Friday, October 16, 2015

Parish-Hadley Book Launch

60 East 93rd Street, New York City.
John Russell Pope, architect, completed 1931.
Photo: Collection of the Museum of the City of New York.
October 13, 2015, marked the launch reception for the new book PARISH-HADLEY TREE OF LIFE: AN INTIMATE HISTORY OF THE LEGENDARY DESIGN FIRM by Brian J. McCarthy and Bunny Williams.  The Devoted Classicist, John Tackett, a contributor, was an honored guest along with the thirty others who have a chapter in the book.  The reception was held in the glorious Manhattan townhouse that is home to the noted antiquarian Carlton Hobbs at 60 East 93rd Street.

No sign of commerce marks the entrance to Carlton Hobbs, LLC.
Photo by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist blog.
That block between Madison and Park Avenue is one of my absolute favorites, the site of several of the city's most distinctive townhouses.  Number 60 was designed by architect John Russell Pope and completed in 1931 for Virginia Fair Vanderbilt.  Heir to the fortune her father made from the Comstock Lode and Big Bonanza mine, she was married to William Kissam Vanderbilt, president of the New York Central Railroad, until 1927.  Despite the financial reverses of many during the Great Depression, there were no economic hardships for "Birdie," as her friends called her, who divided her time between this house, another on Long Island, and a third in California. 

The main block of 60 East 93rd Street has three principal floors
with the set-back entrance not seen here.
Photo by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist blog.
The house replaced three rowhouses and was built of limestone.  There are three principal floors but the service areas are on seven stories of shorter ceiling heights within that space.  Originally, there were four 18th century paneled rooms (one was removed by a subsequent owner) with antique parquet floors (replaced after occupation by a school).  Decorative hardware in the antique style was made by Bricard in Paris.

The Dining Room as set up as display space for
antiques offered for sale.
Photo by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist blog.
After Virginia Fair Vanderbilt's death at age 60, the house was bought Bryan and Thelma Foy, she being the very stylish and rich daughter of auto manufacturer Walter Chrysler.  Then the house was occupied by the Romanian Mission to the United Nations before being bought by the Lycee Francais.  Carlton Hobbs bought the 50 room mansion for about $10.5 million in 2002 and spent two years in restoration.  Read more about the house in a past post of Daytonian in Manhattan.

Designers Brian J. McCarthy and Bunny Williams, authors of
address the guests from the staircase at the book launch reception.
Photo by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist blog.
In addition to seeing the interior of the house, it was a great treat to see some of my old friends and colleagues and meet new ones.  In addition to Brian and Bunny, who were there with their respective spouses Danny Sager and John Rosselli, there was Thomas Jayne, Michael Whaley (and wife K.T.), David Kleinberg, Nicholas Miles PentecostLibby Cameron, Kim Cruise, Nancy Porter, Carol Cavaluzzo, John MurrayDavid McMahon, and Paul Engel.  And it was so good to see Mark Ferguson with business partner Oscar Shamamian with their wives Natalie Jacobs and Llewellyn Sinkler.  Parish-Hadley "alumni" after my tenure included Douglas C. WrightTodd Klein, James Andrew, and Thom Filicia.

A view from the staircase of some of those gathered for the book launch reception.
Photo by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist blog.
It was a great pleasure to see Peter van Hattum the spouse of the late Harold Simmons, my former "boss" who was such a great teacher.  And also attending was former employee from the early days of Parish-Hadley, Suzanne Earls Carr.  Sue introduced me to her guest, Bruce Budd, the esteemed designer who had worked for the late tastemaker Bunny Mellon; what a treat to meet such a talented gentleman!  Also in attendance was former Parish-Hadley client and great friend of Albert Hadley Rene Meyers who is practically part of the alumni group. One of my favorite decorative painters, Chuck Fischer, was there; he also has authored some fantastic pop-up books with his illustrations literally springing to life throughout the book.  And I spoke briefly to author of several books on famous decorators Stephen Salny.  Of course, there were many, many others and I am sure I am leaving someone out.  But it was fun and a good time was had by all.  Thanks to our host Carlton Hobbs and literary marketing & branding agent Jill Cohen with associate Lizzy Hyland.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hermes Mallea and the Great Houses of Havana

