Saturday, March 17, 2012

Eichler: part 1 of a few parts, hopefully.

There's not a whole lot I am able to investigate with Peanut in tow. He's an active little almost-two-year-old who's into exhibiting his unbridled enthusiasm. Sitting still while Mommy does her research is so not going to happen. But on that rare occasion he takes an afternoon nap, I can tour around our new neighborhood looking for interesting architecture to j'adore. Knowing that we now live in the land of Eichler, I decided start with those original post-war modern neighborhoods...but of course!

Joe Eichler, as his son Ned puts it, "...was the right man, in the right place, at the right time." Eichler formed the Sunnyvale Building Company in 1947. He initially sold ho-hum prefabricated homes then later developed small housing tracts. It goes without saying that the strong post-war economy and the many mommas bountifully birthing babies contributed to the massive housing boom. And sunny California was an ideal setting for the burgeoning developer.  After being inspired by a Frank Llyod Wright home he and his family were renting, Eichler eventually teamed up with the architect Robert Anshen, of the firm Anshen and Allen out of San Francisco, to help develop the second phase of the Sunnyvale Manor subdivision. You could call Eichler and Anshen kindred spirits...both headstrong and opinionated and both admirers of the brilliant Frank Lloyd Wright.  Eichler's partnership with Anshen -who shared his artistic sensibilities, was the birth of something truly special.

Why so special you ask? To start, Eichler was steadfastly committed to creating homes for people that were far more than little mass-produced boxes. He wanted his homeowners to experience and live in esthetically pleasing modern spaces (a shared FLW concept) which simultaneously tended to and fulfilled their practical "quality of life" needs. And, as homeowners' needs changed with the times, so did Eichler's designs; his hell-bent desire for improvement was a constant. This included every aspect of the building process --a truly rare undertaking for the time (and for today, too, or so it would seem). From the design process, to new engineering and building techniques, to material selection, to the landscaping -even sales & marketing, Eichler and his entire team -famed architects included, made sure that each and every aspect of the building process progressed smoothly and efficiently.  Oh, the envelope was pushed.  Of course some saw this as a waste of time.  Eichler's son Ned recalls a leading builder of the day suggesting that his father could make a whole lot more money if he built more conventional homes. Just fogettaboutit Joe! Well, while money was, of course, a driving force, it was just a part of a bigger picture. Many builders didn't get that...they just didn't understand Eichler's pioneering passion for perfection.

Ok, so what did they do that was so groundbreaking? Eichler and his dream team (famed architects included, Anshen&Allen; Jones&Emmons) were able to come up with a successful solution to the housing crisis conundrum of that booming period: How to quickly & economically build (mass produce) these modern masterpieces? The answer: Use Post-and-Beam construction. This, along with strict-sized modular Philippine mahogany veneer paneling allowed for efficient mass production, plan flexibility and a unique look and feel that wasn't being built anywhere else.  Profit could actually be obtained while simultaneously evolving the houses' designs without sacrificing their unique personality. Ta-Dah!  And we haven't even gotten to the other big design coups: radiant heat, floor-to-ceiling windows, A-frames, and the alluring atriums! (I gotta leave something for the else do I expect you to return to this blog for moi?)

But being a pioneer is not without challenges; one must wage through a whole lot of buffalo dung along the dusty trail. In the beginning for Eichler and Anshen, that meant dealing with outdated local building codes and hesitant perplexed building departments (and we all know how dealing with the building department can be akin to getting a horse to drink the water) not to mention a balking Federal Housing Authority (an agency set up to insure home mortgages so the emerging middle class could afford them...). The FHA thought modern homes were nothing more than a passing fancy equating to a piss-poor investment. They imposed "anti-modern" [no, not sic, just my words] design guidelines for evaluations which limited the amount of assistance they could give a "conspicuously modern" houses such as "an Eichler". This threatened Eichler's ability to compete in the housing market. So what does one do when a steak dinner and a couple double scotch-on-the-rocks won't ease such resistance? You lobby congress. And that is exactly what Eichler did along with Eichler Homes' first marketing director, Jim San Jule. Jim there was a Don Drapper cum Jimmy Hoffa that could sell ice to an Eskimo.

