30 January 2009

Pleasure of the Day: the Gil Schafer house

Would you believe that this paragon of Greek Revival architecture was built in 1999?

Architect Gil Schafer built this country house from stem to stern for himself in New York's Dutchess County after finding all the period examples were out of his price range. And yes, you may recognize some of the rooms, decorated by none other than the sizzling Miles Redd.

Click here for the full tour at The New York Times.

All photos by Phil Mansfield for The New York Times.

28 January 2009

The Loop Chair

The original Loop Chair at Ditchley Park

I have been greatly anticipating the January issue of the Magazine Antiques. Its new editor Betsy Pochoda (formerly of House and Garden) has gradually been making changes since May 2008, but finally in this month's issue we get to see its much-talked about redesign.

Another seismic shift in the magazine has been Pochoda's inclusion of mid-century design, which, frankly, is about time. When Leigh Keno, American furniture dealer and Antiques Roadshow poster boy, starts slipping in 1950s Italian furniture alongside an 18th Philadelphia School tallboy, you know things are a-changing.

One article in particular will make you want to consider giving the magazine a closer look: "The It Chair" by Shax Reigler. It chronicles the history of what many have dubbed the Frances Elkins Loop Chair through the eyes of design sleuth James Shearron of the architectural firm Bories and Shearron. Bories explains his fascination with the chair: "They appear to be made from one continuous unbroken line and that's very alluring. It also walks that line between modern and traditional design which is something we play with in our own work."

first picture of the Loop Chair in the Dictionary of English Furniture, 1904-1908

The first documented photograph of the chair Shearron unearthed was in the bible of English furniture: Percy MacQuoid and Ralph Edwards's 4 vol. Dictionary of English Furniture first published between 1904-1908 . MacQuoid always mentioned the owners of the furniture he illustrated, and these chairs, dated circa 1770 and made of black japanned (a process of painting meant to simulate lacquer) beechwood, belonged to a Frank Green, Esq. When Shearron contacted the Victoria and Albert Museum looking for more examples, they sent him this photograph of a chair bequeathed to them by the same Frank Green!

18th century English side chair in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the articulation of loops on the back of this chair in which you can see their overlapping as well as how they shape the back is based on the designs of William de la Cour and is the closest precedent for loop-back chairs. However there is no direct design source for the Elkins chair found to date

Pick up the magazine to read more about the chairs' odyssey - which even spent time at Ronald and Nancy Tree's (later Lancaster) Ditchley Park as seen in the 1950 watercolor by Alexandre Sérébriakoff of the writing room (top photo). (Apparently Ronald kept the chairs after their divorce until the sale of his collection by Sotheby's Parke Bernet in 1976.)

But back to Frances Elkins. It is more than likely that either Elkins or her architect brother David Adler owned a copy of the Dictionary of English Furniture from which she had the chairs copied. Given that Elkins often interpreted historical styles in a modern way, it is no surprise she fell spellbound for these chairs and copied for two commissions: the screened-in porch of Evelyn Marshall Field and the living room of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Wheeler.

Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler's living room in Lake Forest, Illinois in a photograph by Ezra Stoller, circa 1934

It is fitting that Elkins installed them in an outdoor-type space. As Sotheby's expert Peter Lang notes in the article, "They seem to be designed in same spirit as whimsical summer house furniture of the period - fancifully painted pieces in exotic styles of pieces carved to look as though they are made of tree branches."

A pair of George III painted armchairs, circa 1800, from the archives of Hyde Park Antiques, were light enough that they could be carried inside and out

Shearron came across this mid-century cast-iron pair (which most certainly were painted white) intended for the outdoors, and furthermore remembers seeing the loop chair in terrace settings in Hollywood films of the 30's.

Whether indoors or out, they are still tremendously appealing and in demand. Bories and Shearron are investigating having faithful reproductions made, unlike the later examples which tend to be more clunky.

A loop chair in the country house living room of Albert Hadley

Another feature Bories and Shearron will be certain to include is the dipped seat, which Elkins also replicated in her versions (which is a good tip to look for if something is represented with an Elkins provenance). "The opportunityto see this delicate calligraphic-like object married with our architecture would be very cool. We love them in black like the originals, or even a dark mahogany. A full set around a dining table or a few in a hallway - they really can go anywhere." And that's a recipe for a classic, if I ever heard one.

