Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas!

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all! May Santa bring you camelback sofas, wing chairs, new refrigerators, and anything else your heart desires.

Thank you for your readership and your support in 2013.  It has been an exciting, busy, and exhausting year, and I couldn't have gotten through it without you.

Until we meet again in 2014, take care and Happy Holidays!


Friday, December 20, 2013

Giving Thanks

In addition to my book signing events that I have mentioned on my blog, I have also been fortunate to be the guest of honor at a few private events, too.  What has impressed me about these events is how creative their hostesses are. 

There was an event in Birmingham last month, which was hosted by Margot Shaw, Karen Carroll, Mary Evelyn McKee, and flower magazine.  The event was held in Mary Evelyn's lovely house, and all of the party's details, from the beautiful letterpress invitations (by Key Circle Press) to the delicious Southern delicacies (catered by Doug Richey) and beautiful flowers (courtesy of Sybil Sylvester), were perfection.   I wish that I had taken photos, but as often happens, I got so swept up with chatting with guests that I forgot to do so!  And by the way, if you've never been to Birmingham, you should do so.  Between its restaurant and design scenes, there is much to see and do!

Another recent event was a luncheon at The Acorn Club in Philadelphia.  Like the Birmingham ladies, the luncheon's hostesses, Dottebob Andes, Alix Jacobs, and Karen Cunningham, outdid themselves.  Take, for example, the whimsical vignettes that Dottebob created for table gifts.  I do have photos of these (see below), and you'll see that Dottebob's whimsies feature various entries from my book.  Can you imagine the time, effort, and creativity that went into these creations?

Now that I'm home for the holidays and have had a little time to reflect on the past few months, I realize how lucky I am to have such kind, generous, and talented friends.  I have also accepted the fact that I have a long way to go before my hostessing skills are on par with these ladies.

Alix Jacobs is a talented decorative painter, who painted the charming little box in this vignette. She also was responsible for making the vases which featured my book's dust jacket. (See below.)

Photos courtesy of Dottebob Andes and Alix Jacobs.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas 1967

I was looking for some holiday decorating inspiration in my old magazines, and I consulted the December 1967 issue of House & Garden.  The holiday look that the magazine's editors were pushing that year was, well, not quite my look.  I'll get to that in a minute.

But first, I did find one photo that I think is perfection.  I was enchanted by this photo, which you can see above, because it shows a crèche.  I love crèches, and in fact, I still display one every Christmas.  But you don't really see crèches too often anymore, do you?

This crèche's figures were designed to appear modern and were made of gilded, draped burlap. But what might be more enchanting than the figures themselves were their backdrop: a wrought-iron structure, made in the Gothic style, which held laurel branches and small white lights. Amazing!

If the room in the photograph looks familiar, it might be because it was the East Room at the White House. The photo had been taken the previous Christmas. The magazine attributes the iron and branch background to floral designer Stephen Barany.  But guess who conceived the crèche as a whole? According to H&G, it was Mrs. Henry Parish and Albert Hadley.  No wonder it looked so good.

But going back to this issue's featured article: the trendy decorations for Christmas 1967 were "fantasies in crystal and light", which "have all the look of loot from the Snow Queen's palace".  I think that the decorations look like explosions of stars and pointy things, but then again, I'm a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas.  However, the photos' room settings, which had been decorated by Ellen Lehman McCluskey, were quite nice, so that helped matters.  And the decorations do have a retro charm to them now that forty seven years have passed.

Who knows?  I just might warm up to the idea of decorating with loot from the Snow Queen's palace.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Decorative Remedy

When I see baskets in use in luxe interiors, I am reminded of the (possibly apocryphal) story of the elegant international socialite who, when attending a party at the opulently-decorated Manhattan apartment of a nouvelle society figure, was said to have remarked, "It will take her a lifetime to understand baskets."

It could be said that baskets are decorative remedies that cure lofty interiors from looking too shiny and too rich. Whether they are used as cachepots or repositories for magazines or firewood, baskets add a down-to-earth touch in both grand and casual rooms alike. And the same could be said of baskets on dining tables, too.

