Monday, September 26, 2016

The Wedding in Monaco

Did you happen to see the documentary, The Wedding in Monaco, when it aired on Turner Classic Movies a few days ago?  If not, you must.  The 1956 documentary, which profiles the wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III, is a fascinating, not to mention dazzling, look at the nuptials of the Prince of Monaco and the Princess of Hollywood. 

What captivated me was the theatrical tone of the documentary, which, if you didn't know better, you might assume was pure fantasy.  With its sweeping CinemaScope landscape, its dramatic flourishes, and its parade of vivid colors, The Wedding in Monaco feels more like a colorful Fifties-era MGM movie with sets designed by Tony Duquette.  (One reason for this might be because MGM was partly responsible for the documentary.)  The film begins with the Monégasques anticipating the so-called "Wedding of the Century".  Palace staff is hard at work planning for the wedding festivities, while at the principality's opera house, dancers and set designers are equally busy, preparing for a lavish entertainment in honor of the couple.  Meanwhile, Kelly and her wedding party embark on Monaco, having sailed over on the S.S. Constitution.  There to greet her is Rainier, who whisks her off to the Palace, where Kelly is filmed in a (Helen Rose?) evening gown, perusing Rainier family portraits which hang in ornately decorated Palace rooms.  Later, a civil marriage ceremony is held, followed by a garden party at the Palace, where the citizens of Monaco are invited to celebrate the marriage of their Prince and new Princess.  But it doesn't end there.  That evening, the couple descend on the Opéra de Monte-Carlo to attend a gala featuring musicians, singers, and dancers.  The pinnacle of this drama is, of course, the church wedding of the Prince and Princess, which is a reverential break from the previous days' pomp and circumstance.  The film ends as the couple departs for their honeymoon.  I can only assume the Prince and Princess must have been utterly exhausted.

The documentary can be viewed on YouTube, which is where I obtained these fuzzy screen shots.  (Unfortunately, the version uploaded to YouTube lacks the opera house gala scene.)  What makes this film so striking is its cinematic elegance.  But considering the main players of this romantic drama were Grace Kelly, Prince Rainier, and the majestic backdrop of Monaco, elegance is to be expected.  This is my kind of spectacle, as opposed to today's low-brow spectacles which include, but unfortunately are not limited to, the divorce of Brangelina and the uncoupling of Hiddleswift.

The drama, as it unfolds:

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fall Design Books, Part One

It's that time of year again: Fall Book Season.  Over the coming months, I'll be reviewing my picks for the season.  First up are these five stand-out titles:

I've long been an ardent fan of writer James Reginato's articles for such publications as Vanity Fair and W.  A sometimes chronicler of the homes of the great and the good, Reginato has in recent years profiled the aristocratic domiciles of the late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the Duke of Marlborough, and the Marquess of Cholmondeley.  In this book, Great Houses, Modern Aristocrats, Reginato has compiled these profiles in one volume, focusing on the splendid homes of the English and Irish aristocracy.  And what a volume it is, with featured homes that include Blenheim, Haddon Hall, Lismore Castle, and Goodwood House.  With photography by the esteemed Jonathan Becker, Great Houses, Modern Aristocrats will likely join the league of those coveted books about high-society by Horst and Slim Aarons.

Great Houses, Modern Aristocrats by James Reginato, Rizzoli New York 2016. Images © Jonathan Becker)

There have been a number of "the making of a house" books published over the last few years, but one that has thoroughly impressed me is A House in the Country by the husband-and-wife duo, designer Katie Ridder and architect Peter Pennoyer.  Devoted to the conception, execution, and decoration of the couple's Millbrook, New York house, A House in the Country is an engaging book that chronicles both the practical and creative sides to creating a dream home from the ground up.  What struck me was how personal their house is.  This might sound like a lame statement, because in theory, a house should reflect the personalities of its owners.  But how many times do we see impersonal homes?  Not here.  Ridder's love of color, pattern, and exotic flourishes shines through, as does Pennoyer's attention to the sometimes-quirky-but-always-delightful details, both of which make this house, and this book, something truly special.

A House in the Country by Peter Pennoyer and Katie Ridder, Vendome 2016. Images © Eric Piasecki)

If you've spent any time on Instagram lately, you're likely well aware of designer Mark D. Sikes' debut book, Beautiful, an apt title for a book filled with dreamy interior photos.  Organized by color, each chapter examines Sikes' passion for certain colors (blue and white, brown, green, and red) and demonstrates how the designer uses these colors to imbue a home's interiors with personality and style.  Alongside images of Sikes' work, there are photos of vignettes and mood boards, all of which provide the reader with ample design inspiration.

