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François Catroux At Home


A while back, a reader requested that I feature the work of French designer François Catroux. Catroux, of course, is a "big name" designer, but photos of his work are not always easy to find. While looking through the August 1984 issue of House & Garden over the weekend, I stumbled upon an article about his Paris apartment, located in the Left Bank's quartier de l'Odéon. It's so interesting to see photos of his home close to thirty years after it was published because so much of the interiors look stylish still today.

According to the article, Catroux had coveted this apartment for some time. The quartier de l'Odéon is filled with residences that cannot be altered because of their historical heritage, but this particular ground-floor apartment did not come with such restrictions. With a free hand to renovate and decorate the home, Catroux decided to devote his home to what the article referred to as an "abstract" form of classicism. As Catroux said, "After all, what is classicism but that which remains forever modern?" As such, Catroux used a building material known as staff, a combination of mixed plaster and fiber, to create cornices, Doric columns, and rusticated wall finishes that, although essentially pastiche, give the home a classical flavor.

Neutral colors pervade the home with the exception of the red bed covering, while serious antiques like Louis XVI chairs are hidden beneath canvas slipcovers. And in an effort to keep the rooms from looking overdecorated, Catroux chose to leave the canvas that is hung portière-style between the home's dining room and petit salon unhemmed, saying, "I'm never happy when an apartment is too finished." But of all the chic furnishings in the home, my favorite is the trompe l'oeil carpet that is installed throughout the apartment. Designed by Catroux himself, the carpet mimics a marbled floor, something that brings to mind that fabulous trompe l'oeil "marble tile" rug in the bedroom of Lady Sackville at her Brighton House.  (Sackville's bedroom was decorated with the help of her friend, architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.)

A recent WSJ article showed photos of the Catroux Paris apartment that look quite different from what you see here.  Whether they live in the same apartment as seen here or not, I do not know.  Regardless, I think these photos prove that classic design and, yes, classicism, remain timeless. And to the reader who requested this Catroux post, I hope that you haven't yet seen these photos before!

Image at top: An Indonesian throne and bull funerary sculpture greeted visitors in the apartment's entrance hall.

The petit salon with Doric columns made of staff and architectural plans hung on the wall.

A Sèvres vase stands on top of a Directoire table supported by Sèvres biscuit lion and paw legs.

The sitting room. Here, a statue of Atlas and 19th c. English architectural orders mingle with Art Deco sculpture.

The luxurious dining room is kept from looking too rich thanks to canvas slipcovers and curtains.

The master bedroom. To the right you'll notice a concrete support for the spiral staircase, a design borrowed from those used in parking lots.

The bathroom with faux-marbre moldings and embossed walls.

Every room of the home looks out onto the tranquil garden.

All photos and quotations from House & Garden, August 1984; article author Christina de Liagre and photographer Michael Boys.

Sweet Dreams


Look above and you'll see a photo of one of my all-time favorite bedrooms, which is located at Clos Fiorentina, couturier Hubert de Givenchy's home in the South of France. Named the "Bunny" bedroom in honor of Bunny Mellon, Givenchy's dear friend and frequent houseguest, the bedroom is a pitch-perfect blend of high style and casual chic, grounded- literally- by that crisp straw matting.  (Don't even get me started on that marvelous floral-print bed linen and Provençal quilt.)

What strikes me most about this room's bed canopy is that while it's cosseting, it is not smothering and heavy like many festooned and draped beds can be.  Givenchy's version is cool, casual, and comfortable thanks to the profusion of printed cotton, just the type of fabric one wants to lounge upon in the South of France.  And I have to say that this whole ensemble would look just as smashing here in America, too, where a more casually-dressed canopy bed would be right at home in this country's more casually-dressed interiors.

Although I have yet to find another canopy bed that appeals to me as much as that in the Bunny bedroom, I did manage to scare up some other examples that, while varying in degrees of frill and formality, are all beautiful in their own ways.  Some are quite architectural in shape while others look noble in their formal fabric swags and curtains.  And maybe one of these days, a canopy bed may just find itself in my own bedroom.  In the meantime, it's always fun to dream.

In the country house of Spanish designer Paco Munoz, two 19th c. Spanish beds are dressed in a Bennison fabric.

The two beds above can be found at Skogaholm manor, Sweden. The metal bed was designed to be collapsible.

