Friday, March 30, 2012

My Tribute to Albert Hadley

It's with a very heavy heart that I'm publishing this post, one that I hope will be a fitting tribute to Albert Hadley. As I'm sure some of you are aware, Mr. Hadley died early this morning in his hometown of Nashville. It's strange how very sad I feel, especially considering the fact that Mr. Hadley and I were barely acquainted with one another. And yet, I feel as though I knew him quite well. His work resonated with me like that of no other designer. And truth be told, no other designer has taught me as much about design and living as Albert Hadley did.

There have been very few times in my life that I've been struck by the proverbial thunderbolt, but one indeed hit me while reading the Elle Decor cover story on Albert Hadley's Manhattan apartment (February/March 2000.) If there is such a thing as a perfect home, that was it. Yes, the rooms possessed more style and flair than most of us can ever hope to achieve in our own homes, but what mattered more to me was the apartment's complete lack of pretension. His home was just that: a home, one in which he surrounded himself with objects that had meaning for him or that simply struck his fancy. You could tell that nothing was chosen for show, but rather because it spoke to him. And in turn, his apartment spoke to me.

One of my dreams in life was to meet Mr. Hadley. I was fortunate enough to have spent time with him on three different occasions. But before meeting him, we had corresponded by mail. Shortly after starting my blog, I sent out holiday cards that I had designed using a photo of Sister Parish goofing off and holding an empty Jeroboam up to her mouth. A friend suggested that I mail a card to Mr. Hadley, and so I did. He responded with a very gracious letter in which he wrote, "Sister Parish would be thrilled to be the Christmas card for "The Peak of Chic"! I don't recognize the photograph, but she's certainly belting it out."

A few months later, I had a private meeting with him at his office. He was very generous with his time, answering all of the silly questions that I asked him. I was struck by his mild manner and his still-mellifluous Southern accent that seemed little affected after years of living away from the South. Seeing that I was a fellow Southerner, he was especially interested to show me framed drawings and sketches of the work that he did at Rosedown Plantation in Louisiana. I realized after that meeting that Mr. Hadley was not just a great designer, but a kind and courtly gentleman as well.

That was not to be my only meeting with Albert Hadley. Close to four years ago, the editors at House Beautiful assigned me an article to write about a wonderful Manhattan apartment designed by Mr. Hadley and his then associate Harry Heissmann. (House Beautiful, April 2009.) Once again, I made the journey up to the offices of Albert Hadley Inc., only this time I was armed with my tape recorder, pad, and pencil for an interview. I suppose that if there is to be one plum writing assignment in my life, that was it!

Mr. Hadley was the best kind of decorator. His primary concern was to create homes for his clients in which they could live comfortably and live well. He catered not to his whims but rather to the needs of his clients. And most impressive to me was that he encouraged young designers to get educated in the history of design and the decorative arts. He believed that without this foundation of knowledge, decorating with any kind of authority is difficult at best.

I realize that my tribute to Albert Hadley might border on hagiography, but death has not elevated Mr. Hadley to legend status nor design sainthood. He achieved that long ago during his exalted career. And it might seem hackneyed to say that his passing marks the end of an era, but in my mind, indeed it does. I feel fairly certain that the word "branding" never crossed Mr. Hadley's lips. And I do wonder if a humble, thoughtful person like Albert Hadley could succeed in today's world where never-ending self-promotion has become the norm.

There are other masters of design practicing today, and for that we should be thankful. But there will only be one Dean of American Decorators, and for me, Albert Hadley will bear that title forever.

Some of my favorite Albert Hadley and Parish-Hadley designed interiors:

The Manhattan apartment of Albert Hadley.

A mid-1970s era Manhattan living room in which Parish-Hadley used a mix of Alan Campbell fabrics.

A Palm Beach guest house bedroom. (Parish-Hadley)

A garden room at a Greenwich, CT show house. (Parish-Hadley)

Brooke Astor's Manhattan apartment. (Parish-Hadley)

The Manhattan apartment of the late Glenn Bernbaum of Mortimer's fame. (Parish Hadley)

Mr. Hadley's former country house in Tarrytown, New York.

