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.”
“Instant messaging, urgent e-mails, video chats, and online streaming mean that the devices designed to bring us together are also pushing us further apart. I realized some time ago that the only way I could make clients with demanding lifestyles truly happy at home is to evolve my work to this shiftier new landscape of starts and stops. The flow I need to focus on building is the everyday flow of conversation.
Somehow, I need to find tangible ways to put emotion and connectivity into the DNA of rooms I was previously consumed with making beautiful. I had to draw people deeper than the next room. My job was now to inspire clients to express themselves and communicate in a deeper way within their walls.”
Will you be attending the IWCE this year in Charlotte? Please join me for my keynote address on March 8th where I’ll be talking about my experiences producing and editing Interior Design Master Classfrom Rizzoli New York.
I’ll be sharing ideas on crafting compelling content – both for analog and digital platforms — and will be talking about a few of the exceptionally written essays in the book. I look forward to seeing you there!
“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.”