Jule was the smooth talker, the diplomat. He knew how to sweet talk a city council and he always wore the proper kid gloves when dealing with passionate pursuer of perfection Eichler who was known as a demanding, outspoken (to put it mildly) son of a gun. Here's a little anecdote: One evening after Eichler called the city council of Palo Alto a bunch of ignorant "men without mothers", Jule politely yet pointedly suggested to Eichler that he do all the talking instead. From then on, Eichler zipped it, and Jule turned on the charm. You can catch more flies with honey, honey.

And so it begins...the road to modern mass produced gems has been paved. But will they sell? Will there be accolades or outcries? Will Eichler in his quest for perfect perfection eventually "jump the shark"? Stay tuned folks...


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Inspiration Rooms : A Study in Symmetry.

This room makes me want to say 'thank you, may I please have another'.  On the surface, it has all the things I love: Chinoiserie, sconces, chandeliers, french furniture (though I'm also a fan of English and American furniture as well). a beautifully proportioned room, but the feature it possesses that I think is the most admirable is it's use of symmetry.  Louis XV pier mirrors over Regence iron consoles flank the mantelpiece in matched harmony.  The Louis XV bureau plat is surrounded by Cresson bergeres that radiate out from the corners (a rather novel idea that serves to open up the defined conversational areas of the room), clusters of seating balance each other visually.  Symmetry gives a calming effect, and even when it is asymmetry at play, it is the balance in form and mass that give the effect of tranquility.

- Ian

Blue Room by Benjamin F. Garber and William C. Kennedy. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Budda Desk Tray for Your Zen Moment.

I saw this while out shopping and fell for it.  It's so elegant and has the feeling of an antique from the early 20th/late 19th century.  The Buddha's robes flow into ripples that surround him, creating a pool like effect.  Perfect for placing your pens and paper clips in plain sight.  I love the contrast between the golden jewelry and the bronze finish, too.  Such an attention grabbing piece.

- Ian
Buddha desk trya from L'objet.  Retails for 395.00.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fortuny by L'Objet.

You all know how I j'adore all things Fortuny.  So imagine how giddy I became when I was walking through Neiman Marcus and saw the new collection from L'Objet that features Fortuny's designs on table wear and home accessories.  Tidbit trays, bowls, boxes, decanters, coaster and glasses are all embellished with golden prints of his original textile designs over earthenware colored with the organic hues he loved so much.  Consider this entry level Fortuny.  If you can't dress your windows in it, then how about your cocktail table or night stand?  It doesn't take much to make something special happen.

- Ian

I love the little boxes and those journals.  The boxes are perfect for a bedside table.
This marvelous box covered in textile and accented with metal retails at 895.00.
This adorable little tray has a cabochon stone at the center and retails at 85.00.
I love the gold plated base on this petite dessert server that retails for 295.00
A perfect hostess gift, the scented candles from the Fortuny collection are packaged in a fabric wrapped box. 
It's like two gifts in one.  Each candle retails at 125.00.

Death by Television.

I have no words to describe how hideous the monstrosity I am about to discuss is.  OK, that is a lie.  I have words.  Lots of words, but I won't go down that road right now.  I went to the Greystone Showcase House sponsored by Luxe Magazine last December, and it was OK.  Lots of big name designers phoning it in for publicity, some quite horribly.  I'm not going to name names, but if you went, you probably saw something awful.  Don't get me wrong, there were some delightful things, but most rooms were forgettable and some of them should be burned.  Out of an entire mansion filled with every item imaginable, this monster topped my list of things that should never have been created - the flat screen television framed in Venetian mirror.

One of my cardinal sins is a television in the bedroom; it should never happen.  You'll never sleep.  Another of my cardinal sins is mounting a television above a fireplace.  This applies to every room in the house.  No TVs above fireplaces.  Period.  I know this Designer has done a Fornasetti screen saver to give the impression of art, but it's not cutting it.  Commit to a piece of art or even a mirror and take the high road.  Through this installation, I have also discovered a new sin I hadn't thought of, because who in their right mind would ever consider doing it; that sin is surrounding a television in Venetian mirror.  This grotesque invention was part of a scheme for a mans bedroom; sorry, but no man I know, gay, straight, bi, thai...would ever do that to a television.  I don't think you could be gaudier or more gauche than this, but then again, I didn't think something like this would ever happen.  This is the design equivalent of Lindsay Lohan.  This is Bruce Jenner's face in television form.  This is the hottest mess I have seen in a long time.