A Manhattan bedroom designed for a bachelor. (Parish-Hadley)

Decorated by a young Albert Hadley, this room appeared in a 1959 Vogue article, "Summer on a Shoestring".

The guest sitting room of the Leonard Davis house, Palm Beach. (Parish-Hadley)

The "Dog Sitting Room" in the guest suite of the late Brooke Astor's apartment. (Parish-Hadley)

Mr. Hadley's Kips Bay show house room from 2001, "Homage to Van Day Truex". (Albert Hadley)

Mr. Hadley's Southport, Connecticut house.

All interiors photos with the exception of the first are from Albert Hadley: The Story of America's Preeminent Interior Designer by Adam Lewis and Parish-Hadley: Sixty Years of American Design by Christopher Petkanas, both terrific resources.

Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne at Home

If your work week was anything like mine, then we all deserve a restful weekend. And what better way to wind down the week than with these bucolic photos of the rural home and workshops of the artist Claude Lalanne and her late husband François-Xavier. Located near Fontainebleau, the Lalannes' home was a 19th century dairy farm that they purchased in the late 1960s. (You can just barely make out the farm in a foggy photo, below.) Unfortunately, I don't know if Claude still lives on the farm after the 2008 death of her husband.

What might be even more enchanting than the 19th c. buildings are the Lalannes' sculptures that were dotted throughout the landscape. François-Xavier's bronze and stone sheep stood guard beneath a sculpture of the garden goddess Flora (see photo above), while Claude's copper and bronze alligator chair provided a nice perch upon which to sit and take in nature's beauty. It really does look like a magical forest.

A François-Xavier bronze bird amongst the grapevines.

The 19th century dairy farm that they called home.

François-Xavier's blue hippo has a basin in its mouth and a tub in its stomach.

This bronze garden chair, designed by Claude, was made for the Lila Acheson Wallace garden in Williamsburg.

Claude's copper and bronze alligator chair.

Claude wearing her work uniform of white overalls and a denim jacket. Upon her head is a pink-patinated bronze butterfly hat that she made.

All photos from House & Garden, December 1988, Alexandre Bailhache photographer.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Home of a Collector

For centuries, educated people often aspired to assemble notable collections in their field of interest. Maybe it was ancient Greek artifacts or Chinese export porcelain or even historical documents. But today, this kind of collecting is a rare thing. People still collect art (though sometimes I question if many of these art collectors actually understand the art that they're purchasing), and thank goodness there are those who have the good sense to buy antiques. But it does seem as though the Sir John Soanes of the world are a dying breed.

What especially interests me are the homes of collectors. Their houses are not filled with "stuff", but rather with unique specimens that reflect the interests and personality of the homeowner. Take, for example, the Roman apartment seen here, what was the home of the late Italian architect Andrea Busiri Vici. According to the French language article from which these photos were taken, Vici built and decorated his apartment so as to properly display his various collections that included autographs, documents, miniatures, books, and pagan statues. (Keep in mind that it's been years since I attended French class, so my translation may not quite be up to snuff.) Regardless of the shoddy translation, you can look at the photos of his apartment and see that he had all kinds of wonderful things: intaglios; portrait paintings; miniatures; antique furniture; and busts, though I can't tell if they're of the pagan variety or not. The collections were of great importance to their owner, and as such they were displayed prominently throughout the home. But what's interesting to note is that the home doesn't seem cluttered nor museum-like. It was actually a very attractive and comfortable way of living with one's collection.

The living room/library where one could relax on the sofa with a good book or conduct a little research at the round table in the corner.

A smaller drawing room with intaglios, paintings, and miniatures hung on the walls.

To the left, a sculpture peeks out from behind the circular stairwell. At right, two Piranesi prints, one of which depicts the Trajan Column.

A quotation from Stendhal was painted above the door frame.