Lately, I have been revisiting photos of elegant table settings which incorporate small baskets.  In most of these photos, the baskets have been put to use in their traditional role, which is to hold bread and crackers.  That's exactly what jeweler Jean Schlumberger did in the photo, above.  But there are also small, shallow baskets that have been employed in lieu of bread plates as well as basket-like sleeves, which cradle drinking glasses.  And then there is the elegant table setting, seen directly below, with its dramatic-looking silver candelabra and proper stemware.  Here, baskets were used as centerpieces to hold modest little mums.  Both help to tone down the formality of this table.

Considering that most of these photos were taken in France, I can only assume that the French must have good sources for such baskets.  Any thoughts on where we can get similar baskets here in the U.S.?

This majestic-looking dinner took place at l'hôtel Lambert and was hosted by Marie-Hélène de Rothschild. The table was set with "three Sèvres dinner services, Louis XIV glasses, eighteenth-century silverware, and vermeil dessert cutlery", all beneath a magnificent Le Brun ceiling. And still, there were baskets on the table.

The late Alberto Pinto certainly knew how to set a pretty table. Small baskets, which held bread, were placed at each place setting. Adding to the rustic charm were straw place mats.

I have shown this photo before, but it's worth showing again. For her working lunch table setting, Primrose Bordier used Philippine baskets for chargers and Japanese hot-towel baskets for bread plates.

In the South of France home of Dick Dumas. Note the small terracotta pots that hold cigarettes. Terracotta works just as baskets do by adding a casual note to one's table.

In the Paris home of Carole and François Rochas

Barbara Wirth set a charming, casual table that celebrated Summer's bounty. Baskets were filled with cherries, strawberries, and some delicious looking radishes.

Rochas photo from R.S.V.P. by Nan Kempner; Pinto photo from Table Settings by Alberto Pinto; the remaining photos from The Elegant Table by Barbara Wirth.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Celebrating Sukkot with Jonathan Preece

Many of you likely remember my blog posts that featured Jonathan Preece's beautiful holiday decorations. Jonathan, who is Creative Director and Special Projects Designer at Bunny Williams Inc. and Bunny Williams Home, has become a go-to person for creative and well-researched holiday decor. Over the years, Jonathan has done Thanksgiving tables, Passover tables, Saturnalia-themed vignettes, and Christmas decor.  And now, we have Sukkot to add to the list.

In 2006, long-time clients of Bunny Williams decided to expand their Park Avenue apartment by buying the penthouse above them.  Bunny was responsible for the decoration in this newly combined apartment, which you'll likely remember as it made the cover of Elle Decor in 2010.  During the renovation process, the clients requested that part of the apartment's rooftop terrace be set aside for the annual assembly of a Sukkah, in which they could celebrate the Jewish holiday, Sukkot.  (Click here to read the Wikipedia entry on Sukkot.)

Bunny recommended to her clients that they engage Jonathan to create and decorate the Sukkah, and they readily took her up on her suggestion.  First, Jonathan created a tent in which the clients could host their Sukkot dinners.  The tent is quite small, measuring little more than 8' X 10'.  The exterior, which you can see above, was made of 19th century raw silk linen bed hangings that are embellished with strie ribbon detail.  (The hangings were part of an antique canopied bed that Bunny Williams purchased from an English estate sale.)  A Sunbrella waterproof "rain coat" was made for use in inclement weather, which can be fitted over the silk linen hangings.  The inside of the Sukkah changes from year to year.  A few years ago, Jonathan purchased twenty Queen-sized printed Indian bedspreads from Urban Outfitters and hung them on the tent's interior walls in a pinch-pleat fashion.  Most recently, Preece chose to adorn the interior walls with something more durable: canvas murals painted by artist Liz Fleri.  The murals were meant to make guests feel as though they were seated in a wooden structure while looking out to the desert beyond.  The mural's imagery was inspired by 19th century Orientalist art, while the paintings' style was evocative of the work of Chagall.

