Sunday, January 30, 2011

Darkness and Light

TD in Brooklyn Heights (click on photos to enlarge)

On Wednesday night the forecast called for ten inches of snow. So of course we head out for an adventure. First stop, Brooklyn Heights.
A friend invited us for fun to a reception in an extraordinary house for sale on Cranberry Street. I always enjoy a trip to Brooklyn Heights so off we went. As we came out of the subway station and walked through the streets I realized I had never been to Brooklyn Heights in the winter before; well, why would you come over for a stroll when it was 25 degrees out and snowing? But as we walked along it reminded me of Montreal when I attended McGill University and lived in the "student ghetto." The low buildings and the dark cold night sky brought me back to my college days, and I felt very much at home, again, in Brooklyn Heights.

Brooklyn Heights is a landmarked historic district and is made up of many beautiful nineteenth century houses and buildings.

It reminds me of Cooperstown, another historically landmarked community. I loved the second story alcove perched over the stairs of this house.

We found ourselves at The Promenade which runs along Brooklyn Heights. Beyond the Promenade was the icy, wide, pitch-black East River and then the rising lights of the tip of Manhattan.

Down the street we got a better view of Manhattan. Pedestrians rushed past to get home in the cold.

Needless to say the house on Cranberry Street was quite amazing – huge, and wider than houses in Manhattan. The single-family house was five stories high, had a garden in the back, and this roof deck offering more views of Manhattan.

We hustled back through the dark streets of Brooklyn to the subway for the next stop, the opening reception for friend Philip Monaghan's art exhibition at Fales Library at New York University on Washington Square, which is where the Judson Dance exhibition was recently mounted. As we rushed along Washington Square South, the wind was whipping sleet and snow into the face. We stomped into the library building and up to the third floor gallery in wet coats and hats.

Philip's exhibition of paintings, up at Fale's until April 29th, is composed of paintings he created based on a poem called "Gilligan's Island" written by his friend Tim Dlugos, a prominent poet who died in 1990. At the door of the reception stood waiters wearing white shirts and khaki pants, and offering blue-colored cocktails. Ahh – warmth, bright lights, old friends, and good things to eat and drink. It was like a trip to a "tropic island nest."

TD was friendly with Tim Dlugos too – Tim was actually there the day on Fire Island in 1985 when TD and I met – and TD designed the exhibition catalogue and materials for Philip.

The exhibition is entitled "At Moments Like These He Feels Farthest Away" – a line from the poem which mixes the stories of 60's pop cultural icons "Gilligan's Island" and Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. An over-sized image of Tim greets visitors at the entrance of the gallery room.

Inside, the white gallery was packed.

Philip's paintings, mounted neatly on the walls, have a graphic, illustrative quality that perfectly expresses the fantasy aspect the poem. In the paintings, Philip mixes the three different stories together, as Tim did with words. The fifty-four works of oil, drawing and digital prints on canvas create a cohesive narrative, but each painting individually is compelling. The works' light palette and breezy attitude poignantly belie the sadness and loss of that era.

Towards the end of the reception, guests moved into the main room of the library to hear some of Tim's poems read by poets/writers David Trinidad, Eileen Myles, and Brad Gooch. The poems wonderfully capture the voice of a gay man in New York City in the 70's and 80's, and they will soon be available to own and read; A Fast Life, The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos, edited by David Trinidad, will be published this April.
Then we went back into the gallery to circulate with the paintings. The crowd thinned out, and we could more carefully view Philip's colorful, imaginative vision. Here is Philip on the left in front of his work.

Big congrats to the artist.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Marbles and Champagne

B.B with antiques dealer extraordinaire Carlton Hobbs (photo by Ann Watt)

It's sixteen degrees today in New York, so it's a good time to update the blog. This past Wednesday night I had the pleasure of being invited to Carlton Hobbs for a talk and a reception. You remember Carlton – I visited his gallery, a former Vanderbilt mansion, in December after Carolyne Roehm's book party was held there. The event the other night was in honor of the opening of his new antiques show called "Inspired by Antiquity," which is composed of eighteenth and nineteenth century furniture and objects that were inspired by classical Greece and Rome. The exhibition is up until February 18th, weekdays 10am-5pm, and by appointment on weekends, at 60 East 93rd Street.

