Friday, December 24, 2010

O Tannenbaum

What better way to sign off for the holidays than with photos of some truly beautiful Christmas trees, both of which were decorated by designer Richard Nelson. The photo at top, taken in 1966, shows the ceiling scraping tree that graced the music room in Richard's former New York apartment. This tree stood watch over Richard's much lauded Christmas party of which I wrote a few weeks back. And the one below that is this year's tree in Richard's Newport home.

I want to wish all of you best wishes for a truly happy holiday and a healthy and joyous New Year. I'll be spending the holidays in Atlanta with a New Year's trip to Ireland. I'll see you in 2011!

(Photo at top by Fredrick Walstrom; bottom photo by Michael Eudenbach. Both shown courtesy of Richard Nelson.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's My Obsession

I'm a woman possessed. Or maybe that's obsessed. I absolutely can't get any work done because I'm still going through the Museum of the City of New York's online collection portal. This is becoming a problem, I can tell. But, I wouldn't say it's for naught because I did find photos of Billy Baldwin's former apartment at Sutton Place. I first saw photos of this apartment a few years ago while reading an old magazine from the 1930s. Then, Adam Lewis included additional photos in Billy Baldwin: The Great American Decorator. And now, the MCNY website has even more. I'm starting to feel like I like I know Baldwin's apartment better than I do my own. I guess that's what happens when you become design obsessed. Or maybe that's design possessed.

According to Lewis' book, the sofa and club chair were upholstered in pale blue leather. The curtains were white satin handpainted with dancing figures.

Have you noticed that in today's quest for perfection, we no longer see visible cords and electrical outlets in interior photos? This photo is a breath of fresh air. That, and it makes me feel better about the cords and outlets that are rather prominent looking in my own home.

I believe that this might be a bedroom.

Billy Baldwin's bathroom. Does that swag look like it's painted on the wall? A little odd, but kind of charming at the same time.

All photos: Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., Residence of Wm. W. Baldwin, 2 Sutton Place. 1939. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Great Way to Spend a Weekend

Well, the weekend absolutely flew by thanks to two straight days of being completely engrossed online. No, not on Facebook which, in the words of Betty White, can be a "huge waste of time." Instead, I got wrapped up in the Museum of the City of New York's website. Thanks to Curbed National, I learned last week that the museum had recently uploaded about 50,000 New York related photographs to its website- just part of the museum's amazing collection. Of course what I got sucked into were the photographs of interiors, especially those by noted photographer Samuel H. Gottscho. The photographs are a real treat for those of us interested in 1930s design, old New York apartments, and the homes of William Odom, Elsie de Wolfe, and others. There is just so much to look at! I've downloaded a few images that caught my eye, but trust me, there is a lot more where these came from. If you have time over the holidays, you should visit the MCNY collection portal. Just be prepared not to come up for air anytime soon.

Samuel H. Gottscho, " Herbert Sondheim [residence]. Bar. Located at 146 Central Park West, NYC." 1930. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Samuel H. Gottscho, "Bruce Price Post [residence]. Hall. Apartment of Bruce Price Post, 39 East 79th St." 1927. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Samuel H. Gottscho, "Benjamin Wood (residence). Linen closet." 1925. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Samuel H. Gottscho, "Mrs. G. Fuller [residence], 41 Park Avenue, NYC. Nursery panel." 1930. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Samuel H. Gottscho, "Faris R. Russell [residence]. Terrace from door." 1931. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Image at top: Samuel H. Gottscho, "Mrs. Radcliffe Romeyn [residence], 25 East End Avenue. Living room mantel detail, 2.". 1935. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Park Avenue Princess

It's funny how you can look through a book a million times and still find something new each time you leaf through it. I was going through my favorite Tiffany Table Settings book for about the thirtieth time when a name that I had never really noticed before popped out in two different chapters: Princess Gourielli. OK, Princess Gourielli, Princess Gourielli...where had I heard that name before? And then it dawned on me- the Princess was cosmetics pioneer Helena Rubinstein. I guess the reason that I finally made this connection was because I had recently seen a documentary on the rivalry between Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. I remembered hearing that Rubinstein had married a Georgian prince (the lineage was a little murky), enticed by the title. In fact, Arden, a fierce rival of Rubinstein, was also married to a Russian prince for a short time. Perhaps it was a game of tit for tat?

