Friday, April 10, 2015

Mario Buatta, Curtain Master

Curtains in the Dillon Room of Blair House
decorated by Mario Buatta. 1988.
Photo from Southern Accents.
Granted, there are many other examples that would better prove Mario Buatta's skill in curtain design, but this one illustrates several valuable lessons.  While it is admirable that the form of the curtains acknowledges the form of the window (or doorway), it is not critical that the form be absolutely followed.  Windows with a rounded head do not necessarily require rounded head curtains.  (As with any rule, there are exceptions and I will contradict myself in a future post, but let's stay with this for the moment).


The Dillon Room at Blair House
as decorated by Mario Buatta, 1988.
Photo from Southern Accents.
Identifying the gilded, pierced element of the valance (or pelmet) as the curtain cornice, note how that feature gives grace to the large opening.  The curtain cornice allows the striped silk taffeta fabric of the valance and panels to just simply hang; the volume of the fabric along with lining and interlining as well as the correct dimensions keep the ensemble from looking limp.  Although the center of the curtain cornice rises to a height above the cornice (or crown molding) of the room, note that the attachment of this treatment is made to the wall.  Curtains should never be attached to the face of the cornice of the room.  (And that is one rule for which I can think of no exceptions).

Another view of the Dillon Room, Blair House.
Photo from Architectural Digest.
While many might know that Blair House is the official guest house of the President for visiting foreign dignitaries and their entourages, some may not realize that it is actually four houses; two face Pennsylvania Avenue and two face Jackson Square adding up to over 100 rooms.  The 1984 to 1988 renovation dealt with architects John Mesick and John Waite restructuring the interconnection of the interior spaces and other functional issues with an $8.6 million grant from Congress.  But an additional $5 million was raised by private donations for the décor by the Blair House Restoration Fund headed by Selwa "Lucky" Roosevelt (Chief of Protocol from 1982 to 1989 and wife of Theodore Roosevelt's grandson) and Clement Conger (who was the force behind the White House decoration of public rooms from Pat Nixon until Nancy Reagan).  Half of those funds was used for decoration and half was reserved for an on-going acquisition and maintenance fund.  The responsibilities for the interior design were divided between Mario Buatta and Mark Hampton, each among the top "name' decorators of the time.

The Queen's Bedroom at Blair House
as decorated by Mario Buatta in 1988.
Bunny Williams redecorated the room in 2011.
Photo via The Washington Post.
In 2011, Bunny Williams, one of the top talents today, was brought in to redecorate three bedrooms, two by Mario Buatta and one by Mark Hampton, which had discontinued fabrics that made it not feasible to reproduce the original scheme. The curtains, however, were still in a condition suitable for re-use and sent to be auctioned in September, 2011 by the Potomac Company in Alexandria with proceeds to benefit the restoration fund.  The  headboards and associated hangings along with the curtains, all in a discontinued Lee Jofa chintz, were given a pre-auction estimate of $400 to $800; the results are not known.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

John Saladino, Curtain Master

John Saladino's Kips Bay Showhouse room.
Image from HOUSE BEAUTIFUL, October 1988.
Designer of furnishings and interiors, John Saladino is known for his Signature Look that mixes continental antiques with seating, tables and lighting of his own design, usually within a handsome architectural setting.  But Saladino is not necessarily known for his curtains.  Here is an example, however, where Saladino realized that the room absolutely needed some softness at the tall south and west-facing windows of this room and addressed the issue in a simple, classic way.

A corner of Saladino's Kips Bay Showhouse room.
Image from HOUSE BEAUTIFUL, October 1988.
This room was in a Park Avenue townhouse that was used as a decorator showhouse several times to benefit the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club providing after-school and enrichment programs for New York City children; I think this particular event dates from 1988. Patrons at the gala opening are allowed to walk into the rooms, but the typical visitor only sees the room from one angle, at the doorway (unless it is a walk-through room) so the space is often furnished to be seen from just one vantage point.  But the room has to work during both day and evening opening hours. The existing paneling in this case could not be altered, making any special construction at the windows impossible.  Part of the solution here was a bottom-up linen shade that could be adjusted to diffuse the light as well as the view of traffic just below.  This allowed the curtain panels of unlined fabric to be fixed, pulled up to one side in the manner of the classical Mediterranean villas that still inspire Saladino.  The panels were silk, if I am remembering correctly, with inverted pleats giving a more tailored look, hanging from braided cords of the same color.