UPDATE: This April, Sotheby's New York will be offering the Elkins Loop Chairs designed for the Leslie Wheelers. This is a rare opportunity to own documented Elkins chairs - how much will they go for?

UPDATE II: http://www.themagazineantiques.com

26 January 2009

Lola Montez: From Courtesan to Curtains

Courtesy of the Performing Arts Museum Victorian Arts Centre

Madeleine Castaing was famous for quoting exorbitant prices for items in her shop, either because she wasn't really interested in selling the piece or perhaps because she didn't want to sell it to you. What she did sell meter after meter of was her line of fabrics, manufactured by Hamot and currently still in production from Edmond Petit. (Clarence House are the stockists in the US.)

Courtesy of Edmond Petit

"Lola Montez" is hands-down my favorite. Castaing was very creative with her upholstery and often used this as a border around the skirt of a chair or an edge of a curtain.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

But who is or was Lola Montez?

Born Eliza Rosanna Gilbert (1821-1861) in County Sligo, Ireland, Lola was a wild child sent from school to school until she eloped with a young officer at the age of sixteen. Alas, it was a disastrous match and Lola soon fled Calcutta(!) and reinvented herself as a Spanish dancer, debuting in London in 1843. Scandal followed Lola around Europe as she added various great men to her list of conquests, including Franz Liszt and Ludwig I, the king of Bavaria, who made her the Countess of Landsfeld.

Like many independent women of this time who lived life on their own terms, Lola died young and penniless. The highs were high and the lows low. This is an extremely condensed version of her life and it's worth reading more. OR seeing the movie which perhaps Mme Castaing also saw.

In 1955, Martine Carol played Lola Montès in the film directed by Max Ophüls. Although it is also possible that Castaing merely read the book La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montès by Cécil Saint Laurent on which the film was based, I like to think she did see the film. It portrays Lola at the end of her career, making ends meet by performing in a circus in which she recounts her past exploits. Peter Ustinov plays the ringmaster who refers to her as no less than a creature, a wild beast.

There is a surreal element to the circus scenes and their commentary on celebrity that would certainly have intrigued MC, who counted Cocteau among others as a close friend.

Design Friends: From Virtual to Actual

This Saturday I was paid a most delightful visit by my two favorite Patricias from the blogging world -

From left to right: Mrs. Blandings, PVE and EEE in miniature dealer Elle Shushan's booth at the Winter Antiques Show - wallpaper by Brunschwig et Fils and booth design by Ralph Harvard - he also designed Sumpter Priddy's stand which you should also take a look at if you go through the show.

It seems these days everyone has a blog and I feared many would groan and roll their eyes when I started mine just a month ago, but what I found was the most warm, welcoming (and informed!) community.

One of my favorite blogs is Mrs. Blandings - I love her old school sensibility and, most of all, her warmth and graciousness that come right through the screen. (Click here for the best blog post in the entire world.) Another thing I adore about her blog is her header and it took me no time to track down its divinely talented creator PVE Design.

PVE also did the header for Ronda Carman's outstanding blog

I think what most captivates me about PVE's work is that her pen and brush capture a world that is dashing and dapper - a world out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel or a Noel Coward play - and most certainly a version of the world I would most like to live in.

Because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Ms. PVE has been working up a blog header for me which I hope to unvail very shortly....

23 January 2009

All about Yves

When Christie's announced the sale of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, I knew immediately that the sale catalogue was an essential addition to my library. Tiding me over while collecting my pennies for the $290 boxed set is the latest issue of Christie's magazine which is dedicated entirely to the sale. It includes such fascinating essays as "Marie-Laure de Noailles, Inspiration and Muse of the Collection" and "Yves Saint Laurent, Hunter of Spells" as well as copious images of objects in the sale in situ.