An elaborate canopied bed at Château de Bagnols, Bagnols, France.

Yet another Swedish canopied bed, this one residing in a manor house near Uppsala, Sweden. The Gustavian tester bed is topped with baroque finials and boasts a c. 1750 silk-embroidered spread.

A charming bed canopy in a house on the Esplanade des Invalides, Paris.

A bed and bedroom covered in a Chinoiserie print chintz. This room is also located in, no surprise, Paris.

Givenchy photo from The Givenchy Style by Francoise Mohrt; photos #2-6 from House & Garden, 1985 and 1992. #7-8 from The Finest Houses Of Paris.

The Poetic Paris of Louise de Vilmorin


Remember those old movies in which a man courted a lady by reading poetry to her?  Well heaven help the man who tries to woo me with poetry, because I won't have a clue as to what he is reading to me.  You see, I have no aptitude whatsoever for poetry.  Although I always did well in English class, it was poetry that threw a wrench into things, eliciting a "Say what?" from me.

Fortunately, I recently found a collection of poems that I actually understand.  Written by novelist Louise de Vilmorin, seen above, and titled "Aux Quatre Coins de Paris" (translated to "Paris Poems"), these poems were published in Vogue magazine (the British edition, I believe) sometime in the 1930s.  They are gay, light-hearted, and stylish with their references to the Ritz and Maxim's and just the kind of poems with which to the end the week. Each brief poem was accompanied by a charming illustration, and I have included them below, each above its corresponding verse.

Perhaps these poetic nuggets might inspire you to try your hand at poetry. Personally, they make me want to check-in to the Ritz.

Ritz-Cambon Side
Descending these three steps
In elegant procession
Can make a great impression
While international chatter passes
Among the midday cocktail glasses

The Corridor of The Ritz
This is a funny street
No snow, or rain, or sleet
Thus say the poodles and the dachs
Whining for the jewelled collars
That cost too many dollars

The Flea Market
The Statue of Liberty only offers you a light
But I, by trade a dairy made, just might,
Tempt you with a bargain
Next Saturday
When I stray
From my Milky Way
To the Market of Fleas
So come and see me please

Reflected between the lamps
Set in the mirrors' glint
Are fashions for you to follow
Good sense to take the hint

Aux Quatre Coins de Paris by Louise de Vilmorin; translation by Peter Coats; Drawings by Maurice van Moppès

One Last Thought About Louise de Vilmorin


While researching last week's post on the Paris poems of Louise de Vilmorin, I found the photo, above, of the writer ensconced in her home at Verrières-le-Buisson. According to many of your comments, Vilmorin was known for her sharp tongue and sometimes unkind ways.  While that may be true, it cannot be said that the woman was lacking in style.  Her drawing room, seen above, was quite elegant and lovely and seemingly filled with all kinds of treasures.  (Take a look at her collection of malachite objets, which are displayed together on the skirted table in the foreground.)  According to Christopher Petkanas' 2009 New York Times article on Vilmorin, the writer enlisted the help of designer Henri Samuel to create this most fetching "Salon Bleu".

No doubt that the most striking feature of the room has to be that beautiful blue and white floral fabric.  Still available through Brunschwig & Fils and referred to as Verrieres, the fabric is one of the design world's great prints, striking a feminine note without all the fussiness.  It is also the type of print that encourages a lavish use of it, hence Vilmorin and Samuel's choice of it for curtains, upholstery, and slipcovers in this room. 

It seems that more than a few French designers followed suit, because if you look through French design books from the 1960s, you will sometimes find rooms (usually a bedroom) in which this print plays a starring role.  Some rooms boasted it on walls and ceilings while others were treated to punctuations of this floral print.  And although I don't think that the rooms below are quite as beguiling as the Salon Bleu, I do think they show that Verrieres is one of those fabrics that maintains its sense of propriety, even when used in splashy ways.

Something Old Looks New Again


Do you know what I miss seeing on tables? Hardboard place mats. Remember those? As the name suggests, these mats are literally hard boards that have a decal design on top and a felt underside.  Perhaps they are still used often in the UK where the hardboard mat was once commonplace, but these mats have become a little tough to find over here. I can't figure out why, especially considering that they require no ironing.

