I've recently become enamored with a designer whose work is no longer featured on the pages of shelter magazines. I read or hear very little about him these days, which probably adds to the mystique. I'm sure many of you are familiar with this designer, although to me his work is quite new. (Back in his heyday in the 1980s and 90s, I was preoccupied with homework and school activities, preventing me from focusing too terribly much on the design world.) Of course, the fact that he died almost 13 years ago is part of the reason why this designer's work is no longer at the forefront of our design consciousness, and it's really a shame because this designer- Richard Lowell Neas- created rooms that were stylish, sophisticated, beautiful, elegant, and timeless.
I first became familiar with Neas' name when I found out that he was responsible for Brunschwig & Fils' "Bibliothèque" wallpaper- one of my all-time favorite wallpaper designs. As Neas was an accomplished muralist and trompe l'oeil artist, it's no surprise that he would design such a charming print. Then I learned that Neas gradually made his way into a career as a decorator. And what decorating he did!
I've tried to collect a few images of his work, and in some ways it surprises me that I'm so taken with these very traditional rooms. While I am a traditionalist at heart, I do like to mix in some modern pieces- it's a bit like a design checks and balances system. I think that what has drawn me to his work is the fact that Neas created rooms that were completely livable. His New York projects seem to capture the spark that is so evocative of that city: urbane, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan. Yet there's nothing cold or stiff about these rooms. Neas imbued his projects with a softness and warmth that was so inviting. Perhaps it was the collection of unique and striking furniture and objets. Or maybe it was the mix of prints and patterns that was so pleasing to the eye. I actually believe it was a combination of all of the above.
I think Neas described the success of his rooms perfectly when he quoted his friend Annette de la Renta, "some of the most wonderful rooms are ones that seem as though all the objects were inherited from relatives with different styles and tastes- yet everything fits together magically." And this, to me, is the magic formula- and one that makes Neas' work so appealing.
An image of Neas' tiny Manhattan apartment. Note the trompe l'oeil swagged curtain at the top of the mirror. I just love this room.
Two photos of a Manhattan apartment that Neas designed around 1990.
I believe this dining room and bedroom were part of Neas' home in Charente, France. Neas certainly created environments that were appropriate for their surroundings.
A close-up shot of the "Bibliothèque" wallpaper.
Nina Campbell used "Bibliothèque" in her home.
Image at top: Richard Lowell Neas with a chicken at his home in France. (This image and those of his French home courtesy of House Beautiful, 2001. Images of the Manhattan project from HG, September 1990.)
Neas/de la Renta quote from the New York Times, "Home Design; Objects of Much Affection" by Carol Vogel, October 21, 1984.