So, on Friday I attended Winterthur's "Chic It Up!" design conference. Was I inclined to enjoy it because the word "chic" appeared in the title? Perhaps a little. But how could an entire day focused on 1940s design not be fantastic?
When Winterthur was organizing this event, there was discussion as to whether the 1940s had a distinctive style. After hearing the lectures, it seems that much of 1940s design was an extension of the previous decade. World War II played a great role in redefining design. The high style and sophistication of the 1930s fell out of favor as the realities of war set in. And of course after the war, the wealthy found themselves facing a far different society than that from before.
The day began with Pauline Metcalf's lecture on Syrie Maugham. Many of you may recognize Metcalf's name from her book on Ogden Codman; her upcoming book, due to be published next year, is on... Syrie Maugham. Thank goodness she's writing this book! I for one can't get enough of Syrie. Metcalf discussed Syrie's famous white drawing room on Kings Road, seen above. And while we may remember her most for this one room, Maugham's range did include color and non-pickled furniture. While Metcalf conceded that Maugham's heyday was more of the 1930s, she did note that Maugham continued with her design business well into the 1940s. What I found quite interesting were the photos that Cecil Beaton shot of bright young females posing in Syrie's famous room. The space's ramped up glamour was the perfect backdrop for Beaton's chic photographs, like this one of his sister Baba:
Metcalf mentioned that the mirrored screen, quite novel for the time, was a bit dangerous. When the drawing room got warm, the slivers of mirror would pop off and crash to the floor!
Another favorite decorator was also discussed: Dorothy Draper. Donald Albrecht of the Museum of the City of New York certainly knows a thing or two about Draper- it was he who curated the recent exhibition on Ms. Draper. Of course we all know that in Draper's hands, hotels, restaurants, and other public spaces were given the steroid treatment- furniture was large, colors were bold, and statements were made. (Albrecht humorously mentioned The Camellia House at Chicago's Drake Hotel, seen above. The dining room and entryway were supposed to be make one feel as if he or she was in a tropical garden...in the middle of windy Chicago. Albrecht admits it seems a bit implausable. I have a feeling Dorothy probably thought "Well, why not? Get over your will to be dreary!") He also explained that Draper's career hit its peak in 1948 with her decoration of the Greenbrier. Before she was hired for the redo, the Greenbrier was meek and mild mannered. After being Draperized, however, it had more than its share of personality.
There were so many great lectures so it's hard for me to summarize all of them in one post. But just to throw out a few more names- Chick Austin, J.A. Lloyd Hyde, Thomas Waterman, and H. Rodney Sharp were also subjects of discussion. I hope to write posts on them in the future. Oh, I want to leave you with a very fun clip that Albrecht showed to the audience. It's a dance number from the 1940s Fred Astaire movie "Yolanda and The Thief". (And I thought that I knew my Fred Astaire movies! This was a new one to me.) The movie was a box office bomb, but the sets and dance numbers are so evocative of 1930s/40s high style. And Albrecht was right- the dance floor is so very Dorothy Draper!
(Beaton photograph from the Cecil Beaton Photo Archive; Greenbrier image from Winterthur)