Thursday, September 13, 2012

That's So Rory

An Indian carving and an Afghani chair provide a
"very Rory" memorable detail
for Mr. Cameron's house in Menerbes.
Photo:  Serge Carrie for AD.
Roderick Cameron, who died at age 71 in 1985, known as Rory to family and friends, was one of the twentieth century's great tastemakers whose influence on design is still felt today.  Related to my Parish-Hadley co-worker Libby Cameron, I was fortunate to have met him in the mid-80s when Mr. Cameron came to the office to see where Libby worked and to meet Albert Hadley.  Rory Cameron was a figure in International Society, a writer, and, later, a professional interior designer.  His expertise in design was developed in his Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat villa, La Fiorentina, that was featured in a series of previous posts of The Devoted Classicist.  When the house was sold to Mary Wells and Harding Lawrence and redecorated by Billy Baldwin, Cameron moved into the smaller Le Petite Clos adjacent and fine-tuned his decorating skills. Later, he moved to Ireland for a brief time before returning to France in 1977 with a house in Menerbes, Provence.  More links are found at the end of this post.

Rory Cameron in Marguerite Littman's London apartment.
Photo by Derry Moore for AD.
In a 1985 interview with Marguerite Littman that appeared in Architectural Digest magazine, the writer presented the concept of something being "very Rory Cameron" in terms of the item itself or the way is was used.

Crushed petals in an Imari bowl scent the air
adjacent to a Chinese porcelain vase adapted as a lamp,
a Japanese fish, and lumps of opal in a Mughal lapis saucer.
Photo by Serge Carrie for AD.
Rory Cameron observed, "When the house is being photographed, I have always wanted the people concerned to concentrate on details -- arrangements on tables, as well as the design of the rooms themselves.  For me it's the details, the ways people arrange things, that give the real atmosphere.  This is seldom emphasized.  Horst seems to be the only photographer who understands this, and the supreme examples are the photographs he took of Chateau Mouton -- one in particular where you see Baron Philippe de Rothschild's foot in a tapestry evening slipper on a nineteenth-century carpet with an over-life-size figure of Napoleon III.  It sticks in one's mind, and tells the whole story".

Cartier ashtrays of agate, amethyst, and turquoise.
Photo by Serge Carrie for AD.
Mr. Cameron was a proponent of what he credited David Hicks as calling a 'tablescape', a collection of objects displayed on a table.  They might be diverse, but each having a quality of their own.

A horn and ivory box harbors a "collection of magic":
velvet from the maharani of Mewar's state barge,
Nile mud from the Temple of Philae,
and an aphrodisiac paste from a Cairo souk.
The five wash drawings of India are by Thomas Daniell.
An ornithological watercolor is behind an anonymous marble bust.
Photo by Serge Carrie for AD.
Upholstery and curtains in his house were linen, cotton damask and printed cottons instead of cut-velvet and silk brocade.  "I like color-on-color and small patterns.  I don't like strident colors.  Exception:  my bed, which is an Indian-designed material," he said.  "I painted the drawing room the silver-green of the back of an olive leaf".  Mr. Cameron explained the coordination of the walls with the furniture, "I like the baseboards to be dark and probably marbelized.  I think in America there is a tendency to use too bright colors.  On the whole, I am against dark wood and have what amounts to a passion for lacquer.  Coffee tables are very important.  What should they be?  Anything but what they are.  I like round tables, too, covered with cloth -- they warm up a room.  I have a weakness for Egyptian and Chinese things, a horror of bars and cocktail cabinets.  Why not just simply have a drinks table and collect old decanters with silver labels and a mixture of Venetian Venini glasses?  I hate wall-to-wall carpeting and prefer needlework rugs, or a kind of matting woven from raffia and strands of white cotton".

