Monday, May 19, 2008

Time to Revisit a Late Designer's Work

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.


  1. Jennifer, you are back with a bang!

    How refreshing to start the week with totally "new" info and images.

    I love the warm intimate sitting area and that draped bed :)

    Thanks for an excellent post.

  2. Thanks Courtney! I think that draped bed is so beautiful, and I love the fabric he chose :)

  3. He really was amazingly good. That dining room in France is so lovely.

  4. My favorite designer - and favorite design book!

    He makes my aesthetic come to life!


  5. Aesthete- I'm obviously late to the game, but I do think his work is amazing.

  6. Tristan- We're obviously on the same wave-length! ;)

  7. Great find Jennifer! I love that wallpaper too, and never knew who designed it.

  8. I love the kidney-shaped sofa. Straight ones can be so difficult for the person caught in the middle, but this allows for the outer two people to face slightly inwards, and the concept is much more friendly. Great to read your blog as always.

  9. Columnist- So true! It's a more congenial sofa :)

  10. I too was an fan of RLN. I first saw his work in a copy of Family Circle Magazine where they had asked him to design a small family/small budget living space. Later, when I had him on my radar, I found an article about the Manhattan LvRm that you show here, the article showed the same space in 3 very different transformations. As I recall, it was a very small sq footage for a complete apt, minus a kitchen , as he ate all his meals out, I think it said.

    At that time I was totally focused on children rearing and such and had no decorating budget, but I sent Mr. Neas a 'fan letter' to which he wrote the sweetest reply. He even went so far to day that he would happily assist me at any time if he could.

    I will be moving in a couple months and unearthing a lot of packed away stuff, if I find the articles that i saved, I will scan and send to you.

    Thx, Lundy
    Encaustic Cement Tile w/ Flare

  11. Lundy- Wow! That's a great story. It's always nice to hear that someone you admire was a friendly person too! If you are able to find that article (once you're settled, of course), I would be most appreciative to see a scan of it. I'm so curious to see the different versions of the living room!

  12. Patrick O'Brien11:23 PM

    My sister was doing a little research and found your article on our brother in law Richard Neas. Richard entered our life after he met our brother Dennis O'Brien, his soul partner. The Picture is of Richard holding his prized rooster Cesar at his house in Edon, France. Richard would add Cesar in a few of his drawings and Trompe L'Oeils. The Pictures below are of his house in France which was restored from a 200 year old monistary. Richard loved his house in France, but his cherished home was his Amagansett N.Y over looking the ocean. See House & Garden Sept. 87. Richard was very proud of his wallpaper designs , which our own family still use. Richard was working on a new collection when he became ill and never had the opportunity to finish. We were still getting calls from Trompe L'oeil artists 2 years ago asking for the where abouts of Richard. We have truely lost a MASTER painter and designer.

  13. Patrick- Thank you for your informative comment. Indeed, he was truly a master, and one who continues to inspire us today!

  14. Would a original Richard Neas Trompe L'oeil oil painting on wood from 1976 be valuable?