Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cluttered



I was looking through my copy of Interiors by Minn Hogg and Wendy Harrop for what must have been the tenth time when it finally dawned on me that my favorite chapter of the book is titled "Cluttered".  That's rather strange considering that I have an aversion to clutter in my own home.  And yet, perhaps my appreciation for these so-called cluttered interiors is not so surprising when one reads the chapter's introduction, in which the late antiques dealer Stephen Long defined a cluttered room as such:

There is rarely a contrived scheme or method to such interior design, it is more often a combination of beautiful and idiosyncratic items- just as carefully selected as a single object in a minimal interior- which come together to create a highly personal and enchanting scenario which would be a nightmare to move. 

"Highly personal" and "enchanting".  Those must be the qualities that draw me to these particular interiors.  When I study rooms such as these, I am always left wondering who the homeowner is.  I just know that he or she has to be interesting, eccentric, erudite, or even squirrely.  But when I see a room that has been decorated in an affected manner, I don't wonder who owns the home, because truthfully, I don't really care.  The room no longer has personality; it is simply a congregation of furnishings that probably mean very little to the homeowner.  Long might have agreed with me on this point, as he also wrote in the introduction, "True clutter is very different from those artfully arranged tablescapes, piles of expensive books and endless buttons and bows aimed to give an instant lived-in look."

If you study these rooms, you'll notice that there is a method to the madness, so to speak.  Pairs of objects and collections arranged en masse, for example, do help to create some semblance of order. And although I often complain about the current fad for willy-nilly decorating, I can't pin that criticism on these interiors.  The rooms seen here were not decorated for effect, nor did they take shape quickly.  Rather, they developed their personalities, and enchanting ones at that, over time.

And Long was right about one more thing: these scenarios must have been murder to move.

Photo at top: Isn't it interesting that the house of Sir John Soane was the lead photo to the Clutter chapter?




A French drawing room.



The Manhattan studio apartment of Richard Lowell Neas.




The Long Island living room of Allen Murphy.




A collection of ivory-handled magnifying glasses and letter openers.




A grouping of blue and white porcelain, busts, and marble.



A collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century silhouettes, which are displayed in a house in Sussex.



A tomato-red room.



The Manhattan sitting room of the late Keith Irvine.  As much as I admired Mr. Irvine, I have to say that I would go bonkers living with so many piles of books on the floor.


A London drawing room.

All images from Interiors by Minn Hogg and Wendy Harrop.

29 comments:

  1. Thank you for these, Jennifer. I agree that it would be difficult to live in and among these rooms, but they are wonderful to look at! I especially like the London drawing room with all of the blue and white!

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    1. I think the consensus is that the London drawing room is a particular favorite! :)

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  2. Dear Jennifer,

    You made me go right to my bookshelves and take a look at this book, which I haven't done for a while. I have a copy in German given to me by a friend who found it at a jumble sale, so didn't know that the English title of this chapter was "Clutter" - the German title "Stilvolle Unordnung" translates as "Stylish disorder"... I particularly like the last picture of the London drawing room. It's positively serene, despite all the various elements in it. I think the only room that can really be described as "cluttered" of all these pictures is the one by Keith Irvine, which I would simply describe as a "mess". All those books to stumble over. All the others are in fact quite tightly controlled - either by repetition of the elements, such as the carefully arranged prints on yellow walls in Sussex, those in the red room with leopard upholstery, or the symmetrical arrangement of lamps or vases. The art is, I suppose, to look artless!
    Many thanks for this post.
    Toby

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    1. Toby, Stylish disorder. What an interesting translation. Like you said, most of these rooms have a sense of order and control to them, so disorder might not accurately describe these rooms. But the stylish part? Absolutely!

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  3. Fabulous Post. Many of the photographs are my kind of decorating! Personal collections and interiors created over time.

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  4. With the exception of Keith Irvine's room (all those messy books!), I would not call these rooms "cluttered" at all. I would refer to them as "layering" - a form of decorating that the English have taken to an art form. There is always something to catch the eye - one never becomes bored with the room. If it's "cluttered", then I guess that would describe my entire house!

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    1. I like to think of the look as layered, just as you do. I have seen cluttered interiors before, and the rooms shown here don't hold a candle to truly cluttered homes.

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  5. I wish I liked minimalism, but I would have to live outside for that to work for me. I can assure you, these collectors know where each piece is and even has an exact position for it. The cabinets de curiosities just on a larger scale.

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    1. Donna, Absolutely. These collectors must have spent a great deal of time figuring out how best to display their objects.