Hermes Mallea will be the Guest of Honor
at the Decorative Arts Trust gala anniversary celebration.
All Devoted Readers within driving distance will not want to miss an upcoming talk about the great houses of Havana by architect/interior designer/author Hermes Mallea.  This event is just one part of the 35th anniversary celebration of Decorative Arts Trust, a support group of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.  Hermes' presentation will be Saturday, October 17, 10:30 am in the museum auditorium in Overton Park, 1934 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee.  The talk is free and open to the public.  A book sale of both THE GRAND HOUSES OF HAVANA and ESCAPE: THE HEYDAY OF CARIBBEAN GLAMOUR, with proceeds benefiting D.A.T., will follow the talk along with a book signing by the author.
And be sure to allow enough time in your schedule afterwards to view the current exhibition which features over 100 items donated to the museum collection by Decorative Arts Trust and its members.  For more information, see the Trust's website.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

John Tackett is a Branch of the Parish-Hadley Tree of Life

John Tackett's design for a Garden Room in a renovation of a 1930s
house in the Volk Estates area of University Park, Dallas, Texas.
Image: John Tackett Design and The Devoted Classicist blog.
I have known all about Brooke Astor's Money Room, a famous space now revered by traditional decorators and architects, for 35 years.  Blessed with the classic proportions of a top Pre-War Park Avenue apartment building and given more than just a bit of help by knowing what to play up and what to play down, the expertly edited room was a great influence on this impressionable twenty-something.  But by the time of my tenure, however, it existed only in this one transparent image below, part of a slideshow presented to Parish-Hadley clients on occasion to illustrate a point.
Brooke Astor's "Money Room" decorated by Parish-Hadley in the 1970s.
Mrs. Astor had given the name to a room in her apartment where she determined the beneficiaries of cash gifts from the Astor Foundation charities as well as from her own fortune provided by her late husband, Vincent Astor (son of RMS Titanic victim Jacob Astor).  The room was on the lower level, originally a separate full-floor apartment and later joined to her own with the insertion of an interior staircase.  Brooke Astor was about to leave on a trip the next day when she told Albert Hadley that he could redecorate the Drawing Room of her mother's former apartment if the work could be completed by the time of her return in only two weeks.  The whole Parish-Hadley office immediately sprang into action the next day along with their team of tradespeople and workrooms. 

The Dining Room of a new house designed by John Tackett
for a vacant waterfront site in Palm Beach, Florida.
The chairs are the "Jack" model by Bunny Williams Home.
Drawing by John J. Tackett.
The room was emptied and the furniture sent out for re-upholstery.  The walls were painted with a subtle yellow marble finish but the most memorable feature was the floor; the herringbone parquet floor was scraped and stained in two tones of varying zig-zag stripes, an innovation at the time.  An often over-looked feature of the room was the curtains hanging from big gilded rings on wood poles.  The curtain fabric, and the whole point of telling the story here, was a custom pattern that Mr. Hadley had just designed.  It was printed with a large scale, "Tree of Life" motif that resembled stylized embroidery in brown on natural linen.  The whole team labored diligently with designers Kevin McNamara, Bunny Williams, and Harold Simmons working late on the Sunday night arranging books and hanging pictures before Mrs. Astor's return the next day.  The room was a huge success but virtually unknown to the rest of the decorating world outside Parish-Hadley until it was published in 2005.

John Tackett's design for a new house on a secluded, wooded, hilltop site
in Nashville, Tennessee, is organized so all room benefit from the views.
Drawing by John J. Tackett.
This and many other stories about the company are told by thirty-one former employees in the new book released today, October 6, 2015, PARISH-HADLEY TREE OF LIFE; AN INTIMATE HISTORY OF THE LEGENDARY DESIGN FIRM.  As those who worked there earned the equivalent of an advanced degree in design, they are known as "alumni."  In an unusually high number of instances, the "graduates" went on to found their own firms.  Examples of their work, influenced by their Parish-Hadley education, illustrate the book.

