22 November 2010

Anatomy of a Window

It seems these days I'm never without a bag full of faux ivy* and this morning was no exception.  Armed with said ivy from Center of Floral Design, NYC's best source for silk botanicals, I sped up to Archivia Books to dress a window a la Castaing.

This watercolor of a Castaing installation by Alexandre Serebriakoff was one of my inspirations.  It is the quintessential Castaing room, perfectly pairing blue and green to form an indoor-outdoor room, and fusing the refined Neoclassical with the overupholstered romanticism of Napoleon III.  

Nineteenth century wicker furniture was a favorite of Castaing as seen here in one of her storerooms located a short walk from her shop.  When I found this untouched gem at Marika's (a fantastic source) on Shelter Island for $10, I jumped.

On the Jitney it went to await the magic touch of Claudine who returned it newly dressed in forest green silk velvet.  Through gritted teeth and with hands red from picking out the thousand or so original rusted upholstery tacks, she told me how much she enjoyed working with the chair.  Professional to the end is Claudine.


Castaing was master of the art of the vignette.  She took endless pains in arranging furniture and objects so that it looked as if someone had just stepped away.  As Charlotte Moss recalled, one felt like an impostor walking into her shop because it seemed as if one had trespassed into someone's home.  This was what Castaing called breathing life into a room - and a room was nothing without love or life, as she said.

Accordingly, I gave my imaginary occupant a Limoges teacup and a booklet on Chaim Soutine, the painter Madeleine and her husband Marcellin patronized exclusively.

I was given free reign to curate the wall adjacent to my window with books related to MC, including the dishy Cafe Society.  Stay tuned for my complete recommended Castaing reading list.

For a good time and beautiful books, visit Cynthia and Will at Archivia Books.
993 Lexington Avenue
between 72nd and 71st
Tel: 212.570.9565

*Why the ivy madness?  Castaing's son Michel recalled his mother at Leves, constantly clipping ivy and artfully training it around statues and other architectural elements.  Inside, she preferred "make-believe" vines (they didn't die which saved her the depressing sight of the real thing wilting and turning brown) which she wrapped around epergnes and drain pipes alike.  Like Sleeping Beauty's overgrown forest, the untamed ivy (or simulation of) conjured up a place of enchantment, of fairy tales.

16 November 2010

Thursday, Nov. 18 NYC Event: In Pursuit of a Fine Room

For Madeleine Castaing, a fine room was one that brought the outdoors in

Please join me, Thomas Jayne and Pauline Metcalf for a discussion on this very topic. 

We could have no better host than the storied auction house Christie's whose 500 Years: Decorative Arts of Europe sale will be on view during the reception and book signing afterward.

Thursday, November 18th, 6:00pm
Christie's, 20 Rockefeller Plaza, NYC

Seating is limited.   Please RSVP to kspradley@christies.com or 212.636.2923

12 November 2010

The Wunderhaus of Carlton Hobbs


There is nothing I'd rather do all day than to peer into other people's homes.  Ever since I took a walking tour of New York's Carnegie Hill neighborhood, I have been angling to visit one house in particular: 60 East 93rd Street.

Virgina Fair Vanderbilt, of the Fairmont Fairs, commissioned architect John Russell Pope, best known for the Jefferson Memorial, to design what would be one of New York's last great houses.  It was completed in 1931 at the height of the Depression, and Birdie lived in the 50 room mansion for only four years until her death.

Thelma Foy in Schiaparelli in 1937, photo by Toni Frissell
 Its next resident was another lady of great style, Thelma Foy, nee Chrysler and daughter of Walter, who filled the house with Fine French Furniture from the blue chip firm (and aptly named) French and Co.

Decades later, after being inhabited by the Romanian Mission and the Lycee Francais, the house is again filled with treasures that would make even the discerning Thelma's jaw drop.  My dream of stepping behind the limestone facade of this Neoclassical grande dame came true recently, and its new owner, Carlton Hobbs, and his business partner Stefanie Rinza were kind enough to give me a tour from the entrance hall to the store rooms floors above.

While Carlton has the connoisseur's eye for the very rare, he also has a penchant for the unusual and - may I say - slightly eccentric which is EXACTLY my cup of tea.  Here are a just a few of the works that made me gasp:


One from a set of three Austrian maritime scenes incorporating swing-out panels carved in high relief, revealing laca povera decoration.

