Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Old World Weavers

A recent windfall of late Seventies issues of Architectural Digest and Southern Accents provided me with another windfall: a clutch of Old World Weavers advertisements. As you know, Old World Weavers, the luxury textile firm, was founded by Iris Apfel and her late husband, Carl, in 1950.  Although now owned by Stark, Old World Weavers remains a to-the-trade source for traditional, dignified fabrics, such as crewelwork, embroidered silk, and damask.  So, in addition to being a fashion maven, Iris Apfel is also an authority on textiles and the decorative arts, an expertise that seems to be humorously suggested in the photo above.

The advertisements, which I have included below, are quintessential Iris Apfel.  A maximalist streak runs throughout them, with layer upon layer of sumptuous fabrics and trims (by Old World Weavers, of course,) porcelains, singerie, and antique furniture.  I assume that the ads were photographed in the Apfels' Manhattan apartment, because if you compare the ads to more recent photos of their apartment, you'll see they have much in common.  Luxury, abundance, and a flair for the dramatic characterize their home as well as their advertisements. In fact, that description could also be applied to Apfel's lauded fashion sense, too.

But really, what excites me the most is how an advertisement manages to capture most everything that I- and likely many of you- admire about traditional decoration.  Chinese porcelain, braided tassels, blue opaline glass...how often do we see these now-underrated furnishings presented in such exalted light?  The answer is, unfortunately, not often enough.

A shot of the Apfels' living room.

Another view of the living room.

The Apfels' library, as featured in Architectural Digest

Iris Apfel in her living room, which was photographed for Architectural Digest

Photos #1, #3, and #5 from Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel, Eric Boman author and photographer; #7 and #9 from Architectural Digest, June 2011, Roger Davies photographer


  1. I love many of those things, too. I think the reason we so rarely see them used today is due to the overkill in the 80's and early 90's of the English Country House look. Americans never really understood that look - their designers absolutely did not, for the most part. It takes a certain degree of grandeur of architecture to use such things. A typical suburban subdivision house - even one that cost millions - just doesn't do that. We had people using heavy valances, dripping with trim in rooms that had 8 ft ceilings (which in reality are 7.5 ft!). Of course, cost enters in as well.

    Today's wealthy person decorating a home is more interested in a kitchen that starts at $100,000 even though no food is prepared in it. Easy to accomplish - just go for outrageously expensive "pro-look" appliances and choose the most expensive.

    This summer, I spent some empty evenings binge-watching HGTV. This is what influences American taste, even at a very high budget. "Open concept", "sight-lines" are what everyone wants these days. How does that fit in with the exquisite fabrics and trims of Old World Weavers? The only positive thing I saw on HGTV was the use of curtains instead of California shutters. But trimmed and beautifully made? Hardly!

    We are a disposable society and that has moved on to home decor as well. Bored with it all? Reinvent yourself with an entire new decor, including a new kitchen and baths! Do this every 5-7 years.

    I fear for companies that sell such gorgeous things - the market must be horribly limited. Just look at what the major to-the-trade showrooms are showing - it could easily be HGTV, just more expensive.

    1. srb- I think you make very valid points, especially your comment about disposable home décor. It's such a waste!

  2. HGTV is no longer of interest to me - in fact, it annoys me so that I cannot bear to watch it. The cookie cutter greigeness of it all is so banal. But I am happy to report that "open plans," especially as pertains to kitchens are going away, as is the granite countertop. People finally figured out that kitchens should be separate rooms, and granite is not a very practicaly material for a countertop. But I digress.
    Iris Apfel is the bomb, and so is Old World Weavers. I love going to their showroom when I am in the city. Her apartment - those windows in the living room! So wonderful and stylish. There will always be a sophisticated element who can appreciate (and afford) that type of fabric. The blandness of today's design will swing back to things a bit more imaginative, and I can't wait for that to happen.

  3. Anonymous10:16 AM

    Fascinating pictures of the Apfel's home. Is this part or all of a townhouse, I wonder. Couldn't be one of the big apartment buildings with those casement windows.

  4. Anonymous11:47 AM

    Jennifer, I so agree with you and srb's comments. I feel fortunate to have found my townhouse that was built in 1984, and still has a formal dining room and living room, separate from the kitchen (I purchased it in 2003). I have a growing art collection, and I cannot imagine trying to find a new home in my area of the country (the Southwest) because all of the new construction has completely open floor plans with one giant great room. There are absolutely no walls on which to hang any artwork at all.

