Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Fabric That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Chintz can be such a controversial subject. What? You didn't know that? Oh yes, the fur can and oftentimes does fly when discussion turns towards chintz. And why? It's nothing more than glazed cotton. How can you disparage good old cotton? And I for one love glazing (especially on doughnuts). I think chintz has unfortunately gotten a bum rap, much like linoleum and shoulder pads.

We had a mini chintz revival recently, although the chintz that seemed to garner the most publicity was of the floral variety. Florals are all well and good, but the chintz that strikes my fancy are solids. I love the sheen of solid chintz fabrics, but this is where the quality factor comes into play. Cheap chintz looks, well, cheap. It's all about the luster, and well-made solid chintz fabrics have got that in spades. It's a humble, toned down kind of glamour.

I found this early 1980s ad above for Zumsteg fabrics. Look at the yummy colors, the shiny finish, and the subtle, tonal print. Can't you see fabric like this used for some glam curtains in one's bedroom? Or what about seat cushions? If I owned a Frances Elkins' Loop chair, I'd use a chintz like this.

Of course, who doesn't associate floral chintz with Mario Buatta. But another prince of chintz- albeit solid chintz- was David Hicks. He used glazed cotton fabric for pillows, bedspreads, curtains, and all kinds of upholstery. And you know, it looked really great. My only advice would be to use solid chintz sparingly. Otherwise, your rooms might end up looking slippery!

(PS- Does anyone know anything about Ashley Hicks' forthcoming book David Hicks: A Life of Design? It's due to be released this Fall. Just added that to my wishlist.)

David Hicks designed all of the rooms above. His use of gutsy, colorful glazed cotton made chintz hip and sexy.

(Images of David Hicks' work from David Hicks: Designer and David Hicks on Decoration - With Fabrics)

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Weighty Subject

So I'm about to mail off my tax return, and after finding out how much I owe to the IRS, I feel a great weight on my shoulders. I feel a burden about like this:

I understand the feeling. (Pair of Blackamoor tables, Italian, c. 1920, available at Liz O'Brien)

I can relate. (Italian console tables, c. 1900, from Heather & Company)

I'm certainly not feeling this calm. (Italian table, late 18th/early 19th c, from N.P. Trent Antiques)

I'd feel much better if I were in Albert Hadley's apartment.

If I didn't have to pay so much, I might feel like kicking up my heels. (Banquette room of the home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, 24 Boulevard Suchet; designed by Maison Jansen)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Laid-Back Entertaining

A lot of people I know are cutting back on entertaining due to financial reasons. Obviously, we are all watching our pennies right now, but I don't think we should curtail entertaining at home. If anything, now is the time that we should focus on what's really important: spending time with family and friends.

As I've gotten older, I've learned to relax and not be so uptight about having people into my home. I do think (or at least hope) that my home is warm and inviting, but I can say that it is not by any means perfect. As I'm writing this, my powder room has partially removed wallpaper. It ain't pretty, but it has not stopped me from having people in. I consider the wallpaper a temporary situation, and people who know me know that I will one day soon have a remodeled powder room.

The other thing that I'm more laid back about is food. Food does not have to be fancy- only tasty. I love putting on a spread for people, but there are times when it's fun just to relax and enjoy some conviviality with one's friends. And this leads me to the point of this post. When did the cocktail hour get so elaborate? Sure it's fun to assemble a platter of antipasto. And what's better than sharing caviar with your guests? But for those on a budget or who are trying to be less uptight, there is nothing wrong with serving the basics. Such as ... Ritz crackers or Triscuits.

Just look at the gorgeous Horst photo above, taken in 1963 at the Long Island home of Consuelo Balsan. What are those crackers in the Chinese dish on the beautiful tray table which rested on the gorgeous Aubusson rug? Ritz crackers! Truly, have you ever met anyone who didn't like Ritz crackers?

And what about Triscuits? In Susanna Salk's paean of everything WASP, A Privileged Life: Celebrating Wasp Style, Salk writes of memories of "Triscuits with Cracker Barrel Cheese and warm white wine in plastic tumblers." I don't remember the warm white wine so much, but heaven knows that I've eaten a lot of Triscuits and Cracker Barrel Extra-Sharp Cheddar in my day. And don't forget that the only crackers you can serve with cream cheese and pepper jelly- the old stand-by served by all Southern Belles and Gents- are Triscuits.

Now, I'm not saying that you should forgo elegant entertaining altogether. I actually regret that formal entertaining is not as fashionable as it once was. But, when you're having good friends and family over for a few casual drinks, give yourself a break and pull out the box of Ritz.

According to an old New York magazine article, Albert Hadley served a bowl of unsalted Triscuits to the journalist interviewing him. Yet another reason to love Mr. Hadley.

