Monday, November 29, 2010

A Patchwork of a Post

When I first saw photos of Gloria Vanderbilt's patchwork bedroom a few years ago, I did not know what to think. Oh, okay, I did know what to think- I thought it was rather unfortunate looking. That's blasphemy to many, I realize, but I'm just telling the truth. I really didn't get the concept of covering walls and ceiling in patchwork quilts.

And then last week, while I was reading Wendy Goodman's new book on G.V.,
The World of Gloria Vanderbilt (what a fun read), I started to rethink this room. In fact, thanks to Goodman's text, I developed an appreciation for the room's floor especially. G.V. painstakingly cut up old quilts to cover the floor in a collage of fabric pieces that were later varnished to a high shine. Now let's stop here to look closely at that floor:

The famous patchwork bedroom (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) with its lacquered floor. Horst P. Horst, photographer.

I get that patchwork isn't for everybody. Quite frankly, it's not for me either. But the idea of lacquering fabric? That's a concept I do get, and it's one that can look absolutely fetching. G.V.'s lacquered floor was inspired by one she had seen years earlier in the apartment of Juliana Force, the first director of the Whitney Museum, the museum founded by Vanderbilt's aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. In Force's home, the floors were covered in a floral fabric that had been sealed with numerous coats of lacquer. A rather original idea, don't you think?

The apartment of Juliana Force as photographed by André Kertész.

Reading about G.V.'s lacquered bedroom floor reminded me of a Karl Springer table that I had recently seen on dealer Liz O'Brien's website. The c. 1970 table, seen below, is wrapped in a glazed batik fabric. Not only do I find the batik print charming, but the glazed finish seems to impart some spiffiness to the rather humble fabric.

While I honestly don't think that I'll ever do a lacquered fabric floor in my home (especially a patchwork one!), I can absolutely see one of Springer's glazed fabric pieces fitting in quite nicely. Do you?

A c. 1970s Karl Springer glazed batik low table, available at Liz O'Brien.

A pair of glazed batik Karl Springer tables that were sold a few years ago through Rago Arts & Auction Center.

A Karl Springer batik wrapped hanging console and mirror from the 1970s, available from Palumbo.

A Springer trunk with lacquered batik finish from Lobel Modern.

Another Springer table sold a few years back through Rago Arts & Auction, although this one has a far more graphic batik than the previous examples.

(Photos of Vanderbilt and Force homes courtesy of The World of Gloria Vanderbilt by Wendy Goodman.)


  1. John J Tackett8:47 AM

    A fabric covered floor can be very chic indeed. After all, painted floor cloths, common in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century, enjoyed a brief revival in the resurgence of faux painted finishes during the 1980s.

    And Karl Springer produced some incredible stylish pieces that still give that much-needed punch to any room.

  2. while I agree that it's not for me either, I do think it's so evocative of her personality and really rather cozy in a lush sort of way. So I give it 2 thumbs up but will save my spare time for other 'crafts'!

  3. I agree with you. At first glance, it seems so over the top and not really something that was pleasing to the eye. But after giving it a second glance, I see the beauty in it. Thank you for this post. The book is one of those that I meant to put on my reading list and had forgotten to do.

  4. I had not previously seen the photo of the fireplace and the red lacquered secretary--there is the completion that I was searching for. Yes, it is over the top---but wow, it is gorgeous and breath-stopping. As always, thanks for expanding my horizons. Mary

  5. I'm totally with you about patchwork - not really my thing either - but the floor is amazing and expresses her creativity so well. I can see its application in a rather exotic, Kilim sort of way in a dark red library for example. It actually appeals to be more than Juliana Force's flowered version (although HUGE Kertesz fan). And I like the Springer pieces, like the last, with a distinctive graphic allure.

  6. I think the patchwork quilt concept here is extraordinary and looks modern and timeless in its graphic rendition. We have a tendency to look at certain things with a limited cliched eye.

  7. I might not ever be brave enough to choose this for myself but the individuality and creative spirit behind this design is enviable....xv

  8. Gloria Vanderbilt was so daring... Imagine! Thanks for a great amount of research + a grand post. xx

  9. There's something brilliant in it. I think for me I could do the floor or the walls, but perhaps not both. Gloria is always the trailblazer. You have to admire that.


  10. I am all about patchwork- this is the ultimate, but GV can do no wrong-honestly one of my earliest design icons thanks House and Garden. The book is wonderful and long overdue. And I think Wendy Goodman filled the void perfectly.

  11. Thanks for a most interesting post. Not so keen on patchwork, although I am a bit of a gypsy at heart and there is something very approachable about it. Also Gloria Vanderbylt makes it look very chic.

    But I also do love the idea of lacquering fabric. That has a lot of possibilities.



  12. I'm sure the patchwork would drive me crazy but it is kind of mesmerizing at the same time. It reminds me of Spanish tilework- the outsides of buildings in Valencia where I did junior year abroad were designed kind of all over the place like this only in tile. So colorful. I loved it.

  13. Anonymous8:46 AM

    That Karl Springer table reminds me of Rhoda's New York apartment where the coffee table was covered in the same fabric as the sofas.