I know that I should say that the library is my favorite room in this apartment, but I'd be lying. It's this very chic terrace.

At first, I thought the closet doors were painted with trompe l'oeil documents, but I believe that in fact they are family papers and ephemera that were displayed behind sheets of glass.

All photos from Connaissance des Arts, 15 October 1954.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Penguin Great Food Series

I'm about to report some old news, but it's new news to me. I just recently learned of the Penguin Great Food series of books that was published last year. Devoted to the best food writing from the last 400 years, the series includes books by the likes of Elizabeth David, Samuel Pepys, and Calvin Trillin. And what just might be the icing on the cake are the book's charming paperback covers. In fact, that's what initially caught my eye when I first saw these books. While the cover art is a feast for the eyes, it's what inside that is sure to provide much (great) food for thought. (Sorry, I just couldn't help myself with that last sentence!)

From Absinthe to Zest: An Alphabet for Food Lovers by Alexandre Dumas

The Well-Kept Kitchen by Gervase Markham.

Murder in the Kitchen. by Alice B. Toklas by Alice B. Toklas.

The Joys of Excess by Samuel Pepys.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Tiling Effect

I don't know why, but Delft, Portuguese, and Spanish tile have been catching my eye lately, and it's made me realize that I miss seeing it in interiors. You used to see some beautiful examples of it in bathrooms, kitchens, solariums, and alongside fireplaces, but not so much anymore. I think that we threw the baby out with the bath water a few decades ago, banishing all hand-painted tile from our homes as a result of the unfortunate looking tile that started to be seen everywhere.

In the right environment, hand-painted tile, especially that in blue and white, can be really very charming. Think about how nice it would look in a country house, a beach house, or even a country-style home in the city. I haven't bought any Delft or Portuguese tile before so I don't know how easy it is to find the good stuff, but after studying these photos below, I'm thinking that it just might be worth the effort.

Image at top: blue and white tile at Antenor Patino's summer house in Portugal. Photo by Horst.

This photo of a Paris kitchen, one that I featured a few weeks ago, got me on a roll thinking about tile.

Delft tile was used to great effect at Chateau de Groussay, and that's about the highest seal of approval there is in the design world.

Gorgeous Portuguese tile at Fronteira Palace, Portugal. I've read that some of the hand-painted tiles depict monkeys frolicking around.

Antique Delft tile surrounds a fireplace in a house located in Ile-de-France.

In this Georges Geffroy designed bath, Portuguese tile lines the floor, walls, and ceiling.

Antique glazed tile was used in a French kitchen designed by architect Pierre Barbe. If I could find antique tile like that above, I would use it in my own kitchen in a heartbeat.

Patino photo from Horst: Interiors; Chateau de Groussay photo from Decoration, Volume I (Connaissance des Arts Collection); Geffroy and Barbe photos from The Finest Rooms in France.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bringing Nature Home

Most of us just can't get enough of flowers, books on flowers, and photographs, drawings, and paintings of flowers. Oh, and maybe even floral fabrics and floral china too. If this describes you, then you should consider picking up a copy of Bringing Nature Home: Floral Arrangements Inspired by Nature, photographer Ngoc Minh Ngo's new book dedicated to the beauty of flowers.

Ngo, whose photographs often grace magazines like House Beautiful and Architectural Digest, has a background in landscape design, something that probably explains her affection for flowers. Having partnered with Nicolette Owen, co-founder of the Little Flower School in Brooklyn, Ngo has authored a book that is a compilation of beautiful photographs of floral arrangements in situ as well as of flowers in their natural habitats. The book is divided into the four seasons, so all kinds of flowers make appearances in the book: carnations; peonies; dahlias; fritillaries. But what's really striking about this book is that it's mostly full-page photos, something that allows the reader to really soak in the details of each image. The photos are so captivating that I had a difficult time choosing a few images to feature here!

All images from Bringing Nature Home: Floral Arrangements Inspired by Nature by Ngoc Minh Ngo; Rizzoli publishers; 2012. Images used with express permission of the publisher.