John Tackett's design for a new house in Nashville features a service entrance elevation
that is pleasing to the owner who almost always uses this entrance as well.
Drawing by John J. Tackett.
Brian J. McCarthy had the idea for the book which had Albert Hadley's blessing before his death in 2012.  (Sister Parish died in 1994).  Bunny Williams volunteered her help in making the book a reality and they are listed as co-authors.  But co-editors would be more accurate as each chapter is told in the words of an alum.  In addition to chapters by Brian and Bunny, other well-known designers such as David Easton, William Hodgins, David Kleinberg, Michael Whaley, and Thomas Jayne relate their experiences at Parish-Hadley.  Plus there are others -- no less talented -- such as John Tackett, known to you all as The Devoted Classicist.
John Tackett's design for a new house in Miami Beach features a
circular Entrance Hall decorated with a Neo-Regency palm tree motif.
Drawing by John J. Tackett.
Not wanting to spoil the experience for those who will read the book, the decision was made not to reproduce any of the images from the book for this post.  As might be imagined, the book could have been published as several volumes but was eventually reduced to a usable 288 pages.  So here are a few of the John Tackett Design images that had to be cut from the final product. 
John Tackett's design for a new house on a minimal lot in Dallas was part of
a development of other homes of similar size and materials while otherwise being unique.
Drawing by John J. Tackett
PARISH-HADLEY TREE OF LIFE: AN INTIMATE HISTORY OF THE LEGENDARY DESIGN FIRM can be ordered at a discount from The Devoted Classicist Library, an affiliate of Amazon.  And if you do not have the 1995 book PARISH-HADLEY: SIXTY YEARS OF AMERICAN DESIGN or the 2005 book ALBERT HADLEY: THE STORY OF AMERICA'S PREEMINENT INTERIOR DESIGNER, these can be ordered by clicking on the title.   For additional features of The Devoted Classicist blog, see the regular on-line/web version here.   See more examples of my work by going to LABELS on the web version and clicking on "John Tackett Design Portfolio."   Also, see the photos on the Facebook page of John Tackett Design.

John Tackett's design for a new house in the style of a Creole cottage.
Drawing by John J. Tackett.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Theatre at Fontainebleau

The Imperial Theatre at Fontainebleau
Chateau as restored, May 2014.
Photo via Daily Mail.
Sometimes it is hard to believe that this is the fortieth anniversary of my summer spent as an architecture student at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts at Fontainebleau.  In addition to studying history and design, I had my first formal classes in historic preservation/adaptive use and garden design, two areas that would later figure prominently in my career.  With direct exposure to exemplary buildings, memorable landscape sites, and exquisite decorative arts, the whole Fontainebleau experience provided a formidable boost to my education.

The Courtyard of Honor, Fontainebleau.
Photo via Wikipedia.
Except for notable field trips, classes were held in a wing of the chateau that was historic but not part of the museum.  My class also benefited from other behind-the-scenes access, one of the best being able to see the preserved theatre, off-limits to the public at the time as it was considered a fire hazard.

A circa 1910 view of the Imperial Theatre, Fontainebleau.
Photo via Wikipedia.
The Imperial Theatre was designed by architect Hector Lefuel and built for Napoleon III from 1853 to 56.  It replaced the smaller Comédie Theatre and was built with a capacity for 400 within the existing shell of a wing.

The chateau during the era of Napoleon III, 1862.
The theatre is noted by the "T" towards the lower right.
Image from Private Collection.
The design was inspired by Marie Antoinette's theatre at Versailles which was admired by Empress Eugénie.  It was inaugurated in May 1857 and only saw fifteen performances during the reign of Napoleon III.
Exterior elevation drawings showing the courtyard and
garden sides of the wing, indicating the position of the theatre.
Image from
At the time of my visit in 1975, the theatre was a dusty jewel box, a time capsule cracked open to reveal a Louis XVI Revival interior that had been essentially untouched for 120 years.  There was not even electricity; with the windows shuttered, the only illumination that day came from a backstage skylight and a flashlight.

The lower level, or parterre prior to
Photo via

The unrestored first dress circle of the theatre.
Photo via
As the class gathered on the lower flat area in front of the stage, our eyes got accustomed to the dim light.  The furnishings were still in place, I noticed as I lifted the corner of a dust sheet covering the particularly long canapés that provided seating for the parterre.  The next level up was the first dress circle that included the imperial box with the second dress circle above that; these had individual fauteuils under the sheeting as did the boxes on the fourth level. 

A pre-restoration view of the Imperial Theatre,
Fontainebleau, showing one of the stage sets.
Photo via
But the most interesting artifacts were the painted stage flats, the scenery that could be raised and lowered by a wench in the attic.  It was all preserved as the theatre had not been used since the Nazi occupation.

The machinery in the attic to raise and lower
the scenery.
Photo via
The restoration was achieved through a campaign led by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Emir of Abu Dhabi.  The sheikh, the supporter behind the Louvre Abu Dhabi, runs the world's second-largest sovereign wealth fund (following that of the King of Thailand) with Forbes reporting assets of $773 billion. 

The patron of the theatre's restoration,
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, right.
Photo from Getty Images via Daily Mail.
The Imperial Theatre is accessible by guided tour only, available every afternoon except Tuesdays.  What a treat to know that this architectural treasure may now be visited by the public.