I immediately fell in love with this German table because of its incredible 17th century scagiola top which reminded me of verdure tapestries.

One of the gallery's most exciting recent acquistions is an 18th century Neoclassical paneled library from the Hotel Gaulin in Dijon which once belonged to J.P. Morgan, Jr.

Carlton and Stefanie were amazed to find that the paneled room fit almost perfectly into one of the house's rooms.  As Pope took French Neoclassical precedents as his model, this synchronicity was surely no accident.

I was captivated by this mad cabinet-secretaire which is also Neoclassical and captures the 1790s romantic mood for the picturesque.
 Its cork exterior is painted to resemble ancient stone walls covered with lichen....

 ...but inside is this perfectly polished mahogany secretaire abattant.  While this was hands down my favorite piece, there was one more whose provenance rattled my soul.  I have sworn not to talk about it until January when a very very exciting exhibition celebrating the English Regency style will take place.  To be continued!

09 November 2010

Painting the town Leopard and Blue

One guess which foot is mine
Last week The World of Madeleine Castaing took me to Kansas City, home to the lovely Mrs. Blandings - known in  real life as Patricia Shackelford - who has captured her home town's thriving and super stylish design scene on her must-read blog.

The setting for the book signing was Parrin and Co, the most charming antiques shop owned by Barbara Farmer.  When Barbara mentioned months before that we must have champagne and macarons for the evening, I knew she was my kind of person. 

Her good friend Silvia was enlisted to keep the bubbly flowing, and, let me tell you, Silvia took her mission seriously.  Every where I turned, there was Silvia, vigilantly keeping my glass always full.

Vignettes at Parrin and Co.

Fellow Bloggers Soodie Beasley and Patricia Shackelford
Hailing from the Midwest myself, I wasn't surprised by how warm everyone was, but this was taken to new heights when a taxi driver showed up hours later with my wallet, which I hadn't even realized I lost.

Castaing blue was everywhere, even on the perfectly behaved Stuey, right, who, yes, is a male dog.

Many thanks to Barbara and Patricia for a sensational soiree - I can't wait to come back.  Click here for more Kansas City fabulosity courtesy of Elle Decor.

And when you're next in KC, be sure to visit Barbara at Parrin and Co. (there may even still be some lavender macarons left):  
1717 West 45th Street
Kansas City, MO  
(816) 751-7959

04 November 2010

Circumstantial Evidence: The Dominick Dunne Sale

On November 20, Stair Galleries will offer over 250 lots from the Connecticut and NYC residences of the late High Society Crime Chronicler Dominick Dunne. 

Here are my picks of the sale:

Lot #5: Various style coffee table books, many with signed inscriptions.  This is just one offering of several inscribed books from Mr. Dunne's library.  Buying a bulk lot at auction is a great way to stock up on gifts - and you can be sure your friend doesn't already have a book signed by John Galliano with a dedication to DD

Lot #118: Fifteen assorted throw pillows. Don't worry - I promise not to bring you a pillow as a hostess gift.  I only want this lot for the wonderfully witty Brigid Berlin  needlepoint pillows.  For those who can't resist a royal provenance, a pair of Bedouin pillows given by Queen Noor are also in the lot.  $75 - $125

Lot #165: Two Staffordshire Whippets: I love the idea of having dogs, and this pair are super elegant and don't shed.  $100 - $200.

Lot #69: A Japanned cabinet on stand which came from Dunne's former wife Lenny Griffin Dunne.  No television storage here - the inside is fitted with an arrangement of similarly decorated drawers.   $800 - $1200.

Lot #77: A Chinoiserie mirror from Billy Haines.  Dunne was friends with Haines and bought it directly from him for his Beverly Hills house.  $300 - 500.

Click here to view the sale yourself.

01 November 2010

The Unexpurgated Madeleine Castaing: November 2 NYC Lecture

Why?  Because I couldn't show you everything in the book. Or tell you everything. Wink.

Tuesday, Nov 2, 6:00pm
The Grolier Club
47 East 60th Street
Tickets $35.
RSVP Potterton Books 212.644.2292