Jonathan informed me that the Sukkah's ceiling must always be made of natural material, hence his use of bamboo for the ceiling.  Also, tradition calls for three stars to always be visible from within the Sukkah.  During the first Sukkot celebration, Jonathan hung mercury glass stars within the tent, while in later years, the murals, which featured three painted stars, satisfied this religious requirement.  And finally, the Sukkah beams are always covered in a decorative technique known as Schach, which is comprised of natural materials like fruit, leaves, and flowers that are representative of the Harvest.

There are many other religious symbols that can be seen in these photos.  There is always a tied bouquet of Palm, Myrtle, and Willow, known as a Lulav, that is placed by the host's seat.  Also, you'll see lemons, which refer to the Citron fruit known as Etrog.  Together, the Lulav and Etrog are symbolic of the Four Species, which are the four plants that are part of the Sukkot ceremony.

Now, I'm sure that some of you are questioning the safety of this rooftop tent.  Well, Jonathan paid as much attention to that as he did the tent's decor.  The tent is tied-down and secured tightly, while the candles that you see in the photos are battery-operated.  It really does seem that Jonathan thought of everything.  And whether you celebrate Sukkot or not, I think you'll find a great deal of beauty in these photos, which span six years of the celebration of Sukkot.

All photos copyrighted Jonathan Preece and Elizabeth Swartz

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

It's Splendiferous

Those of you who have read my blog over the years know that I am a fan of the work of Zajac & Callahan.  Edward Zajac, along with his late partner, Richard Callahan, set the decorating world on fire during the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s thanks to their bold interiors, which were often furnished with confident color and even more confident-looking prints and patterns.  And perhaps even more notable was the design duo's custom designed furniture and objects, which could be described as unusual, dashing, and downright good-looking.  It's no surprise that many design aficionados clamored for these pieces when they were auctioned off by Bonhams last year.

A few weeks ago, I was in Philadelphia giving a lecture to a women's club, and while there, two very stylish Philadelphians, Dottebob and Reva, mentioned the work of Zajac & Callahan to me.  It seems that they too were fans of the designers.  And then, just a few days later, I had the opportunity to actually meet Mr. Zajac, who was kind enough to attend my book party at Donghia. (You can see the two of us, above.)  Needless to say, that was a real thrill for me.

My week of Edward Zajac reminded me of a few photos about which I had been meaning to blog.  It seems that back in the mid-1960s, Zajac & Callahan decorated a chichi women's clothing store named "Splendiferous".  Opening in 1963 on Manhattan's Third Avenue and expanding in 1967 to a second location at 16 East 56th St., Splendiferous was evidently the last word in women's fashion.  Owned by Jerry Goldfarb and Terry Ryan, the store sold fashions by Oscar de la Renta, Kenneth Douglas, and Rudi Gernreich, just to name a few designers.  In fact, Splendiferous was at the vanguard of daring fashion, having sold 77 of Gernreich's infamous topless women's bathing suits- more than any other store in this country.  And the various departments within the store had catchy names.  Handbags were sold in the "Moneybags" department, gourmet food in "Posh Knosh", and lingerie in "Underneath It All", while sale items were relegated to the "Nobody Loves Me" section of the store.  It seems that Splendiferous was popular with the well-heeled crowd, with customers like Jacqueline Kennedy (whose purchases included brown crepe culottes trimmed in ostrich feathers and a Rudi Gernreich Shaker knit dress), Princess Margaret, and Evangeline Bruce frequenting the store.  Did they shop there because of the clothes?  Or was it because the salespeople were men with then-fashionable long hair?

Clever marketing aside, it was the E. 56th St. branch's decoration by Zajac & Callahan that seems most memorable- along with those Rudi Gernreich bathing suits, of course.  The store's furbishment cost $150,000, which paid for such features as a water fountain that held 9,000 colored marbles, a glass elevator, and Zajac & Callahan's signature patterned fabrics and wallpaper. I wish that I could show you photo after photo of the store's interior, because I have a feeling it was really something else.  However, Splendiferous photos are hard to come by.  I managed to find a scant three photos of the store, which had been featured in the September 1967 issue of House & Garden.  I am assuming that these photos show the 56th St. location rather than Third Avenue. 

