Monday, January 01, 2007

Nan Kempner: American Chic

The hot ticket in New York is currently the Nan Kempner exhibit at the Costume Institute at the Met. Nan Kempner was known as being the consummate fashion plate during her lifetime. She amassed quite a large wardrobe, much of it consisting of Yves Saint Laurent haute couture. It is no wonder that the Met considered the collection to be "art", and they were lucky enough to have had her wardrobe bequeathed to them after her death.

I was recently rereading "Billy Baldwin Decorates" and came across some photos of The Kempner's bedroom that had been decorated by Baldwin. While it is not necessarily one of my favorite Baldwin rooms, there is certainly much to look at. What is so striking is the amount of fabric used in the room. There is the shirred cream-colored muslin that covers the wall, the contrasting patterned fabric used on the headboard and bed, a floral print used on the sofa and chairs, and more. Baldwin writes that he chose to cover tables with fabric in order to create a sense of "restfulness". There are few sharp edges in this room.

Kempner chose later to work with decorator Michael Taylor, whose work was reminiscent of Frances Elkins and Syrie Maugham (both of whom strongly influenced Taylor). Taylor was considered to be the creator of the "California Style" of interior design, characterized by a lot of white and beige. Interestingly, Taylor was the chosen decorator of Kempner's parents, the Schlesingers of San Francisco (who incidentally had also employed Frances Elkins during her lifetime).

From the photos I have been able to find, it looks like Taylor tempered the casual California look and injected it with some New York high style. While much of the color scheme is neutral, the rooms were warmed up with traditional touches, such as the Coromandel screen. Kempner was known for her "casual" Sunday night spaghetti suppers, where friends and family could casually drop in. Can you imagine a more elegant setting in which to eat spaghetti????

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