Sunday, July 26, 2009

Recipe For A Room: Edouard Vuillard

One of the countless wonders of the internet is being able to view virtually any work of art on command. I've saved this image of an Edouard Vuillard painting for months now.
("Interior with Figure Sewing," 1899)

I am inescapably drawn to the moodiness of the interior and to that gorgeous rug draped across the table in particular. We've all seen that decorating touch in many Dutch paintings but I've always been curious as to the reason for it. After a little Google research, I learned that apparently only the wealthiest of households actually put rugs on the floor; mostly, they were deemed too precious for such use and were used as table coverings or wall hangings instead. (Side note: During mealtimes, the rug would be covered by another cloth to protect it.)

The late Domino magazine used to have a monthly feature where they would turn an outfit into a room and, in the spirit of that concept, I challenged myself to do the same with this Old Master painting. 

Although this wallpaper is by no means a dead match, I feel like it has the same golden quality and scale of pattern to it...and I'm in love with its muted elegance.
("Kaleido" in Copper, via

I think this rug from Anthropologie is stunning and captures the same vibrancy of the one in the painting. I don't know about you, but I'd love to pull up a chair and rest my elbows on it.
(Ikat rug, $498, Anthropologie)

This flat braided jute rug from Pottery Barn would be perfect on the floor and is one I've seen mentioned countless times in magazines as being a designers' favorite.
(9' by 12', $599)

There are lots of choices for curtains; these are from Restoration Hardware and would do the job in a pinch. (Add pom-pom trim to the edges if you want to be faithful to the painting.)

This table from the ever-chic Martyn Lawrence Bullard is remarkably similar to the one next to the woman seated by the window.

(Romano side table)

These Queen Anne chairs from Pottery Barn are a wonderful echo of the ones pictured.

Need a piece of artwork on the wall? This charming landscape from one of my favorite online auction houses is a steal at the suggested $100-$140 estimate.
(Wiliam H. Truitt, Amer. 20th c., item #0307)

Just paint the frame in Benjamin Moore's Million Dollar Red (comme Vuillard) and you're good to go.

If you plan on sewing like the woman in the painting, you'll need more than natural light if you want to avoid a severe case of eye strain. This floor lamp from Circa Lighting would eliminate your need to sit quite so close to that window.

(Edwardian boom arm floor lamp, $840)

Lastly, this faux stack of books from Empiric would be a perfect place to stow your needlework should a visitor unexpectedly stop by.
(Vintage book drawers, $75)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Beds, Block Prints and Cocktails

This is currently my favorite photo. What's to love? Let me count the ways: India, dapper gent in turban and natty red shirt, gorgeous block-printed textiles, lady in saffron shawl walking by and that divine dusty blue color on the train in the background.
I see this image quite frequently because it's on John Robshaw's website and more often than not, I can be found there trolling for textiles. In fact, it's become my "go-to" activity on these crazy hot days of summer after I've run my errands, done my sit-ups and eaten my daily allotment of sweets. (Confession: Today I fast-forwarded past the errands and the sit-ups.)

After that photo, I click over to this one and stare at all those heavenly pillows inside that classic old Hindustan Ambassador, the hands-down coolest car in India. Love that driver, too.

Then I click over to here and spend way too much time envisioning which quilt, sham, duvet, etc. I am going to purchase for my bedroom someday. I'm particularly besotted with the Etruscan Red print (right stack, second from top, not counting that strewn-open one).

So last week when I visited one of my favorite local shops, Living Room, I took my camera along because I've always felt the owner, Steve, does a great job of mixing that globetrotting chic vibe I'm partial to with uniquely traditional pieces and interesting fabrics. 

I'm a big fan of this couch. The fabric is an organic cotton damask print in a perfect faded indigo blue that can pretty much go with everything.

It reminds me of the ones in Chloe Sevigny's apartment from House and Garden magazine's January 2007 issue.

This Edwardian-style nightstand appealed to me, too. It's elegant and slightly playful, especially in that great Vreeland red.

If I owned this couch, I'd never leave it. It would be a serious problem. You would find me here holding audiences during the day and at night I would change into some fabulous dressing gown, surround myself with stacks of books and sip St. Germain elderflower cordial from a teeny crystal glass. 

The broad confident brushstrokes of this mini-painting of the Griffith Park Observatory grabbed me, especially since I live just beneath it and look up at it every day.