The most prominent and popular brand of hardboard mats is Lady Clare.  According to the Lady Clare website, Lady Clare Pigott invented these mats while living in Paris in 1932.  Required to entertain often with her British diplomat husband, Pigott sought to alleviate the high cost of laundering all of her white linen tablecloths.  The solution was a piece of hardboard upon which Lady Clare pasted antique prints and then lacquered the surface; the mat could then be placed directly on top of the table with no cloth underneath.  These mats became a huge hit amongst her friends, and thus Lady Clare the company was born.

My mother used to buy her Lady Clare mats from Tiffany, including a set bearing fox hunting scenes that I now own. And Lady Clare hardboard coasters, a later addition to the line, became my go-to hostess gift during college. (Unfortunately, Tiffany & Co. stopped carrying Lady Clare mats close to twenty years ago.) If scenes of fox hunting, horses, and birds- all typically found on these mats- sound way too traditional, well, that's the whole point. Although Lady Clare and other lines have attempted to updated these mats with more contemporary designs, I say stick to the classics. After all, what's wrong with dining with a throwback?

I say that if hardboard mats are good enough for Marcus the Spaniel, above, then they are certainly good enough for us!

"Hunting" by Lady Clare

"Shepherd's London" by Lady Clare

"Sporting Dogs" by Lady Clare

"Ming Polo" by Lady Clare

If you prefer something less decorative, you can buy solid colored mats and coasters.  These are made in England and are available through Scully & Scully.

A dining table set with hardboard mats at Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire

And this dining table at Birr Castle, Ireland, was also set with hardboard mats, which appear to have some type of fruit design on them.

Photo of Marcus from The English Dog at Home by Felicity Wigan; Eastnor Castle photo from The Regency Country House: From the Archives of Country Life by John Martin Robinson; Birr Castle photo from In an Irish House by Sybil Connolly.

Frescoes and Papal Conclaves


Much of the world will be following the upcoming Papal conclave including those of us who are not Catholic. Two aspects of the conclave especially intrigue me: the white smoke signaling the election of a new pope and the conclave's location in the Sistine Chapel. I have toured the Sistine Chapel on three separate occasions, and each visit was never long enough to soak in the Chapel's beauty. Although the term "awe-inspiring" is used with too much frequency today, I do believe that Michelangelo's frescoes are indeed just that. I can only imagine what it must be like to meet beneath such a masterpiece.

So, in honor of the Sistine Chapel, the Papal conclave, and all of the other activity swirling around the Vatican at the moment, I am posting some photos of Italian houses (and one Spanish house) that also boast breathtaking frescoes. For someone who lives in a late 1960's high-rise, I can only assume that it must be pretty glorious to cast one's eyes on these frescoes everyday.  I even managed to find the fresco featured above, which was conceived by designer Renzo Mongiardino.  Considering that it depicts a bishop, it seemed the appropriate photo to lead off this post.

The library in Villa Burlamacchi Rossi in Gattaiola.

The library in a home in Palma de Mallorca. (Yes, technically this home is located in Spain rather than Italy, but I do love that frescoed ceiling.)

In an old Venetian palazzo, a bedroom was once a reception room.

A room with 18th century decorations in Villa Malaspina near Carrara.

Restored frescoes from the 17th century grace the walls of this Renzo Mongiardino decorated space.

The two photos above were taken at a villa that overlooks Genoa. The villa was built at the end of the 16th century.

Photos #1 and #6 from Roomscapes: The Decorative Architecture of Renzo Mongiardino; #2-#5 from The Anti-Minimalist House (Archives of Decorative Arts); #7 and #8 from Living Well.

A Paella Party


I so enjoy food and entertaining articles from the late 1960s and early 1970s because hosts and hostesses were then just starting to forgo elaborate dinner parties and numerous courses in favor of a simple style of entertaining. These bygone articles about one-pot dinners, make-ahead recipes, and stylish, comfortable table settings still inspire today, especially considering that most of us continue to prefer simplicity over fussiness when preparing our meals.

The photos featured in this post came from a 1971 House & Garden article. The fetching couple was Adriana and Dan Rowan, whose name some of you might recognize from the television show "Laugh-In". I admit that it was Mrs. Rowan's pink and black paisley hostess gown that initially caught my eye, but I also found the Rowans' dining room so attractive with its tile floor, the potted flowers placed everywhere, and that chic yet casually set table.  Terracotta potted tulips, Mexican tin chargers, brown earthenware plates, and plain crystal stemware were the proper accompaniments to a dinner in which paella was the main course.  (As Mrs. Rowan noted, "I like to cook in five languages- French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Mexican.")  And Mr. Rowan assisted in the preparations, too, by choosing wine from his well-stocked cellar.

