Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Veranda: The Romance of Flowers

"The Amen! of Nature is always a flower."  So said Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose inspired quotation is just one of many that appear in Clinton Smith's charming new book, Veranda: The Romance of Flowers.  And the word "romance" in the book's title is appropriate, for Smith's book could be described as a sophisticated and thoroughly researched love-letter to flowers of all kinds.

Culled from the Veranda archives, the book's photos showing an array of both flowers and interiors are testament to the central role flowers have played in the magazine's history.  But the heart of the book is Smith's prose, which never once veers into saccharine sentimentality, something that has been known to bedevil books about flowers.  Instead, Smith writes in an engaging, witty, and down-to-earth style, which, if you know Clinton, you could say is very much in keeping with his personality.  The book- organized by flowers' myriad personalities- is chock-full of anecdotes, remembrances, and reflections on the influence flowers have had in such areas as film, literature, and fashion.  If you're anything like me, you'll be delighted by the author's references to the likes of Constance Spry, Diana Vreeland, Christian Dior, and Sybil Connolly, whose mention might have thrilled me more than any other.

I must also call attention to the book's layout, which is as inspired as the book's text.  Quotations about flowers are given full pages, with each quotation artistically enhanced by delightful drawings of birds and bees.  And just as it does in nature, color figures prominently in the book, with special sections devoted to the symbolism of floral colors.  All in all, Smith's book is a real gem, one which I look forward to dipping into time and time again.

(Slated to be released on October 6, Smith's book is available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)

Photo Credit: © Veranda: The Romance of Flowers by Clinton Smith, Sterling Publishing Co., 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

studio B Collection

Design centers around the country are currently hosting Fall Market events including ADAC, whose multi-day Discover ADAC event is always highly anticipated and very well-attended.  One of the many highlights will be the debut of Jim Thompson Textiles' new collection, studio B.  The debut is of significance to me because the collection's designer, Brian Carter, is an Atlanta-based artist who also happened to help design the enchanting vignettes at my Atlanta book launch two years ago.  Not only is Brian highly-talented, but he's also one of this industry's nice guys.

The new collection features nine graphic patterns, all of which have been printed on linen.  Look closely at each pattern, and you will see that Brian actually painted these designs.  They are not computer-generated.  Brush strokes, ragged borders, and the occasional drip or scratch have been preserved to highlight the hand-work involved in creating these patterns.  And many of the collection's color combinations- chosen by Brian for the way they "react to each other"- are unexpected and so very appealing.

The studio B collection will be available at Jim Thompson showrooms across the country.  If you're attending this week's Discover ADAC, do stop by the Jim Thompson showroom to see the new collection for yourself.

Hob Nob:

Greek to Me (on chair) and Too Too Tango (used for curtains):

To and Fro:

Lucky's Star (below sink) and Buckle Up (on lampshade):

Double Whammy:

Connect the Dots:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Give Me The Night

One reason why I fancy 1970s-era issues of Architectural Digest is because each issue usually featured at least one decorated-for-night apartment.  Often bijou in size and typically located in Manhattan, these jewel-box spaces epitomized Seventies nocturnal swank.  Rooms in these apartments tended to be drenched in dark, daring color and accessorized with reflective surfaces- namely, brass.  And "nice" furnishings, like antique chairs and floral-print fabrics, often mingled with accents that, in some apartments, could be a little "naughty."  Mirrored ceilings, anyone?

But it's the nighttime atmosphere of these apartments that captivates me most.  These were not the kind of rooms in which to stay home and watch, oh, say "Starsky & Hutch."  These were rooms meant for sophisticated entertaining, either as the evening's main event or as a precursor to late-night disco dancing.  Although he was singing about nocturnal cavorting, George Benson's lyrics to "Give Me The Night" might also describe the appeal of the seventies-era nighttime apartment:

You need the evening action
A place to dine, a glass of wine
A little late romance

And with that song now stuck in your head, I give you an early-1970s Manhattan apartment, decorated by Joseph Braswell.  Some of the décor might be a tad dated-looking, but the slick, stylish touches more than make up for that.