    So with this design concept, the great room contains the living room, the dining area and kitchen. I don't know about you, but when I entertain, I do not want guests looking at a messy kitchen while I am cooking (and I am actually a fairly neat cook). I love my sepaarte dining room because no one has to stare at boring appliances or look at the kitchen sink! Ugh!!

    Thank you for sharing photos of the Apfel's apartment. The rooms are lovely, warm and inviting, and a welcomed contrast to the "staged, minimalist" rooms that seem to be the trend today in American design.

  5. Sumptuous, fabulous, a treasure trove, Jennifer!! I agree with much of the above as I see so many 'cookie cutter " looks in home decor, I won't even call it Interior Design!

    The Arts by Karena
    Featuring Sharon Santoni

    1. Good! Because it isn't "interior design"!
      Old World Weavers is a wonderful and rare company!
      I use them every chance I get!!
      Disposable decorating is for the birds; it is so sad! My 45 year old daughter has beautifully made and proportioned upholstered furniture that my mother had made! It is so much better than all these terrible big fat oversized sofas all over the place!
      Everything in her house and mine has a story; what is in your house should be a scrapbook of your life! It really is sad!

    2. Anonymous11:44 AM

      Ms. Bianchi, you are right on-point! I have some furniture (but mostly china, crystal and paintings) from my parents' and grandparents' homes) and I never grow tired of them because they are the history of my family. In my den, I've placed my wooden toy chest made of white pine (I've had it refinished, but still kept its silver nailheads) next to a loveseat, and it makes for a perfect end table. It was made for me by one of my uncles and I treasure it. I've kept the inside original, it was painted white, and the inside top still has its original cartoon decals that my uncle applied back in 1956 (my birth year). And you are right, every house should tell a story!!

    3. So true. I was only looking at some crystal pieces from my mom's home, and a large crystal bowl that was a wedding gift to my grandmother in 1919, and thought to myself, where could I ever find these things. True treasures. I have a bedspread, shams and bedskirt that was made over 20 years ago, sitting atop my canopied bed. I couldn't afford to go near something today, and it wouldn't be quality..."bed in a bag? bah Humbug!"

  6. Danny Recoder10:01 PM

    Bravo, as always, Jennifer! One of the other horrible concepts that has taken hold is the idea that homes and apartments should look like hotel suites, devoid of charm and personality. We all know that Iris Apfel is considered a style icon for fashion. Why wouldn't her home decor reflect this aspect of her personality as well? Friends tell me that the Palm Beach house makes the New York apartment look severe!


  7. I agree with srb, Danny, everyone. But I don't know HGTV? Unfortunately we don't have a separate dining room. But it is clearly defined. We do have a separate kitchen! Even hall houses kept their kitchens separate. Always thought it's like entertaining in one's bathroom or dressing room. We invested in thick crimson velvet curtains. They transformed the room. I recently purchased two fine needlepoint cusions for £8 each because they're flame-stitched. They're at least thirty yrs old. The look great on my Art Deco furniture. Interiors are always nicer when they have things in them which have a past. Beautiful textiles and their designs are do a strong return.

  8. Hi Jennifer!
    Did you happen to see the recent documentary called "Iris"? It was great! Poor Carl Apfel finally died at age 100. They have been very influential and supplied many of the White House restorations under numerous admins.

    I used to shop in the D and D OWW and always loved its hushed atmosphere of Venetian Elegance.
    Iris has a condo on PB and a Co-op on Park Ave...
    The firm I now am associated with, MP Interiors carries OWW since we also represent Stark. I really enjoyed seeing these old ads from the magazines. There are many people who still want an opulent, layered look, and are willing to pay for it. What the other commenters are talking about is no different from the 1960's when things looked space age and "modern",only instead of all greys and taupe's, it was all avocado and harvest gold! As Stan Topol always preached to us, fashion goes in cycles and circles...

  9. Wonderful post and comments! I added some doors and blocked off the kitchen from the rest of the LR area of our current house. My son has always referred to that "open concept" as an auditorium with a fire pit. Very appropriate, don't you think?

    1. Anonymous11:53 AM

      Ms. Thompson, your son is exactly right, and I have never heard that description before!! Last year friends of mine purchased a home where, once you enter through the front door, you walk down a long hall and into a gigantic great room which contains their living room, dining room and kitchen.........it is absolutley hideous because I feel like I am in an enormous studio apartment! And it truly does look like an "auditorium with a fire pit!!" Your son is a genius!! Thank you so much for sharing.

  10. Well, I am an idiot. I'm going to announce it here. I never knew she started OWW. I love that company!! No wonder. Also, I love her blue opaline, which I also collect. btw - have you see Valorie - Visual Vamp lately? She has channeled Iris and looks better than ever.