I'm doing this as a public service announcement, for your own safety.  As a Designer and a friend, I would never do this to you, but there a people out there that will tell you this is a good idea.  Those people need an intervention and possibly some sort of medication.  If you know anyone who has anything like this in their home, break off all communications.  You'll thank me later.

- Ian

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Govenors Mansion, Atlanta Georgia.

Staircase Rotunda at the Governor's Mansion, built in 1967. 
Architect Thomas A Bradbury, AIA.
A wonderful job was done recreating a period home
in the modern age. 
Scale, proportion, and details are all pitch perfect.
A long time ago, I remember watching an episode of Designing Women in which Julia Sugarbaker (the late Dixie Carter), in a brief moment of enforced fun, put her head between the railings on a staircase and gets her head stuck.  The staircase was at the Governors Mansion in Atlanta and the crew of Sugarbaker's Interior Design was decorating it for the annual Govenor's Ball.  The plot revolved around getting Julia's head out of the railing without having to cut through the wood handrail which was made of one continuous piece of timber (known is the episode as the 'Abbott Banister', a fictitious piece of historic memorabilia).

Silly little things like the plot of a defunct sitcom episode from 1989 have a funny way of sticking with you.  So when I found a spread in a 1970 issue of Architectural Digest that was all about the Atlanta Mansion immortalized (for me, at least) by one of my favorite television shows, I had to share it.  In addition to nostalgia, it's also a beautiful example of a Greek Revival style home that pays accurate tribute to its antebellum roots, but was built in the 20th century.  If architectural interest isn't enough, it's also home to a fine collection of American Federal antiques.

Surrounded on all sides by fluted Doric columns, the rose-toned brick structure is a perfect example of the Greek Revival style popular throughout the South during the first half of the 19th century.  Assembling the furnishings was a two year process that involved acquiring important pieces attributed to noteworthy cabinetmakers from Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia, plus antique chandeliers and period marble mantels imported from England.

I'm sure that in the past 40 years the interior of the mansion has changed slightly with new upholstery and window treatments, but with a grand collection of American Federal furnishings, significant American art and the drama of the architecture, the core strength of the home has surely stayed the same.  and I'm sure countless tour groups have attempted to get their heads between the rail, just like Julia.

- Ian

In the Reception Hall, American Federal chairs, c. 1880, surround an English podium table in the Greek Revival style.
The niche in the background holds a bronze bust of George Washington by Houdon, c 1778.  The marble topped pier table in the background, c. 1815, is one of four pieces in the home attributed to Charles-Honore Lannuier.
The State Dining Room room with reproduction 19th century chairs and a
New England accordion Federal style table attributed to John Seymour.

The State Drawing room features and Aubusson rug and a marvelous mantle with a
gold Greek Key motif.  The red upholstery, by Scalamandre, is a document silk woven originally for the Red Room at the White House.  The sofa,one of a pair, is Duncan Phyfe.

The Cherry paneled library with a Tabriz rug and a collection of books relating to Georgia.
I love the simplicity and elegance of the window coverings and that Greek Revival
chandelier with it's spare use of crystal and gold.  So understated.

The Ground Floor Guest Bedroom houses an alcove bed (with gilded Egypian busts and animal paw feet)
attributed to Charles-Honore Lannuier, c. 1815.  The rug is English needlepoint, the artwork
is a wallpaper panel illustrating Psyche showing her jewels to her sisters. 
The arm chair is Sheraton in style.

Julia gets her head stuck in a fence.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Inspiration Rooms : A Blue and White Display

You all know how I love me some blue and white china.  Timeless, classic, elegant, fun for all ages, a great party favor, nice place to stash your stash, etc.  I love seeing it en masse, and until I have my own plethora, I will have to live vicariously through the collections of others.  Case in point, the home of Benjamin F. Garber and William C. Kennedy, both former associates of Syrie Maugham, the white queen of Interior Design.  The pots sit on a Regence table a gibier with a Chinoiserie tapestry designed by the Rococo painter Francis Boucher behind.  The pots below the table are Louis XV.  Also catching my eye is that minimal spray of dogwood blossoms.  How architectural and organic, and such a nice contrast to the uniformity of the pottery.  The white carnations with the excessively long stems, however, are another story.