I don't think Triscuits and Ritz were around in 1941 when Dorothy Draper wrote Entertaining is Fun!: How to Be A Popular Hostess, but she was pretty down to earth with her advice. For harried hosts and hostesses who were faced with unexpected guests, she suggested serving English muffins with sliced ham and grilled mushrooms. Were Dorothy alive today, I think she'd just say to serve some cheese and crackers and call it a day.

Sister Parish was one character who I wish I had been able to meet. One of her favorite drinks was vodka with ice and a dash of Clamato. She also on occasion served appetizers of ham wrapped around a pickle with some cream cheese, cut on the diagonal, as well as peanut butter and bacon sandwiches. And based on what has been written, people loved her get-togethers...even the food!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rethinking Quilts

I think it's safe to say that most of us have an appreciation for quilts whether we incorporate them into our decor or not. The skill, craftsmanship, and time that is involved in quilting is rather remarkable- at least to me. And nothing feels better than getting under a cool, cotton quilt during the summertime.

I grew up with quilts that were made by various great aunts, and my parents once gave me a beautiful antique quilt as a birthday present. And while I admire them greatly and do use them from time to time, the quilts remain stored away in the linen closet. I just can't imagine displaying them in my home as they don't quite "go" with the rest of the decor. The quilts are just a little too Americana for my home.

But what about a modern looking quilt? When I saw the photo at top of Albert Hadley's apartment from the 1960s, I was pleasantly surprised with the American quilt that was artfully arranged on the sofa. Here you have a room with silver tea-papered walls, torchères and sconces that once belonged to Syrie Maugham, an animal-print rug, a mirrored cube table... and that quilt on the sofa. And it worked. Mixing the high and the low, the sophisticated with the humble, is not always an easy endeavor, but in the hands of Mr. Hadley, it looked marvelous.

I pulled the one book that I own on quilts,
America's Glorious Quilts, and found some contemporary looking antique quilts in all kinds of beautiful colors and designs. The one thing these particular quilts lack is that patchwork look. Those kind of quilts would work well in a Sister Parish type interior. The more graphic looking quilts (like that used by Hadley) could look pretty fantastic in a more modern looking environment.

Diamond in a Square Amish Pieced Quilt, c. 1920. Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Log Cabin Pierced Quilt, Streak O'Lightning Variation, c. 1880. Massachusetts. (This quilt reminded me of Missoni.)

Mariner's Compass Pieced and Appliqued Quilt, c. 1890. Maryland.

Amish Pieced Oblong or Rectangle Quilt, c. 1909, quilted by Mahala Yoder. Indiana. This quilt looks so simple, yet if you look closely at the quilting you'll see tulips, urns, feathers, and birds.

Solomon's Puzzle Amish Pieced Quilt, c. 1940. Ohio. This particular pattern is known as Drunkard's Path- and so appropriate. Can't you see this quilt used as a coverlet on a bed? Or even displayed on a wall as art??

Na Kalaunu (Crowns) Applique Quilt. Before 1918; Hawaiian Islands. I love the naïve motifs on this Hawaiian quilt, and the color combination of lavender and yellow is gorgeous.

(Image of Albert Hadley's apartment from Manhattan Style; quilt photos from America's Glorious Quilts)

And Speaking of Albert Hadley

Birch Cooper, a dealer in rare art and design books and proprietor of Birch Books in New York, has acquired part of the library of everyone's idol Albert Hadley. The collection of 200 books was amassed over the course of 40 years by Hadley. As Birch recently told me, "It is rare to come across a collection with such an exciting and unique provenance. Going through the books, it quickly becomes clear that they were important tools and sources of inspiration for the design team. Many pages have been marked for reference, and in some cases, renderings of a chair or an iron gate, for example, have been drawn and slipped between the pages." In addition, many of the books bear the Parish-Hadley library seal!

To get a sneak "peak" of the collection, visit Birch Books' website and search on "Peak of Chic". To obtain additional information on titles in the collection as well as sales inquiries, contact Birch at (212) 787-2844 or via his website.

One of the well-used books in the collection, and a rendering found in a book.

Many of the books bear a Parish-Hadley library seal.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

French Style at Home

I'll admit that I'm one of those people who actually reads the text in design books. I feel like I'm cheating if I don't. And this probably explains why it seems to take me forever to get through my very tall stacks of books. But I confess- there are some nights when I'm so tired that I just can't absorb anything, and that's when I only want to look at beautiful photos in books. (Thank goodness I got over that trashy fiction phase of my teenage years. My father still hasn't gotten over my enthusiastic declaration that The Thorn Birds was the best book I had ever read in my then sixteen years of life. And that was the day that I almost got shipped off to boarding school.)

