Monday, October 08, 2018

Something Old, Something New

Ever since I first saw glimpses of photographer Victor Skrebneski's house in those Seventies and Eighties-era Estée Lauder ads (Skrebneski often used his Chicago home as a backdrop for the stylish ad campaign), I became intrigued by its pitch-perfect blend of minimalist architecture and formal, traditional furniture, a mix you still don't often see in America. Decorated with the assistance of interior designer Bruce Gregga (Gregga was once Skrebneski's assistant and, incidentally, happens to be one of the featured designers in my new book), the photographer's home is a Victorian-era coach house. But based on its interiors, you would never know it. Stripped of anything ornamental, the home's interior architecture is very modern and spare. Travertine floors, a concrete entry hall and staircase (see above), and glossy ceilings are as far removed from the Victorian style as they could possibly be.

But ensconced among the home's sleek walls is Skrebneski's carefully selected collection of twentieth-century art and eighteenth-century French antiques. In fact, the living room is almost entirely furnished with eighteenth-century pieces, including a Gobelins tapestry, a coromandel commode, Louis XVI gueridon, and a Louis XV giltwood sofa. Also prominent is modern art by Man Ray, the Giacomettis, Max Ernst, and Oskar Schlemmer. It's the best of both worlds--and the best of two centuries--together in one room.

Elsewhere in the house, there are not one, but two sitting rooms that, while perhaps more intimate than the living room, maintain the sense of grandeur established in the home's more public spaces.  Even the kitchen, with its zig-zag painted floor, is a modern shell that, once again, surrounds French furniture. The formula for this sublime marriage of the old and the new is not as complicated as it might seem. As Skrebneski simply puts it, "Any beautiful things work well together." 

The living room, as seen from three different angles.

The two images above show the sitting rooms.

The kitchen, which is lined with books.

The dapper photographer himself.

All images from Architectural Digest, March 2000, Victor Skrebneski photographer.

Join Flower Magazine and Me in High Point

If you happen to be in High Point this Sunday, I hope you'll join Paloma Contreras, Richard Keith Langham, Jeffrey Dungan, and me as we participate in a discussion on--what else?--design.  Sponsored by Flower Magazine and moderated by the magazine's Editor-in-Chief, Margot Shaw, the event is sure to be lively.  Details are above.  A book-signing will follow.  Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Kenneth Battelle at Home

"The top". "An institution". The "Secretary of Grooming". These were just some of the titles and accolades given to Kenneth, the legendary hairdresser who tended the locks of Jacqueline Kennedy, Lee Radziwill, Brooke Astor, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe, to name just a few of his high-profile clients. Although Kenneth did have a last name (it was Battelle), he became so famous that he was always referred to by his first name only. You'll recall that it was Billy Baldwin whom Kenneth hired in the early 1960s to decorate his Manhattan salon, a Brighton Pavilion fantasy of bamboo and tented rooms.  Baldwin once wrote, "I'm  told a woman will keep dentists and dinner dates waiting before she'll miss an appointment at Kenneth's." But for all of the glamour and celebrity surrounding his salon and his clientele, Kenneth never seemed to lose his head, saying, "What I do is only a shampoo away from being nothing."

His lack of pretension comes across in these photos of his East Side penthouse, which were published in the February 1989 issue of HG. (Incidentally, the following year brought Kenneth much grief when his salon burned to the ground; receiving no insurance money for his loss and unable to rebuild his salon, he moved his business to the Helmsley Palace Hotel first and later the Waldorf-Astoria.)  Although elegantly appointed, his home was neither grand nor overblown. I'm intrigued by Kenneth's curious blend of styles and furnishings. The apartment's finishes were sleek, modern, and very suited to the night: dark-brown walls in both the living room and bedroom; what appears to be a polished brass fireplace mantel; and a kitchen entirely sheathed in mirror and lit by track lighting. And yet, the apartment was furnished rather traditionally, too, with French chairs, displays of antique boxes, and a Brunschwig chintz used throughout the bedroom. It was an apartment of a man who had confidence in his taste.

The best shot of the entire feature, however, has to be that of Kenneth reading the morning paper in his garden and wearing a dressing gown, which kept his work attire, a suit, pristine. If that photo doesn't perfectly capture the immaculate ways of a bygone generation, I don't know what does.

All photos from HG, February 1989, Eric Boman photographer.

What's New What's Next

I hope you'll join the Kravet team and me this week at What's New What's Next, where I will be interviewing three of my favorite designers, Alexa Hampton, Markham Roberts, and Tom Scheerer, on who and what inspires them. The day-long event at the New York Design Center features an outstanding line-up of panel discussions and receptions. For more information or to RSVP, please visit

Monday, August 13, 2018

Chez Princesse Ghislaine de Polignac

A friend recently gave me the most interesting book about Marie Antoinette: To The Scaffold, by Carolly Erickson. To borrow my friend's description of the book, it is gripping. Although I knew well the history of the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette's sad fate, I found myself on the edge of my seat as I turned each page. But one central figure that I had forgotten about until reading this book was Yolande de Polignac, one of Marie Antoinette's closest friends and confidantes. Polignac's close relationship to the Queen brought Yolande and a whole host of Polignacs great wealth and power, which in turn led to much resentment among both the nobility and the average Parisian. A controversial figure, Polignac eventually fled to Switzerland, escaping the wrath of the Revolution.

