Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mad About Maugham

I just finished reading Syrie Maugham, Pauline Metcalf's new book on one of the twentieth century's most innovative designers. It was high time that Syrie got a book of her own. Actually, Richard Fisher wrote a book on Syrie back in the late 1970s, but that one is both hard to find and quite expensive. I had to resort to photocopying the Fisher book at my neighborhood library. At least I own Metcalf's book.

Like so many of the Acanthus Press books that I've read, Syrie Maugham is very much a catalogue raisonne of the decorator's work through the decades. There were some Maugham rooms that I was familiar with, but many were new to me too. Of course, Maugham's famous Kings Road all-white drawing room is featured in the book (it's on the cover, too); after all, this was the room that got Maugham noticed by the press and the public on both sides of the Atlantic. But what many people don't realize is that Maugham also used color- vivid color- in much of her work, and this is a point that Metcalf drives home with such examples as the living room of Ina and William Wallace and even Maugham's later residence at Chesham Place. In addition to color, other Maugham hallmarks include tufted upholstery (Syrie never overlooked comfort), sleigh beds, mirrored screens, fringe, and fabulous window pelmets, all of which are seen throughout the book.

Another interesting point made by Metcalf is that at times, Maugham's work "overlapped" with that of Elsie de Wolfe, Frances Elkins (someone with whom Maugham occasionally collaborated), and even Dorothy Draper. Look at photos of all four designers' work and you'll see the influence that each one had on the other.

I know that there are those of us who are fascinated by the history of design and those who are only interested in photographs of gorgeous rooms. No matter which camp you're in, I think this book will be well received by both. After reading it, you'll realize that Syrie Maugham was not just a one trick pony. Although she'll be best remembered for that white room and pickled furniture, she did so much more than that. Thanks to Metcalf for showing us that.

The famous all-white party room at Maugham's Kings Road home c. 1932. Once this look ran its course, Maugham was smart enough to go in a different direction and decorate her home in a whole new way:

Vogue Regency in the Entrance Hall at Chesham Place, Maugham's address from 1937 to 1939. If I didn't know better, I might think that this space was decorated by Dorothy Draper.

Rose wallpaper struck a colorful note in the entrance hall at yet another Maugham home, this one at 24 Park Lane.

And one more example of rich color, this time in the living room of William Wallace and his wife, actress Ina Claire. This space dates to the early 1940s.

I find this Maugham decorated drawing room so charming, and I just had to include it because this home belonged to Lady Rose Leveson-Gower and her husband; she was the older sister to the late Queen Mum.

The Manhattan apartment of Grace and Harry Payne Bingham. If only I had traditional windows in my apartment, I would copy that pelmet in a heartbeat.

(All images courtesy of Syrie Maugham by Pauline C. Metcalf, Acanthus Press publishers.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Urban Electric Company's Color Story

Here's a bright idea that should get you out of the house tomorrow night. Join Urban Electric Company and designer Amanda Nisbet for an evening of color and light at UECo.'s Atlanta showroom. Not only will you get to view custom colored lights that incorporate Amanda's fabulous fabrics, but you'll also get a sneak peek of Nisbet's first complete lighting line for Urban Electric, set to debut in Spring 2011. After looking at that photo above, don't you want to completely redo your lamps and shades? I know that I do.
*The event takes place Thursday, September 30 from 5-8pm at Urban Electric Company, 1170 Howell Mill Road. Please RSVP to

Southern Comfort

I spent the weekend going through a trove of twenty and thirty year old Southern Accents, something which was akin to a trip down memory lane. You see, these were the homes- and the style of decorating-with which I grew up. Color, proper and sometimes fancy curtains, antiques, collections that were amassed over time, and beautifully set tables. In my mind, all of these things embodied Southern design from the 1980s. And while it might sound a tad formal (and it was), there was certainly nothing uptight about the decor. In these homes, one could just as easily spend a Saturday afternoon watching SEC football as seated at a formal Christmas Eve dinner. It was really about creating a beautiful environment for not only yourself, but more importantly for family and friends. Or at least, that's the way I remember things.

The Atlanta home featured here really captures a sophisticated side to Southern design. Photographed in 1982, the home was decorated by Jane Marsden, a designer and antiques dealer well-known to Atlantans. Of course, it helps when one starts with a Philip Shutze Regency style house noted for its restrained elegance and pleasing sense of symmetry. Still, the collaboration between the homeowner, Mrs. Bean, and Marsden imbued the house with additional style, substance, and some Southern charm too.