Saladino's Kips Bay Showhouse Room.
Photo from SHOWCASE OF INTERIOR DESIGN:
EASTERN EDITION, 1991, via
The Art of the Room
Can you imagine the room without the curtains?  It would not be nearly as successful without this relatively simple element.  Read more about this room in a post of The Art of the Room.  This is the third post in the not-necessarily-consecutive series on curtains with the others being able to be seen by clicking on "curtains" under LABELS in the right-hand margin of the regular web version of The Devoted Classicist.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Robert Couturier, Curtain Master

Designer Robert Couturier's Living Room
from House & Garden, September 1990.
In Robert Couturier's Living Room in his own NYC apartment, the curtains play a large part of the success of the room.  Filled with a mix of stylish continental antiques from the 18th, 19th, and 20th-centuries, an Aubusson rug grounds the arrangement.  Three tiers of white, hinged bi-fold, louvered shutters provide light control and privacy in the bay window that would otherwise dominate the room if the eye had not been stopped by the billowing effect of the curtains.  Panels of taffeta hang by tabs of the same fabric from a steel rod accented with brass finials, support posts, and large tie-back rosettes.

Imagine the same room without the curtains to realize the importance of that feature.  Although it is not the type of room usually seen in magazines today, it still has validity after 25 years.  More posts in the Curtain Master series will follow with a series of un-consecutive series of posts by The Devoted Classicist.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Kevin McNamara, Curtain Master

A view of the East Hampton Living Room
of designer Kevin McNamara.
The Devoted Classicist is still hearing far too many people -- including professional interior designers -- say that they do not do curtains.  Actually, they say they don't do "drapes" which is like nails on a chalkboard to me, but that is another subject.  This is the first of a non-consecutive series of posts to show how curtains can really add to the appeal of a room.

Although I have a great appreciation for elaborate curtains -- if the rest of the room is up to it -- I do understand those whose memory is tainted with visions of poorly proportioned, tortured, and sometimes smothering window treatments that are so objectionable that nothing at the windows would be better.  But relatively simple curtains, even in formal atmospheres can be a welcome and much needed dressing.

Another view of the curtains
in Kevin McNamara's East Hampton
Living Room.
Both photos from Architectural Digest.
These photos show the Living Room of the late Kevin McNamara's weekend house in East Hampton.  I visited twice, once while it was under construction and another time after it was complete and handsomely furnished when I still worked at Parish-Hadley.  So this decor dates back about 30 years. (These two shots come from an article in Architectural Digest, torn out for the Curtain File of a colleague.  But I have the entire issue packed away and will show more in a future post).

I hope you can imagine how different this room would look without curtains.  As I recall, the long walls of the room each had three pairs of tall French doors opening out to a terrace on both the entrance and garden side of the capital 'I' (with serif) shaped house.  (I might have preferred shorter doors with a transom to give the desired overall height, but that, too, is a subject for another post).  Color/value also plays a role.  How different the room would be if the curtains matched the green glazed walls.  Here, the French doors remain an important feature of the room, but they are visually softened somewhat by the creamy curtains.  The site is wooded and private, so there may have never been a need to draw the curtains, eliminating the need for supplemental treatments or more complicated hardware.  And I hope you can see the simple gilt fillet at the top of the wall, giving definition to the perimeter of the room, an interesting detail given the curtain poles mounted almost to the cornice.

Kevin, who passed away in 2005, had started his career at McMillen and then at Parish-Hadley before founding his own firm so he was well-versed in how to create proper curtains.  Later in his career, he and his life partner founded Christopher Norman Inc., a to-the-trade source which was at the forefront of having French and Italian-style silk woven in the Far East at more affordable prices, making silk curtains, etc., more popular to a wider market.  More about Kevin McNamara will appear in future posts of The Devoted Classicist.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Florence de Dampierre

A painted secrétaire à abattant from
THE BEST OF PAINTED FURNITURE
The first U.S. shop devoted entirely to eighteenth and nineteenth-century painted furniture, Florence de Dampierre Antiques, opened in New York City in 1985.  Immediately, it was a great success, drawing popular decorators and A-List clients to the SoHo shop.
Florence de Dampierre
In addition to being a dealer in the loveliest antique furniture, Florence de Dampierre has designed limited edition reproductions and has written five successful books.

Books by Florence de Dampierre.
Image from www.florencedammpierre.com
WALLS: THE BEST OF DECORATIVE TREATMENTS is especially noteworthy as it features a University Park/Dallas renovation project by John Tackett Design.

A John Tackett Design project featured in
WALLS: THE BEST OF DECORATIVE TREATMENTS
Florence de Dampierre will present a talk using images from her books as well as her own interior design projects as a guest of Decorative Arts Trust, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Saturday March 28, 2015, 10:30 am in the museum auditorium.  The public is invited and the event is free with museum admission.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Displaying Collections



Sir John Soane's house in London is now a museum.
Of course a whole book or series of talks could be developed to show wonderful ways to display a collection in one's home.  Here are just a few examples from exceptional homes to be featured to a greater extend in future posts of The Devoted Classicist.