Anyway, in the Tiffany book, Princess Gourielli's terrace was decorated for a birthday buffet luncheon. A buffet table was set with all kinds of dishes as well as a wrought-iron plant holder that held presents and bowls of melon balls. (I might have used something other than melon balls, but each to his own.) A champagne fruit punch was served from one table, while the birthday cake and dessert plates held court on another.

In another vignette shot, a "Silver Anniversary Party in Shades of Gray", Princess Gourielli's paneled dining room plays host to a "chiaroscuro" table setting. This make-believe dinner could not have been to honor Rubinstein's marriage to the Prince as he died in 1955 and this book was published in 1960.

I found additional images of Rubinstein's Park Avenue terrace and dining room in the terrific book
Helena Rubinstein: Over the Top by Suzanne Slesin. In these photos, you can see what her home looked like when it was not decked out for silver anniversaries and the like.

The birthday cake.

The Silver Anniversary party.

You've got to hand it to Princess Giourelli. She sure knew how to set a table...and how to decorate a home.

A view of Rubinstein's terrace.

(Party shots from Tiffany Table Settings; other images from Helena Rubinstein: Over the Top by Suzanne Slesin.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Give Me Fever

I'll never forget it. I was 12 years old, and my father had just picked my friends and me up from a birthday party. As we drove past a library, we saw an ambulance out front. Want to know what dear old Dad said? "Uh oh. Looks like someone had a book attack!" Well, you know, I died. Seriously died. Wanted to crawl underneath the front seat of the car. I think that I lost all street cred right then and there. Thanks a lot, Dad! As we say in my family, "It's another one of Dad's jokes."

Well, I'm having a book attack right now. Actually, more like book withdrawals thanks to my One Kings Lane sale a few weeks ago. (And by the way, a big thank you to everyone who bought my books. I just know that they have found very good homes.) The problem is that there are holes in my bookshelves now, and I'm jonesing for more books. As Bruce Dickinson- yes, the Bruce Dickinson- might say, "I gotta fever, and the only prescription is...more books!" (Click here if you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about.)

So where am I going with this random post? Straight to photos of libraries where it's obvious that the owners gotta fever for books- just like me.

In his Chicago loft, designer Mark Radcliff has created the perfect spot to luxuriate amongst his books. I feel a book attack coming on.

Admit it. You stopped and stared at this photo in the January issue of Architectural Digest. I want to raid Friederike Kemp Biggs' bookshelves.

Booze and books...always a good combination. Gets your mind off of your worries. That and the outrageous number of books in your home.

Manuel Canovas has quite the library, from decoys to design. After all, variety is the spice of life.

The studio apartment of Sam Watters. All of those books and a fur throw on the sofa? I'd never leave.

(Top image: a stack of my books. Image #2 courtesy of Mark Radcliff. #3 from January 2011 issue of Architectural Digest, Derry Moore photographer . #4 from Southern Accents. #6 from Living Well.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Everyday Elegance

One thing that I cannot get out of my mind since my conversation with designer Richard Nelson (he of the 1966 Christmas party fame; click here) is the idea of serving Chinese take-out on Chinese Export porcelain. Perhaps to some of you, it's not such a novel idea, but it is to me. People of my generation and those who are younger don't collect antique porcelain anymore. A shame, really, but understandable from an economic point of view. Collecting porcelain can be expensive! And try amassing enough to serve eight to ten people at a seated dinner. It's not impossible, but let's just say it's a challenge.

