Left, Sir John Soane (1753-1837). Right, Tony Duquette (1914-1999).
Well, such a person exists and I am incredibly fortunate to count him as an acquaintance. He possesses Tony Duquette's passion for fantasy-baroque interiors and John Soane's devotion to art and antiquities...and I'm not even joking.
(Left, a John Soames room. Right, one by Tony Duquette.)
You will never meet him (no names, he values his privacy), but he is allowing me to take you on a very private tour of his magnificent abode. The most I can tell you about him is that he is exceedingly elegant, erudite and in his eighties. And oh, the places he has been. (Think Morocco in the 1950's with Truman Capote and Paul Bowles, among a dizzying number of other glamorous destinations.) Oh, one other thing: he is not a professional designer which makes the whole thing all the more jaw-droppingly remarkable.
Here's a sneak peek of one of his conversation salons:
(All photos by LBG, 2012.)
When I visited him recently, I was so overwhelmed that I almost couldn't contain myself. You just don't expect to walk into a house like this on an otherwise normal day. Thank God for the internet because I immediately knew you would get it. (Lots of people won't --and that's fine. Minimalists, run now.) But I'm betting that you will be as moved as I was by my friend's journey to make his home a kaleidoscope of his soul and a visual history of his well-travelled life.
Consider this the one and only world premiere...
Entering through the front gate, we pass through this walled garden of pastoral bliss. See the concrete sheep grazing next to you? And the cherubim on pedestals surveying the circular maze of boxwood? It's all slightly overgrown and if you ask me, way-more-than-slightly romantic. I love me a shaded garden. There's always a place to read or talk -- and the decreased risk of sunburn doesn't hurt either.
Look. Over in the corner, tangles of ivy and Spanish moss give tree branches a Southern Gothic air. It's like we've wandered into an Eudora Welty story. (My gardener keeps telling me I can't do this to my trees as it will eventually strangle them, and I keep telling him that if I keep a vigilant eye out, I really do think I can. Ahem. Point proven.)
Let's go inside. Okay, stop here. Tight shot, I know, but you can see how grand the entry foyer is, made all the more so by hanging paintings salon-style up the circular staircase.
Over on this wall is an assemblage of landscape paintings my friend has collected over the years. The mirror turns the room into an endless reflection of itself. And don't you love the marble maiden? She has such a pursed moué.
This next room is one of my favorites. If only Oscar (Wilde) were alive to see it -- he would get it too. Note how the Chinese lacquered screen sets the stage for the rich red sofa in front of it. And how genius is that ceiling? When I rhapsodized over it, my friend chuckled. "It's just inexpensive molding," he said. "And then I put wallpaper between the squares." Of course he did.
I die for a little wit. This fierce bust in the kitchen is made less imposing bedecked with beads and ribbons.
Same goes for this carved head. That exquisitely needlepointed hat from Central Asia gives him an (almost) friendly air.
Doesn't the dining room have such a Michael S. Smith elegance to it? I think the President could definitely eat here.
The dining chairs are upholstered in tribal textiles (or "huipiles") from Guatemalan villages that my friend has visited. Each pattern is unique and specific to a certain group of people.
Here's the master bedroom. Isn't it fantastic? The drama of that gilt canopy? The startling tension of those white pillows? It's a Baroque fantasy steeped in elegance and humor.
This guest bedroom is such a lovely example of how to mix colors and fabrics. Every element is deep in conversation with each other: the vaguely Liberty-ish wallpaper and matching curtains, the Indian kantha quilt, those two long silk pillows and that fabulous painting of the upstairs of a London double decker bus. If I was young enough to run away, this is where I would come and hide.
This tiny powder room is upholstered in a luxurious woven fabric which has the effect of making the room seem much bigger -- the pattern diverts your eye and renders the corners invisible. And the gorgeous Old Master paintings on the wall make you feel as though there should be a docent hovering around somewhere.
Upstairs, this enormous map hanging above the bathtub is pinned with all the places my friend has traveled in his lifetime. What a life, right?
Here's a close-up of the wallpaper surrounding the map. It's a cheerful Indian printed cotton -- would you expect anything less chic? (Probably best confined to those who practice controlled splashing.)
Lastly, the back garden is as much a revelation as the home itself. It's so chic and welcoming. Everywhere you look there is a cozy upholstered seat or a café table or a statue or even a lampshade (can you spot it?). When you stand here, you inhabit a private world. The surrounding houses disappear completely. You can be anywhere you imagine: on a rooftop garden in Ravello, a secluded island hideaway, a tropical fantasy in London's Cheyne Walk. Or even Hollywood, California.
I want you to know how warm and wise and witty my friend is. He is so self-effacingly kind and such a wonderful force of positivity to all those who know him. He's having some health problems right now and I wonder if you wouldn't just send a positive little ray of light to him? I'm going to make sure he reads this and I know it would lift his spirits to think that there are kindred souls out there.