty aubergine, so I don't know if it qualifies as a Marsala-driven interior or not.

And it's back to beauty later in the week.

The two images above depict 1940s interiors which may or may not depict Marsala. I simply can't tell.

A McMillen-decorated living room with walls and curtains covered in a "dusty aubergine" fabric. I believe the fabric is not deep enough to be Marsala, but it's a good looking room so I included it anyway.

Marsala might be in this Renzo Mongiardino-designed room. Then again, maybe not.

Two 1980s-era French homes, which were decorated with fabrics in shades similar to Marsala.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Getting into the Holiday Spirit

I'm attempting to write this blog post while in a semi-delirious state.  You see, a few neighbors and I have been carefully planning our building's annual holiday party, which takes place Friday.  As in years past, we selected the menu, hired the caterer, bought the alcohol and mixers, chose the music, and decorated our party room.  It's the decorating that usually requires the most effort, which explains why we spent five hours last night trimming the tree, hanging wreaths, pulling tables and chairs out of storage, and creating a festive scene that (hopefully) our neighbors will appreciate.  Wish us luck.

Speaking of holiday decorating, I want to share some particularly jolly photos, which capture Wilbury Park, a Neo-Palladian house in southern England, outfitted in its holiday finery.  The beauty of Wilbury Park's Christmas decor lies in its simplicity, with decorations more or less limited to greenery and a few tastefully trimmed trees.  Of course, a house as lovely as this requires little more than some boughs of holly, so decking the halls with a modicum of restraint is understandable and advisable.

And until next week, when I hope to have my sanity restored, I wish you a pleasant weekend.

All photos from House & Garden, December 2003, Melanie Acevedo photographer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Macy's Thanksgiving Day Feast

Some of you might be traveling to your Thanksgiving destinations today, while others are at home, likely baking a Pumpkin Pie or setting the Thanksgiving table. Speaking of holiday tables, I couldn't let Thanksgiving pass us by without featuring another of Jonathan Preece's inspired holiday settings. (Click here if you wish to see previous installments.)

For this Thanksgiving table, Jonathan's clients gave him carte blanche, only asking that their table setting be "unique, creative, and visually stimulating."  Jonathan, whose creativity seems to know no bounds, settled on a scaled-down version of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for the table's theme.  After all, watching the parade is one of this country's most cherished Thanksgiving customs.

Look closely at the photos below, and you'll see that the table runner is actually an enlarged, laminated map of the parade route, which runs from the Upper West Side of Central Park West to Midtown and its eventual destination of Macy's at Herald Square.  Blocks of Oasis, which were covered with moss, bark, and autumn colored flowers and foliage, mimic the trees one might find along the Central Park-portion of the parade route.  (Along the "street-grid gaps" of the parade route runner, small concrete planters were used to provide touches of greenery.)   You'll also see small painted sculptures that represent the buildings and high-rises which dot the parade route.  But the crowning touch to these little buildings are their attached "balloons", which are actually hand-made of painted papier-mâché by artist Liz Fleri.  Among the balloons making their way down the table, you'll find Kermit the Frog, Garfield, Humpty Dumpty, and Mr. Potato Head.

At each place setting, Jonathan placed napkins that had been folded in such a way as to resemble the top tiers of the Chrysler Building.  Each place card was printed with a historical fact regarding the parade.  And guests were given small mementos, which included Macy's key chains adorned with images of the parade's most classic balloons.  

Wherever you may be, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving! And to you, Jonathan, thank you, as always, for the beautiful holiday inspiration.

All photos courtesy of Jonathan Preece.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Frederic March and Henry Sleeper

High on my list of places that I wish to visit is Beauport, the Gloucester, Massachusetts house of Henry Davis Sleeper. Built by Sleeper in the early twentieth century, Beauport was decorated in myriad historical styles and furnished with an array of objects, both of which attest to Sleeper's flair for decorating (he was one of this country's earliest professional decorators) and his passion for collecting.  Even if you're not overly familiar with Beauport, you have likely seen photos of two of its more famous rooms: the China Trade Room and the Octagon Room.

This post, however, isn't really about Beauport, but rather Sleeper's work as an interior designer.  Sleeper's clients included Isabella Stewart Gardner and Henry Francis du Pont, who enlisted Sleeper's guidance in decorating both his Long Island house, Chestertown, and his more famous residence, Winterthur.  But what I find to be curious was the fact that this New England decorator also worked for Hollywood actors, including Joan Crawford and Frederic March (pictured above.)

I recently discovered photos of March's Sleeper-designed Beverly Hills house in a 1936 issue of House Beautiful.  According to my research, Sleeper decorated the house in 1934, the same year in which he (Sleeper) died.  (I don't know if he died before or after completion of the March house.)  The House Beautiful article shows three photos of the home's exterior, which was described as French Provincial with whitewashed brick walls and blue doors, but just a scant three photos of the home's interior, namely, the dining room and a playroom.

The dining room, which you can see below, was furbished with a hunting-and-fishing-motif Zuber paper and "woodwork and damask curtains a soft azure blue-green."  Don't you wish that we could see that dining room in color?  The playroom is charming, though a bit unusual, in that it "reproduces a kitchen in an old Normandy house- fine copper and brass on the hearth, brown toile curtains, yellow quilting on the chairs and sofa."  Though not pictured in the article, the living room was described as having been decorated "after an 18th Century salon, with laurel green paneled walls, lots of books, a piano in one corner, secretary in another, 18th Century furniture in deep yellow brocade and a dark brown chintz on the couch."

