Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Blurred Boundaries

Continuing with lacquered walls...

Something that never ceases to capture my attention are rooms in which the walls, trim, and ceiling are all painted in the same color and the same finish. The effect is one which is often likened to a "jewel box", an apt description that unfortunately has become hackneyed as of late. Still, rooms painted in this manner do have a dramatic flair to them, don't you think? The planes of the room seemed to become blurred so that you feel like you're wrapped in a cocoon of color.

For me, the most memorable jewel box rooms are those that have been painted in dark, saturated color. Just look at the Los Angeles living room of designer Helen Partello, above. Wow, is that a room or what?? But, those rooms that have been bathed in lighter shades of yellow or pink are certainly just as charming. And I believe that I prefer for the walls and ceiling to have a high gloss or lacquered finish. All of that light bouncing around the room helps to soften the look. A matte finish, at least to me, seems to make a room feel like a dead zone. But that's just me.

It looks like Jan Showers chose a sang de boeuf color for this richly appointed library. The walls and ceiling really have a sheen, don't they?

Yes, the color may be a bit pale (it's corn-yellow), but the lacquered finish is what packs a punch in this room. The ceiling looks wet. This 1930s room was decorated by Jack Killick.

According to the book from which this photo came, the "deep flesh pink" walls and ceiling are a matte finish. Drawing room decorated by John Hill for Messrs. Green & Abbott, Ltd.

I know that this room is far more contemporary than anything I usually show, but it's a great example of not really being able to tell where the walls end and the ceiling begins. (New York apartment of Arthur Ferber.)

(Image #1 from Architectural Digest California Interiors; #2 from Glamorous Rooms by Jan Showers, Jeff McNamara photographer; #3 and #4 from Colour Schemes for the Modern Home by Derek Patmore; #5 from Architectural Digest New York Interiors)


  1. What an intensely rich and glorious color Ms Showers has used. It was a gutsy move that worked out beautifully. Your painter will hate you when you spec out that much gloss...walls need to be perfect, and there's no room for error. But what a fine result!

  2. Jennifer,

    One of your best posts ! Your sense of style draws you toward such jewel box lacquered rooms...

    Dean Farris

  3. I love the tone of the Jan Showers' room. So deep that the silver of the chairs and gilt of the table are really all that is needed. Great photo!! As always, thanks for the pick-me-up. Mary

  4. Lacquered rooms are great, IF the walls are absolutely perfect. Nothing looks worse than a glossy finish on an imperfect surface, especially when the surface is a huge flat plane like a wall or ceiling - your eye jumps right to the imperfection. That said, once the flaws have been filled and or sanded and primed, a glossy finish, or one with just a sheen, is very elegant and makes everything in the room look more important, hence the "jewel-box" reference.

  5. Jennifer, I adore Jan Showers library!! It is fabulous beyond!!

    Art by Karena

  6. I think that library by Jan Showers is fabulous too!

  7. Quatorze- Yes, you make a good point. My high-gloss walls are in decent-not perfect- shape, and I don't really notice the imperfections. That said, if walls are in really bad shape, I would avoid anything that draws attention to that fact!

  8. That color Helen Partello chose -- looks like something in the plum or maybe aubergine family on my screen -- is really something. I love colors that are a bit off and hard to define. And your post made me think of the Kaihoi apartment on the cover of HB -- tiny space, saturated jewel tone, blurred lines. So successful!

  9. I don't think you can go wrong with lacquered walls in any color in any room, but neutral colors such as beiges look smashing in lacquer, never boring! Jan Showers, who happens to be from my home town of Dallas, uses eggplant and sang de bouef colors so beautifully in her rooms. If I had smooth walls I'd lacquer them in a minute, no question.

  10. I can't forget my first visit to the famous Yellow Room
    at 22 Avery Row.
    Three things were instantly apparent. Firstly, the absolute silence of a room smack in the middle of
    London. A real fire crackling in the grate. And then the almost reflective quality of those highly varnished
    yellow walls. It wasn't glossy paint; rather, it was finely
    stippled yellows that had been given several coats of
    clear varnish. Smooth as glass.

  11. Jan Showers navy lacquered room is my all time favorite!! I have a room with dark brown walls and I've been dying to lacquer them, which means covering up some wood work --- but when we start our renovation next year...I think I'll go for it!

  12. My first apartment was a tiny 4th floor walk up. It had badly cracked and "crumbling" walls but having just seen photos of Billy Baldwin's chocolate brown apartment (it was 1963), I painted my walls with chocolate enamel! It was not the smartest thing to do, but to me it was devine! At night, and with candel light, with all of the bumps in the walls, it was like being being out under a star filled sky!
    My favorite apartment!

  13. Anonymous10:12 AM

    love the metallic celerie fabrics would love to see pics of your curtains. thanks-nitika

  14. Hello, could you let me know what book the John hill image is in?
    He is my grandfather and I am doing some research on this work.

    1. Albert, That photo can be found in Derek Patmore's "Colour Schemes for the Modern Home". I hope that helps.

      Good luck!