Beautiful by Mark D. Sikes, Rizzoli New York 2016. Images © Amy Neunsinger)

I've long been a fan of designer Michelle Nussbaumer's lush and visually-stimulating interiors, so I had been anxiously awaiting the publication of her new monograph, Wanderlust: Interiors that Bring the World Home.  And after diving into the book, I can say that it's a real treat to peruse.  Nussbaumer's passion is for the exotic: Turkish textiles, Moroccan rugs, Indian paintings, and Venetian furniture, all of which lend her clients' homes a worldly flair.  But even if exoticism isn't your thing, I think you'll still appreciate this book.  Nussbaumer's interiors are the kind that invite more than a passing glance, instead revealing their splendor upon thoughtful observation- and that's just what makes this book so captivating.

Wanderlust: Interiors that Bring the World Home by Michelle Nussbaumer, Rizzoli New York 2016. )

And last but certainly not least, The Perfect Bath, Waterworks co-founder Barbara Sallick's paean to the perfect bath. And what constitutes the perfect bath?  To Sallick, "these three words immediately conjure up an irresistible, even timeless vision of relaxation, reflection, and restoration."  This book features sybaritic baths, Spartan-but-luxurious baths, and classic baths that are reminiscent of the Twenties and Thirties. If you are a designer seeking inspiration for clients' baths or someone like me who dreams of one day having the perfect bath, this book is for you.

The Perfect Bath by Barbara Sallick, Rizzoli New York 2016. )

Monday, September 19, 2016

Dining in the Vestibule

Where to dine if one's home lacks a dining room?  According to a few mid-century issues of  Connaissance des Arts and House & Garden, the vestibule, that's where.

Thankfully, I have a dining room, so figuring out where to seat my dinner guests is not something I have to worry about.  But if one's home isn't blessed with a designated dining area (and that seems to be many apartments and condos these days), hosting a seated dinner in a vestibule or hallway is not a bad option, especially if one's vestibule is the size of the one above, which was located in a 1950s-era Paris apartment. 

Based on the photos seen here, it seems that a small square or rectangular table, a coterie of modestly-sized chairs, or a banquette or settee are the most practical ways to furnish a vestibule-cum-dining room.  When not in pressed into service as a dining table and chairs, these pieces can be positioned along walls, where they will serve as occasional seating and, in the case of tables, surfaces for display.

Of course, if elaborately-prepared meals are your thing, then there is no reason why you can't serve a four-course meal in your vestibule-dining room.  But, in my opinion, a slight space seems to call for less-complicated meals, which require less-complicated though still-elegant place settings.  Perhaps soup to start, followed by a Boeuf Bourguignon or Veal Blanquette, and ending with some kind of fruit dessert?

Even if you have a dining room, an adequately-sized vestibule or hall can still be used as a dining area, especially when you're dining à deux- so much cozier than dining at one end of a large dining table.   

A dining table placed in a hallway off of a pantry. Billy Baldwin, designer.

In a Manhattan apartment, a garden breakfast room in a hall.

A dining gallery in a Manhattan apartment decorated by Mario Buatta.

In the hall of a New Jersey home, a small round table pressed into service as a dining table.

Dining in the foyer of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Porter's Washington, D.C. apartment.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Pomp and Restraint

Thanks to social media overexposing almost everything and everybody, I seem to have grown tired of a lot these days.  But one thing that I never tire of is the Paris hôtel particulier of Hubert de Givenchy.  Yes, we've seen photos of this home and his other domiciles countless times before, but how could one ever grow bored with its peerless beauty?

Few have such flair with the color green as does Givenchy, who often enriches the shade with gilt accents.  Luscious green velvet-covered walls of the salon vert provide a sumptuous backdrop for equally sumptuous furnishings, including a Boulle armoire, desk, and torchères.  Meanwhile, in the grand salon, a lighter touch is provided with creamy boiserie walls and ivory taffeta curtains, punctuated by a striking Savonnerie carpet and green upholstery and lamp shades.  Finally, the dining room, more of a living space really, is a study in French refinement.  But despite the richness of the surroundings, the rooms never appear visually suffocating or heavy.  As a fellow collector so rightly noted of Givenchy, "Who else is so adept at tempering dix-huitième pomp with vingtième siècle restraint as Hubert?" 

All photos from House & Garden, April 1987, François Halard.