The Imperial Theatre, Fontainebleau.
Photo via Daily Mail.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Marie-Antoinette: Chic Chaises

A fauteuil en bergere made for
Marie-Antoinette's Salon du Rocher
in the garden of the Petit Trianon, Versailles.
Image: Christie's.
A single armchair sold last week for $2,714,250.  Yes, it was a very special chair, made especially for Marie-Antoinette as part of a suite to furnish the Belvedere Pavilion, her Salon du Rocher or teahouse, in the garden of the Petit Trianon.

The Belvedere Pavilion (and Grotto)
in the garden of the Petit Trianon.
Image:  World Monuments Fund.
The interior of the Belvedere Pavilion.
Image: World Monuments Fund.
The Belvedere Pavilion was built between 1778 and 1781 under the supervision of the queen's architect Richard Mique with interior decoration by Le Riche.  (A conservation effort was completed in 2012 supported by the World Monuments Fund).
The Belvedere Pavilion
in a modern watercolor by Andrew Zega from
The floor plan of the Belvedere Pavilion
showing the design of the marble floor
and the surrounding terrace as drawn by
Claude-Louis Châtelet in 1786.
Image: Bibliothèque de Modène.

The July 9, 2015 auction at Christie's, London, Sale 10670, was titled "Taste of the Royal Court: Important French Furniture and Works of Art from a Private Collection."  Far exceeding the estimate of $463,200 to $772,000, Lot 18 was described as a royal Louis XVI giltwood fauteuil en bergere

Side view of the fauteuil en bergere
from the suite made for the Belvedere Pavilion.
Image: Christie's.
A detail of the chair sold at auction last week
that had been made for Marie-Antioinette's
Belvedere Pavilion, Versailles.
Image: Christie's.
Another detail of the chair made for
Marie-Antoinette's Belvedere Pavilion.
Image: Christie's.
The auction notes listed Francois (II) Foliot as the maker, 1780-81, and attributed the design to Jacques Gondoin with the carving by either Mme. Pierre-Edme Babel or Toussaint Foliot.  A wax model by Gondoin showed an additional two legs at the front rail, suggesting that the existing rail might be a replacement from the end of the 18th or early 19th century.

The wax study model of the chair
attributed to Gille-François Martin, to the design
of Jacques Gondoin.  Paris, 1780. 1:7 scale.
Image: Musèe National des Châteaux des Versailles et de Trianon.
Originally, the suite was comprised of eight fauteuils en bergere (closed-arm chairs) and eight chaises (side chairs).  The carved beech was painted white, originally, with parcel-gilt detailing.  The major expense of the original suite, however, was the fabric, threads of gold and silver embroidered on silk.  Bills for payment for the chairs costing 20,000 livres, now in the Archives Nationale, were presented during the Revolution trial as evidence of Marie-Antoinette's lavish spending. (A gallon of wine at the time cost about one livre, a cow, 100 livres, and a horse, 250 livres).

A chaise from the suite, in the collection at Versailles.
The modern fabric is interpreted to be in keeping
with the original design concept.
Image: Syndicat National des Antiquaires.
The Getty Museum has four side chairs from this suite in their collection.  They were bought from the estate of Anna Thomson Dodge from Christie's in 1971.  The four chairs were one of the highlights of her impressive collection that furnished her Trumbauer-designed mansion, "Rose Terrace," in Grosse Point Farms, Michigan.

One of the four chaises in the Getty collection
now covered in modern fabric.
Who was the buyer?  That has not been revealed, but the price would indicate that there were at least two very interested parties.  There was a special European Union document that allowed its shipment to the auction in London; apparently it was not from a private collection in France or there would have been issues on exporting such a historically important antique.  My guess is that the Getty Museum was the high bidder, but hopefully we shall see this chic chaise on public exhibition in the future.

Claude-Louis Châtelet's 1781 painting
"Illumination du Pavillon du Belvédère, Petit Trianon."
Image: Collection of the Palace of Versailles.
Read more in this series "Chic Chaises" here, here, and here.  Visit the regular on-line version of The Devoted Classicist to leave a comment or search the archives of past posts.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Parish-Hadley Tree of Life

is a new book to be published October, 2015.
There is a new book in the works, PARISH-HADLEY TREE OF LIFE: AN INTIMATE HISTORY OF THE LEGENDARY DESIGN FIRM, being developed by Brian J. McCarthy and Bunny Williams that will focus not only on the firm, but will also feature thirty-one of the former employees who have gone on to successful careers on their own.  Because of the unique learning environment created by Sister Parish and Albert Hadley, the "graduates" of Parish-Hadley are known in the design profession as "alumnae" with their experience compared to an advance degree in design.  Each of the 31 alumni interviewed have a chapter in the book giving a personal reflection of the firm with illustrations of their work past and present.