Before the opening reception on Wednesday night, guests were invited to attend a special lecture given by Tim Knox, the Director of Sir John Soane's Museum in London. Have you been there? TD and I have been to London twice, and missed this museum which I regret. Next time!

Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was an English architect who specialized in the Neo-classical style.

Soane bought a house at 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields in London in 1792 and filled it with his collections of antiquities.

Before he died he bequeathed the house and its collections to the British nation to be made into a museum of architecture, and so the house museum is unchanged today. On the first Tuesday of every month, it's lit for visitors only by candlelight. That would be heavenly.
Soane's collection of sculpture is renowned. He famously piled it all in for a dramatic effect.

Which brings us to the subject of Tim Knox's lecture, "In Marble Halls." Rows of black chairs were set up in an upstairs gallery and guests squeezed in.

The entertaining lecture chronicled English "marble mania" in the eighteenth century when the wealthy amassed huge collections of Graeco-Roman marble sculptures. This breezy slide-show tour through the great country houses of England featured pictures of long, long halls or galleries with niches in the walls where sculptures stood over which were hung old master paintings. Kind of dreamy.
Tim Knox showed this painting by Johann Zoffany which illustrates collector Charles Townley seated and surrounded by an imaginary arrangement of his sculptures. It's such an unfamiliar idea to us in the United States, but such a romantic premise.

The lecture covered the eighteenth century so it didn't even reach the nineteenth century when the Devonshires were collecting sculpture at Chatsworth.

I am still reading the Duchess of Devonshire's autobiography and still loving it (my favorite new part is her recollection of attending John F. Kennedy's inauguration).
The sculpture gallery at Chatsworth was featured in the Pride & Prejudice movie, standing in for Mr. Darcy's home called Pemberley. Krya Knightley as Lizzie Bennet absorbs the wonder of the classical sculptures.

Her pale cotton dress matches the glowing marbles. Her eyes grow wide in amazement. It's a beautiful scene.

When the lecture was over, Tim Knox invited guests to stay for Ruinart champagne which was Sir John Soane's favorite, and first made in 1729. Guests rushed down Mrs. Vanderbilt's staircase to the reception below.

A woman came up to me and said, "Are you Carlton Hobbs? I was told to look for the tallest man in the room." I met Tim Knox and said hello to some friends including Robert Rufino from Architectural Digest and David Patrick Columbia from New York Social – read his report here. Back upstairs I found Carlton who encouraged me to pick up an exhibition catalogue.
It turned out to be a beautiful hard cover book

which describes the treasures of the show, many of which I wrote about in December.

It's a lovely read on a cold winter day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Visit with Swedish Designer Lars Bolander

In an elegant manor house, leafy green painted furniture accents a neutral color bedroom. (Interiors photos courtesy of Scandinavian Design, showroom photos by B.B)
I thought that after the lights and sparkle of the holidays, a look at Swedish style would offer a clean tonic. At the same time a new book, Scandinavian Design by Lars Bolander with Heather Smith MacIsaac, came to my attention.

I knew the Lars Bolander name because the designer had a store on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District, not far from our apartment on Jane Street. Since then we have moved, and Lars has moved too; his showroom is now located in the Fine Arts Building on East 59th Street.
His book covers Scandinavia which includes Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, the styles of which are all inspired by the natural world and the climate of the region. I myself am personally drawn to Swedish design, and in particular Gustavian Style. Gustav III was king of Sweden from 1771 until his death by assassination at age 42 in 1792.