Famed Southern architect Philip Shutze was a great collector who owned that stash of blue and white Canton ware at top. He treated it as his everyday china. I like to think that perhaps he ate his morning toast or grits from it. I admire the fact that he didn't treat his porcelain as too precious to use- something that I'm sure I would be guilty of. And obviously Richard Nelson didn't think his porcelain too grand to serve Peking Duck and the like. That kind of casual attitude is impressive and something that I might need to work on.

I read somewhere that the late Manhattan caterer Donald Bruce White (he's the one seated at the head of the table) used antique Coalport plates at seated dinners. You see, when you do things like this, you end up with chic dinner guests who wear their fur hats at the table.

Gloria Vanderbilt entertains with this china that was used at The Breakers in Newport. (That's Cornelius Vanderbilt II's monogram in the center.) Do you think Anderson Cooper will someday follow in his mother's footsteps and entertain with it as well?

I can only assume that Alberto Pinto actually uses his antique porcelain for dining. God knows that he has enough of it. That wasn't a criticism, simply jealousy rearing its ugly head.

Diane von Furstenberg served a baked potato and caviar on 19th c. English china. Rich...on both accounts.

(Top image from: Philip Trammell Shutze Atlanta Classicist , Connoisseur, and Collector the Story of a Collection by Rebecca Moore; #2 from Living Well by Carrie Donovan. #3 from The World of Gloria Vanderbilt by Wendy Goodman. #4 from Alberto Pinto: Table Settings. #5 from The Table by Diane von Furstenberg.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Study in Glamour

One of my favorite rooms at the recent Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Christmas House was the study decorated by Hutton Wilkinson and Atlanta designer Stephen Boyd. Not only did the room look really terrific, it felt as though someone actually lived in the space- not an easy feat when decorating for a mythical client. The look that the design duo went for was one of luxury, quality, and most importantly, glamour. What might have been the most striking piece in the room was a large screen that was upholstered in Hutton's new print for Jim Thompson, Duquetterie. In fact, this fabric set the tone for the entire room. The whimsical print was derived from the door panels of that well-known cabinet that Tony Duquette designed for Elsie de Wolfe in 1941. I've included a shot of it below in case you can't quite place it.

To see what the room looked like in all of its glory, you'll have to wait for the February issue of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles. But in the meantime, I am able to show you detail shots of the Hutton Wilkinson designed fabrics for Jim Thompson's Tony Duquette collection. I think you'll see that Hutton and Stephen made great use of these beautiful fabrics throughout the room. These new prints will be available come Spring, so treat this as your official sneak peek.

The image at top is a small bar vestibule off of the study. The fabric on the walls is Jim Thompson's "Duquette Modern Snowflake Pattern". Tony Duquette designed the original print, "Modern Snowflake Pattern", after seeing 18th c. carved Chinese screens that were owned by clothing designer Adrian. Hutton took the original print and updated it with an industrial punched metal pattern.

Guess what? This Jim Thompson fabric, used as portières, doesn't even have a name yet- it's that new. Beyond the curtains you can get a glimpse of the study. The chandelier is the Tony Duquette "California Sunburst Chandelier" for Remains Lighting.

The screen is upholstered in "Duquetterie". Hutton duplicated images of foliage and blackamoors that graced the carved plaster, mirrored, and painted panels of the Duquette/de Wolfe cabinet and made them into this recurring pattern. The sofa is covered in a Greek Key print, originally used by Duquette in the 1940s, that has been updated by Hutton with the addition of black squares at the intersections and subtle shadings to the design.

The cabinet that inspired the fabric.

Another yet to be named print that will be part of Jim Thompson's 2011 Tony Duquette collection.