Little about this dining room or the table looks dated, and I think the same can be said for that hostess gown too.  (The kitchen's linoleum floor and double ovens, on the other hand, scream 1970.) In fact, considering that paella, still a popular entertaining dish today, was on the menu, you might not know that this dinner party took place over forty years ago- until you see photos of the kitchen, of course.


Salted Soybean Nuts and Crudites


Green Salad with Raw Vegetables

Cheese Garlic Toast

Fruit Salad with Cointreau

Cheeses: Gourmandise, Blue, Swiss, Brie

Wine: Pouilly Fumé la Doucette 1964

Dining by Design


I have written before about the homes of London-based designers Paolo Moschino and Philip Vergeylen .  What I enjoy about their work is that it is layered, a word that I realize has become ubiquitous.  But it really does describe their delectable interiors where each piece has flair and obviously been chosen with great care, and yet, no one piece appears conspicuous.  All of the room's elements create a lovely whole, with each piece only revealing itself upon a thorough inspection of the room.

Their Sussex farmhouse is featured in the March issue of House & Garden (UK), an issue which most of you have probably already read.  My neighborhood bookstore only just got the issue last week, so the article is current news to me.  Anyway, what really bowled me over was the farmhouse's dining room.  The room's blue and white mural (pictured above) was inspired the18th century French screen that hangs alongside it.  The effect is so pretty and elegant.  Is it typical of a farmhouse?  No, but that seems just the way the duo like it.  If this were my dining room, I would an especially happy person.

In fact, Moschino and Vergeylen seem especially talented when decorating dining rooms.  When bestowed with their handiwork, these rooms become positively magical.  Take a look below and see if you don't agree.

Three different views of the same dining room, above.

Moschino and Vergeylen's dining room in their London flat.

A slightly more casual yet not less polished dining room.

Photos #1 and #2 from House & Garden, March 2013, Simon Brown photographer. #6 from Architectural Digest, April 2012, Tim Beddow photographer.

The Frenchwoman's Bedroom


Appearances can be deceiving.  I was reminded of that the other day while reading a friend's copy of The Frenchwoman's Bedroom by Mary-Sargent Ladd. During my initial flipping through, I saw a photo of Jacqueline de Ribes, a woman whose style I greatly admire.  Just look at her, above, wearing that fabulous silk caftan not to mention her perfectly made-up face and coiffed hair.  And yet, when I turned the page to see photos of her bedroom, I was a little surprised.  Not that there is anything wrong with her bedroom (see above), but it just wasn't what I was expecting.  I suppose that I assumed her bedroom would be brighter and layered with matching fabrics.  But it wasn't.  Well, as they say, you should never assume anything.

The entire book is really a gem with loads of photos showing chic French women in their homes.  (How refreshing that many of these women actually had wrinkles on their faces!  That's reassuring, don't you think?)  Their bedrooms are equally as chic and are filled with Porthault linen, Braquenié fabric, and all kinds of pretty things.  And while some bedrooms come as no surprise- the late Andrée Putman's bedroom was contemporary looking, as would be expected- there are still some like de Ribes' room that were unexpected.  Who would have guessed that the Marquise de Ravenel, photographed in her floral housecoat while holding her wire-haired dachshund, would have decorated her bedroom in such a crisp, orderly, and surprisingly modern-looking way!

Madame Sylvie Boutet de Monvel, daughter of famous aesthete Bernard Boutet de Monvel, lived in her father's home for her entire life. She maintained some of her father's decor, including the painted cupboards in her dressing room. Each cabinet was painted with women's clothing, including shoes, hats, and fans.

The bedroom of La Princesse Jeanne Marie de Broglie boasts sofa and curtain fabric from Geoffrey Bennison.

The elegant Mademoiselle Jacqueline Delubac had an equally elegant bedroom with furniture by Jansen. Paintings by Vuillard and Picasso stood alongside Porthault sheets.

You know that La Baronne Antoinette de Gunzbourg's bedroom would be cozy considering that she, like a few other women in the book, was photographed with her dog. Much of the bedroom was covered in a Chinoiserie print fabric from Lauer.