My tour concluded, I was turning to go...WHEN. I. SAW. IT. What's more, my son...WAS. LEANING. ON. IT.  A glorious homage to John Robshaw with Etruscan Red in a starring role. 

People, I bit the bullet.

Here it is at its new resting place, The Kenmore Arms. Yes, I am aware that the photo is tightly cropped. That's because the rest of the room is unfit to be seen (to put it kindly). Everything is John Robshaw except the two pillows which are from Dwell. I love them because they provide a visual link to the headboard, which I just had reupholstered in $4/yard hessian burlap.  

And those two heraldic crests are my babies. I found them at Wurtz Brothers Antique Mart. They're super old (as evidenced by the state of the wood on the back), although whether they were rescued from some crumbling manor or are merely props from an old Hollywood film, I have no idea. (Update: They're Spanish. See comment from "Rocio.")
Placing those gilded sculptures near the humble, peasant-like qualities of the burlap creates a strong visual tension that totally does it for me. I am very, very into the high/low mix. To me, a great room is like a great cocktail party: the ones you remember are always a collection of all different kinds of personalities. 

No sooner had I finished arranging everything than someone came home tired from camp and took it for a test-drive. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

How Connected Are You?

Everything is related to everything else, although it may not be apparent upon first glance. The same patterns repeat themselves over and over -- in nature, in textiles, in arrangements and in random moments. When I travel, I take photographs of everything that catches my eye, whether it's a flowering vine arched around a window or an arrangement of trash on the side of the road. I don't try to understand why something compels me to photograph it, I merely compile and absorb. When I arrive home, I look over my photos for styles or patterns which repeat themselves. Sooner or later, these motifs bubble to the surface and reveal themselves through my home, my wardrobe, and the way I choose to live.

For instance, I firmly believe that my many photos of beautiful women in brightly colored saris...
(Taj Mahal, 2007)

...led me to gradually over the last two years adopt a much more colorful wardrobe...

...and perhaps instigated my predilection for arranging books as though they were rows of ladies in brightly colored saris...

...and vigorously reaffirmed my love for the stripe.

Likewise, this assemblage of prayer flags fluttering in the wind...
(Potala Palace, Tibet, 2007)

...looks like a religious version of my inspiration board, which flutters in the wind (when the French doors are open) with the pinned-up talismans of my life.

From the vantage point of time, I can see that the exhilarating clash of patterns on these hand-woven Tibetan clothes... 
(Lhasa, 2007)

...probably made me fearless enough to attempt my own version at home.

And in this beautifully organized and highly colorful arrangement of grocery items in Lhasa...
(Tibet, 2007)

...I am reminded of my own living room with its own tightly-packed arrangement of books and personal objects.

Finally, this gnarled tree in Angkor Wat, entwined in a pas de deux with the ancient temple beneath it...
(Cambodia, 2007)

...reminds me of the old tree trunk I bought on sale and had topped with glass. Its branches now support some of my own ancient artifacts: a trilobyte, an ammonite and a woolly mammoth tusk.

For a moment, close your eyes and reflect upon your own unique assortment of life experiences. Now look around you. Can you make any connections to what you've seen and how you live? 

Just curious.

Heaps of Gratitude... W Magazine for their profile of me on their "Editors' Blog." I have been a fervent reader of W since my college days and still receive the same frisson of anticipation whenever I spy the newest issue in my mailbox. Nothing else quite seems to satisfy my itch for wanderlust and glamour like they do and being mentioned on their site has me feeling very honored indeed. Thank you so much, W Magazine!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tattered Love

On a few occasions, I have been privileged to vacation in homes which have been standing for centuries and which richly reflect the patina of their years. One of them, in a little village near Stirling, Scotland, I've rented with friends three times. Even now, I am saving my pennies to get back there for yet another stay.

What is it about this house? It haunts me in the same way that Ashcombe haunted Cecil Beaton and Brideshead possessed Charles Ryder. Standing tall in the middle of a great swath of open countryside, it presents a forbidding facade to approaching visitors.

Once inside, however, the interiors are more welcoming, much like a crusty old uncle with a nougaty center. Colorful rugs lay across sloping floorboards and the walls are brightly painted in an effort to soften the brittle rays of the cold Scottish sun.

The front entry is painted the color of sunshine itself. And everywhere, in every room, those rugs. Tattered, worn, threadbare and absolutely perfect.