- Ian


Monday, January 30, 2012

Inspiration Rooms : A Private Study.

Continuing to farm my vintage Architectural Digest collection, I came upon this room by designer James Julius Killough III, in Hong Kong.  As most would tell you my affinity for Chinese art and decoration is rivaled only by my affinity to cram as much of it as possible into one room without it looking like a Chinese take-away.  Obviously, this image was like ambrosia to me.  The Coromandel screen, the altar table used as a desk (an idea I LOVE), the Ming chair and that adorable little tea table make me want to light a cigarette and cuddle, and I don't even smoke.  The oriental carpet and those Queen Anne japanned chairs are just the fortune cookie at the end of the meal for me. 

With all of those marvelous things, I think the most unique and eye catching feature of the room is the pottery jar filled with an artistic arrangement of pampas grass and paper scrolls.  How fantastic is that!?  You know it was just for the photo shoot because it's absolutely impractical, but still, it's rather arresting visually and really, probably the most affordable accessory in the room.  There's nothing quite as luxurious as space, and to have personal area like a study is really a treat.  So why not deck it out with all the things you love?

- Ian

Friday, January 27, 2012

Inspiration Rooms : A Private Library.

I happened on this image in an old Architectural Digest from 1974.  The room is by the decorator Michael Greer; it's his private library.  How elegant with the metal mesh doors, the mirrored pilasters and the subtle color scheme.  I am rarely beige, and when I am, it's only when the occasion calls for it.  But in this case, the beige becomes a wonderful backdrop to that 18th Century terra cotta sculpture of Autumn (from a four seasons group) and perhaps more importantly, a wonderful foil to bold color, such as the turquoise blue Louis XVI bergere.  I'm also mad for those bouillotte lamps, the slightly contemporary Empire gueridon and those flaming urns atop the pilasters.  A beautiful room that's understated yet dramatic, and one that could be a source of inspiration for any room of your choosing.  How wonderful to replicate that cabinetry in a bathroom, walk in closet, or breakfast room.  So timeless and chic.  

- Ian

Monday, January 23, 2012

Elsie de Wolfe and the Circus Ball.

The Circus Ball by Oliver Messel.
Oil and Gouache on Paper.
Elsie is shown as Ringmaster with white steeds.
Ages and ages ago, people with style had money and people with money had style.  It used to be that a celebrity or socialite (a real one, not one from the loins of Kris Jenner) could give a party (without corporate sponsorship) that would live on in the great big social diary in the sky forever (without having to sell footage to the media).  Elsie de Wolfe was one of these people, and on the night of July 1, 1939, she gave the Circus Ball.
Held on the brink of World War II, it was the last great party of the Season, and indeed, the last great party of it's era.  Elsie, the American born Socialite who had been a bad actress, then a ground breaking Decorator, then finally the international hostess known as Lady Mendl, held the Ball at her beloved Villa Trianon; a gift to a royal mistress of the 18th Century which Elsie had purchased with her lover at the time, the theatrical agent Bessy Marbury, and the heiress Anne Morgan.

The Villa was Elsie's true love and life's work.  Purchased in semi decrepit condition, Elsie restored the interiors, added a new wing, and installed modern bathrooms. During her life, she saw it used as a military hospital during World War I, and after fleeing Paris for the United States, returned to find it destroyed by Nazi's after World War II.  Upon each return, she would lovingly restore the home back to it's de Wolfe splendor.

The interior of the Dance Pavilion, now permanent.
For her grandest party, Elsie would add another appendage to her home, a Ballroom.  Elsie sought to recall the late 19th Century trend wherein fashionable ladies with means would construct temporary party rooms for a single evening's use.  The Dance Pavilion, as it was called, was open on three sides to the Villas gardens and painted in green and white stripes.  For the interior, she contracted with Maison Jansen, the first international design firm, based in Paris, and their premier Decorator, Stephane Boudin. 

Elsie could have done the work herself, but it was much simpler for her to hire it out and have all the details sorted by someone else.  As a bonus, Boudin has become one of the most sought after decorators on both sides of the Atlantic.  Having his name associated with one of her parties would surely impress Elsie's elite guests, which numbered 700 for that evening.  Naturally, Elsie, who invented the game Boudin was playing so well, would not be so smitten with his tact and flair as the rest of the world. 