The elegant entryway with a George I mirror over a pine eagle table.

The living room with its lady-like draperies. Note the use of tassel trim and ball fringe throughout the room. Remember when we weren't afraid to use that trim? The Coromandel screen and the X-base, leopard covered bench strike a sophisticated note.

Most Southerners can't grasp the idea of not having a formal dining room in one's house. After all, your Royal Crown Derby "Old Imari" china needs a proper backdrop. As beautiful as the china is (it's a favorite on mine), it's the draperies that make me swoon. One more thing- see those floor to ceiling windows? They raise into the ceiling to allow guests to move between the room's interior and the outdoors during parties.

So nice to see a porcelain collection, this one with pieces decorated in the "Money Tree" pattern.

The library appears to be pink, although it was really a warm red. I'm not finding much in this room that screams 1982. In fact, if it's still installed this way, I bet it's held up pretty well. It's chic enough to host nighttime cocktails...and comfortable enough to relax and watch football.

The playroom. I'm assuming that's a playroom for adults. Again, a little tweaking here and there and you still have a room fitting for 2010. Imagine it without the wall to wall carpet and the acoustic tile ceiling, and you'll see what I mean.

(All images from Southern Accents, Fall 1982. Max Eckert, photographer.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's All Greek To Me

Yes, it's time for yet another post on Greek Keys. I'm sorry, but I can't help myself. I've never met a Greek Key that I didn't like. (And now that I think of it, I've never met a Greek person that I didn't like either.) The twist this time is that all of these examples show the motif used as part of the architecture, both interior and exterior. And to start it off is the image at top, a room at Pitzhanger Manor near London. It's a room after my own heart. Why limit the motif to the ceiling when you can repeat it on the floor as well?

I can't find any information on this house, so unfortunately I don't know who the architect was nor where this house was located. Not only do I fancy the Greek Key detail on the facade, I also like the house's symmetry.

The house of Mrs. Charles Harrington Chadwick in Palm Beach; Treanor & Fatio architects. The bonus to this exuberant use of Greek Keys was the single star that capped the door.

One of my very favorite architectural uses of the Greek Key: carved into a niche to allow for indirect lighting. In the dining room of the Richardson-Owens-Thomas house in Savannah; William Jay, architect; c. 1816-1819.

The drawing room ceiling at Port Eliot, Cornwall, England; Sir John Soane created this circular room in 1804.

Hefty Greek Keys crown the bookshelves in this McMillen designed room from the 1930s.

A St. Louis dress shop, c. 1930s, as decorated by McMillen.

Lucky for me that I get my Greek Key fix on a daily basis by driving by this Lewis Crook designed house everyday.

(Image #1 from Regency Style by Steve Parissien; image #4 from Landmark Homes of Georgia 1733-1983 by Van Jones Martin and William Mitchell, Jr.; image #5 from The Regency Country House: From the Archives of Country Life by John Martin Robinson; image #6 and #7 from Sixty Years of Interior Design: The World of McMillen by Erica Brown; last image from

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Decorator

I think that for some (or maybe even many), there is a mystique to decorators. You might even say a certain glamour. Now, we all know that there are aspects to the job that are far from glamorous. And let's face it, it can be tough work. Still, if there wasn't a certain allure to the job and the persona of "the decorator", there wouldn't be photos like the one above, featured in the October issue of Town & Country. Aaron Spelling would never have shot a pilot back in the 1960s titled "The Decorator" with Bette Davis, nor would we have had our favorite 1980s TV sitcom about four Southern decorators with a proclivity for one liners, beauty pageants, and big shoulder pads. (That would be "Designing Women", by the way.)

Decorators oftentimes lead glamorous lives in the movies. Take, for example, "Goodbye Again" which just happened to be on TCM yesterday. In the 1961 movie (it was based on the Francoise Sagan novel), Ingrid Bergman plays a 40 year old Parisian decorator named Paula who is supremely stylish. She wears Christian Dior clothes and Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, and she has a French maid named Gaby who draws her bath and gets Madame ready for nights out on the town. Never mind the fact that Paula is madly in love with her philandering boyfriend Roger, a cad who calls all of his other women "Maisie" so that he doesn't accidentally refer to them by the wrong name. OK, so Paula leads a rather sad life, but still, she lives in fabulous apartment and she has Gaby, so all is not lost. And, if I recall correctly, Paula has a great line in the movie, something like "The problem with being a decorator is that everyone thinks they know how to do your job"...or something along those lines. I'm sure many designers can relate.

