23 June 2010

Castaing Outtake: Nina and Robert Ricci on the Champ de Mars

While scouring French decor magazines from the 1950s and '60s, I came across a feature on the first lady of couture Nina Ricci's Paris flat. There was no mention of Castaing, but the print on the walls (which you will see A LOT of in the book) and the pink striped tenting of the entrance, below, made me pause.

Castaing's grandson Frédéric confirmed that the Riccis had indeed been clients and so here for your pleasure are the photos which sadly didn't make the final cut. Nina was well into her seventies and had already set aside the reins of her maison de couture when this was published in 1961. However there are several touches which speak to the client's fashion background which veer from the classic Castaing canon, such as the abundant use of silks, grey carpeting, and general restrained use of patterns.

A mahogany bookcase and writing table cut a bold profile against the grey walls and black-bordered white carpeting in Robert’s masculine study.

In contrast to Robert’s sleek space, Nina’s bedroom was layered with flowers, books, and her collection of glass. The carpeting is mouse grey over which is layered an "Eastern" carpet which MC expressly disliked. Love that long fringe!

All photos from Art et Décoration, April 1961

21 June 2010

The Death of the Front Door

Would you plunk down hard-earned money to go to a spa that made you enter through the kitchen? If one's home is one's sanctuary, then shouldn't the experience of entering it be given just as much thought and sense of ceremony? As more of us use the side or back door, chances are we are first greeted by "unprepossessing garage passages or dreary mud rooms, " to borrow Toby Worthington's succinct words.

It probably started out of convenience (or laziness as my more exacting readership may have it). With arms full of groceries or dry cleaning, why walk around to the front? No doubt the attached garage is also an accessory to the crime. But while service entrances are useful and practical, we have become so used to exiting and entering through them that the front door has become almost totally irrelevant. This really struck Mr. EEE and me when his sister reconfigured her property so that the driveway circled around the back of the house leaving the front door completely marooned without even a path leading up to it.

As the astute Mr. Worthington continues: "Think of Don Draper coming home every evening (well, almost every evening) through that mean little back hall and having to put his hat down on the nearest available surface. We've not gone much beyond that, it seems to me."

Mr. Worthington's comment goes to the heart of the matter. Sure, houses and their usage should adapt to modern life, BUT if side entrances are the new way of life, then houses should be reconfigured to accommodate and enhance this shift. When my students and I look at domestic interiors through the ages, one of most important things we examine are floor plans. Much thought was put into how rooms were arranged to maximize use and enjoyment of a space.

For centuries, many cultures have believed in the importance of providing a transition from the hurly burly of the street to the inner sanctum of the house. In the Ancient Roman house, there are actually two zones one walks through before entering an inner courtyard: the vestibulum and the fauces.
This is why our houses have foyers and entrance halls, which now languish unused and have become dead space. By entering into the kitchen or another random area of the house, we lose the physical (and mental) shift from our public life to our private one, where we set aside our workaday worries and embrace the joys and comforts of the home.

Top photo of 10 Downing Street from number10.gov.uk

10 June 2010


Now we're talking.

MC Book OUTTAKE #2: an early view of the same room, c. 1952
My opinion is that Madeleine chose the ruby red velvet on the walls and banquettes to complement the verdant green foliage outdoors. It wasn't long before the red was replaced by her signature blue trimmed with her Pompeian frieze border (renamed "Lola Montez" by Edmond Petit). The borne also received a similar make-over as you can see.

08 June 2010

Timeless Elegance: The Anson Pratt House

If my first born is named Darona, it will be in honor of my dear friend Daron Builta. Six fateful years ago, Daron generously offered his New York apartment as the setting for a Merchant's House Museum benefit where I ended up meeting Mr. EEE for the first time.

This weekend we will be visiting Daron and his partner Steve at their glorious country house in Columbia County. The house, built c. 1802 - 1812, is a graceful example of the Federal period and accordingly is on the National Register. Daron, who has worked in the offices of Sills Huniford, Peter Marino and David Easton, has applied his characteristically restrained elegance to the house's interior decoration and agreed to let me share a few glimpses.

The Entrance Hall - although we always come in through...

...the kitchen. Mr. EEE is always up for a conversation on how we seldom use front doors anymore, if you're interested.

When it comes to period styles and connoisseurship, Daron really knows his stuff. But while he was guided by the house's history and his own traditional inclinations, the house is fresh, comfortable and suitably formal without being pretentious.

The dining room with Adelphi "Pebbles and Flowerpots" based on a document paper from the Lexington, Kentucky Pope Villa c. 1815

Farrow and Ball paints and Adelphi wallpapers provide a warm, organic palette punctuated with blue gingham checks and emerald green silks, all with historical basis.

The front sitting room

The furniture is a combination of period-appropriate American and English neoclassical antiques with contemporary armchairs pulled up here and there.

I'll never forget discussing the David Mlinaric book with Daron when it first came out. While I initially found it a bit lackluster, Daron pointed out that Mlinaric didn't add anything to a scheme that didn't contribute to its overall design. This gave me a whole new appreciation of Mlinaric's work and Daron's as well as he is beautifully adept at editing a room to its essentials.

The back sitting room

A central oval staircase spires up the middle of the upper floors, off of which the bedrooms are arranged.

A view of the Master Bedroom with a "pillar and arch" Adelphi paper

We usually stay in this stately guest room complete with Palladian window

Just as in the Federal period, Daron has furnished the bedrooms with more humble antiques, such as rush-bottomed "fancy" chairs...

and simple rag rugs.

