Alexa Hampton: On Tradition

A bust of Brutus, purchased from a dealer in London, holds court on a William Kent table that belonged to Mark Hampton, Alexa’s father. Photo credit Steve Freihon

In design, traditional elements are loaded with the meanings they have accumulated over time. The iconography that accompanies neoclassicism, for example, has always spoken to power and those who would seize it. Greek, Roman, Napoleonic, Federal, Fascist: their not coincidentally shared imagery is meant to convey strength and mastery. The dynastic decor of the caesars, the sinister visual domination of a mammoth monolith in the era of Mussolini, the suggestion of solidity and security in the decorations of a Federal Bank in the American Midwest—traditional cues can function as tropes that help invest a space with a thought, a sensibility, or a hope, their meaning immediately identifiable to a passing glance.”

Alan Wanzenberg: On Modernity

“Modernity and its manifestations in the physical world—what is considered “modern”—can be easily misunderstood. Modernity is not about minimalism or everything being white and reductive. When this happens—and the pendulum often swings in that direction—modernity falls into a style or, worse, a cult.

It then has the potential to become tyrannical and intolerant, unaware of all the potent and fascinating forces in design that brought the modern world, as we think of it, into being. True modernity in design can reference the past and allude to the future, but it always exhibits a confidence and resolution that is completely understood in the here and now.”

Thomas O’Brien: On Vintage Modern

A vintage modern piece features ideas that become layers in the DNA of a design that materializes at a later date. It’s how something of the 1920s can have echoes of eighteenth century France, which borrows from Greek or Egyptian antiquity. It’s how intriguing it is to play with that heredity in the choice of a material, the colors and the proportions of a room or a piece of furniture, when designing for the time of now. It’s how the same forms get reinvented over and over, because they work the best.

I’m interested in the ways that history adds this depth and grounding to newer things. It’s the collective memory that makes even the most chic interiors feel familiar and accessible; it’s literally the reason we are all, instinctively, born collectors. This is a continuum that I try to bring to what I design: adding the vintage—as a lineage and a classicism—to new things being made today. And this is the bridge I cross with each of my clients. Everyone needs his or her own particular connection between past and present.”

Alan Tanksley: On Destinations

“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.”

How They Decorated: Inspiration from Great Women of the Twentieth Century

By Carl Dellatore

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…

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Bobby McAlpine: On Intimacy

The seating area of a Nashville master bedroom is nestled beside windows at one end, and the bed sits atop a dais of antique wood. Photo credit Richard Norris

“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.”

Robert Adam: Country House Design, Decoration & the Art of Elegance

By Carl Dellatore

Mention English Neoclassical architecture and 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.

Adding to that record is Jeremy Musson’s new volume Robert Adam: Country House Design, Decoration & the Art of Elegance, due to be released by Rizzoli New York on March 21st. I received an advance copy earlier this week….
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Matthew White & Frank Webb: On Juxtaposition

“…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 History of Plaster in the Decorative Arts

Sculptor Philippe Anthonioz and Stephen Antonson in Paris

By Stephen Antonson, with Kathleen Hackett

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”

Sal LaRosa: On Framing

A doorway focuses the solid geometry of an interior view while measuring the path of ephemeral sunlight overhead. The tall, narrow portal tapers to amplify the depth of a wall and the drama of penetrating its mass. When empty, the frame conjures up the sense of an invisible human body passing through. Photo credit Scott Frances

“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.”