Monday, March 29, 2010

The Well-Layered Room

When you enter a well-layered room, you feel it. It welcomes you graciously and fills your senses with texture and color and vitality. It accommodates all kinds of activities and all kinds of moods. It can be cheerful, cozy or intimate. It speaks volumes, quietly.
(T. F. Simon, "Vilma Reading a Book", 1912)

If you ask me, I'd say there are four qualities to a well-layered room:

1. Comfort
There is always a pleasant chair waiting, a place to set your drink, an interesting book to leaf through, and a vista to settle your eyes on (whether it's a postcard leaning against a mantel or an open window onto Rue Jacob makes no difference). Furniture is arranged with meaning so that even as a first-time visitor, you feel immediately at ease.

2. Passion
A well-layered room reflects the kind of life lived within its walls. It offers an intimate glimpse into the lifeblood of its owners and makes you realize, "Aha, now I see who they are." It's like a journal entry into their soul.

3. Honesty
A well-layered room contains no concealment or pretense. If a piece of much-loved furniture is slightly shabby, it doesn't hide in a dark corner -- it's valued for its faithful years of service. Books and paintings and objets are collected piecemeal over time instead of during one-stop shopping trips. Nothing is overly precious. Curiosity is welcome.

4. Fearlessness
Timidity does not belong in a well-layered room. (Timid rooms are only one layer deep and usually colored beige.) A fearless room embraces the juxtaposition of different sources and patterns and histories. Just like a great cocktail party, it's filled with an assortment of interesting characters taking part in the same conversation.

The Bohemian painter Tavik Frantisek Simon comprehended all of this.
("Interior of My House in Paris", 1909)

So does Peter Dunham.
(Photo by Miguel Flores-Vianna)

Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) had an innate understanding.
("Interior", 1920)
As does designer Michael S. Smith.

Matisse got it.
("Interior with Phonograph", 1924)

Tim Clarke does too.
(via Hollywood Style by Diane Dorrans Saeks)

And Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947).

Nicholas Haslam grasps it on a cellular level.

Do you have a well-layered room?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Westweek Fever

This past week, I did something truly radical. I put down the needle and thread...

...and ventured out into the world of the living. And what a crazy and glamorous world it was.

The annual design event known as "Westweek" had descended upon Los Angeles, and a flurry of designers, bloggers, editors and executives were shopping, cavorting, and networking with an energy that seemed to invigorate the entire town.
(Max Beckmann, "Paris Society", 1931)

It's still a bit of a blur, but I'll try to recount as best I can.

There was dinner at the Chateau Marmont with the captivating Heather Clawson of Habitually Chic and too-amusing-for-words Christian May of Maison 21 which consisted mainly of peals of laughter and glasses of Prosecco.

There was a chic cocktail party at Almont Yard hosted by One Kings Lane where I met founder Ali Pincus, designer Nathan Turner, blogger Katie-d-i-d and visionaire Sean O'Mara of Royal Apothic. It ended up being one of those nights where you tell yourself you'll leave in twenty more minutes, and then suddenly it's almost midnight and you have to get up in six hours.
(photo via Velvet and Linen)

There was a keynote panel at the Pacific Design Center that was well-represented by stellar bloggers Ronda Carman of All the Best, Brad Ford of DesignTherapy and Vanessa De Vargas of Turquoise LA.

There was breakfast at Cecconi's with Patricia Shackelford aka Mrs. Blandings, who arrived wearing a sleeveless Liberty dress from Target that clung to her like couture.
(Photo via Apartment Therapy)

There would have been more to tell but by that point, I had all the symptoms of "Westweek Fever", a well-known malady caused by overindulgence, sleeplessness and vocal fatigue. The only known cure for this affliction consists of lying prostrate on one's sofa like a Victorian invalid...

...and confining oneself to bad television...

...and a strict diet of proven restoratives.

I'm feeling much better now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Birds of a Feather?

This morning, two words I'm willing to bet you never thought you'd hear in the same sentence: Evelyn Waugh and Lady Gaga.