All photos from Architectural Digest, May/June 1973, Norman McGrath, photographer.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

House Tour: The New York House of Benjamin Garber and William Kennedy

What to do when your work schedule is so hectic that it leaves you little time to prepare a blog post? You scramble to find photos of a house so attractive that you don't have to devote much time to writing text.

Now that I've gotten that off of my chest, I'll get on with the gist of this blog post. The upper Westchester County, New York house you see here belonged (or, perhaps still belongs) to designers Benjamin Garber and William Kennedy of William Kennedy Associates. Built in 1968, the 7,000-square-foot house was composed of quite spacious rooms, which were decorated in that dignified style so characteristic of mid-twentieth-century, high-end design.  By dignified, I mean that the house was appointed with fine fabrics, formal, antique furniture, and exquisite porcelains, all set against a backdrop of sophisticated, harmonious color.  And although the house could be deemed polite (a compliment in my book,) there is nothing stuffy about this house.  Warmth and comfort are much in evidence, with just enough dazzle to keep things interesting.

Also interesting is the information provided by the 1974 Architectural Digest article, in which these photos appeared.  According to the text, Kennedy once worked for Syrie Maugham, and both men took over her U.S. operation in the 1950s.  The interview for this article must have been lively, with much banter about Kennedy's former employer.  I'll leave you with this exchange between the two men, in which both share their thoughts on Maugham:

"She was the greatest gal I've ever know," says Mr. Kennedy.  "Venemous," says Mr. Garber, "but the most charming girl that ever walked into a parlour.  Whatever she did, she insisted on quality."

"She sold the worst things in the world," says Mr. Kennedy.  "But she made them look like quality," says Mr. Garber, "and that is magic that few people do well." 

P.S.- Does this room, above, remind you of the work of designer Michael Greer?

Photos from Architectural Digest, Jan/Feb 1974, Charlotte Brooks photographer.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Modern Meets Traditional

Variations on a modern theme. That's how a 1940 issue of House & Garden described the Sutton Place apartment, seen here, of socialite Mrs. J. Cheever Cowdin. Decorated by Virginia Conner, who was also the decorator of Henry and Clare Boothe Luce, the apartment appears as if right out of a sophisticated late 1930's movie. Like many of that era's cinematic Manhattan apartments, Mrs. Cowdin's home is, on the whole, traditional, polished, and fitting for a lady of society.  And yet, there is nothing dowdy about this apartment, something which can be attributed to Conner's choice of high-style, glamorous, and, for that time, modern accents.

If you look at the apartment's most traditional room, the pine-paneled library (which, quite frankly, looks a little squashed by the room's low ceiling), you'll find the traditionalism relieved by beige corduroy-covered armchairs. In fact, throughout the apartment, Conner used shades of beige, white, and blue to help lend a clean, modern feel to the home. Mirror can be seen throughout the apartment, especially in the foyer, where it covered walls, and in the dining room, where it was applied to the top of the dining table. And there are even accents that remind me of Syrie Maugham, especially the foyer's palm-frond plaster table.

When I look at these photos, I can't help but think of the movie Laura, in which Gene Tierney plays the title role.  Like Mrs. Cowdin, Laura also lives in a traditional-yet-glamorous Manhattan apartment.  I'm reminded of the scene in Laura's apartment in which Dana Andrews, who plays a detective, refers to Laura as a dame.  A disgusted Waldo Lydecker, played by Clifton Webb, admonishes the detective and then asks, "Is this the home of a dame?" 

I think it's safe to say that Mrs. Cowdin's apartment, like that of Laura, was definitely not the home of a dame.

According to the magazine article, the living room was awash in blonde tones.

The glamorous dining room had soft gray-blue walls, while the dining chairs were covered in pinky-beige leather.

Mrs. Cowdin's bedroom was a symphony of blues.  The walls were painted light blue, the bed was covered in blue and white satin, and the rug was midnight blue.

The apartment's foyer certainly made quite a statement.  In addition to the mirrored walls and plaster console, the black and white rubber floor added to the space's decorative drama.

Also located in the foyer was this butterfly clock.  A variation on a modern theme, perhaps?