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  6. Great post. I too, have this book. I think the driving force that separates these fine rooms from others that are merely overstuffed or instant "decorator move-ins" is two-fold; there is a clear, single and driving mind at work in creating each of the rooms, and for all the disparate items, each of these rooms has an organic wholeness to them, as if they "grew". One could argue that some of these rooms would fail if even a single thing were moved or left out - unless that change was effected by the original mind which created it in the first place. They are, as you say, extremely personal and as such, compelling from a human as well as a decorative standpoint.

    Even if one is not enamoured of the collected look or any particular one of these rooms, one must admit, there are lots of individual design lessons and ideas to borrow from them; the specific use of mirror in the Manhattan studio apartment of Richard Lowell Neas and in the last image of a London drawing room - genius.

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    1. The London drawing room is my favorite room of the bunch. Very stylish and sophisticated.

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  7. Jennifer I just love to see the collections others have amassed over the years! Artful accessories, art, and antiques!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

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  8. I absolutely love Soane's house, and have visited it many times (it keeps getting larger!). Although there are obviously thousands of artifacts on display, they all seem to be so very orderly, at least to my untrained eye.

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    1. Chronica Domus, It is a favorite of mine as well. I would not consider the interiors of the house to be cluttered as the artifacts were arranged quite carefully and orderly. I absolutely agree with you.

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  9. Jennifer,
    More is MORE! Less is a BORE!
    Especially loved the London drawing room image!

    Dean

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    1. Me too. The London drawing room is my favorite. Happy Memorial Day weekend!

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  10. The tomato red room is the opposite side of Richard Neas apt. pictured higher up. He did this room in at least three different versions.

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    1. Thank you for this information. He must have been like Van Day Truex and Billy Baldwin in that every few years, he gave his home a new look.

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  11. Love this, Jennifer! I, too, love a well-planned minimalist home, but I cannot survive without my acquisitions! A handful of seashells or an heirloom, if it holds meaning for me I need to see it. I think people like me don't see it as clutter, although a bunch of accessories floating around with no relationship to the home or homeowner does register in my mind as just that. I try to balance it with negative space, but geez, I'm one cache pot away from an intervention!

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    1. Dana, Life would be a lot less interesting without our collections, our treasures, and our heirlooms. Those are the objects that help to breathe life into a home. Of course, people and pets do that too!

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  12. Anonymous6:06 PM

    I spotted a copy of Interiors at a local, used-books store yesterday. This is not the first time I've chanced upon an older book right after seeing you mention it. Both times I've taken it as kismet and snatched it right up!

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    1. Good for you! I hope that you enjoy it. It will make for good reading this holiday weekend.

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  13. Wow.. I love these pictures. I have the Keith Irvine book, too. I think this is a testament to why the English Country style doesn't really date. However, I do find it a bit jarring to find it in a modern New York apartment. The building does have to fit the taste. I have a very stylish disordered home...and frankly, it looks like these pictures. I kind of think my living room is PERFECT....even though it is cluttered...with all sorts of neat things. On a school teacher's budget, I've managed to create a great English room (pardon the posting). Instead of great English furniture, I inherited some East lake furniture and covered it with Chinoiserie, and on the walls I have framed letters from 1840 on...including some from famous people. On one wall I ahve prisoner of war letters...vintage pictures of Roosevelt and a Hitler ballot, along with postcards from World War I soldiers. On my tables I have a collection of Persian inspired hinged chocolate boxes form the 1920s. I pick up glass paper weights, rip out the contents, an paste emphera inside (man...I could give John Derian a run for the money). I've covered my piano bench, a little footstool and a small Eastlake settee in a great leopard fabric, dug out of the Goodwill bins. I have a large Persian rug on the floor--pulled out of an historic home for eighty dollars. Trust, me, putting three kids through college has left me with little money...but my cottage is my pride and joy because of the inspiration of Bunny Williams, Keith Irvine, and Caroline Irving. Thanks for these great pictures!

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  14. the red velvet draperies in the studio apt of Neas are fantastic. I'd call them perfectly imperfect. Can't stand curtains that look as though u opened the pack and hung them up. your blog is wonderful and I refer to it all the time. maybe a short section on childrens rooms. nothing makes a person redo a room like a newborn!!

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  15. PS. any plans to visit New Orleans/ Louisiana? might be fun to see the jobs both old and new in the area by some of our local alumni

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    1. Ron, no immediate plans to visit New Orleans. However, if that changes, I'll mention it on my blog. I always enjoy visiting NOLA, although it has been quite a few years since I have been there.

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  16. Anonymous7:05 PM

    Thank you so much for this post. I adore rooms like these! I have a Louis XVI styled dresser in my bedroom, filled with family photos in sterling and enamled frames! I actually like the late Mr. Irvine's living room as it looks comfortable and inviting.

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