What could they possibly have in common?
(Portrait of Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb; Lady Gaga)

The answer lies in D. J. Taylor's "Bright Young People" which I recently devoured. (If you have any curiosity at all about that crazy cult of 1920's pleasure-seekers called the Bright Young Things, this is the most penetrating book I've read about them.)
(available here)

Anyway, Evelyn Waugh figures heavily in the book. He chronicled the BYT's in his novels, was strongly attracted to their hedonistic lifestyle and knew all the players intimately. So I had him on the brain, so to speak, when on page 147, D. J. Taylor cites an article from a 1929 Punch magazine:

Punch's correspondent is escorted by "Lady Gaga" to an entertainment hosted by "the Honorable Batsin Belfry" and her husband "Bobo." Arriving at a "little house in Bloomsbury" ablaze with light, the couple fight their way to the dining room....On the counter sits "a massive maiden in a cavalry officer's mess-kit...and next to her a fresh-faced lad dressed as a bride....

And later:

Losing sight of Lady Gaga for half an hour, the inteloper eventually finds her with her arm round the waist of "a young heavy-weight in horn-rims dressed as a baby" listening to a hollow-eyed girl in a tutu and an opera hat who is singing a song with the refrain "It's terribly thrilling to be wicked."

So funny, huh? I have to admit I thought, "How cool. This must be where she got the idea for her name." (Okay, I was wrong.)

Another similarity between the world of Waugh and the world of Gaga is their predilection for dressing up in outrageous costumes.

Below, a photo from the infamous "Second Childhood Party" in 1929 which was labeled by onlookers as "the type of behavior that leads to communism."
(Courtesy of Illustrated London News Picture Library)

And check out this one. It was taken April 29, 1930, the night of David Tennant's Mozart Party where guests were required to dress in 1760's attire. Afterwards the revelers took to the streets of Piccadilly and interrupted some night workmen digging up a gas pipe. Cecil Beaton is the one wielding the pneumatic drill.( That poor laborer looks like he doesn't know what hit him.)
(Photo via "Bright Young People")

Below, a few of Lady Gaga's vehicles of self-expression:

Waugh and the Bright Young Things virtually created the phenomenon of celebrity -- prior to them, a member of the upper class was only supposed to appear in print three times (birth, marriage and death). After them, everything was fair game. Gossip columnists became powerful voices, breathlessly recounting to a riveted public all the scandalous doings of this new social order. Novels like Waugh's "Vile Bodies" were huge sellers, offering an insider's glimpse into the lifestyles of the rich and louche.

Newspaper owners demanded their photographers chronicle all the hijinks as well, ensuring that celebrity would forevermore go hand in hand with flashbulbs. Of course, wouldn't you know it, Lady Gaga has a massive hit called "Paparazzi."

It just goes to show you that you never know what you're going to find when you stick your head in a book.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday Respite

This blog is about a lot of things, but hopefully the constant thread that runs through it is to live with style, grace and a healthy dose of eccentricity. For me, lately, it's all about making the little moments count. I am never unaware that the clock is ticking, ticking and whereas when I was in my twenties, this would strike panic in my heart ("Hurry! Do something! Make your mark!"), now I find this knowledge empowering.
Do you know the poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae about the young soldiers of WWI? There's the most heartbreaking phrase in it:

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Armed with this state of mind, even the littlest moments can be as memorable as the life-changing ones.

While the coffee brews, I unload the dishwasher. Because it's Sunday and I'm not rushing off somewhere, I can take my time. And I do. The simple repetition of stacking plates on top of one another becomes a meditation in blue and white.

The flowers I bought at Trader Joe's two days ago are reclipped and given fresh water. They are grateful and immediately crane their necks into a sun salutation.

Piero is returning from London this afternoon, and Luca is in a state of fervid anticipation. I suggest he go outside and burn off some energy. I perch myself on our brick wall and watch him go up and down the sidewalk on his new skateboard.

I restrain myself from giving him any helpful tips (because shouldn't kids have to figure out some things for themselves?) and watch his precarious balancing attempts. My latté is steamy-hot and milky-sweet. Above me, two birds catch up on each other's lives in plaintive harmony and the dusky fragrance from a nearby privet hedge wafts over to me.
I close my eyes and feel as though my whole existence consists of three things: scent and song and the rhythmic clackety-clack of wheels on sidewalk.

I don't want to move. I just want to stay here, exactly like this, for eternity.

Luca: Mom? I'm done.

It was brief, my little idyll. But it was good.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Irish Reverie

This is the library at Bellinter House in Navan, County Meath, Ireland. I snagged it from their website months ago after my friend Stephanie sent me a link to the hotel. "It looks like your kind of place," she said.