The king was a benefactor of the arts and literature, and traveled widely. At the French palace of Versailles, he was taken with the sophisticated, graceful style of Louis XV and Louis XVI. He edited French decorating for his own Swedish court so that the pleasing furniture curves remained but in place of ritzy gold French gilt were creamy whites and dreamy greys to reflect the Swedish light. Gustavian style beautifully combines elegance with simplicity.

A sunlit room with leggy furniture on a bare floor is enlivened by sky blue on the wall.

Blue, white, green, wood, light.
This to me is Swedish style, and it also describes our apartment, so I thought it would be fun to meet Lars Bolander. Luckily he was in town because the designer now lives with his wife in Florida.
In his bright showroom I found a cheerful array of furniture and accessories,

chairs designs by the dozen,

and this wonderful wood and iron rack.

Lars Bolander grew up on the east coast of Sweden and was educated as an architect. He lived and worked as an interior designer in London and Paris, and came to the United States in 1982 when he opened a store in East Hampton. Now home base is West Palm Beach, "which has wonderful light and easy living," he tells me, "though if you're in Palm Beach too long you get kind of dull so you have to come up to New York and get some inspiration!"
Here we are:

Lars describes Swedish design further as "light colors on walls, painted furniture, little floral print fabrics or stripes or checks in cotton or linen, and wood floors." He is known as a pioneer of Swedish style but when he is working for decorating clients, he likes to "mix it up with just about anything including Russian or Chinese furniture and contemporary art. Paintings and books are very important and give a place a cozy feeling. I like it when you can move things around." And though a pale palette is a Scandinavian hallmark, more intense tones may soon be coming into the work of this Swedish icon who reports that, "We went to India last summer and I got into strong color." Whatever the chosen hue, the designer espouses the Swedish attitude of a comfortable and casual approach, and "the feeling that nothing is overdone."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

There Will Always Be An England

Yours truly is looking forward mightily, and maybe you are too, to the premiere tomorrow night of Downton Abbey, a new series from Masterpiece Classics on PBS. Set in the post-Edwardian period of 1912-1914 in one of England's great estates, it will tell the story of the aristocratic Crawley family and the staff that serves it. Written by Julian Fellows and starring a delicious cast including Maggie Smith (above center), I'm hoping that it will be a wonderful entertainment.

I love English programs, movies and books like this that take me back to a more elegant and graceful time. For Christmas I received two English delights, the autobiography of Deborah Mitford, the Duchess of Devonshire, called Wait for Me!, and the dvd of another wonderful Masterpiece Classic series, Return to Cranford.
I am really enjoying the book. I'm reading it slowly, so it doesn't end.

Deborah Mitford, now 90, was the youngest of the famed and beautiful Mitford sisters. When the baby of the family wed Andrew Cavendish, she married into one of the richest and most influential aristocratic families in England. After Andrew's brother was killed in World War ll, he became the Duke of Devonshire, and his family moved into Chatsworth, the renowned country estate.

When Andrew, the 11th Duke, died in 2004, the title passed to Deborah's son and she moved out of Chatsworth into a vicarage nearby; since her son's wife is now the Duchess, she is presently called the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.
All of this is to say that though her life has been very grand, her autobiography is charming and funny so that you feel like you are intimate pals. She has a good, dry sense of humor and a wonderful eye for the telling detail. Her personal stories feature many prominent figures of the twentieth century including John Kennedy, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (she didn't like the Duchess), Pamela Harriman ("fat and fast"), Aly Khan and Evelyn Waugh. My favorite story so far involves Deborah's lunch with Dame Edith Sitwell, the great English eccentric and poet. Edith Sitwell recalls that the two chief things her mother used to say were, "We must remember to order enough quails for the dance," and "If only I could get your father put into a lunatic asylum."

You may know that Deborah is the grandmother of the model Stella Tennant, pictured below left at Tom Ford's recent fashion show.

Pictured on the right at Tom Ford's show is Daphne Guinness, the great fashion icon. She is an heiress of the Irish Guinness family, and was married to Spyros Niachros, son of the Greek shipping billionaire Stavros Niachros. And Daphne is also a Mitford; her father Jonathan Byron Guinness is the son of Deborah Mitford's sister Diana. So these two gorgeous creatures are second cousins. And that's how it goes with the Mitfords.