A view of the Dance Pavilion with glass walls,
set up for cards.
Boudin's treatment of the Dance Pavilion was an utter confection.  The green and white stripes of the exterior were repeated on the interior through Regency style draperies.  The furnishings were eccentric pieces shaped like whitewashed tree trunks and there were button tufted leather semicircular banquettes crowned by Venetian Blackamoors wielding parasols that concealed electric lights.  Flanking the entry to the pavilion were two artificial tree trunks that had been whitewashed and ornamented with artificial leaves.  One tree bore a heart pierced by an arrow with the initials 'E& C' inside (for Elsie and her husband, Charles.  By now she had dumped Bessie in favor of marrying a titled English dignitary).  Yet the piece de resitance of the room was surely the spring loaded floor, imported from England, designed to combat weary feet with its diving board qualities.

Elsie's Mainbocher gown from the Circus Ball,
now part of the MET's permanent collection.
Ivory silk chiffon embroidered with white and
silver sequin butterflies over a taffeta slip.
Outside, there was a champagne bar housed in a circular structure with a matching striped roof that had been built around a large tree in the garden.  The main attraction of the Circus themed ball was, of course, the Circus, and Elsie was there to act as it's honorary Ringleader (clad in a size 2 Mainbocher evening dress and her favorite diamond and aquamarine tiara), leading eight trained ponies (white of course) through there paces.  The Circus ring was laid out on the lawn and featured acrobats, tight rope walkers, clowns and jugglers in addition to Elsie's pony routine.

So that her guests wouldn't go hungry (an novel idea for Elsie, who often starved her party guests by limiting the amount of food served), the buffet, which served lamb chops, scrambled eggs, cold salads, cakes and champagne, stayed open until 5 am.  So that her guests could work up an appetite, the Dance Pavilion housed three orchestras on rotation, and the grounds were home to a strolling blind accordion player and a Hawaiian guitarist who floated on a boat in the swimming pool.  Whether eating or dancing, the guest list read as a who's who of European Society (which in reality was just Elsie's little black book); Chanel, Maugham, the Windsors, Eve Curie, all were all at home at the Villa.

A period view of the the formal gardens at the Villa Trianon.
Pleased with her Ball, Elsie decided to make the Dance Pavilion a permanent structure.  She had the spring loaded floor replaced with parquet to match what ran through the Villa, and had the walls glassed in so the views to the garden wound still be open.  She even situated a fireplace in one wall so the room could be enjoyed in cooler weather.

Surely, a party of this magnitude would be met with more criticism than praise, as we are in a tight economic pinch as of late and this was not a frugal effort.  However, how wonderful to reminisce of an era that has past, and of great people that made it what it was.  How marvelous to dream of such a glamorous life and find inspiration in it.  Certainly I feel no shame admitting that I would have loved to be in attendance, even it it meant floating on a dinghy in the pool.

- Ian

Most of the Maison Jansen furniture was purchased at auction by Victoria & Son
in New York.  You can see the Blackamoor banquette and the marvelous 'x' based
stools with faux bois bases.  The Chinese stand and cache pot as well as the snail,
was not part of the lot from the Villa Trianon.  Part of the suite was purchased by
Michael Taylor for a client in San Francisco.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Designers Guild is Absolutely Fabulous, Sweetie.

Eddy and Pats are at it again, in beautifully appointed digs.
Today, through the magic of the Internet, I was able to see the first episode of the highly anticipated return of Absolutely Fabulous.  The new season is set to air on BBC America January 8th, but who wants to wait that long?!  As expected, the show that lampoons, and harpoons, fashion and pop culture did not disappoint.  Fashion faux pas abound, cigarettes are perpetually lit, morally questionable situations arise, but I will not spoil it for those who have yet to see.  What I will be spoiling for you, however, is the interior design of Eddy's Holland Park townhouse. 

As usual, Eddy (played by Jennifer Saunders, who also writes the show) is our fashion victim while Patsy (Joanna Lumley) is the chic fashion editor of indeterminate age who has more vices than fingers to count them on, but Eddy's home, for the first time, is ridiculously chic and incredibly refined.  It's bold, feminine, and glamorous, but not one bit out of sync with good taste (atleast not to me).  This is a first for Eddy, who regularly redecorates to keep up with trends, but who always seems to fall short of something this undeniably elegant.

