Sunday, November 27, 2011

Exotic Taste: Orientalist Interiors


I am enjoying right now a new book I received published by The Vendome Press which explores the elaborate style of Orientalism. Exotic Taste: Orientalist Interiors by Emmanuelle Gaillard is a big, gorgeous tome which illustrates how the art and style of the East affected the decorating, architecture, and fashion of the West. The book inspires the reader to reach beyond what is familiar with exotic elements.
I have never been to Asia, though I would love to go. Some day, I hope. I love Asian things. My mother gave me a tall, brown, glossy Asian vase, probably in 1982, which I cherish. As I have said here on the blog before, my great aunt Milly lived in the Philippines and brought back a lot of Asian objects to 611 so they have always appealed to me and felt like home to me.
In the eighteenth century, this book says, European designers and architects turned away from the rigors of classicism which was popular at the time in search of something more romantic, sensual and pleasurable. As a yearning for the exotic grew in Europe, Chinese salons, Turkish boudoirs and Persian bedchambers appeared in interiors. What is interesting to see in this book is how Europeans interpreted Asian styles for their own use.
At the Chateau de Haroue in Lorraine, France, artist Jean Pillement painted birds, insects, animals and pagodas on chinoiserie panels in an elegant composition of pale colors. It's Marie Antoinette meets the Empress Dowager.

(Photos courtesy of The Vendome Press)
Similar pale tones show up in England at the Royal Pavilion, residence of George, Prince of Wales, in Brighton. The Long Gallery designed by Frederick Grace is decorated in shades of blue, pink and red. It's a dreamy palette.

A stronger contrast of blue and red is apparent in the blue lacquer desk owned by Madame de Pompadour in front of a red panel at the Musee des Arts Decortifs in Paris. Gold is the common denominator here.

This torchere designed by the firm Christolfe in 1874 is made of cloisonne enamel and gilt and patinated bronze. What fantastic detail.

From 1800, this pair of carved wood chairs with a mother-of-pearl inlay is attributed to Gabriel Viardot. Such an unusual, imaginative shape.

The Eastern style influenced fashion too. Here are Monseiur Levett and Mademoiselle Giavan in Turkish Costume, painted by Jean-Etienne Liotard in 1740. The low bed is covered in a pretty pale floral fabric. Why does this painting make me think of Diana Vreeland?

Kashmiri shawls woven from the woolly fleece of Tibetan goats became popular in Europe, and soon Scottish mills produced imitations of the imported shawls. The Scottish mill town of Paisley created exact replicas of Kashmiri shawls, and gave its name to the classic pattern.

This long cashmere paisley shawl is from 1870-75.

I like having paisley around me, whether in a challis wool Etro scarf or pillow covers in the living room. Paisley adds a romantic, timeless element. I recently got some paisley cocktail napkins inspired by a print by William Morris, and I love what they add to the table. Exotic Taste encourages the reader to consider the beauty of Asia and bring some of it home.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Trip to the Morgan Library & Museum


Charles Dickens at 200 to the left, Drawings from the Louvre to the right.
Last Sunday afternoon TD and I made a trip to The Morgan Library and Museum, a wonderful place to visit here in New York City, at Madison Avenue and 36th Street. Beginning in 1890, financier Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) began assembling a collection of illuminated, historical, and literary manuscripts, early printed books, and old master paintings and prints. Like Henry Clay Frick who was collecting artwork uptown on Fifth Avenue for the Frick Collection, Pierpont Morgan was a voracious collector who bought at an astonishing rate. Mr. Morgan's library was built adjacent to his residence between 1902-1916 by the renowned architectural firm McKim, Meade and White. After Pierpont Morgan died, his son J.P. Morgan Jr. transformed the library into a public institution that visitors could enjoy.
I had in mind specifically enjoying the current exhibition that is up on Charles Dickens. Dickens was born in 1812 so this exhibition of handwritten manuscripts and penned letters and portraits celebrates the writer's 200th birthday.
We passed under this metal grille ceiling into the show.

The accompanying text reported that Dickens wrote with a goose quill pen from 9am to 2pm each day, cranking out six to twelve pages a day. At shows like this I always enjoy learning about the writer and looking at the clothes. This is a caricature of Dickens by Alfred Bryan; I like the black jacket with grey vest and grey pants.

This photograph portrait of Dickens was taken by Jeremiah Gurney in New York City in 1867. The text said that the sitting took so long that Dickens never again submitted for a portrait, and that this is the last photograph of him. I admired the velvet vest and the velvet lapels on the coat, plus that leather and wood chair. I would love to find a chair like that.