The subject of the 2008 movie The Duchess was a previous Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish who married the 5th Duke and also lived at Chatsworth. The movie starred the beautiful Keira Knightley in the title role.

Parts of this movie were filmed on location at Chatsworth. The film portrayed the lack of rights women had at the time, and I wasn't so crazy about it. Also starring Keira Knightley, and also partly filmed at Chatsworth, was one of my very favorite English movies though, Pride & Prejudice from 2005.

Here is her character Elizabeth Bennett with her father played by Donald Sutherland in his library. I just love the style of this movie.

Pride & Prejudice was directed by Joe Wright so we went to see his next movie Atonement, also starring Keira Knightley, but I thought that story was totally depressing.

An English story that I do love is Gosford Park directed by Robert Altman. Like Downton Abbey, it features Maggie Smith (below) and was written by Julian Fellowes.

Another favorite movie is Vanity Fair from 2004, starring Reese Witherspoon (below right) in the central role as Becky Sharp. This movie was made by the Indian director Mira Nair who brought fantastic colors and style to the story.

Pictured on the left (above) is the great Eileen Atkins as the rich spinster Aunt Matilda. Eileen Atkins also stars in Cranford, the PBS series about life in an English village between 1849 and 1858. The dvd that I received for Christmas was Return to Cranford, the two-part sequel to Cranford (below).

It's a wonderful trip to a time and place far away. In these English entertainments, the language, the manners, the ways of speaking, the ways that words are put together, the round sounds of the words all conspire together with the clothes, the gardens, the settings and candlelight to portray a world more gracious and harmonious than our own. It's a pleasure to visit there. Do you have any favorite English books or movies?

Blog bonus: here is a clip about Downton Abbey:

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Peaceful Holiday

TD and I had a very nice holiday season and I hope you did too. Just before Christmas I got a chance to get uptown to Rockefeller Center. Though it was completely mobbed with visitors shoulder to shoulder, if you looked upwards, it was a glamorous vision. I loved the combination of the white lights in the trees, the golden flags flapping, and the big Christmas tree covered with colored lights, all set in front of the soaring Art Deco-style NBC building.

On Christmas Eve, we were guests of my brother Eric's family in Montclair, New Jersey, and on Christmas day my parents came to visit us. I put a white cloth on our table along with a bunch of evergreens, little vases of white and red striped carnations, and some antique red and white ornaments. Kind of Swedish looking.

The day after Christmas, a huge snow storm, a blizzard actually, blew in. Along with the howling winds came thunder and lightening; I had never experienced that before in a snow storm. Here was the view of 15th Street during the storm. Much more snow fell – 20-30 inches. What was nice was that the street became very quiet, with no noisy traffic or honking horns.

We had another family get together during the week when my brother Thom's family came visiting from Toronto. I made cupcakes

which went on to one of my favorite green and white platters.

The table was set again for a festive buffet dinner.

The next night we went to the Oak Bar at the Plaza Hotel for a drink. Thom ordered a Manhattan. He said it reminded him of 611; Milly drank Manhattans.

He said to me, "Smell it," and when I inhaled the rich, full mix of vermouth and whiskey, all of 611, especially at Christmastime, came back to me. Our Proustian madeleines are Manhattan cocktails.

On New Year's Eve TD and I went to a neighborhood bar and had an early drink. Then at home we made spaghetti and shrimp from a Mario Batalli cookbook and drank champagne. On pay-per-view we watched The Kids Are Alright. If you haven't seen it already, I recommend it as a good movie with two great performances from Annette Bening and Julianne Moore which I hope are remembered during awards season.
On the way home from the bar we passed this deli on Seventh Avenue, its joyful selection displayed behind tall snow banks.

I am wishing you dear reader a colorful and happy New Year.