Photo credit David Christensen. Images printed with permission from Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles and The Mansion on Peachtree.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Master of Entertaining

You know that I love my vintage design magazines, and I mention often that there is much inspiration that can be drawn from their photos and articles. But inspiration aside, these old mags can also pull you into a fantasy world, one in which thoughts of "Wow, I'd love to live in a glamorous apartment like that" or "Good grief, I'd give my right arm to be able to host that kind of party" prevail. It's the latter sentiment that I felt when I first read a 1967 House & Garden article about a Christmas party hosted by designer Richard Nelson. In fact, I was planning to post about this gorgeous party when I found out that Richard is one of my readers. I figured what better way to turn fantasy into reality than by speaking with Richard to find out the whys and wherefores of this captivating party.

A little background first. Richard is a noted interior designer who began his career in New York in the late 1950s. In fact, he was Sister Parish's assistant for a few years, helping her with such projects as the famous White House redecoration for Jacqueline Kennedy. After his stint with Parish, Richard decided to strike out on his own, setting up shop in Manhattan and later in Newport, the city that Richard now calls home. Richard recalls that the 1960s were a heady time for a young New York decorator. It was not uncommon for him to spend most nights out on the town- in black tie no less. And if he wasn't out and about, he was entertaining at home. Richard remembers hosting seated suppers for 12 to 13 guests on an average of four to five nights a week. Yes, you read that correctly.

Now let's stop for a moment and think about that. Four to five nights a week. When Richard told me this, I actually didn't know what to say. Can you imagine? Of course, I had to ask him how in the world he entertained with such gusto and maintained his business. He said that he usually had help when he hosted dinners, although he always participated in the preparation of the meals. And sometimes to keep things simple, he would order in Chinese from a neighborhood restaurant and serve it on his Chinese export porcelain to make it special. Now that must have really been something else.

The 1966 Christmas soiree featured here took place at his former apartment on the Upper East Side, part of two Civil War brownstones that had been combined in 1917. Richard's apartment consisted of a dining room and a music room that was connected by an enclosed walkway. (That's the festive looking walkway above.) The music room had a 20' high ceiling, making it the perfect setting for a very tall Christmas tree. The dining room, decorated in the 1920s by Charles of London, had a ceiling that was covered in painted canvas meant to look like leather. (You can see it in a photo below.) The walls had been decorated with old japanning and antiqued mirror, but by the time Richard moved in the walls were beyond repair, hence the painted finish that you see below.

Seeing that this was to be Richard's first large party in his home, he opted for a lavish and elegant black-tie affair. He hired Donald Bruce White to cater the event. In 1966, White was just beginning his career, later becoming one of Manhattan's premier caterers. (In fact, I've shown his apartment on my blog. Click
here to see it.) The delicious menu included smoked turkey, pâté en croûte, shrimp and parsley tree with curry dipping sauce, and of course, that croquembouche. If that wasn't enough, his friend Mabel Mercer entertained his guests for an hour and a half, after which everyone danced until 4:30 in the morning. But after the last guest left, Richard did not have much time for relaxation. A few days later, he hosted a party for friends' children so that they could see his Christmas tree. The event was replete with little presents, cookies, and juice, something that he still does to this day.

Though the setting of Richard's dinners may have changed- he now lives in an 18th c. Colonial house in Newport- his style of entertaining hasn't. He still makes sure to serve delicious food. And more importantly, he never forgets the point of entertaining: to have a good time with good friends.

That is Richard, above, wearing white-tie and tails. The footmen's liveries were made at a shop around the corner from his apartment.

The music room decorated for the party. The small tables and gilt chairs gave guests a place to rest between dances.

A view from the music room to the garden courtyard beyond.

The buffet was laid in the dining room. Note the painted canvas ceiling.

The smoked turkey was sliced quite thin and then reassembled for serving.

During the early part of the party, a harpist played while guests drank champagne and chatted.

After the 11pm buffet supper was served, Mabel Mercer sang for guests.

A few days later, friends' children visited to see Richard's Christmas tree.

All photos from House & Garden, December 1967.