In a house this large, some rooms can't help being held captive to a gloomy northern exposure. But there's always a design remedy. Here, the library rug acts as the visual equivalent of a fireplace, giving the room a vibrant heart and warming up the entire space.

No corridor is deemed too unimportant for a precious remnant.

This is just a long way of saying that last weekend I bought two small area rugs for my house. It's been fiercely hot here in Hollywood and my remedy for coping with heat is to resolutely ignore it. I consequently decided that since I couldn't go to Scotland for some cold comfort, Scotland would come to me.

Here's the first one. I love it not in spite of its condition, but because of it.
You can tell from the photo that it's seen better days. In fact, it's just a piece of an old runner, but I don't mind. It's my own piece of history, over 100 years old, and bearing the ghostly markings of all the feet which have trodden upon it.

The second rug is pictured below. Again, it's faded, slightly threadbare and worn in just the right places.
(Yes, I realize there's a cat in the center of the frame. Fellini was insistent on having his portrait taken, and it felt churlish to refuse him.)

Until the temperatures drop (which will probably happen sometime around October), I'll be confining my reading material to novels set in bitter, inclement climes, and drinking copious pots of hot tea in a supreme effort to convince myself that it's not actually 98 degrees outside.

When the heat's on, one does what one must to survive.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Off The Beaton Path

Just feast your eyes on this house, would you?

(Ashcombe House, Wiltshire. Former home 
of Cecil Beaton, current home of Guy Ritchie. 
Photographed by Tim Walker.)

I've harbored a fascination with it ever since I read Cecil Beaton's memoir about living there, called "Ashcombe: Story of a Fifteen Year Lease." It was love at first sight when he first visited it with Rex Whistler, Stephen Tomlin and Edith Olivier. They almost didn't find it, however. As Beaton tells it:

We motored along the main road...then suddenly turned off to circle through narrow lanes.... The pathways became rough and overgrown, and a few rabbits bolted at our approach.

"It can't possibly be this way. Nobody would live up here", remarked Rex. We found ourselves mooring over the side of the downs at a perilous angle.

Eventually they arrived at their destination.

None of us uttered a word as we.... stood before a small, compact house of lilac-colored brick. We inhaled sensuously the strange, haunting - and rather haunted - atmosphere of the place.

After a tour of the grounds, they made their way back to their motor car:

 It was as if I had been touched on the head by a magic wand. Some people may grow to love their homes; my reaction was instantaneous. This house must belong to me.

By all accounts, Beaton spent his happiest years at Ashcombe. He held legendary garden parties there called fete champetres (literally, "country feasts") which involved his guests dressing up in their finest gowns, drinking champagne, declaiming poetry and running barefoot at midnight along the rolling downs.

They were heady years. Beaton enlisted the talents of his artist friends to help him redecorate the place, painting an extravagant circus mural in his bedroom. 
(Decorating Beaton's bedroom at Ashcombe, 1931.
Group includes Lord Berners, Rex Whistler and Oliver Messel. 
From this book.)

There was always a project going on. One summer, they filmed an amateur movie with Beaton in the lead. 
(Ashcombe, 1935. From same book as above.)

And how's this for a lovely token of friendship? Before his guests left his house for the first time, Beaton made them trace the outlines of their hands on his bathroom wall. As he recalled:

By degrees an extraordinary collection was achieved. As one lay sousing in hot water, one could ruminate on the characteristic traits shown in these significant and life-like shapes and the choice of position or proximity to others chosen by their owners on the wall.

In 2005, Ashcombe was photographed by Tim Walker for Vogue when Madonna lived there and I always thought she did a wonderful job retaining the spirit of the place, as evidenced in a few photos here:

And I would love to have a fete champetre, wouldn't you? So many summer outfits seem to languish in one's closets just waiting for an invitation to be seen. And gardens provide the perfect backdrop for Arcadian glamour. Gossamer silk against velvety flowers, a well-cut linen suit framed by tangled vines -- it's that age-old juxtaposition of refinement and unruliness. 

Maybe that's why I've held onto this picture of Chloe Sevigny for so long. Photographed in her city garden in Manhattan, it nonetheless captures the spirit of a fete champetre in full bloom, don't you think?
(Cover of House and Garden, January 2007)

Come on, who's going to have one first?


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