“I believe the first consideration with any project should be to establish the hierarchy of spaces, which is generally based on the function each space serves; this runs the gamut from the initial approach and entry through the shared communal spaces to the most intimate and private realms beyond. Of course, this can be accomplished in a relentlessly clinical manner—think of Louis Sullivan’s oft-repeated edict “Form follows function.”
Alternately, if one chooses, there are opportunities to create interesting, useful diversions or delightful distractions along the way without compromising efficiency and functionality. For instance, when creating a place to pause along a passageway by recessing a console table loaded with curious, eye-pleasing objects into an alcove and useful items, you add immeasurably to the experience of trudging from point A to point B with little or no added expense.
To further illustrate the subtle importance of this perspective, consider experiences we’ve all had when arriving at and moving through a house or apartment we’ve never been to. The most successful experiences are those that begin by being intuitively guided from the street, sidewalk, or parking lot to a welcoming front entry, ideally through a garden, forecourt, or intimate public lobby. Along the way, one may have encountered a place to pause, and though we seldom do so, the very idea of it is intriguing and thought-provoking. Moments such as these might evoke memories of peace, tranquility, or security—not a bad thing for an otherwise eventless transitional space.
When we perceive that an otherwise unremarkable approach has been transformed through skilled planning into an exceptional experience, we feel that something special lies in store, something akin to an adventure. If all goes well, the same effort undertaken to provide a nuanced and welcoming sense of arrival will be revealed throughout the rest of the home.”
Maugham. Elkins. Parish. Castaing. de Wolfe. Draper. Brown. These are the names that typically appear in any list of great women decorators of the 20th century. In fact, it would be hard to consider yourself well versed in the decorative arts without an intimate knowledge of their collective work.
But within the new book How They Decorated by P. Gaye Tapp, to be released April 11th by Rizzoli New York, we meet 16 other high-culture women who forged their own remarkable aesthetic in the residences they decorated and occupied…
“Intimacy begins in the lap of parents where we once sat, held close but also emboldened to venture out, knowing that we were backed by love. In architecture, this experience is found within alcoves, bays, a fireside inglenook, and the spaces beneath low mezzanines or beams—all sheltered spots existing adjacent to loftier ones. Without thinking about it, we are drawn to them.
“In the language of cathedrals, we are more likely to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in chapels and side aisles; a timid person who might evaporate standing alone in the middle of the nave thrives along its shadowy edges. We experience this constantly and unconsciously in restaurant booths, which are far more intimate than tables in the middle of the room. When we sit buried in a banquette, we dissolve in safety and the conversation changes.”
Mention English Neoclassical architectureand decoration in a room of serious design aficionados, and several names dominate the conversation: James Wyatt, John Soane, James Stuart and John Nash among them. But it is Robert Adam (son of William Adam, another of the period’s most revered) who is often noted both for his superlative ornamentation and for his voluminous record of published designs and drawings.
“…Electricity is exactly what successful juxtapositions produce. Whether furnishings are complementary or contrasting, their pairing generates a palpable current that evokes a desired feeling or ambience. In the same vein, rooms are called lifeless when poor juxtaposition either fails to generate a pulse or electrocutes with overenthusiasm. The late Albert Hadley was a master at juxtaposition because his interiors were said to produce a wonderful frisson—a brief shiver of excitement—for all who experienced them. It was energy at its finest.
“Igniting that spark also involves a certain degree of risk; informed chances inject a degree of freshness, and ideally a whiff of welcome imperfection. Even the most tailored interior benefits from the errant extravagance, and the most sumptuously decadent from a touch of austere rigor. For us, we find our risk taking typically involves the introduction of a bit of humor or wit, and it’s fascinating where it can lead. If you respect the medium but never take yourself too seriously, you’ll give yourself the freedom to create risky pairings that can truly break new ground and surprise you in delightful ways.”
A few months ago, I found myself standing in the Paris atelier of the sculptor Philippe Anthonioz, who, to my mind, has always represented the living connection to the Giacometti brothers Diego and Alberto, whose names are synonymous with plaster and bronze furnishings, objets d’art and lighting. I had just spent several hours in the Picasso Museum, housed in one of the hotel particuliers in the Marais, strolling rooms filled with its namesake’s work paired with that other giant of modern art, Diego Giacometti…. Continue reading “A History of Plaster in the Decorative Arts”
“When I was a young designer, every photo shoot with my mentor, Joseph D’Urso, was a master class in the art of framing a view. Photography, as he saw it, should aim beyond merely documenting the appearance of a finished work: “Construct an image to relive the intentions that moved you to make it.” Joe had me peer through the camera lens and study Polaroid test shots, a must in those pre-digital days, to gauge how even the subtlest rearrangement of objects within a specific field of vision—“An inch more table here . . . less water in that vase”—can reveal powerful relationships within a room.
“The eye, I learned, has emotions, but the hand needs a steady frame of reference if it is to communicate intensely personal feelings and elicit a response from others. “Frame of mind,” as Joe taught me, can be far more than a figure of speech. This was a lesson that, centuries earlier, an artist like Johannes Vermeer might have conveyed to his pupil through the mirrored microcosm of a camera obscura.”
“When I think of scale in relationship to architecture, Le Corbusier comes instantly to mind. He relates the size of the human body to the scale of a room, and, in turn, to the architecture of a building. The greatest buildings I have visited are always predicated on notions of beauty based on proportion and scale. For instance, the library by Erik Gunnar Ashland in Stockholm poses a beautiful relationship between human function and its relation to its environment, with classical orders simplified to reflect modern-day use, such as open shelving to facilitate readers’ access to books.
The best rooms I have encountered are those that read simply. This is not to say that they are empty, but that the furniture bears a very exact proportion to the total scale of the space. One element always complements the other; there is a fine balance between them that works like a well-choreographed ballet.
A good room or building is like a symphony, with all the parts combining to make a harmonious sound to the ear.”
I’m thrilled to be able to share that I’ve signed on to produce and edit my second book for Rizzoli New York – Garden Design Master Class — due out in the fall of 2018.
Utilizing the format I established while creating Interior Design Master Class, the new book will feature 100 established garden and landscape designers, with each examining one specific subject. They will explore a wide range of concepts, including scale, pathways, perennials, water, evergreens, sunlight, roses, blue, stone, sculpture, and borders, to name just a few.
It’s my hope that this new volume will be every bit as successful as IDMC, filled with both instruction and inspiration for gardeners of every persuasion – from the novice to the enthusiast to the practicing professional.
And so for now, with less than 2 years until the book’s release, I should get to work!
“Light, air, scale, and proportion constitute the mathematics that make an object work or not work. The perfect silhouette must appear effortless, even though it is the result of equal parts calculation and inspiration.
The designer must be minutely attuned—with the eye of an artist—to the interplay of the outlines and negative space created by the arrangement of furniture and objects in a room. Silhouettes are a visual, often sculptural, language that, like Vermeer’s interiors, invest rooms with drama, poetry, and artistic meaning surpassing mere function.”