Loyal Gaby putting away one of Paula's dresses. Note the dramatic headboard in the background, and the tiled kitchen to the right. A chic Paris apartment, non?

Paula at her dressing table.

And Paula out on the town.

My other favorite fictional decorator is Doris Day in "Pillow Talk". Once again, this designer wears really chic clothes, lives in a cool apartment, and has man trouble, only this time it's Rock Hudson rather than Yves Montand who is the culprit. Doris even has the maid who is the voice of reason, although Thelma Ritter, while funny in that wisecracking, New York kind of way, is not quite as chic as French Gaby. Doris works in a decorating shop surrounded by a sundry of antiques and bibelots- just like Paula- and she has men swooning for her. Could it be her profession that men find so captivating? Her sunny personality? Those clothes? And who can forget the hideous bachelor pad that Doris does up for Rock as punishment for his bad behavior? It's like a jungle-fied version of a Trader Vics.

Doris with her maid, played by Thelma Ritter.

Doris in front of her de rigueur dressing table.

Doris out on the town.

Doris and Rock making up in the notorious bachelor pad.

While researching this post, I came across a recent post about on-screen decorators on
Apartment Therapy. See, someone else is intrigued by the decorator mystique as well.

(Image at top from Town & Country, October 2010; Marc Royce photographer)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Many Faces of Elsie

A friend was kind enough to send me a copy of the Christie's auction catalogue that I've been coveting, Innovators of Twentieth Century Style. (Remember that part of the reason that I've been pining for it was because of the leopard print cover!) It's really a very interesting catalogue not only because of the featured lots (furniture and accessories designed by all of the greats: Elkins, Duquette, Draper, and Haines, to name a few), but also because of the Elsie de Wolfe related items that were up for auction. This de Wolfe memorabilia included not one, not two, but eight paintings of the woman! Now that's impressive. Obviously, I'm doing something wrong because I don't have eight, two, nor even one painting of myself! No one is clamoring to paint me. Nor do I have a coterie of photographers who are begging to photograph me either. Hmmm. Well, anyway, Elsie was pretty fabulous, so I suppose that it comes as no surprise that she was immortalized in a bevy of paintings, drawings, and photographs. I guess when you helped to define modern decorating, it just comes with the territory.

Image at top: "Miss Elsie de Wolfe", 1915, Albert Sterner. Pastel on paper.

"The Blue Bird, Lady Mendl with Baron d'Erlanger at the Circus", c. 1930s, Dietz Edzard. Oil on canvas.

"Lady Mendl", c. 1940s, Marcel Vertes. Oil on canvas.

"Lady Mendl, After All", c. 1941, Baroness Catherine d'Erlanger. Oil on canvasboard.

"Lady Mendl", after Bernard Boutet de Monvel, Oil on canvas.

"Portrait Lady Mendl Infirmiere Pendant La Guerre", c. 1918, Mariette Cotton. (In case you're wondering, this painting shows de Wolfe receiving the Legion of Honor for helping wounded French soldiers in World War I.)

"Portrait, Elsie de Wolfe", c. 1992, India Ingargiola. Oil on canvas. After a photograph by Horst P. Horst.

"Elsie de Wolfe en Jardin", 1989, Julian La Trobe. Oil on canvas.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Won't You Join Me?

Please join me for two different events this week that should help you spruce up your bedroom and learn the finer points of social networking.

On Wednesday, September 22, Gramercy Linen will be hosting a Peak of Chic "Between the Sheets" event from 5:00 to 7:00 in the evening. No, you won't see me in my sleeping attire, but I will be there to share my thoughts on how to create a chic bedroom- something that is not hard to do with all of the fabulous linens and accessories at Gramercy. A 15% discount will be offered on all purchases made during the evening, and there will also be a giveaway with custom monogramming. Oh, and because The Peak of Chic loves her vino, white wine will be served. I'd love to see you there!

Gramercy Linen, Peachtree Battle Shopping Center, 2351 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. (404) 846-9244

And who isn't tempted to blog, Facebook, or Tweet while lounging in bed? If that's you, then Tuesday's The Editor at Large's Power of New Media panel discussion at ADAC just might be your thing. The discussion will include useful tips on how best to use these various online platforms. Who knows? You just might become the next Ashton Kutcher of the Twitter world. The event will be held at 11am in the Presentation Room. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to

(Image at top from The Printery)