One book that fits the bill on those bone tired nights is French Style at Home: Inspiration from Charming Destinations by Sebastien Siraudeau. Though there is interesting text, this book to me is about the gorgeous images of French historical homes, country homes, chateaux, and the like. The photos are so dreamy that you can't stop staring at them. So for those of you who only look at photos in design books (and trust me, that's quite all right), I'll stop writing and show you some enchanting French style:

(All images: Sebastien Siraudeau from French Style at Home, published by Flammarion, 2009)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

To Plan or Not To Plan

I've been thinking about something a lot lately (and yes, that may come as a shock to some of you...). The look that I gravitate to is the undecorated look. I'm not crazy about rooms that are too perfect and too pristine. That's not to say that I'm a fan of rooms that seem a jumble. But I prefer rooms that look as though they evolved over time. They just seem a lot richer and well, much more interesting.

I've also noticed that some of my favorite homes are those of designers. I believe that some of their best work can be found in their own domiciles. Of course, designers use their homes as laboratories, and sometimes it's easier to take risks in one's own home. But here's what I'm wondering: do designers really have a master plan when it comes to their own homes? You know the old adage "the shoemaker's children are often shoeless". Well, I know that many decorators are so busy that sometimes it's hard for them to tackle the design of their own homes, and this might force them to take a more organic approach.

So where am I going with all of this? I wonder if design schemes might sometimes get in the way of great decorating? Obviously if you're a designer, you can't just wing it with a client. You have to have a plan so that the customer knows what he or she will be getting. And, there are certain things that absolutely have to be planned for. I'm not saying that plans and schemes should be abandoned. Hardly. But, do you think that the best design happens when the process evolves over a longer period of time and when it lacks a firm game plan, something that might at times prove to be a constraint?

Who isn't inspired by Albert Hadley's apartment? Do we ever tire of seeing it? No, we don't. (This version is c. 1990)

We're in the midst of another Rose Cumming revival- and I think that's a good thing. Was there ever a more unique- and eccentric- home than that of Cumming?

I think Miles Redd's home is the most blogged about home in the last few years- and with good reason.

Frances Elkins decorated some very grand homes, but I find her homes, especially her Monterey, CA home, to be some of her best work.

In "Keith Irvine: A Life in Decoration", some of the prettiest photos are those of the ballroom wing of Irvine's country home.

Image at top: Do you think William Pahlmann took his sweet time decorating his home?

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Talented Mr. Adams

About a year ago, I first read about designer Richard Adams' chic London flat in the New York Times. I remember thinking how cosmopolitan and urbane it was! I believe his home resonated with me because it was quite similar to my supremely stylish Manhattan apartment- you know, the one in my head. (Some people long for a house by the sea or a chateau in France. Not me. I've dreamed of an apartment at The Carlyle since I was ten. I didn't realize it at the time that my dream would require so much hard work and so much cash!)

Though the flat, located in Chelsea, is really quite small, it's loaded with style. What makes this space so alluring to me is the fact that the apartment is richly colored and richly appointed. Though I was not such a fan of green, Richard's living room made me a convert. How can you not find pea-green colored silk beautiful when it's used on walls, sofas, and lamp shades? And how gorgeous is that red bedroom? I think red is a difficult color for bedrooms, but it works here- so decadent!

The other thing that makes this home so striking is the abundance of gleaming surfaces. Mirror is used in the living room and bedroom (but tastefully!). There is a Venini crystal chandelier, a wonderful crystal sunburst clock, and highly polished floors. Let's face it- this is that type of nighttime apartment in which you long to be a guest. The place where you want to wear your best and where you know the conversation will be lively and hopefully just a bit naughty.

(Richard is truly a fascinating person. An American by birth, Richard's background is in the New York fashion and advertising industries. While in New York, he soaked in the glamour that surrounded him- and when you've met and worked with the likes of Diana Vreeland, Billy Baldwin, Andy Warhol, and Truman Capote, it's understandable.

Not one to let the grass grow beneath his feet, Richard moved to London a few years ago to establish an interior design practice. He now divides his time between London, Budapest, and Qatar! I think it's encouraging to know that there are still cosmopolitan aesthetes who jet around the world experiencing all kinds of fabulous things. Visit his
website for the entire story.)

The divine red bedroom. How fabulous is that crystal sunburst clock!

These glass bookshelves are so clever and perfect for a small space. Don't you love the books that are facing out: "Shocking!", "Snobs", and "Unsuitable Company".

A view of the gorgeous green silk living room with the red bedroom beyond.

The hall with its shimmery bronze papered walls.

The bathroom that was inspired by those at The Carlyle (perhaps it's the shared love of the Carlyle that explains why Richard and I are on the same wavelength.)

Image at top: The living room that captivated me. Need I say anymore?

(All images except that of the bath from English Eccentric Interiors; image of bathroom courtesy of Richard Adams)