Madame Irith Landeau's bedroom is tranquil and warm.

The late Andrée Putman's bed was screened behind gray mosquito netting.

I adore La Marquise de Ravenel's bedroom which boasts a mixture of graphic prints. The Marquise needlepointed her bed, rug, and bed throw pillows.

La Baronne Edmond de Rothschild chose the famous Verrieres fabric for her bedroom.

La Baronne Gérard de Waldner hired her friend, designer François Catroux, to decorate her bedroom. Designer and client chose two floral prints from both Braquenié and Le Menach to create a flowery, feminine room.

All photos from The Frenchwoman's Bedroom by Mary-Sargent Ladd.

A New Take on Mountain Living


For many Southerners, heading to the mountains means venturing to western North Carolina.  But amongst these same people, mountain style means many different things.  While traditional mountain decor is still alive and well in this area, there are some homeowners, architects, and designers who are taking a different approach to mountain living.  Rather than color schemes of browns, creams, and dark greens, steely grays and cool blues are often their colors of choice.  Furniture is sleek and spare, and contemporary art has replaced antique oil paintings. 

One North Carolina mountain home that reflects this new spirit appears in the April issue of House Beautiful.  Owned by a Charlotte, North Carolina based couple, the home was designed by talented architect Ruard Veltman in tandem with the wife, who is a designer.  Respecting the home's location in a 1920s-era community, the exterior architecture is deliberately traditional.  And yet, the interior is a departure from its surroundings, a blend of luxurious materials and urbane furnishings.  But despite the home's gussied up interiors, there is a sense of comfort that permeates the house, one that invites relaxation.  It's really a most striking mountain house.

Here are a few images for your perusal, but you can read the entire article in the April issue, which hits the newsstands tomorrow.

All photos from the April 2013 issue of House Beautiful, Eric Piasecki photographer.  Images used with express permission from the publisher.

Nicky Haslam's Folly de Grandeur


I recently spent the most enjoyable evening reading Nicky Haslam's newly released (as in today!) book, Nicky Haslam's Folly De Grandeur: Romance and Revival in an English Country House.  As most of you are probably aware, the book profiles the Hunting Lodge, Nicky's enchanting country house that once belonged to John Fowler.  Perhaps it was the allure of these two designers that had me eagerly anticipating the release of this book.  Whatever the reason, the book turned out to be exactly as I had hoped: interesting, inspirational, and hands down a fun read.

Nicky's book is charming and engaging for a number of reasons.  First, he is an excellent writer, one who throws out all kinds of interesting historical tidbits and practical decorating advice along with humorous, and at times naughty, quips thrown in for good measure.  For those of you who are eager to learn about Nicky's thoughts on fabrics, floors, and like, you won't be disappointed as he includes numerous chapters focused on such aspects of decorating.  And if you are a devotee of the country house style, then you'll enjoy reading about the evolution of the house as well as studying the luscious photos of forty years worth of decorative layers.

In fact, even without Nicky's well-written narrative, the book would still be a success, I think, because of Simon Upton's photos.  There are large room shots as well as many detail photos that capture all of Nicky's amusing and entertaining mementos.  There is just so much to look at in this house- and this book- that one could spend hours studying these pictures.  Wait, I did spend hours studying the book's pictures!

I'm not sure what Nicky's follow-up book is going to be, but whatever it is, I am eagerly awaiting that one too.

© Nicky Haslam's Folly De Grandeur: Romance and Revival in an English Country House by Nicholas Haslam, Rizzoli New York, 2013. Images © Simon Upton may not be reproduced in any way, published, or transmitted digitally without written permission from the publisher.

The Dining Room of Marguerite Littman


Look through the chic cookbooks on your bookshelves- specifically R.S.V.P.: Menus for Entertaining from People Who Really Know How by Nan Kempner and Alex Hitz's My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist, if you have them- and you'll find mentions of that famous Southern belle, Marguerite Littman. Born in Monroe, Louisiana but a resident of London for decades, Littman has charmed legions of people and amassed numerous interesting friends throughout her life. Well-known for both teaching Elizabeth Taylor how to "speak Southern" for her role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and supposedly being the inspiration for Truman Capote's Holly Golightly, Littman is also a noted hostess, often gathering her guests in the dining room of her Chester Square townhouse.