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  Goldfarb and Ryan shuttered the business in 1973 and moved to Florida.  In 1999, they opened another boutique, this one located in Delray Beach, Florida.  Its name?  I Love Dazzle.  I can't determine if that shop is still in business or not.

I know that the Splendiferous photos seen here don't really capture the store's interior in all of its glory, but they certainly have piqued my curiosity.  I'm going to continue to search for more images.  But, in the meantime, have a look at what was once Manhattan's most cutting-edge fashion emporium.

Image at top: Photo courtesy of Editor at Large.  Remaining photos from House & Garden, September 1967.

Get Ready to Shop

I hope that you've been nice this year. Santa just might bring you a Christopher Spitzmiller lamp for Christmas...and purchased at a discount, too. Christopher has announced a seconds sale that begins today and runs through this Friday.  You can see the curated collection of seconds lamps at his studio or on his newly redesigned website.  (If you visit the website, be sure to watch the video of the lamp-making process.  You'll begin to understand just why these lamps are so special.  It's really a mesmerizing process.)

And if you've been naughty this year, well, go ahead and treat yourself anyway!

Monday, December 02, 2013

There's No Place Like Home

Typically, it's while traveling when we most appreciate the comforts of our homes.  I have been on the road for the past month or so, and although I have thoroughly enjoyed my travels (and I have much to share over the next few weeks,) I always say, with apologies to Dorothy, "There's no place like home."

Perhaps this is why I was so compelled by this gem of an article, written and illustrated by the esteemed illustrator and author Philippe Jullian for the March/April 1975 issue of Architectural Digest.  Titled "Dans Mon Moulin", the brief article is more like a handwritten and illustrated note, one which expressed the fondness that Jullian felt for his French country house.  Considering that Jullian was known for his lively illustrations, it was entirely fitting that the house's interiors were captured in watercolors rather than photographs.  Jullian's interior illustrations convey a charm and a magic that no photograph could ever duplicate.  (Illustrations do have a way of imparting personality to inanimate objects, which is probably why I insisted that my book feature my sister's illustrations alongside interior photographs.)

But it's Jullian's text, reproduced in his own script, that also makes this article so endearing.  It is breezy and concise, and it reads a little like a list of attributes that made the author's house special to him.  And yet, it is the text's simplicity that is so refreshing today, when many houses are made to seem grander and far more serious than they really are.

Read it for yourself below.  The piece just might inspire you to pen a note extolling the virtues of your home.  Or, at the very least, it might inspire you to improve your penmanship!

When I found this romantic house next to a small river, it was almost in ruins.

Four years have succeeded in making it comfortable, but it hardly looks new.  That suits me, for I have a good deal of provincial Louis XVI furniture inherited from my family.

And I spend a lot of time in the antiques shops and flea-markets of London and Paris.  I live in what seems to my interior designer friends a rather Dickensian "Old Curiousity Shop."  The walls are covered in old damask or in East Indian printed materials from the eighteenth century.

I also have a large tapestry made from a design by Rubens.  A light touch is added by fuchsia and geraniums in blue and white china pots.

There are books everywhere and pictures too: prints along the staircase and in the gallery, Chinese paintings and bamboo furniture in the bathroom.

There is always a big fire in the living room to keep out the dampness.  These are some of the ingredients which give my house a kind of charm, since I have made no particular effort to use a consistent color scheme or any careful interior arrangement.

The house is twenty-five miles east of Paris, and it is where I write all my books.  It is always filled with flowers from my garden.

Philippe Jullian 

The Garden Room- An Empire bust, porcelain vases and a mirror to reflect the park outside.

The Library- once part of the old barn this room is filled with my books and many old prints. There are Japanese cabinets, a Victorian church carpet and a Dutch brass chandelier.

My Bedroom- the Louis XVI fireplace, with a terra-cotta bust on the mantel and the brass bedwarmer leaning against it, is my favourite part of the room.

Image at top: "The Drawing Room- Baroque marble statues on a wooden Louis XVI mantel; the golden damask hangings are from a Rothschild house."