Without a doubt, Daron and Steve's house is a grande dame. While many may have been tempted to turn her into a museum, Daron has used his light touch to keep her a timeless and classic beauty.

04 June 2010

The Kluge House Sale: A Decorating Master Class

The entrance hall - the wide-angled lens makes it look much larger in scale than reality; even the ceiling is faux-finished

When Sotheby's announced that they were holding their first on-site house sale in over twenty years (in the US), it was clear that this was going to be an Event. And is it ever.

Ideally Albemarle would be purchased by the National Trust and turned into a historical house museum of its time: the 1980s.

Patricia Kluge's gowns through the decades parade down the gallery

The house was designed from roof line to brocade bolster by David Easton for one of America's richest men, John Kluge, in the mid-1980s, the absolute height of go-go decadence and opulence. Just as with the vast Vanderbilt cottages of Newport, the estate has become a white elephant of sorts, and even though the house itself is suprisingly small, to update its air-conditioning system and maintain its grounds is a committment of millions.

Even the guns are the best of the best, engraved with John and Patricia's initials, and in their own Asprey cabinet,
estimate $330,00 to $500,000

Perhaps one of the things that dates the house the most is all the painted faux-finishes. From the marbleized columns to the antiqued ceilings, absolutely no surface was left unadorned.

The trompe l'oeil silk curtain panel wallpaper in the hallway and stairwell is a lot to take in, BUT on the other hand the space needed something that strong to balance out all the painted decoration.

The Salon - the fanlight of the Palladian doorway is mercury glass - a classic David Easton touch

All in all, the rooms are done beautifully and Easton ably created intimate, cozy rooms with museum-level furnishings.

The Dining Room - We all wished we had been able to see it by candlelight

A corner of the media room off of the entrance
The Chinese Verre Eglomise Panel in 18th century Rococo frame is a gem - Peter Lang, Sotheby's expert extraordinaire who did a commendable job cataloguing the furniture, pointed out an inscription in Chinese characters in the upper lefthand corner which are visible only because the mercury has worn away, translating to "Property of"

Serche Roche, eat your heart out - the grisaille painted masterbath had a pair of mid 18th century palm frond tables. Interestingly they bear a label from a 1935 Arts of France exhibition so perhaps they did directly inspire their 20th century counterparts, estimate $20 - $30,000

The lively carving of this dressing-room giltwood table gracefully exemplifies the naturalistic Rococo style

I had the huge good fortune to see the house with a group of design talents: architects James Carter, Richard Dragisic of Fairfax and Sammons, EEE reader favorite Gil Schafer, and designers Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman who met while working in Easton's office.

Courtney and Bill liked the library very much and thought David did an excellent job of making a potentially dark room bright and lively, although we all might have chosen a different cocktail table

Albemarle was the cornerstone of a historic house death march weekend and hearing the expert opinions of this crew was a fabulous experience. Bill and Courtney pointed out several classic Easton touches...

A bulls-eye window over the sink in a dressing room bath can be covered with a retractable mirror; a lot of the bathroom hardware was oversized in an Edwardian country house way

A major pet peeve - faux old books incorporated into side tables - Bill and Courtney have sworn they will never use them

Several pieces of Easton-designed furniture are included in the sale. Courtney rightfully pointed out how "designer-designed" furniture is underappreciated.

This pair of bookcase in the master bedroom, an homage to Colefax and Fowler no doubt, are a good investment to my mind.

A Giverny moment - this stunning view is seen from the master bedroom

After reading an essay in the sales catalogue by celebrated landscape designer (of whom I had never heard) George Carter, I couldn't wait to see the grounds. All the major rooms are arranged at the back of the house which faces onto a steeply terraced hill.

From every window, a blockbuster view of a dramatic fountain or somesuch greets the eye. However, it seems a very formal, articificial use of the outdoors - instead of embracing the bucolic rolling hills in the front (which there is hardly any view of from inside), the gardens have become something to look at from indoors. "Perhaps the Kluges didn't like to go outside?" one of my companions mused. The fabulous display of succulents by the pool reinforced that. "I'm not sure I'd want to roam around in my bathsuit near all those cacti," someone else said.

And if forced to choose just one item out of so many glories?
It would be this set of nine Chinese paintings in their original 18th century English papier mache frames from Stoneleigh Abbey, $80 - $120,000, pictured below in situ....

Easton cleverly designed the fillet bordering the walls after the pictures' frames

But I did come away with an Albemarle souvenir, or rather several. After Janet's recommendation, we repaired to the Kluge winery up the road and I came away with several Albemarle bottles of rosé....

If you can't make it down to Virginia, click here for the virtual house tour courtesy of Sotheby's, or if you're longing for more David Easton, pre-order his book Timeless Elegance here.

Paige turns a page

It's official - Paige Rense Noland is stepping down from the formidable heights of Architectural Digest. Although it's no surprise that I think it's time for a change, I'm also a great admirer of Mrs. Noland's exceptionally long success at keeping AD at the top. Click here for the scoop courtesy of The Observer.

For designers who want to work at the tippy top, AD is still the place to attract new clients and thrill current ones - even with Gerard Butler's naked feet appearing on its cover.

In the spirit of the much missed Decorno, what do you think? Who should be the next editor-in-chief?

Click here for an interview with Paige and founder of Page Six (and family friend), the late great James Brady.

Photo by Steve Paige