According to the book David Hicks: A Life of Design, David Hicks decorated the home that Marguerite shares with her barrister husband, Mark, sometime in the 1960s. Hicks's work included covering the dining room's walls, windows, and table in a red floral print cotton. Hanging above the round dining table was an antler chandelier that evidently had an eyeball spotlight placed above it. What the book doesn't mention is whether the chandelier was Hicks's choice or that of the Littmans.

Fast forward to the 1993 when Diane Berger's book, The Dining Room, was published. In the book, a photo of the Littmans' dining room appears, still wearing the same vibrant floral fabric. But, by 2000 when Nan Kempner's book was released, the dining room had undergone a big change.  Gone was the crimson fabric, with stripes now taking the place of flowers on the room's walls.  The antler chandelier did, however, remain a prominent feature in the room.  I do wonder how the room looks today.

So what about the food served in this beautiful room?  Kempner wrote that Southern and Creole food is often on the menu as is traditional English fare, including such dishes as Barbecued Spring Lamb with Rosemary (English yet Southern because it is marinated in barbecue sauce) and Sautéed Bananas.  But what both Kempner and Hitz wax rhapsodic about are Littman's famous Twice-Baked Potatoes.  After reading the recipe in Hitz's book, I certainly am eager to make one of Marguerite's Stuffed Potatoes for myself.  I'll just have to pretend that I'm enjoying it while sitting beneath an antler chandelier.

The room as it appeared in the 1960s, having recently been decorated by David Hicks.

In the early 1990s, the room looks very much the same. Only the table cloth has changed.

And by the time Nan Kempner's book came out, the room had been redone, this time with around with striped fabric on the walls.  The antler chandelier?  It's still there.

Photos #1, #4, and #5 from R.S.V.P.: Menus for Entertaining from People Who Really Know How. #2 from David Hicks: A Life of Design. #3 from The Dining Room by Diane Berger, Fritz von der Schulenburg.

Lady Baillie in Nassau


Lady Olive Baillie is back in the news...well, kind of. Her noted collection of Meissen porcelain, which was later augmented by her son, Sir Gawaine Baillie, is being auctioned off at Sotheby's London on May 1.  Of course, you probably already know that Baillie, an American-born heiress who was a member of the Whitney family, famously restored and decorated Leeds Castle with the help of Armand-Albert Rateau and later Stephane Boudin of Maison Jansen. And her home in Nassau, Bahamas is still written about today, due in no small part to Boudin's exuberant if not slightly bizarre approach to tropical decor.

I found a brief 1954 House & Garden article about life in the Bahamas that included numerous photos of Baillie's Nassau home. Unfortunately, the photo quality isn't great,but it still gives you an idea of what the house looked like both inside and out. (I admit that I find the home's dining room to be strangely appealing. Is it the ceramic tile stove? The painted chairs?) For additional photos of the house, make sure to read James Archer Abbott's terrific book, Jansen, which features quite a few photos of Lady Baillie's Nassau home.

The home's entry hall with marble floor.

My favorite room in the house: the dining room.

The living room with its white bamboo-adorned walls.

Based on the curtain valances and floor, this appears to be part of the dining room.

The terrace with its green wrought-iron furniture.

All photos from House & Garden, December 1954.

The Great Clarifier


I spent an hour or so the other night looking at Spanish designer Luis Bustamante's website, and I was treated to that photo above.  Is that a bar or what?! I thought that my bar was well-stocked, but it's nothing compared to this one.

Once my eyes adjusted to that gracious plenty of liquor bottles, I started to pay attention to the other details in the photo like those red ikat lampshades and the red and white striped wall to the left. A shot of crisp red certainly has a way of catching one's eye.  And while looking through the rest of Bustamante's portfolio, my eye kept getting caught again and again, thanks to the designer's emphatic use of this color in so many of his projects (see below).  It seems that red must be one of Bustamante's favorite colors, don't you think?

I suppose that I could say more, but after a thirteen-hour work day, I can barely string two sentences together.  Fortunately, I think the photos speak for themselves.

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries


Forget Mr. Selfridge. Have you seen Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries?

I recently discovered the Australian television show, which is based on Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mystery novels, and now I'm absolutely hooked. Set in Melbourne, Australia in 1928, the series follows lady detective Phryne Fisher as she solves murders on what seems like a weekly basis. Phryne is a modern woman of independent means who drives a Hispano-Suiza, drinks dark liquor, flies airplanes, speaks Mandarin Chinese, and has affairs with some very good-looking men. And her clothes! Phryne is always decked out in the latest fashions (for 1928, of course) that make our twenty-first-century wardrobes look like a hodgepodge of casual separates.