The entrance hall of YSL's Paris apartment was centered on this spectacular Roman marble torso of an athlete, circa 1st-2nd century AD, Estimate €300,000-500,000

The sitting room of the Paris apartment featuring a pair of benches, circa 1928, by Gustave Miklos for famed couturier Jacques Doucet. Estimate €2,000,000 - 3,000,000

The Dragons armchair by Eileen Gray here chez YSL Estimate €2,000,000 - 3,000,000

and here in the iconic Mme Mathieu-Lévy apartment decorated by Paul Ruaud (photo published in L'Illustration in 1933)

Isn't this the most marvelous bar? It is one of two wildly inventive and staggeringly beautiful commissions YSL and PB made from Francois-Xavier and Claude Lalanne. The "YSL" bar was completed in 1965 made of maillechort, steel and glass. The hammered brass egg is fitted with a counterweight system that causes the top to open and show the bottles stored within and the smaller glass sphere inset into the top is a container for ice.

The other major Lalanne commission was....

a set of fifteen mirrors with gilt bronze and galvanized copper surrounds which paneled the salon de musique, created between 1974-85.

Maybe it's because I live in New York City where space is at a premium, but YSL and PB's Kunstkammer seemed to me to be one of the most luxurious spaces of all. This gallery-like room follows the tradition of 16th and 17th century princes who dedicated a room to their most treasured virtuoso works of art. Here, cameos, rock crystal and ivory objets pay tribute to the discerning eye of one of the most important design talents of the 20th century.

Photos 2,3,4, 6, 7, 8 © Christie's

21 January 2009

Michelle Obama: A First Lady of Style and Substance

Words can not express how proud I am to be an American at this moment, or how much I admire our country's first couple.

What I do want to share are these words that Mrs. Obama inscribed on the leather journal she gave to Mrs. Bush on the steps of the Capital:

"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. Yet that will be the beginning."

top AP Photo/Jae C. Hong; bottom Andrew Councill for the New York Times

20 January 2009

Lilliputian Style: The Thorne Rooms

The adage that good things come in small packages is never more true than in the case of the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago.

These miniature miracles are named after their creator, Mrs. James Ward Thorne (née Narcissa Niblack), who between the 1920s and 60s assembled over one hundred exquisitely crafted and intricate rooms (of which 68 are on view at the Institute) that tell "a" story of interior design from 1600 through the 1940s. ("A" story because the period styles chosen for the rooms were selected by Mrs. Thorne and reflect the historicist tastes of her moment.)

Inspired by the newly installed period rooms in museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Wintherthur, the Thorne rooms were happily unhampered by the space requirements of full-scale replications, hence allowing more to be on display and a fuller picture of design history to be told.

Here are but a few I found particularly interesting:

"A French Library of the Modern Period, 1930s"
Thorne gave this Neoclassical moderne room an Asian flair to conjure the last word on design as seen at the 1937 Paris Exposition Universelle.
Note the sculpture seen through the open doorway, also seen below....

in Mrs. Brown of McMillen's dining room.
And available today....

for a price from Quatrain. (Many thanks to Bart Swindall for making this connection!)

McMillen, as you may know already from the Peak of Chic's post here last week, did their own collection of miniature rooms during the Depression to drum up interest. They toured the country to great acclaim.

Another modern interior Mrs. Thorne created was this "English Drawing Room of the Modern Period, 1930s" inspired by Syrie Maugham's famous All-White Living Room as seen below. Even the Constance Spry-esque flowers are included!

This stunning "French Bathroom and Boudoir of the revolutionary period, 1793-1804" was based on...

this design for Mlle Dervieux's Directoire bathroom, Paris, 1789

designed by the architect Belanger. This is one of the only documented designs of a Directoire interior which I included in Regency Redux, BUT I never noticed the recessed bath in the floor until I saw the Thorne room.

According to Peter Thornton's Authentic Decor, Dervieux was a dancer who loved to entertain in these rooms. Ahem. Apparently le tout Paris was scandalized by her relationship with her architect, until he married her.

Click here to view the entire Thorne collection.

Top photo of a Regency entrance hall based on the Stone Hall designed by Sir John Soane at Lewisham - sadly I couldn't find any photos of the original.

All Thorne room photos by Kathleen Culbert-Aguilar and Michael Abramson for the Art Institute of Chicago.

19 January 2009

All the Best

If you haven't already discovered Ronda Carman's All the Best blog, you are in for a treat. Ronda's interviews with today's stylesetters from the worlds of fashion and design are an updated take on the Proust Questionnaire. Who knew that Ivanka Trump dies over mozzarella sticks or that Charlotte Moss took race car driving lessons?!

