Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Robert Locher

One decorator with whom I have been obsessed as of late is Robert Locher. Excuse me, make that Robert E. Locher. Why he's not more well-known is beyond me. Perhaps it's because he retired in the 1940s and died in the 1950s. Or, maybe he just wasn't as prolific as some of his design contemporaries. Whatever the reason, it's high time more people become familiar with the man.

From what I've been able to determine, Locher's heyday was the 1920s. Pick up a copy of House Beautiful or House & Garden from that era and there's a good chance you'll see his work. He was an interior decorator (clients included Gertrude Whitney) and a set and costume designer for Broadway productions. He designed sterling flatware for Lunt, illustrated book jackets and magazines (including House & Garden where he was an associate editor), and taught at Parsons. Oh, and his long-time partner was noted artist Charles Demuth. Quite a biography.

One of my favorite Locher projects is his Staten Island home, decorated in the 1920s. It seems to me that the theater influenced his home's look. Yes, it's reminiscent of a stage set, but that's actually why I like it. It's dramatic, not for the faint of heart, and embraces the modernist spirit (albeit one mixed with pastiche) that so captured the imaginations of American and European designers. Actually, it's this early fervor for modernism that captivates me today. Can you imagine how exciting it must have been to be part of the dawn of modern design?

Anyway, enough about why I like it. Take a look for yourself.

Locher's audacious dining room in which the walls were painted to resemble curtains and columns. The faux draperies were rust pink, gold, and chartreuse green, while the woodwork (I believe that was real) was caramel pink and glazed eggplant.

The same dining room dressed for dinner.

This room, set with a breakfast table, had shades painted to look like Venetian blinds. I love that painted ceiling with stars and clouds. The cornice was mirrored, its reflection adding to the drama of the ceiling.

An illustration by Locher of one of his projects. The walls were fluted plaster painted flat white. The floor was beige, henna, and white terrazzo, and the window and door trim was metal.

Glass and metal rod pedestals, mirrored glass vases holding metal grass, and a gold and black mirror complete this vignette by Locher.

Locher's "Modern Classic" flatware for Lunt

(Images of Locher's Staten Island home from House & Garden, 1928; Vignette from House and Garden's Book of Color Schemes)


  1. Wow was he ahead of his time. I love his integration of modern lines and techniques mixed in with traditional and it works so easily! You come up with the best decorating history lessons - thanks much!

  2. Anonymous10:26 AM

    I have marveled at these faux tasseled venetian blind roll shades forever. Im so glad you are showing these and giving RL a spotlight. I hope one of your readers will write in and tell us all more about the man and his work.

    Did he do all the trompe-l'oeil himself? Seems as though he must have.

    If my memory is correct some of his trompe l'oeil entrance hall in Mrs Whitney's Studio Apt. is still intact at The New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture on 8th street in NY. Although now the apt is closed for restoration or preservation simply because it was literally crumbing and caving in all at once.

  3. Such a great idea - love the mirrored cornice! The ceiling looks /sounds spectacular! Dining under the stars.

  4. Those painted roller shades are amazing. Since he did paint Mrs. Whitney's entrance hall, I'm going to assume that he painted the trompe l'oeil in his home as well.

  5. Thank you for posting this. It is a joy to discover wonderful designers. Staten Island has a few wonderful historic homes, among them the Alice Austen house. Miss Austen was a photographer and she chronicled the Victorian life within the house. Quite wonderful stuff.


  6. I'll admit that I know practically nothing about Staten Island...but obviously I need to learn more!

  7. J,

    You should do a book on the intersection of glamour and early modernism -- or maybe a survey of all the important but lesser known designers who impacted the 20th century.

  8. There are some amazing homes on Staten Island, Dandy is right, the Alice Austen House Museum is absolutely amazing, and the house director there does some wonderful events! It is worth the lengthy trip on a summers day just for the view!

  9. funny, this is the third thing i've read this week that has to do with staten island. i must visit. one of my all time favorite houses is from there. wendy goodman wrote about it for NYmagazine a few years ago, i'll see if i can find a link and send to you. field trip!

  10. Jennifer ---I second Style Courts suggestion! You really should!

    I had: #1 - Never heared of him, or to my knowledge seen pictures of his house.
    And #2- I also do not have the H&G book on color! (can you believe?)
    But, Thans to you, I just ordered it!
    Many thanks for the education.

  11. Will- I think you'll really enjoy that book!

  12. Road trip to Staten Island! It's calling our name, Clint.

  13. Jennifer,
    A most excellent post. I loved the renderings and the blinds on the shades is so creative. I noted your admiration for the stars and clouds on the ceiling. Check out something similar in the Art Deco line of Bradbury & Bradbury. It's a delicious paper that I am about to put in a powder room and hall ceiling.
    it has somewhat the same flavor.

  14. Oh dear Lord, Kevin. That paper is GORGEOUS! I want to use some too...if only I had a place for it in my condo.

  15. Timeless style. Sigh. I can just hear the msuic that accompanies the photos. How wonderful.

  16. I just bought that book; thank God it was cheap.

  17. Aesthete- I bought my copy a few years ago and it wasn't as cheap as what's on Amazon. Oh well, at least I've enjoyed it.

  18. magnaverde2:10 AM

    The book really is excellent, and for the ridiculously low Amazon price, you can't go wrong, although the least interesting things in the book are the actual color plates themselves, pallid & unimaginative renderings, compared to the vivid descriptions of the colors in striking rooms only shown in black-&-white. Locher went on to produce several classic icons of Modern industrial design but I didn't know that he designed that Lunt silver pattern, which is one of my favorites. Now's the time to buy, if you have any money. I don't.

  19. Anonymous2:09 PM

    He is depicted in Florine Stettheimer's last painting "Cathedrals of Art" (1942-44). You'll find him in the bottom left-hand corner.