Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Black Steel

I normally wouldn't disclose any medical conditions on my blog, but I'm thinking I may have a hormone imbalance. Actually, I'm only kidding, but I have noticed a surge of testosterone in my design chemical makeup. It started with the aluminum blind thing and has now morphed itself into a current obsession with black and metal, two things typically associated with a masculine aesthetic. The estrogen seems to have taken a back seat.

So the black thing stems from a flashback that I had recently about a black galley kitchen that I saw back in the 1980s. It was in a suite at The Carlyle and it made a great impression on me, despite the fact that I was a preteen. I remember thinking "One day...". I have a dated kitchen that I'm thinking of tarting up (or perhaps I should say butching up) in black and more black- this despite the fact that Van Day Truex admonished anyone who dared decorate a kitchen in anything other than white. Black lacquer, black tile, black marble. It's all so aggressive. It's represents a strong point of view. It's confident. We need a shot of confidence, don't you think?

The fascination with metal came about when I was looking at Geoffrey Beene's Manhattan apartment. I really find all of that steel interesting. I can't say that I would encourage anyone to replicate this look exactly. But, if used with a light hand (a metal table, steel bookshelves, or even a steel clad wall), the cool metal could add a little swagger to a room.

And of course all of this talk about cocky design is timely as Oliver Stone's follow-up to
Wall Street, Wall Street- Money Never Sleeps, is due to be released soon. Remember Charlie Sheen's slick kitchen replete with the de rigueur pasta maker? So very 1980s. In fact, does anyone remember if his kitchen was black??

It all comes full circle, doesn't it?

(Image at top: The bedroom of designer Michael Schaible c. 1985)


Melvin Dwork created this "winter" bedroom by using lacquered black/green walls. (OK, so not 100% black, but you get the idea.) Actually, I think very little about this room seems dated, despite the fact it was decorated over 20 years ago.

I'm still obsessing over this black kitchen from Lee Bailey's City Food cookbook. I know that you can't see the details, but I think this shot is evocative of that edgy drama so prevalent in interiors from 30 years ago.

Look past that shadow in the crease and you'll see a pretty fantastic room decorated by Joe D'Urso, a designer whose work just might make a modernist of me yet.


Geoffrey Beene's Manhattan apartment was one big steel trap. I chose to show the one image that doesn't seem quite so dated. I love that industrial steel stair rail.

In small doses, metal doesn't seem quite so scary, especially if it's a drinks table like this one in this Jay Spectre designed home. Note too the steel cabinetry that houses a bar, audio equipment, and a TV. This brings up another point- remember when technology was sexy? When it played an aesthetically important role in a room? It just doesn't seem the same today.

In the same Spectre designed house. The dining room is thoroughly traditional except for that sleek dining table and steel and marble sideboard.

Aluminum panels decorate one wall in this home by Ron Wilson. There's something oddly intriguing about this room.

(Top photo: New York Interior Design, 1935-1985, Vol. 2: Masters of Modernism. Dwork photo: Manhattan Style; Beene photo courtesy of Celebrity Homes II: Architectural Digest presents the private worlds of thirty international personalities. D'Urso photo from The New York Times Book of Interior Design and Decoration. Spectre photos from Architectural Digest, September 1977, Jaime Ardiles-Arce photographer. Wilson photo from Architectural Digest, October 1977, Russell MacMasters photographer.)


  1. Anonymous9:09 AM

    Black also says "prosperous" (to me, anyway).

    And a black kitchen would be very easy to walk into when hungover.

  2. Anon- I think it says prosperous to me too, which might be why I've been thinking about it so much lately. Don't we all need a little prosperity!

  3. Love this post;
    I have been thinking of my own kitchen planning and green / blackish cabinets are still coming up first on my list!
    I am also leaning toward a darker color in my den; family room with paneling.
    I think I remember high glossy black in the C.S. kitchen; I remember the scene of C.S. & D.H. chopping food for a dinner and wasn;t there glass too?

    Saw the trailer for the new flick; Wow is sure does come full circle. I would think there are a lot of G.Gecko fans out there, send the prosperity in large doses!

  4. I never tire of black. I know this post is about going full throttle -- a look that works particularly well with sleek metal in a high rise city apt -- but I also love how black doors (interior and exterior), black gates, black kitchen cabinets etc. can really add bite to a house with lots of soft colors.

    P.S. Love the Melvin Dwork room!

  5. L- Perhaps it's nostalgia for the "good old days" that is driving this. I totally remember that CS/DH kitchen scene, but I cannot remember the look of the kitchen! I think there was glass, though.

  6. C- So true. To have a little aggressiveness- black cabinets or a black door- is a way to perk up our homes without having to go full throttle. Totally agree.

  7. Anonymous10:48 AM


    It does all go around and come back !

    Dean Farris

  8. I have loved black, chrome, wrought iron, steel and mirrors (backs are metal) forever. Every room needs black and more black. Thanks for the affirmation.

  9. Love this post, Jennifer. That Jay Spectre room was designed for seduction. And yes, somehow the touch of an ipod doesn't inspire like the flip of vinyl.

  10. I don't know if I could live with an all-black room (even when i wear black, it's always with a bright color) but do think that every room benefits from at least a touch of black somewhere, if even on a picture frame or light shade.

  11. I have always loved black—and metals. I have a thing for those chrome acorn nuts (I call them Harleys because they remind me of the motocycles). My new kitchen will be chrome, mirror and black. It will be a grab and go kitchen with hanging tools and gladiator tool boxes for cabinets. I am a 60 year-old Boomer!

  12. Home- Your kitchen sounds beyond fabulous! How rather daring of you!

  13. Jennifer - amused by your gender dissonance! Go for it!

  14. Mel Dwork is brilliant. The man has never set a foot wrong, decoratively speaking.

  15. I like a touch of black. My needs are light and bright, Did have black slate countertops in
    florida in the 70's loved it..


  16. Anonymous9:02 PM

    You just need some Karl Springer pieces in a black room like that.

  17. I love black. I use it in my design every day. Full throttle black lacquer everywhere or just a touch in that perfect place. No room can go without it. Thanks for sharing these images. They are a great reminder of beautiful rooms through the years.

  18. i love the stair at Geoffrey Beene's Manhattan apartment!

  19. wow
    now these are
    dramatic rooms
    one of each

    thanks for sharing


  20. Anonymous9:23 PM

    I'm with you. I have been feeling this vibe. I just bought a vintage black leather, very casa something, very manly sofa from Lobel Modern. I am certain that my husband will be quite thrilled. This is the dream sofa of all men, right? I, on the other hand, am frozen with anxiety. Will it work? Strangely, I think it will look great. If not, to the man-cave billiards room with it.