Saturday, January 23, 2010

The English Bath

Imagine for a moment that you are in London. The air is crisp and a cloak of ethereal fog hovers over Portobello Road. You are a guest of Lady Diana Cooper at her Gower Street home and have just awoken from a peaceful slumber. After slipping on a pair of cashmere ballet slippers, you walk to the window and see a flock of schoolgirls dressed in plaid skirts and navy blazers as they walk down the narrow street. Entering the bathroom, you cannot help but be awestruck by its faded, bohemian elegance. The faces of British aristocracy peer at you from within gilded frames and porcelain lamps adorned with painted roses illuminate your morning routine. As you draw a warm bath, you think to yourself that there is nothing quite like an English bath.

(Lady Diana Cooper's bath. Photo by Derry Moore for Rooms.)

Nancy Lancaster was one of the first proponents, in Britain, of making the bathroom as comfortable as any other room in the home. Debo, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, who was a frequent visitor at Nancy’s Ditchley Park home, remarked that her friend changed English baths from spaces that were icy cold and furnished in linoleum to ‘little works of art.’ The walls of the baths at Ditchley were hung with paintings and prints and oriental rugs were put down. Chests of drawers and comfortable arm chairs made the spaces seem more like plush, glamorous dressing rooms than utilitarian baths.

(Botanical prints adorn the walls of Nancy's bath. Photo by Derry Moore for Architectural Digest.)

(I love the idea of incorporating family photos in the bath. They are most appropiate for such a personal space. Photo by Andreas von Einsiedel. The English House.)

(Celebrated anglophile and designer Michael Smith found inspiration for his combination bath/dressing room at Claridge's hotel in London. Photo by Lisa Romerein. Michael S. Smith Houses.)

(A masculine take on a Scottish bath. Photo by Ryland Peters and Small. Colefax and Fowler Interior Inspirations.)

While researching this post, I began to think about today’s popular trend to have a beautifully outfitted closet. Although these spaces garner much admiration, with custom islands and Gracie wallpaper, most of us cannot afford such extravagance. If a fully outfitted closet is out of reach, why not give your bath a dressing room feel? If your space can accommodate furniture, add an antique chest of drawers or petite armchair. In a smaller bath, this same level of aristocratic chic can be achieved by adding a small oriental rug or oil painting. We all deserve to wake up feeling like a duchess, don’t we?

(Nina Campbell has cleverly combined aspects of the dressing room into her bath. The vanity was a 1930's buffet that was adapted. Photo by Paul Ryan. Nina Campbell Elements of Design.)

(The portrait of Nina's daughter, former Domino magazine editor Rita Konig, provides the bath with a lovely, personal touch. Photo by Paul Ryan.)

(A modern interpretation of an English bath hung with original artwork. Veere Grenney's London apartment. Photo by Fritz von der Schulenburg for World of Interiors.)

(My mom's chic bathroom. The portrait is of her at age eighteen. She added the mirrored dresser to make the bathroom seem like a luxurious dressing room.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Painted Floor

The ability of a painted floor, whether wearing a bold slick of paint or a fantastical pattern, to energize a room is something that has outlasted many fads of the past century. In my opinion, the painted floor ranks at the top of the list of classic design elements in interiors, such as blue and white porcelain, animal prints and chinoiserie elements, that will never go out of style. A young Sister Parish was certainly ahead of her time when she had her husband paint the master bedroom floor of their Far Hills farmhouse with a red and white diamond pattern. When Sister wrote part of her biography, she commented that painting the floor had been a daring move. Nearly eighty years later, House Beautiful has run an article in the February issue which discusses designers' favorite paint colors for floors.

(The entrance hall of the Whitney's Saratoga, New York horse farm as decorated by Parish Hadley. The green and white diamond pattern is the perfect accompaniment to the Whitney's collection of Americana. Photo by Oberto Gili for House and Garden.)

(Keith Irvine is no stranger to the beauty of a painted floor. The faded floor in his ballroom was inspired by a historical design he found in a Swedish house. Photo by Michel Arnaud.)

(I love how Mr. Irvine personalized the ballroom by incorporating a cartouche depicting all the elements of his life. Photo by Michel Arnaud.)

Painted floors are extremely versatile and look equally chic in a cottage or townhouse. Gary McBournie's choice of Benjamin Moore's Deep Ocean provided the perfect jolt of color to a white boathouse kitchen in Nantucket. Of course, one of my favorite floors is a faux-marble pattern that is in a New York townhouse designed by the celebrated Miles Redd. This floor is stunning and it is nearly impossible to tell that it's not real marble. Although it would require a talented artisian who specializes in faux painting to achieve this look, it is possible to hire a regular painter or builder to lay out and paint a pattern for a lot less money. I helped my mom choose a simple black and white diamond pattern for our front hall and our builder turned our vision into a reality. What are your thoughts on painted floors?

(Photo by Christopher Baker for House Beautiful.)

(That fabulous gallery designed by Miles Redd. Photo by Miguel Flores-Vianna.)

(My mom's chic foyer. Photo by The Peacock Salon.)

(Photo by The Peacock Salon.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Power of the Muse

“Each of the Arts whose office is to refine, purify, adorn, embellish and grace life is under the patronage of a muse,” Eliza Farnham. These words, spoken by the late novelist and feminist, are just as relevant today as they were two centuries ago. Despite the 21st century’s cultural shift towards homogeneity and ubiquitousness , there is a segment of society that remains increasingly individualistic.

In my opinion, many of today’s top tastemakers, who are fashion and interior designers, comprise this group. These 21st century talents, who include Karl Lagerfeld and Nicky Haslam, draw inspiration from muses. This reliance upon muses is nothing new, of course. As we begin a new decade, I thought it would be fun to look back on some of the most famed muses in the art and interior design worlds of the mid-twentieth century. Amazingly, many of these talents were connected in the chaotic cosmos that is creativity.