Then we crossed over into the exhibition of drawings from the Louvre between 1789 - 1848. This is an 1844 portrait of poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine by Theodore-Chasseriau. The long, lean, vertical lines are flattering.
Whilst poking around the internet, I found another portrait of de Lamartine, this one from 1844 by Francois Gerard. Elegant guy.

This is a double self portrait. What is that you ask? These brothers, Hippolyte and Paul Flandrin, were both artists so Hippolyte drew his own self portrait and Paul drew his, get it? Their clothes look graceful and fluid.
After that, we found Mr. Morgan's original study and library which we have seen before but are always worth a return visit. Looking into Mr. Morgan's study:
Looking into Mr. Morgan's library:
No picture-taking allowed, but you should definitely see it for yourself – a couple of extraordinary New York City rooms.
By then we were hungry so we sat down for a hamburger and a beer in the cafe in the glass and steel atrium which is part of the library's 2006 renovation and expansion designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano. It was a very civilized Sunday afternoon.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My Decorating Assignment


My friend Katherine Hanson, an artist here in New York, enjoys reading my blog and liked the pictures of our apartment that I posted online so she and her husband, author and NYU professor Jim Fraser, asked me to help them out with their apartment. They have traveled widely so they have a lot of interesting furniture and objects, and she has her wonderful artwork in the apartment but they needed direction in arranging it and making it cohesive. "We moved into this apartment with furniture from three different houses and we didn't know how to put it together," Katherine said. I gladly said yes to the task. And happily, they are pleased with the result. "Now when Jim and I walk in, we look at everything and smile," she recently told me.
The apartment is in a modern building and faces downtown. A great feature is this wonderful view out of the living room.

We started in the living room.
Left side wall before:

Left side wall after:

The living room walls had been a light terracotta color and I picked out a new ochre color to provide a more neutral background for the art and not to distract from the view. As I said the couple has a lot of wonderful possessions, and for me the process throughout the apartment was pulling things together that share something in common and would relate to one another, "talk to" one another. Here, everything came off the wall and I arranged Katherine's bright, colorful art work in pastels and acrylic.
Window wall before:

Window wall after:
Furniture was moved, and aqua color pillows and blanket removed. The ochre walls provide a serene setting.
Every seat needs a table to set down a book or a drink and a light for reading, said Slim Keith, the great style icon. The right side of the couch had a little side table, and for the left side I found this tree-shaped table, which goes well with the Chinese chairs, at Room and Board.

Katherine got these pillows and Bed, Bath and Beyond. She likes their textures, and the colors work with the rug underfoot.

Left wall before:

Left wall after:

This dramatic table from Santa Fe has a gold leaf metal base and a walnut plank top. Over it I hung a golden tulip by Katherine and the framed Brazilian parrot headdress from the Amazon. The iridescent glaze on the large ceramic raku vase and its swirling pattern mimics the feathers, and the dark blue blown glass vase works with the feathers too. The three objects are very different, but they share similiar qualities.

Dining room area before:

Dining room area after:

The dining room chairs are black leather so I gathered black and gold objects together which gives the area a more formal feeling. I found the glossy black light fixture at West Elm.
Over the credenza I hung a black and gold Asian wall hanging which was previously in the living room and found handturned wood vessels throughout the apartment.

Bedroom before:

Bedroom after:

The couple's bedroom was painted a terracotta color, which I toned down with a coffee cream paint color. We rearranged furniture here to fit better in the room. White cotton curtains were found at Pottery Barn and a silver curtain rod. Every chair needs a light for reading, and the floor lamp, below, came from West Elm.

Over the armoire I hung Katherine's pastel landscape which fit into the rectangular space, and in front of it I lined up wooden toys from Jim's childhood.

Front hall before:

Front hall after:

The metal table that was previously in the living room went easily into the front hall. Over it I matched up a big beautiful white peony pastel by Katherine which had been in the bedroom, and on the table I arranged some silver accessories to go with the silver frame. Also at the front door, a rug was removed so as to not distract the eye when you enter into the apartment from the living room and the view beyond.
Kitchen:

The kitchen was painted a pale orange which was inspired by the folk art and pottery hanging on the walls. Now the paint colors in the apartment – ochre, coffee cream, pale orange – flow together as you walk through the rooms. I did some additional work in the office and two bathrooms.
It was a fun project, and the pleasure of it is that after the assignment is done, the client can continue to enjoy it. And these were great clients because they did everything I suggested without question. "It just makes us happy," Katherine said to me. "It feels so put together. Your eye pulled everything together and helped us to move from disparate to something that made sense and reflected who we are. You've made us happy to be here."