Monday, May 09, 2016
The Home that Red-Headed Woman Furnished
Over the years, I have come across this thirties-era photo on numerous occasions. It's hard not to pause and study it, because the photo captures that early-1930s glamour and sophistication, which never ceases to fascinate me. The photo caption, which I'll get to shortly, describes the room as the study of writer Katharine Brush:
I always wondered who Katharine Brush was, because her place of writing was so different from the bolt-holes and jumbled messes in which most authors write. But it wasn't until a month or so ago that I finally took the time to Google Katharine Brush. It turns out that not only was she an O. Henry Award winner (1929), but she also wrote the 1931 novel, Red-Headed Woman, which, a year later, was made into a rather tawdry Pre-Code picture starring Jean Harlow and Chester Morris. (By the way, the film's screenplay was written by Anita Loos, who took over after F. Scott Fitzgerald's first draft proved unsuccessful.) For the film's title role, Harlow might have traded her platinum-blonde tresses for red locks, but she remained consistent, playing, yet again, a rough-around-the-edges femme fatale, carrying on multiple affairs while stealing a married man away from his respectable wife. Like I said, it is tawdry, but it sure is fun to watch.
But back to Brush's sweeping, circular study, which looks not unlike a Thirties film-set. The room, and the rest of Brush's Manhattan apartment, was designed by the Austrian-American architect, Joseph Urban, who was one of the leading proponents of the American Art Deco style. According to the photo's caption, the room was decorated with, "California redwood burl with German silver moldings and green leather wainscot welted in black. Chairs are black satin corded in green, the desk redwood burl with green leather top. Carpet is green and black." Whew. That's a mouthful of high-style. I can only imagine that, in person, this green and black chamber, a splashy testament to Brush's success, must have looked sensational.
I also found two additional photos of Brush's Urban-designed living room. Like the study, this room is notable for Urban's use of a variety of materials. The fireplace is white marble, while white leather was used to line all of the room's niches, including those positioned on other side of the fireplace. The upholstered seating within these two niches was also covered in white leather, while the legs were made of glass. Urban also chose to trim the niches and the floor with polished silver molding. It's worth noting that the intriguing silver bust, which adorned one of the bookshelves, was made by Wiener Werkstätte artist, Josef Hoffmann, while the silver basket on the fireplace mantel, used here to hold flowers, was the work of fellow Viennese artist, Dagobert Peche. Finally, I have to mention the pair of large, circular mirrors, which might look dated today but were really quite the thing at that time.
They say that sex sells, and that seems to be the case with Red-Headed Woman. Thanks to the book's immense success, Katharine Brush ended up with an awfully chic home, one that wouldn't look out of place in a Jean Harlow picture.