Click here to read Ronda's profile of EEE - what a thrill to be added to her roster! Thank you, Ronda!

Mirabile dictum: Francis Bacon

"I serve Champagne to my real friends and real pain to my sham friends."

The artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) in his studio, 1984 © The Estate of Bruce Bernard

16 January 2009

Auction Spotlight: The Julius Held Collection

The wonderfully eclectic collection of paintings, prints, and drawings of art historian Julius Held is on the block at Christie's New York this January. Held, a professor at Barnard, was a renowned expert on Flemish and Dutch Old Masters. However, what he chose to live with himself ran the gamut of period and country, and shows that not only did he have a most discerning eye, but a fabulous wit.

Intriguingly, when the German emigre was asked how he was able to write so eloquently in English, he replied, "Latin."

Here are my picks:

From Part I

Just lovely. (And a very subtle way to inject a little animal print into a room.)

Casimiro Tomba (Rome 1857-1929)
A reclining female nude seen from behind lying on a leopard skin
dedicated and signed 'all'amico Stefanori C Tomba'
black chalk, watercolor, gum arabic
9 x 14¼ in.

I am dying for this. Please please don't bid on it. The proportions of her head and neck are crazy - and I have a thing for turbans.

Edward Alcock (English active c. 1750-1780)
"Erminia weeping over the ashes of Tancred"
oil on copper
10½ x 7½ in.

Part II

Don't actually adore this, but find the subject manner delightfully absurd.

"A dog fighting a monkey"
English School, 19th Century
oil on copper
7½ x 9¼ in.
$800 - $1200

A late Victorian giltwood oval pier mirror
49¾ x 33 in.
$600 - 800
Wonderfully morbid.

A design for a tomb
black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash
Attributed to Thomas Stothard (London 1755-1834)
5 7/8 x 9 3/8 in.

Very graphic and so early.

German School, 16th Century
A wild boar with inscription 'Sanglien'
bodycolor watermark device
10¼ x 15 1/8 in.

Channeling my inner Mario Praz....

Walter Gay (Hingham 1856-1937 Le Bréau, Dammarie-les-Lys)
The interior of a bedroom
watercolor heightened with white on brown paper
10¾ x 14½ in.

14 January 2009

The King's Library

If you are a bibliophile, you will want to make the latest installation of the King's Library a must-see on your next trip to London.

Over 65,000 books collected by the monarch George III have been moved into an imposing Tolkien-worthy six story black tower designed by Sir Colin St John Wilson who also designed the ruthlessly modern St Pancras location of the British Library in which the tower resides.

Exterior of the British Library
© The British Library Board

Designer, architect and fellow book lover Ashley Hicks who informed me of the new tower notes, "Part of the magic is theatrical, in that as you look at the tower, one of the bookcases will suddenly roll back within the cube and a librarian emerge and take a book from it – all behind glass, like a giant mechanical toy."

If you are so lucky as to have need to request some of the king's books for research, here are a few beautifully bound examples you might see. All bear the king's ownership mark, except the last which belonged to his consort, Queen Charlotte. The king took a great interest in bindings and opened an onsite bindery in 1780.

(All book images © The British Library Board.)

The history of the formation of the collection is worth a look-in. George III (ruled 1760-1820)was the third of the German Hanover clan to ascend the throne, and the first to be more English than German. He took it upon himself to transform the royal library into a universal one, and, under the steady hand of his advisor, Frederick Augusta Barnard, strategically purchased important classical literature, British and European history, English and Italian literature, and religious texts. A spectacular octagonal library was purpose built at the Queen's House (better known as Buckingham House).
The Octagonal Library
(from WH Pyne's The History of the Royal Residences... London, 1819)

Buckingham House known as The Queen's House
(from John Watkins' Memoirs of her most excellent Majesty Sophia-Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain ... London, 1819.)

Buckingham Palace post-George IV

When the prolifigate George IV came to the throne and transformed Buckingham House into Buckingham Palace, the library was donated to the people in 1823 and installed at Montagu House, now part of the British Museum, where it stayed until 1998 and found it's present home at the BL.

Montagu House by James Simon, circa 1715

The King's Library at the BM
photo by Mujtaba Chohan