I had to watch the new episode a second time through just for the interiors.  The design was flawless, but I had seen parts of it before; something about it was incredibly familiar.  When I thought about it, it looked very much like the work of Designers Guild, the English firm established by Trisha Guild in 1970 known for bold color and riffs on historic patterns.  Think exploded florals and damasks in maroon, lime green, turquoise or pink.  I hopped over to and was able to find every wallpaper used in Eddie's townhouse, with the exception of daughter Saffron's bedroom, and even Eddy's gorgeous bedding (which is now on sale!!).

So, have a look around Eddy's new place and if you have any questions, you know who to call.  And if you don't know who to call, call me.  ;)

- Ian

Our first room on view is Eddie's bedroom, covered in Designers Guild/Christian La Croix 'Arles' fabric and 'Oxbridge' stripe wallpaper.  As usual, Eddy's bed floats in the room, meaning it does not touch any one wall but rather acts as an island.  The bed is a black lacquer four poster style, flanked with black acrylic Kartel Bourgie lamps.  The bedding is 'Darly' by Designers Guild, a printed cotton sateen with feather-y French scrolls and painterly floral motifs.  Above the Victorian fire place hangs a Japanese screen depicting a gnarled tree on a gold leaf background; a nice foil to the rest of the wall composition.  Also, it should be known that one of the earliest fashion obsession for Eddy was La Croix, so it's very fitting that her boudoir is covered in his patterns. 

'Darly' bedding from Designers Guild.

Behind Eddy's bed is a wall mural called 'Forum', also by Designers Guild/La Croix.  I love how dark and sexy Eddy's bedroom has become.  Earlier incarnations were gauzy and monastically white.  There's a new maturity to Eddy's interiors now.

Eddy's kitchen also got an over haul, but no wallpaper.  As with most homes, the kitchen is where all the action takes place, so hers is a large open space with a garden view sink, a large table, and split height island (an idea I love) and a large range.  Logistically, having the range so far from the sink and fridge doesn't make sense, but for looks it's marvelous.  I j'adore the horizontal pine wall cladding, and that green-gray paint used on the cabinetry.

Looking toward the range in the kitchen.  Love that double height island and the way the pine has spread to become part of the range hood.  The kitchen is below street level; the stairs lead to foyer.

Looking toward the sink wall.  I like the floating shelf over the subway time wall, and how the tile runs all the way to the ceiling.  It's a very old style treatment for tile, if we think back historically to great service kitchens found in hotels and country houses.  Also like the idea of the missmatched enamel metal chairs. 

Behind Eddy is an open, free standing armoire, painted in the same green as the built in cabinets.  Behind that is a service hall lined with three frosted wine coolers, each packed with champagne.  This hall also led to Eddy's ill fated panic room.  To the right of the coolers is the door to the back garden.

The next room featured is the foyer, a double height space papered with more 'Oxbridge' stripe and also a grayscale floral called 'Mehsama'.  In earlier seasons this room was a hectic catch all of ethnic artifacts and furniture. Now it's a restrained nearly Georgian space, minimally furnished with emphasis on architectural detail.  I love the black doors with white trim, as well as the silver cast iron railings; so elegant and dramatic. I also like how they have split the paper patterns, with the stripe continuing down the stairs and the floral on the wall.

Down stairs, the walls return to white with dark floors, light carpeting and a stunning theatrical floral arrangement.  This profile will be seen again in Eddie's living room, and it's not especially subtle.  You can also make out an Art Deco style console beneath the upper stair run.  I am absolutely mad for this foyer!  It's really some wonderful to behold.

The final room we are re-introduced to is Eddy's Living Room, decorated in bold red and black with white walls.  The classical urns are placed before an other wall mural by Designers Guild, this time it's 'Ornamental Garden', which depicts Old Master style florals in urns on a black ground.  In previous seasons, the location was home to Saddam Hussein's feet, remnants of the fallen statue that was a by product of his demise.  The airplane wing desk is a hold over from a past series, first used in the Living Room when Eddy had to downsize her PR company.  It's an incredible piece.  Also a very nice use of slat blinds, they reinforce the architecture of the room without having an overbearing presence.

