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.
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.