(Lady Amanda Harlech, Karl Lagerfeld's long time muse. Photo by Francois Halard for Vogue.)

(Karl Lagerfeld standing in Chanel's famed mirrored staircase. Photo Karl Lagerfeld/Chanel.)

According to Life magazine, Picasso was no stranger to the benefits of having a muse. Throughout his career a coterie of women, all possessing their own brand of beauty, inspired him. He met one of these women, Francoise Gilot, at a Paris café when she was just 21 and he was 40 years her senior. The artist was instantly smitten with the young Gilot who was an artist and writer. He doggedly pursued her and it took him eight months before he convinced her to pose for a nude portrait. Their union would be of much benefit to Picasso.

(Francoise and Picasso enjoy a playful moment on the beach. Photo by Robert Capa for Paris Match.)

Francoise’s youthful vigor inspired Picasso to create works that were intensely optimistic and that focused on the innocent beauty of life. His subject matter from this joie de vivre period included love and children.

He was so inspired by Francoise’s beauty that he once painted eleven portraits of her in just two short days. In these various paintings, Picasso reimagined her countenance as a flower and a sun. The rays that emanated from the latter subject represented Gilot as a source of Picasso’s light.

(La Femme Fleur," 1946.)

The relationship produced two children, Claude and Paloma. Picasso’s youngest daughter grew up to become a fashion and jewelry designer. Her incredibly chic line of jewelry is sold at Tiffany’s.

Sadly, the happy times that the family shared came to an end. Picasso’s relationship with Francoise was one that was tightly controlled. In a sharp contrast to the themes of love that emerged from his work during their romance, Picasso demanded that nearly every aspect of their life be tightly constrained. At the beginning of their love affair, he demanded that they see each other as seldom as possible and that she use very few words when speaking to him. Picasso instituted these rules in an effort to prolong the love affair. This rigidity from a passionate artist seems odd doesn’t it?

(Picasso at work in his studio,c. 1915. Photographer unknown.)

After more than seven years, Francoise left Picasso as she said she was “tired of living with a historical monument.” By the time their relationship had ended, nearly four thousand miles away, on Fifth Avenue in New York City, legendary style icon, Babe Paley, was ensconced within the glamorous confines of her St. Regis apartment. In a strange coincidence, Babe’s husband, William S. Paley, the founder of CBS, collected Picasso’s works and photographed the artist in Cap d’Antibes.

The inestimable Babe Paley hired society decorator Billy Baldwin to transform the sitting room with his legendary, uptown brand of panache and swank style. (In my research, I wasn’t able to discover if Baldwin decorated more than just the Paley’s sitting room. Maybe a reader knows if Baldwin designed more rooms in the couple’s apartment?) Billy draped the walls of the sitting room with a chic, paisley cotton print. As Baldwin said in Billy Baldwin Decorates, “Draping the walls with fabric gives instant warmth against the chill of a dreary city.” The shirred fabric created the perfect backdrop for the Paley’s phenomenal collection of fine antiques.

(A close up view of the paisley,cotton walls in the Paley's sitting room. Photo by Horst.)

In addition to hiring Baldwin, the Paley’s procured the design services of the venerable Parish Hadley firm. For passionate lovers of interior design, the apartment is a pantheon dedicated to the design gods, Sister Parish and Albert Hadley, who reigned supreme during the mid-twentieth century.

(Another view of the sumptuous sitting room as appears in Parish Hadley. Photo by John Hall.)

In my opinion, the most stunning feature of the space was the living room’s famed, taxicab yellow walls. While reading Albert’s reminisces in Adam Lewis’ Albert Hadley, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the suggestion for the wall color was Sister’s. She often favored bolder colors than did the classically trained Hadley. Initially, Albert and Babe had agreed on an ivory white but Sister’s choice was quickly chosen as Mr. Paley expressed an immediate interest in the color. I wonder if Sister wasn’t inspired by the many cabs, that wore slick coats of yellow, on the streets below the St. Regis.

(The drawing room's paneling was inspired by a design from the Hotel Carnavalet in Paris. Photo by William P. Steele.)

The walls, which developed a luster from the application of five different coats of paint, provided the perfect backdrop for the Paley’s collection of important artwork. According to Grace Glueck of the New York Times, one of the most important pieces in the Paley collection was Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse. The painting greeted guests as they entered the apartment. The work was purchased by William Paley in 1936 from the art dealer Justin Thannhauser. Today, the painting, bequeathed by Paley upon his death in 1990, hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The Paley’s timeless and elegant apartment served as the perfect stage set against which they entertained artists, writers and other members of New York’s cognoscenti. For one member of this group, Truman Capote, Babe was a source of continual fascination and ultimately became his muse.

Like Picasso, Capote surrounded himself with fascinating women. According to George Plimpton in Truman Capote, Babe’s tremendous beauty, charm and grace led Truman to refer to her as one of his “swans”. The other members of the exclusive group included Lee Radwizill and famed socialite Slim Keith.

(Truman with Lee Radziwill. UPI/Corbis-Bettmann.)

Unfortunately, just as Picasso’s relationship with Francoise ended so did Capote’s with Babe Paley. Their friendship drew to a close with the publication of Truman’s novel, Unanswered Prayers, which recounted intimate details of the lives of the Paley’s and their jet setting friends. The book damaged their relationship beyond repair and led to Capote’s fall from his carefully, constructed social pedestal.

So, are there any muses in your life who inspire you? Perhaps we all should take a page from these legendary men and find our very own muse.