The Living Room, looking toward the over-sized Georgian fireplace. I am crazy for this feature!  I love that it's matte black, to match the doors throughout, and I also like how they have inserted a gas burning chrome cube to act as the 'fire' (if you look, you can see Eddy's shoes reflected in it).  The scale of the installation is marvelous.  You can also see the button tufted stain screen, which is a very feminine touch and also a nice contrast to the visual weight of the mantle.  I'm also a fan of the over sized candle sticks and lamps, and the minimal number of accessories.  There's plenty to look at, but it's not a load of twiddly little things.  All the accessories are high impact and large, reducing the visual clutter in the interior.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

He Who Smelt It, Delt It - Further Elaborations of Perfume and What to do with It.

I think I might have an olfactory obsession, as this is my second post on fragrance, and I didn't think I'd ever really be writing about this subject.  But, rather than telling you how and what to buy, I'm going to tell you all the kinky and creative ways people scented themselves in days gone by.  Some methods are quite romantic, others, well, let's just say you'll never look at bacon fat the same way again. 

A Tomb painting depicting maids with perfumed cones
atop their wigs.  Also popular was the Blue Lotus, but
it was prizes for its narcotic properties rather than
it's perfume alone.
Neanderthals were known to adorn themselves with flowers to surround themselves with pleasant aromas, but our first ingenious deodorizing diatribe takes us to Ancient Egypt.  To combat the arid environment, the Egyptians (men and women a like) shaved themselves from head to toe.  For formal ceremonies, both sexes donned ornamental wigs (thus negating the effects of the previously mentioned full body wax) and if they were feeling frisky, false beards. To scent the air around them, Egyptians donned scented cones that sat on top of their wigs.  The cones were made of solid animal fat (tallow) fragranced with myrrh and would melt in the desert heat.  I'm not sure if this was also some sort of moisturizing treatment or round-about sunscreen protection, know, when in Rome.    

Gloves dating to 1603 from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Trimmed with silver lace, pearls and spangles, scenting
them was gilding the Lily.
Zooming forward in time we find ourselves in the Renaissance, when, despite being condemned by the clergy (no doubt because of it's association with prostitution and an all around good time), the perfume trade flourished during the Renaissance, so much so that Perfumers developed their own guild.  During this period, it was thought that the putrid scents which filled the air from plague, pollution, and general illness also carried contagious disease.  As a result, personal accessories began to be designed with compartments to house solid perfumes that would cancel out the foul smells and protect against infection.  Doctors walking sticks were made with decorative heads or handles that emitted a fragrance through perforated metal which masked the odors found in slums, hospitals, and mortuaries.  A solid perfume scented with herbs was contained within the hollow handle.

Gold, enamel and pearl pomander circa 1620-1640.
Victoria and Albert Museum.
In the 16th Century, the Marquis do Frangipani was the first to perfume kidskin gloves as other Nobles of Venice and Florence adorned garments and gloves with spherical scented buttons designed to be filled with a fragrant potpourri or solid perfume; its scent emitted though a filigree fretwork of silver.  Also popular during the Renaissance, and well beyond for that matter, was the Pomander.  A spherical charm worn suspended on a chain from the waist, when unlocked it opens into wedged segments like an orange, with each wedge compartment housing a different scented solid perfume.  As a note, while marvelously long-lasting, solid perfumes were historically made from Ambergris; a wax-like substance coveted by the cosmetic industry used not only for perfume but also pomades, powders, and cough drops. The fact that it is derived from Whale vomit or feces (either would do) was gleefully overlooked by the buying public.  We of course have synthetics for today's market.