Does it ever.
I've imagined myself in this room so many times that I know every detail by heart. Can't you see me, just out of frame? I'm padding around in my stocking feet because my muddy boots have been sequestered on the boot rack in the massive hall. I was out investigating some nearby Celtic ruins but had to cut my ramble short because an ominous cloud appeared over the hills and I realized I had no umbrella. I sought refuge in the library and I'm so glad I did. Just look at the light coming in from that window. The sky has turned an unearthly gold that immediately precedes a heavenly downpour. How fabulous. We can spend the rest of the afternoon drinking copious cups of tea and investigating the bookshelves by candlelight. Isn't that an entire set of World of Interiors over in the corner?

Who's in?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Life's A Peach, Isn't It?*

*I know squinting is not an attractive trait, but I truly believe that looking at the world with an uncritical and slightly blurry gaze can infinitely expand your sense of contentment. Rose or peach-colored glasses will provide the same effect.

I love this 1908 advertising poster for the London Underground which I found in the wonderful book, "Everything You Can Do In The Garden Without Actually Gardening" by Philippa Lewis.
(click to enlarge)

The charming little house with its casement windows, the mother and child ensconced on the tidy back lawn, the husband in his shirtsleeves and waistcoat watering the sunflowers, and the sleek city train in the distance -- it's a perfect evocation of English suburban life at the turn of the last century.

And, how much, really, has changed? One hundred years later in Los Angeles, I have a not-dissimilar little plot of land that I also consider my refuge from city life, my haven for careless days of peace. I am looking for lawn chairs just like the one pictured. I love the idea of gardening in a proper outfit. As ridiculous as it may sound, I wholly believe that just a stone's throw from the tumult of Hollywood and Vine, I am living a miniature version of country life.

Whether anyone else agrees with me has no bearing on my rose-colored vision.

You may look at my garden and see tiny; I see endearing.
You may see too much shade; I see a refuge from the Klieg lights of the city.
You may see emptiness; I see potential.
You may see leaves in need of a rake; I see a layer of texture and color.
You may see a lack of design; I see grass waiting for bare feet, cartwheels and spilled lemonade.
(Snacktime in the Secret Grove of Holly Wood)

And Now, The Conclusion to "Give Me Liberty":
I went, I saw, I bought.

At the Target I visited, the homeware, garden and outdoor items had not yet arrived, but clothing was plentiful and I found a few lovely things. The mens flowered Tana Lawn shirts surpassed my expectations -- they are well-constructed, finely woven, perfect for summer and at $24.99, a fraction of the regular £125 cost. I purchased two for Piero (he took one with him to London yesterday, so here's the other)...

...and bought one for myself as well, along with a few pairs of $5.99 boxer shorts (perfect for underneath a dressing gown). I just couldn't resist all those colorful prints.
(Post-laundry, pre-ironing)

I didn't buy any of the womens clothing, but my friends did and were in ecstasies over their retro sleepwear. I am resigned to the fact that Target will apparently be rolling out items over the next week or so, which means a return trip (or two).

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Garden Chronicles

(Detail of my garden)

It's that time of year again when a girl's fancy turns to all things abloom. Visions of picnics and chairs dragged out on the lawn and watering cans and flowered gloves and a tea table heaped with hot scones and lashings of jam and butter come immediately to mind.
(Illustration by George du Maurier, 1834-1896)

Yes, I am an utter romantic when it comes to my Lilliputian grassy kingdom, and I make no apologies.

My own garden, however, is still in "Early Eliza Doolittle" phase. We have privacy, a pool and a new troupe of grass seedlings busy making a brilliant fledgling debut, but not much else.

Most of the gardens in my neighborhood have been transformed into wondrous outdoor living areas. They are truly incredible; however, the downside is that they have given up most of their lawn in the process. In place of grass, there are hardscaped dining areas, stone fire pits, pebbled pathways, fountains, petanque alleys and other assorted features.

But I'm reluctant to give up my plot of verdant turf...and therein lies the rub.

You see, I don't own a dog, but I have a son, which amounts to much the same thing.

Luca uses that grassy stomping ground to chase his friends, lie on a blanket and read, and hurl as many types of balls as high, far and fast as he can.
I can't bear to take that away from him.

And, to be perfectly honest, I love looking out my kitchen window and seeing that little swath of green. It's an enchanted Arcadia to me.
(English countryside)

I do have some immediate plans, though.