What a coincidence, then, that I found a 1978 Architectural Digest article about another Polignac: Princesse Ghislaine de Polignac (1918-2011). Like Yolande, Ghislaine courted controversy. While married to Prince Edmonde de Polignac, Ghislaine engaged in affairs, including one with Duff Cooper, who, at the time, was also involved with Gloria Rubio (later Guinness) and Louise de Vilmorin. Recalling a party given by Gloria, where all three girlfriends were present, Cooper likened it to a ball in Balzac: "Everyone looking at everyone in suspicion." Later, after Ghislaine divorced Prince Edmonde, she was befriended by the wealthy American socialite, Rosita Winston, who generously flew Ghislaine to New York, where Winston treated her to a new Dior wardrobe. The only glitch was that just prior to a party they were to attend, Winston walked in on Ghislaine in bed with her husband. Later, at the party, a furious Winston proceeded to tell everyone about her discovery, before putting Polignac on the next plane back to France. Naturally, a gleeful Cecil Beaton wasted no time spreading word of the scandal to everyone, including Lady Diana Cooper, who responded: "I'm awfully sorry for her. True, in 100,000,000 Americans she was foolish to pick Mr. Winston, but poor girl to have to crawl back to Rheims, tail gripped between those ungovernable legs. Humiliation."

Back in Paris, Polignac settled into an apartment at Hôtel Lambert and pursued a career in public relations for Galeries Lafayette and Revlon. Later, she moved into the apartment you see here. Decorated by her friend, Baron Fred de Cabrol, the apartment was a jewel-box, both in size and appearance. Intended as an elegant backdrop for entertaining, the apartment's salon was dramatically lavished in red, reminding the article's author, Philippe Jullian, of "a box at the Opera." Taking heed of her friend Christian Bérard's advice, "You must always be careful to mix many different shades of red," Polignac and her decorator selected velvets and tapestries in a range of reds to accompany those richly colored walls. By contrast, Polignac's bedroom had a much lighter and more feminine feel. Even this room was a testament to Polignac's energetic social life. In addition to the numerous invitations tucked into her mirror's frame, there were also framed seating arrangements for her many dinners, charmingly sketched by the hostess herself.

Describing Fred de Cabrol's skill at mixing Second Empire decorations with other periods in the Salon, Jullian wrote, "He is able to adapt the past to the contemporary scene...careful never to indulge in a purely period décor. Actually only serious collectors--or perhaps the nouveaux riches--will have rooms that are impeccable Louis XV or Empire."

Like the Salon, the Dining Room was enveloped in red.

Ghislaine de Polignac's bedroom with evidence of her active social life. Note the attendees to one of her dinners, which she commemorated with an illustrated seating chart seen above: The Prentice Hales, Robert de Balkany, Paul Louis Weiller, and Baron de Rédé.

All photos from Architectural Digest, January/February 1978, Pascal Hinous photographer.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

What I've Been Up to Over the Past Year: Inspired Design

Goodness. It feels strange writing a blog post after a year-long hiatus. I was worried that I may have forgotten how to blog, but it seems that after eleven years of writing The Peak of Chic, blogging has become second nature. It feels good to be back.

As some of you know, I have spent the past year writing my latest book, Inspired Design: The 100 Most Important Interior Designers of the Past 100 Years (Vendome Press). I spent countless hours doing research (thank heavens for my library of design books and shelter magazines), writing, and selecting the photos that defined the careers of the featured 100 designers. In fact, I spent so much time working on this book while cloistered in my home, some of my neighbors assumed I had died or moved.

Now that the hard work is behind me, I can say that it was well worth it. The end result is a book that I feel honors a very diverse, influential, and talented group of individuals. The featured designers hail from around the world, including America, England, Yugoslavia, and even Iran. There are living designers who are currently at the heights of their careers, while others experienced their heydays back in the 1930s and '40s. A number of the designers can be classified as traditionalists, but for each of them, there is a designer whose work was, or is, at the cutting-edge. Some were known for their reserved personalities, while others aren't afraid to make statements with their appearances. Peter Marino, that would be you.

Did your favorite designer make the list? You'll have to wait until October 2, the book's publication date, to see the list in its entirety. In the meantime, we'll be releasing glimpses via my blog as well as on Instagram. For those who can't wait, visit the Vendome Press website today for a peek.

To pre-order the book, please visit Vendome's website for more information.

I'll be embarking on my book tour later this fall, so I hope to see many of you soon!