A partial gilt silver pomander dating to 1350 from the Victoria
and Albert Museum.  A pin screw holds the hinged segments

This may have been a love token, which a woman would wear
hanging from a chain at her waist.
The segments refer to the Judgement of Paris,
when he had to decide which of the goddesses Juno, Venus and Minerva
was the most beautiful. Paris chose Venus, here given the words:
"Venus is the loveliest, her claim is clearly just".
A 1778 painting of Marie Antoinette in a riding costume
with her scented gloves in hand.  Antoine Vestier.
Private Collection.
Galloping forward another 200 years, we land in pre-revolutionary France in the Court of Louis XVI and his number one schnitzel, Marie Antoinette.  Contrary to our notions about the French and their bathing habits, Marie, an Austrian by birth, reveled in her beauty regime and bathed daily.  Her baths were scented with floating sachets filled with blanched almonds, pine nuts, linseed, lily, and herbs.  Other sachets included bran, used as an exfoliant.  She scented her water with essence of Lavender and Lemon, and also used these oils to purify the air in her apartment at Versailles.  Marie adored her cosmetics and creams, and adorned herself with custom curated fragrances by court perfumer Jean-Louis Fargeon containing rose, violet, jonquil, tuberose, musk, and amber.  Fargeon also provided her with scented kidskin riding gloves treated with almond oil, white wax and eau de rose.  They were laid on a fresh bed of roses to dry after treatments, and kept her hands moisturized and smelling, well, like a bed of roses.  She was known to wear these when not riding as well.  Scented gloves and fans were the rage at court, not just because Marie wore them, but because of their practical use in warding of the remnants of whiffy Frenchmen in drafty palace halls. 
- Ian

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Men's Cologne and Other Disasters

One of many fragrance counters at Nordstrom.
Last Christmas, I was at Nordstrom, standing in line to purchase a pair of driving gloves (I admit, they were for me.  Charity starts at home.) and while I waited my turn, I watched as a casual inquiry at the men's fragrance counter degenerated into a desperate transaction between buyer and salesperson.  From the look of it, an IRS audit would have been a more pleasant and beneficial experience.

From what I could infer, and I love to infer, a woman had stopped in to pick up something for her brother/father/grandfather (I'm assuming it was for a family member.  Usually, if it's for a boyfriend or husband, the decision on just how they should smell is rarely put to debate.) and things were not going well.  The woman was dumbstruck by variety and the salesman was being less than helpful by squirting strips of paper and passing them off to her like some sideshow card trick.  If he pulled a rabbit out of his pants I wouldn't have been surprised.  He did have a ponytail, after all. You know how ponytailed men are. 

Joan Crawford hawks 'Summer Rain' perfume to
Rosalind Russell in MGM's 1939 hit  The Woman.
The mushroom cloud of Dolce & Gabbana, Lacoste and Armani generated by the eager man with the trigger finger soon made its way to me and I found myself somewhere between a contact high and a migraine.  The pile of scented paper grew as he wove between the displays and I assume he had sptrized every sample they had on the floor, and possibly dipped into the bathroom air freshener, yet still our young heroine had made no headway in whether to buy Ralph Lauren Black or Guilty by Gucci.  I yearned to intervene, and tell her to just buy something by Burberry because you can't go wrong with Burberry, but I was unwilling to sacrifice my spot in line and I didn't want to interrupt.  Out of desperation, she eventually purchased a gift set the salesman was pushing and left. 

This is just here for Reference.  This is the
Perfume Hall at the old Bullock's Wilshire.
Look at all that floor space!  You can actually
walk in a straight line!
As a general rule, I never buy fragrance for others.  Scent is one of the most personal aspects of our identity, so unless I have a direct request to drag home a 5 piece gift set of Viva La Juicy, I'm not going to consider buying anyone anything that smells.  My primary reason for this is body chemistry; everyone is different, so just because it smells good in the bottle or on the salesgirl, it doesn't mean it will smell good on your loved one.  There's also allergies to consider, as well as personal taste; I have a good friend who just flat out doesn't like perfume, and on the flip side of the coin, I have a box on my Bathroom vanity that is crammed with cologne, because I love scent and how it can shape or reflect you mood.  So, maybe save yourself a headache and heartbreak and opt for a nice gift card.

Should you opt to go against my advice and insist on buying fragrance even though i told you not to, here's how to avoid the pitfalls.  Don't go in blind; know what your giftee already wears.  Steal the bottle or spray some on a card and bring it in with you.  Either buy more of the same (they can always return it or add it to the stockpile) or if you're feeling frisky, ask the salesperson what is similar to it and they should be able to find something along the same lines.  If even that fails you, then just ask the salesperson what is popular and safe and buy what smells the most conservative.  Gift giving should be a pleasure, not a terrifying experience or a Sisyphean task that will make you take up smoking again.