1. I want to plant potato vines...
(via here)

...beneath the wall of ficus trees that extend the length of the property and let their pale green tendrils clamber up the branches and sprout delicate little white flowers. (The restaurant Ceccconi's in West Hollywood does this and it's wonderfully effective in adding texture and drama to a living wall.)

2. Over in the corner behind the pool, I plan to erect a wooden pergola and then create some kind of reading/dining area beneath it. It's especially lovely to sit somewhere and gaze back at the house (it creates the feeling of more space), so I want to make the most of this little visual illusion. I will paint the structure in Railings from Farrow and Ball, which is the most wonderful blue-black...
(color via here)

...and then cover it with pale, pale pink flowers in a color like this:
(color via here)

What kind, I don't know, as I am a novice gardener of the highest order. (Any ideas?)

3. Next, I would like to find some pale grey cement planters and perch them around the edge of the pool so that it feels like a little Victorian bathing pond. Whatever type of plant goes in them needs to be sturdy, structured and unprickly.
(photo via Bardy Farms)

4. I'll leave one corner by the pool bare to give me room for one of these cement poufs from Harbinger LA which I absolutely can't stop thinking about (they come in 25 colors). They'll look even better after a couple of years in the sun, wind and rain -- they'll be seasoned, literally.
(via here)

5. A beloved tree which gracefully overarches the pool...
...and which we adamantly refused to chop down...

Pool Contractor: But the leaves will make a mess.
Us: Isn't that what a skimmer is for?

...will gain an extra function with a wooden seat encircling it, á la this photo of designer Peter Dunham:
(photo via here)

5. Other than that, I guess our garden furniture will have to be restricted to the portable kind for now. But as I mentioned in the opening of the post, there's something wonderfully old-school about dragging indoor furniture outside. Plus, it gives you the freedom to create whatever type of environment you like, whether you seek to emulate the civilized luxury of a Victorian fete...

...or something a bit more sybaritic.
(Photo by Lee Miller of Nusch and Paul Eluard,
Man Ray and others, Cannes, 1937)

It's a work in progress. I'll report back.

Monday, March 8, 2010

My Stolen Moment

I've been running on a treadmill of ceaseless errands and carpool runs and playdates and appointments and writing and blogging and trying to fit in six hours of sewing a day since January. On Monday, I reached a point where my brain craved a breather.

I wanted silence and pretty pictures. Luckily, I found both.

My stolen moment is brought to you by Hipstamatic, the iPhone app I had absolutely no business uploading yesterday. It was the best $1.99 vacation I've ever had.

You can choose between different lenses, film types and flashes to create ambient, otherworldly images of the most commonplace of objects.

A fake styrofoam bird plopped into a vase of flowering branches becomes imbued with the moodiness of a modern Old Master painting.

A wallet and pair of sunglasses carelessly tossed onto a counter are given a beautiful sepia wash that make it look a bit like a postcard for a sale at Paul Smith.

Hipstamatic gives the most conventional of events a profundity that far outweighs the situation. Here, Twiglet exudes a trenchant intelligence which belies the fact that he's merely waiting for me to feed him.

A trio of containers over the stove reminds me that we're almost out of sea salt, and so I snap a reminder.

A cheese dome from Fortnum and Mason reminds me Luca needs more Jarlsberg for his lunch tomorrow.

Changing the lens to one called "Kaimal", my dining room takes on the aspect of a salvaged photo from a distant time. Very Retronaut-ish, actually.

Going outside, the magnolia tree appears to have blanketed the entire back garden with its glorious pink hues.

Changing the lens again (to the "John S.") gives the same scene a more stark, Wuthering Heights feel.

My pale silvery-gray tree looks as though it's cocooned in moss, a dream I've long harbored but know is unsuitable for a Hollywood climate. Through Hipstamatic, my fantasy comes to life.

I pick up my current book, V. S. Pritchett's "Complete Collected Essays." I've only recently discovered him and can't stop dipping into his short, incisive book reviews. He appears to have written about practically every English author under the sun (Evelyn Waugh, E. F. Benson, George Gissing, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope and about a thousand others) and his essays provide a wonderful launch pad for further reading.

I have an hour before carpool duty beckons, so I sink into a wooden rocking chair and flip to a page at random (it's that kind of book). I land on an essay about "The Remembrance of Things Past"...
...which is entirely appropriate given the fact that tomorrow my brief idyll into indolence will be but a distant memory and I will be hard at work again.

But I'll have the pictures.


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