Picasso plates for luncheon use.
Photo by Serge Carrie for AD.
Mr. Cameron also believed that a house should have scents;  he had baskets of lavender, and the aroma of Floris and Guerlain.  As for china, "At night I personally always use white. . . I like plain silver.  I hate colored candles and tall flowers in the middle of a dining room table.  You can't see who you are talking to.  Personally, I never put any flowers on a table, tall or not.  I have a horror of arranged bouquets.  I like clumping my flowers in the same way that I like clumped, cushioned effects in the garden. . . I economize with orchids.  Why do orchids have the reputation for being an extravagance, like caviar?  They actually last far longer than most other plants you can buy".
Baron Rothschild's foot graces the cover of HORST: INTERIORS.
Rory Cameron appreciated the photographer's eye for details.
The Blue Remembered Hills blog has published a number of essays about Rory Cameron, Le Petite Clos, his house in Ireland and his Paris apartment, and his house in Menerbes;  just click on the links to read them and see the photos.  Roderick Cameron's book THE GOLDEN RIVIERA is out of print, but a vintage copy may be found here.  The Horst photo of Baron Rothschild's foot appears on the cover of the book HORST: INTERIORS;  it is also out of print, but a vintage copy may be found here.   (If a price is given, it may be ordered despite a note to the contrary;  the message just means that it is not available for free delivery).  A favored rate subscription to Architectural Digest magazine may be found here.


  1. I love hearing these little 'lists' people make of their preferences, particularly stylish people who know what they're talking about!
    I love the idea of letting the owner make their own little tablescapes -thats how people live afterall. I hate how certain magazines (who shall remain nameless) stylize everything to within an inch of their lives and it all comes out looking the same.

    1. I agree Stefan. It is hard to generalize, but I always interested in these decorating do & don't 'lists' too, especially if they are still relevant 25+ years later. Years ago, a magazine took one room and styled it in the manner of several popular architecture and decorating magazines along with the text that portrayed the slant of the parody article. The room was given the appearance that suited the direction of the magazine and its advertisers. It was priceless; I hope to come across it again some day.

  2. One can learn a lot from analyzing advice like this, whether one agrees or disagrees with the results. One area in which Mr. Cameron and I totally part company is scents--I cannot abide strong scents of any kind, and know a number of people who are made ill by perfumes, and who really suffer in overly-perfumed rooms.

    1. I know what you mean, Parnassus. Just recently I was in a restaurant with a man nearby, younger than me, who absolutely reeked of a sickly-sweet cologne that reminded me of the Toilet Water used on me by the barber when I was a little boy. Only this was many times stronger.

      I don't like strong scents in a dining room except from the food. But I do generally like scents in other rooms but prefer them to be subtle. I have some orchids with a great scent, but not yet enough of them to have constant scented blooms. Thank you for commenting.

  3. John,
    Such a great and worthy subject. Tice always said he liked La Fiorentina better when Mr C had it, than when it was redone by the Lawrences and their designers. I always think of Van Day Truex in relation to Rory Cameron, what a fabulous time they all lived in.


    1. As you can see Mr Cameron's decoration of La Fiorentina in the link, and Billy Baldwin's as well, the latter did not have an absolutely new take on the house although the Baldwin-designed fabrics and rugs were more 'fresh'. But I definitely have great appreciation for the Cameron scheme. Thank you for commenting, Dean.

  4. This is so interesting and resonant with my own feelings - that there is so much "in the details". Arrangements of anything are not casual, but made with a great deal of thought, part of which is to make it look effortless, and not contrived. I've sometimes arranged and found the first attempt "contrived", so you have to play around sometimes, but that's the joy of decorating surely? I would have loved to have met RC, as I think we would have much upon which to agree!

  5. Yes, Columnist, the 'effortless' look is the key no matter how much consideration was given to achieve it. But for some creative types, the process can be fun. Editing is essential.

  6. I first saw pictures of La Fiorentina at an early age and was marked for life---one worships at the Cameron altar.

    1. I remember seeing photos, D.E.D., early on as well. The trompe l'oeil painting of architectural drawings around a doorway (by Martin Battersby) is a nice image to be etched in one's mind. And also, tables set for a luncheon with white cloths surrounded by Louis XVI chairs out on the grassy terraces stepping down to the sea.


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