The Parish-Hadley story is an very unique one; no other interior design firm - ever- has produced so many designers who left to establish their own studio.  Brian had the idea for the book about eight years ago.  He developed an outline and discussed it with Mr. Hadley (who passed in 2012 following Mrs. Parish's death in 1994) who was very excited about the project.  But Brian's own book, LUMINOUS INTERIORS: THE HOUSES OF BRIAN McCARTHY, came first.  When Brian told Bunny about his idea when they were both at the Nashville Garden & Antiques Show, she was very enthusiastic and promised her full support.  The next week, Bunny was in a meeting at Abrams and happened to mention the idea; the publishers jumped on it, giving the book an immediate green light for Stewart, Tabori and Chang, using the same book agent Jill Cohen, art director Doug Turshen and creative team that both Bunny and Brian had used before on their own books. In addition to the very readable text, the book also promises to be visually interesting.  Advances in digital imagery will avoid the muddy results of historic black & white photos that have plagued design books in the past.  Plus there are many new color never-before-published images.

The image used for the book jacket (and that may change) is one of my favorites of the Parish-Hadley projects, the Living Room of Nancy Pyne in Peapack, New Jersey.  Both partners had a hand in the design and the result is quintessential Parish-Hadley -- comfortable yet refined and with an architectural sensibility in the furnishings without being too rigid.

The title of the book expresses Albert Hadley's appreciation of the traditional motif, the Tree of Life.  The mythology of the sacred tree dates back to a number of ancient civilizations including the cultures of pre-Islamic Persia and ancient Egypt as well as other Asian, European, and Native American beliefs.  The motif gained wide-spread exposure as a popular design on 17th century printed cotton bedcoverings from India, the palampores which often featured a Tree of Life as a central figure.  The Tree of Life motif was also developed in Persia and China in the 18th century with adaptations for the European market where various goods were marketed.  Crewel embroidery was also used to represent the motif in England, often a natural color wool yarn on a colored background;  a wallpaper representation of this was an Albert Hadley favorite.

And not insignificantly, there will be a short chapter on John J. Tackett that Devoted Readers will not want to miss.  Plans are for an October 13, 2015, release with Hearst Publications -- Elle Décor, Veranda, and House Beautiful -- hosting a gala launch on that date.  So there will be plenty more about the book in the magazines in the coming months.  But for those who cannot wait to see the book on store shelves, pre-ordering at a discount price is available here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Another Storey

John Tackett Design.
A Proposed Addition and Improvements
to a New House Under Construction.
Image: The Devoted Classicist blog
A colleague has interior design clients building a very large house custom designed by a local architect.  In addition to a substantial main block, there are extensions in both directions with almost endless passages to room after room on the Ground Floor.  So it was a surprise to be contacted about a possible expansion while the house was just starting construction.

There was interest in having parents occupy the planned Master Suite on the Ground Floor, requiring the homeowners to relocate to the Second Floor and push the guest rooms to a new Third Floor.  The interior designer wisely advised against expansion of the Ground Floor, already a maze many time larger than the main block.  The program for John Tackett Design was to suggest an upward expansion of the main block without increasing the overall roof height, and propose some detailing to give more architectural interest.  The foundation was complete and framing underway but the structural engineer gave approval for the proposed added storey.  My quick sketch over a reduced-size print of the original construction drawing is shown.

A very deep porch is replaced with an entrance terrace (already in place) with a rusticated limestone first floor giving a visual base for applied limestone pilasters and a limestone pediment.  Instead of the over-sized brown brick with white mortar originally planned, I suggested a traditional-sized brick in a buff ochre color with matching mortar to compliment the proposed buff Minnesota limestone.  The windows were already on order, but I did suggest changing the Upstairs Center Hall window over the front door, and the window of the two-story Secondary Stair Hall seen on the front of the house.  Also, my design changes the front door to a narrow pair and alters the sidelights, transom and limestone surround.

The interior designer who had apparently expressed concerns throughout the original design process was thrilled with my proposal.  And the homeowners were ecstatic.  But the parents, who were not part of the discussion, balked at the thought of moving in with their adult offspring.  "Never!" was their reported comment.  So this has been one last view before going into the Unbuilt category in the files.