Sir John Soane's Museum.
In case you thought the first image was a fantasy, it was not.  A fragment-filled atrium rises the full height of the house, from the basement to the skylight in the roof.

Sir John Soane's Museum.
Soane's picture gallery uses an ingenious method of hinged panels to hang a multitude of paintings in the gallery space.

A section through Sir John Soane's Museum.
Soane's house is particularly remarkable for both the diversity of spaces within the standard townhouse city lot and the exceptional use of natural light.

The Henry Clay Frick House, New York City.
The Henry Clay Frick House at 1 East 70th Street in New York City is particularly interesting in this discussion because it was designed and built as a residence with the intent that it would become a museum.  Frick died in 1919 but his wife continued to live in the house until her death in 1931 and it opened to the public in 1935 with some alterations and additions to accommodate that use.

The Frick Gallery.
The Frick Gallery was part of the original mansion with the pictures hanging in a traditional manner.  The collection is available for viewing on-line and is a wonderful way to spend some time.

The Peacock Room
The Peacock Room, now in the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC, is one of the great period rooms in the whole city.

The Peacock Room in 1908 in Detroit.
The Peacock Room was originally in the London home of Frederick Leyland before being bought by museum founder Charles Lang Freer for his Detroit mansion in 1904.

The entrance hall of the Governor's Palace, Williamsburg.
The original Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, VA, burned to the ground in 1781 and was reconstructed in 1931 to 34.  Much of the furnishings are based on written accounts and inventories as well as customs of the time.

The Russian Porcelain Room, Hillwood.
Marjorie Merriweather Post had the good fortune to be both rich and married to the Ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1930s when pre-Bolshevik treasures could be easily bought and exported.  A room in her Washington, DC, mansion, Hillwood was refitted to showcase Imperial Russian porcelain.

An entrance hall in NYC decorated by Alberto Pinto.
The late Alberto Pinto displayed a cache of export furniture discovered from a shipwreck.  All the pieces were small but an impact was made by the number of items as wall decoration.

Bunny Mellon's cottage at Oak Spring Farm
Billionaire Bunny Mellon, who died last year at age 103, lived in a relatively modest cottage on her Upperville, VA estate, surrounded by things she loved.

Mario Buatta's Living Room
Decorator Mario Buatta helped to revive a trend for genre paintings of dogs, here displayed with a flourish of ribbon.

Brooke Astor's library in her Park Avenue apartment.
Albert Hadley designed a brass-trimmed red lacquer library to re-display the collection of Vincent Astor's rare book collection in his widow's apartment.

The bathroom/dressing room of Carter Burden, Jr
Decorator Mark Hampton created a lavish gentleman's retreat for rare book collector Carter Burden, Jr. in his Fifth Avenue apartment.  See more at a previous post, "Mark Hampton for Susan and Carter Burden."

Bill Blass' closet/dressing room.
One would expect the late fashion designer Bill Blass' closet to be as handsome and tailored as his own wardrobe.

Mariah Carey's Shoe Closet
And one would expect singer/song-writer Mariah Carey's shoe closet to have a fairy tale quality to it.

The wine cellar of the Malouf residence, Nevada.
Home wine cellars are usually best decorated with the wine bottles themselves and hard, cool surfaces.

The basement of Barbra Streisand's Malibu home.
Barbra Streisand's renovated home in Malibu has a basement arranged as a shopping mall of stores to display her various collections.  This is set up as a doll shop.

Malplaquet House
Malplaquet House
One of London's most fantastic and eccentric private homes belongs to connoisseurs of the decorative arts Todd Longstaffe-Gowan and Tim Knox.
Malplaquet House
We have been fortunate to have had Todd come to Memphis to speak on two occasions to the members of Decorative Arts Trust, a support group for Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.  (I serve on the Board of Directors as President Emeritus).

A bathroom at Malplaquet House, London.
See more of Malplaquet House on a previous post of The Devoted Classicist here.

The renovated Luncheon Room, University Park, Texas.
A project by John Tackett Design.
A wonderful project of my own a number of years back involved a complete renovation and additions to a Tudor Revival house in the Volk Estates section of University Park (Dallas).  Here a collection of prints of decoration from Attic vases mix with a collection of basalt Wedgwood (both covering two more walls).

Pine paneled Library addition, University Park, Texas.
A project by John Tackett Design.
The Library of the same house accommodates an impressive number of silver golf trophies earned by the owners.  By placing them among the books in this comfortable sitting room, the trophies may be enjoyed on a daily basis.  Read more about this library of reclaimed pine here.

