Wednesday, April 10, 2019

At Home, with Flowers

My, it's been a while since I last blogged.  Holidays, family commitments, and, most of all, a book tour have kept me away.  I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things, and what better way to do so than by featuring a couple of my favorite new book releases.

First up, John Richardson: At Home (Rizzoli New York), a memoir of the many homes inhabited over the years by art historian, writer, and Picasso biographer John Richardson.  I know that many of us have been waiting anxiously for the release of this book, and trust me when I say it was well worth the wait.  Over the years, I have saved any photograph I could find of Richardson's homes, but my tear-sheet file on the art historian and his homes was always paltry at best.  But now, to have photograph after photograph of Richardson's many residences compiled in one book, well, it is really more than I could ever have wished for.  His set at Albany, the Chateau de Castille in France (which he shared with his former partner, the art collector Douglas Cooper), and his two most recent homes, a Fifth Avenue loft and a Connecticut house, are all here, as well as a few others. Perhaps even more enticing is that the principal photography is by François Halard.

What made Richardson's homes so beguiling is that they were filled with art, antiques, and oddities, which he collected and amassed over many years.  Some things he purchased, while others were given to him by his famous friends, and although occasionally the visual effect was somewhat cluttered (or, as some might prefer to say, layered), the overall impression was really quite dazzling.  His homes were immensely personal and cultured, something that distinguishes these interiors from so much of what we see today.  If you do buy this book, be sure to read the text.  Written by Richardson himself, it is intelligent and witty.  Considering that Richardson died just a few weeks ago, this book is really a fitting tribute to a life well-lived in some very captivating homes.

John Richardson: At Home by John Richardson, © Rizzoli New York, 2019; principal photography by 
François Halard, including those images seen here

Every design library needs at least a few books that spark happiness, and Margot Shaw's debut book, Living Floral (Rizzoli New York), is one that did just that for me.  As the founder and editor in chief of Flower magazine, Margot has dedicated her publication to celebrating beauty in many forms: interiors, gardens, entertaining, and, of course, flowers.  It is a winning combination that has made the magazine a success and one that is the focus of her new book.

Each chapter profiles a talented individual, such as an architect, floral designer, interior designer, or creative type, and shows how that person incorporates flowers into their lives and their homes.  Some have chosen to be surrounded by floral prints on their walls and upholstery.  Others set charming tables laden with fresh flowers or floral-patterned china.  However these people choose to live with flowers, they all do so stylishly and graciously.

The book contains really delightful images of interiors, table settings, outdoor entertaining, and more than a few lucky dogs.  (As you can see below, I'm partial to those images featuring our four-legged friends.)  But what you won't find in this book is condescension.  The book's text never speaks down to readers, but rather thoughtfully encourages them to enjoy the beauty and perhaps adopt a few ideas and tips for themselves.  If you're looking for some inspiration and how-tos on decorating, floral arranging, and entertaining, this is the book for you.

Margot Shaw

Living Floral : Entertaining and Decorating with Flowers by Margot Shaw, © Rizzoli New York, 2019

Monday, October 08, 2018

Something Old, Something New

Ever since I first saw glimpses of photographer Victor Skrebneski's house in those Seventies and Eighties-era Estée Lauder ads (Skrebneski often used his Chicago home as a backdrop for the stylish ad campaign), I became intrigued by its pitch-perfect blend of minimalist architecture and formal, traditional furniture, a mix you still don't often see in America. Decorated with the assistance of interior designer Bruce Gregga (Gregga was once Skrebneski's assistant and, incidentally, happens to be one of the featured designers in my new book), the photographer's home is a Victorian-era coach house. But based on its interiors, you would never know it. Stripped of anything ornamental, the home's interior architecture is very modern and spare. Travertine floors, a concrete entry hall and staircase (see above), and glossy ceilings are as far removed from the Victorian style as they could possibly be.

But ensconced among the home's sleek walls is Skrebneski's carefully selected collection of twentieth-century art and eighteenth-century French antiques. In fact, the living room is almost entirely furnished with eighteenth-century pieces, including a Gobelins tapestry, a coromandel commode, Louis XVI gueridon, and a Louis XV giltwood sofa. Also prominent is modern art by Man Ray, the Giacomettis, Max Ernst, and Oskar Schlemmer. It's the best of both worlds--and the best of two centuries--together in one room.

Elsewhere in the house, there are not one, but two sitting rooms that, while perhaps more intimate than the living room, maintain the sense of grandeur established in the home's more public spaces.  Even the kitchen, with its zig-zag painted floor, is a modern shell that, once again, surrounds French furniture. The formula for this sublime marriage of the old and the new is not as complicated as it might seem. As Skrebneski simply puts it, "Any beautiful things work well together." 

The living room, as seen from three different angles.

The two images above show the sitting rooms.

The kitchen, which is lined with books.

The dapper photographer himself.

All images from Architectural Digest, March 2000, Victor Skrebneski photographer.

Join Flower Magazine and Me in High Point

If you happen to be in High Point this Sunday, I hope you'll join Paloma Contreras, Richard Keith Langham, Jeffrey Dungan, and me as we participate in a discussion on--what else?--design.  Sponsored by Flower Magazine and moderated by the magazine's Editor-in-Chief, Margot Shaw, the event is sure to be lively.  Details are above.  A book-signing will follow.  Hope to see you there!

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