According to the Beauport website, Sleeper described his early design focus as "Norman and English Country Houses- 17th and 18th century American Interiors."  Later, however, that focus shifted slightly to "English and French Interiors- 17th and 18th century American Paneling."  Sleeper was obviously well-versed in a range of historical styles, and I think that range is quite evident in the March house. 

An interesting footnote to this story is that March's house, which was designed by architect Wallace Neff in 1934, had several subsequent prominent owners, including Shirley and Flobelle Burden (the parents of Carter Burden, who grew up in this house,) Wallis Annenberg, and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston.  Pitt supposedly removed some of the home's original paneling, which really doesn't surprise me at all.

The two photos above show the March dining room.

The old Norman kitchen-inspired playroom.

The Winterthur Collection at Currey & Company

I had the privilege of touring Winterthur a few years ago, and it was truly remarkable. What is equally remarkable, though in a much different sense of the word, is the number of designers who have never even heard of Winterthur.  That really amazes me.

I have written about Winterthur before, so I won't repeat myself by explaining what it is and who Henry Francis du Pont was.  You can read my previous Winterthur-related blog posts by clicking here.  But what I do want to bring to your attention is Currey & Company's Winterthur Collection. The collection, which includes lighting and furniture, was inspired by pieces at Winterthur.  Some of the furniture, such as the "Powell" dressing table, below, was based on pieces collected by du Pont himself, while books and ephemera in Winterthur's library were the source for many of the motifs used to embellish Currey's new lamps.

For more information on the collection, please visit Currey & Company's website.  And if you have never before visited Winterthur, I encourage you to do so soon.

 This Currey & Company "Powell" dressing table was based on an early eighteenth-century Philadelphia dressing table in the Winterthur collection.  Like the contemporary version you see here, the original dressing table had ogee-arched carved front and side skirts, which is a characteristic of the "Early Baroque" or "William and Mary" style.

It was an early nineteenth-century Massachusetts fancy settee, part of the collection at Winterthur, that spawned the Currey & Company version, which is named "Chestertown", above.  The original settee was decorated with gilded grapes and leaves.

Currey & Company's "Chestertown" Rocking Chair.

Currey & Company's "Victor" lamp.

The floral motif on this table lamp was inspired by the 1881 pattern book, Suggestions in Floral Design, by Frederick E. Hulme.  The book featured chromolithographed plates of plant and floral specimens, some of which were highlighted in gold.  A copy of this book is in the library at Winterthur.

Monday, November 17, 2014

No Time for Tea

If you'll recall, I recently wrote about how I relished the thought of afternoon tea.  I was reminded of that blog post after reading Jeremy Musson's book, The Drawing Room, and attending his recent lecture in Atlanta.  In his book, Musson discusses the relationship of afternoon tea and the drawing room, writing:

...a new meal emerged in the drawing room in the 1830s and 1840s.  By about 1840, afternoon tea had become a feature of the English country house day, probably related to the main meal of the day having moved to the evening from the middle of the day during the course of the eighteenth century.

I have a living room, which serves as my version of a drawing room, and I have a tea set, sundry sets of dessert plates, pretty teacups and saucers, and plenty of table linen.  But what I don't seem to have is the time to serve afternoon tea to guests or, for that matter, to myself when I'm home alone.  In fact, the closest I come to afternoon tea is preparing tea sandwiches for my dinner.  (That is one of the perks of being single; I don't have to take another person into consideration when choosing what to have for dinner.)

I'm guessing that most of the women featured in this blog post had the time, not to mention the assistance of a staff, to serve afternoon tea.  Nevertheless, these photos will likely serve as the impetus I need to invite guests to tea.  And until I figure out how to carve time out of my schedule to host the occasional tea, I'll simply have to make do with the occasional tea sandwich supper, perhaps served with tea or, better yet, champagne.

Billy Norwich's Cucumber Society Sandwiches

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped dill
1 large seedless cucumber
1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
24 slices white bread cut into 2-inch rounds
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley.

Place butter and chopped dill in container of a food processor using the steel blade, process with a few pulses. Set aside. Peel cucumber and cut into 1/4" rounds. Toss cucumber slices in a bowl with vinegar and salt.  Drain liquid.

Spread one side of each bread round with dill butter. Place a cucumber slice between the buttered sides of two bread rounds. Roll the outside edge of each sandwich in chopped parsley. Cover with a damp cloth until ready to serve.

 Nancy Mitford and her Mappin and Webb tea service in 1940.

 Mrs. Winston Churchill pouring tea in her sitting room at 10 Downing Street, 1940.

 Mrs. Thomas Hitchcock taking tea at her Canadian lake house in 1986.  I love her wicker furniture, the straw matting on the floor, and her Belgian loafers.

 Mrs. Dwight F. Davis and her pooch taking tea in 1938.  Alfie would be envious if he were to see this photo.

Ann Bonfoey Taylor, relaxing at her après-ski afternoon tea.

Tea and cigarettes for Pamela Turnure.

Mrs. Alma Spreckels in her San Francisco home.