This post is a record of the images presented by John J. Tackett on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 as part of a talk given to the ladies of the Little Glass Club, Memphis, to give just a few examples of how a personal collection might be displayed for maximum enjoyment.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mark Hampton for Susan and Carter Burden, 1020 Fifth Avenue

The Drawing Room of the Burden apartment.
Photo by Scott Frances for HG magazine.
All magazine images via Toby Worthington.
The previous post of The Devoted Classicist gave a view into the apartment of Susan and Carter Burden at 1020 Fifth Avenue, New York City.  Decorated by Mark Hampton, it was published with great fanfare, appearing on the cover of the September, 1992 issue of HG magazine.

Details of the Burden apartment.
Photos by Scott Frances for HG magazine.
The magazine article, written by the Burdens' friend John Richardson did not reveal the owners' names, but it was not hard to figure it out. 

An exterior rendering of 1020 Fifth Avenue
from the original Douglas-Elliman offering.
Via Columbia University Library.
The building is very distinctive, even from the interior.  And Hampton had decorated Carter Burden's previous apartment at The Dakota when he was married to Amanda Mortimer.

The original floor plan of the 11th floor
of 1020 Fifth Avenue, NYC.
Via Columbia University Library.
The Burdens bought the eleventh floor of 1020 Fifth for $4.9 million in 1990.  With the help of my friend and former Parish-Hadley co-worker Oscar Shamamian of Ferguson & Shamamian Architects, the whole-floor apartment was completely remodeled to showcase Burden's art and rare book collection. 

Description from the original offering
by Douglas-Elliman.
Via Columbia University Library.
The building, designed by Warren & Wetmore (best known for Grand Central Terminal) and completed in 1925, is notable for six of the 13 apartments having drawing rooms with ceiling heights up to 18 feet.  It is one of the most desirable Pre-War co-op buildings in Manhattan.  The original price for the eleventh floor was $120,000. 

Building section of 1020 Fifth Avenue
from the original Douglas-Elliman offering.
Via Columbia University Library.
When Susan Burden placed the 11 room apartment on the market in 2002, the price was $23.5 million. 

The Library of the Burden apartment.
Photo by Scott Frances for HG magazine.
The HG article mentions that the Burdens used the Drawing Room for most activities, but there was also a smaller sitting room, a Library.  As the text of the magazine article points out, it was inspired by the library that Emilio Terry designed for the British Embassy in Paris.  After Carter Burden's death in 1996 at age 54, much of his collection of rare books, valued at $10 million, went to the Morgan Library.  (But the shelves were not left completely bare; in 2009, an electronics installer was convicted of taking more than $1 million in books, including a signed F. Scott Fitzgerald valued at $500,000).

The Dining Room of the Burden apartment
at 1020 Fifth Avenue as decorated by Mark Hampton.
Photo by Scott Frances for HG magazine.
The Dining Room, with a 10 ft ceiling like the other family rooms after the Drawing Room, was put into service when the Burdens entertained, as they often did in the early 1990s. 

Carter Burden's Bath/Dressing Room.
Photo via Corinne Gilbert.
Another book and art-filled room was Carter Burden's Dressing/Bathroom.  Much like any other room furnished by Mark Hampton, it just happens to include plumbing fixtures.  The antique w.c. was discretely located around a corner behind a gothick folding screen.

Susan and Carter Burden, Jr.,
January, 1990.
Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd, Getty Images.
Carter Burden, Jr., was a great-great-great grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in American history.  After working as an aid to Robert Kennedy, Carter Burden served on the New York City Council from 1969 to 1977 although attempts at other public offices were not successful.  At one time, he owned the Village Voice newspaper and New York Magazine, and then a conglomeration of radio stations.  For those keeping track, first wife Amanda was the daughter of legendary style icon Barbara "Babe" Paley from her first husband Stanley Grafton Mortimer, Jr., heir to a Standard Oil fortune; Amanda went on to marry Steve Ross, head of Warner Communications, and is now in a long term relationship with television personality Charlie Rose.  Susan Burden serves on the Board of Directors of the Carter Burden Center for Aging.

Mark Hampton in his own Manhattan Living Room.
Photo: T Magazine.
Mark Hampton died in 1998 at age 58.  Obviously, he was proud of this project; it appears on the dust jacktet of the 2009 book MARK HAMPTON: AN AMERICAN DECORATOR by his wife Duane Hampton. In ways more than just one, the decoration of the apartment was an example of the end of an era fueled by the Reaganomics of the time. But there is every indication that there is a rebirth in traditional decoration just beginning to flower with prime Manhattan residential real estate in demand as ever and suppliers re-issuing hand-blocked chintz, handmade trims, and custom wallcoverings.  Misters Hampton and Burden would be pleased.

The Drawing Room of the Burden apartment
at 1020 Fifth Avenue, NYC,
appears on the cover of the Mark Hampton book.