If you live in the U.S., you can watch the first season on Acorn Online or purchase the DVD on Amazon. (If you like the first episode, beware of binging on the rest of them as I have.) The show is stylish, fun, a little lighthearted, and well-written. I have two remaining episodes to watch, and I'm not sure what I'm going to do once I finish them. The second season is currently being filmed in Australia as I write this, so I'm sure that means American viewers will have to wait until next Spring to catch new episodes. 

Considering that I'm on this big Phryne Fisher kick, I looked through my old magazines to see if I have any from 1928. I do, so I'm featuring a few photos below to give you a taste of what was going on when the fictional Phryne Fisher was sleuthing and having an all-around swell time.

A dressing room in a Greenwich, Connecticut home that was decorated by Elsie de Wolfe.

Actress Gloria Swanson's New York apartment

A bar designed for the Autumn Salon in Paris by Magazin du Printemps

Another bar at the Autumn Salon. Called "Bar sous le Toit", it was designed by Charlotte Perriand.

A foyer in Florence, Italy with a mural painted by Robert Carrere

The Staten Island dining room of designer Robert Locher

A vignette designed by Mary Coggeshall and Jeannette Jukes.

Chicago Botanic Garden Antiques & Garden Fair


Next week, I will be in Chicago to attend the Chicago Botanic Garden Antiques & Garden Fair. I am honored to be joining Marisa Marcantonio of Stylebeat and Emily Evans Eerdmans for a Style Blogger Panel Discussion, which will be moderated by Julia Reed.  (This is major for me because as you might remember, my neighbors and I hosted a party in Julia Reed's honor, although Julia was fêted in absentia.)

The event, which will be held at the Garden's Regenstein Center, will feature more than 100 exhibitors who will be selling both garden and home decorations, not to mention garden displays that have been crafted along the theme of "Color in the Garden: An Artist's View".  Event speakers will include designer Michael Smith (who will be speaking next Friday at 11 a.m.) and landscape designer Charles Stick (his lecture takes place on Saturday at 11 a.m.)  Our blogger panel discussion takes place next Saturday at 2pm, with a book signing event featuring Emily and Julia to follow.

If you live in the area, I do hope that you will attend. It is sure to be a wonderful event, and Marisa, Emily, and I would love to meet you.  For more information on the event, please visit the Chicago Botanic Garden website.

Classic Acapulco


I'm sorry to say that still to this day, I associate Acapulco with The Love Boat.  Sad, but true.  But in the mid-twentieth century, the Mexican resort town was a hot bed of social swells, models, and movie stars who basked in both the sun and the limelight, partying practically non-stop while wearing very chic resort wear. Or so it seems that way to me.

According to Slim Aarons, the most popular person in Acapulco was actress Merle Oberon.  Aarons also mentioned that Oberon's Mexican villa, La Consentida, was considered to be one of the most beautiful resort houses anywhere.  (I'll show photos of her villa on Monday.)  And it seems that others agreed with Aarons' assessment, including Town & Country, which also touted her as one of Acapulco's most gracious hostesses, although the magazine referred to her by her married name, Mrs. Bruno Pagliai.  I admit that when I first saw the T&C piece, I didn't make the connection.

There were lots of other socialites who spent time in Acapulco, including Baron de Redé, Emilio Pucci, and Mrs. Yul Brynner, all of whom were photographed by Aarons while dancing, drinking, and having an all-around good time.

Image at top: Guests gather at the home of Merle Oberon. That looks like Oberon, the second from the right.

Mrs. Bruno Pagliai, aka Merle Oberon, in her Acapulco home

Andrew Goodman of Bergdorf Goodman

From left, Suzy Gilly, Anita Colby, Mary Wells Lawrence, Sloan Simpson, and Mrs. Yul Brynner

There was certainly a lot of bare flesh at this party, which took place at the home of Melchor Perusquia.

Marie-Hélène de Rothschild and Baron de Redé. De Rothschild looks demure compared to the others.

Wouldn't we all have liked to attend this luncheon hosted by Pat de Cicco, especially considering that Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Oscar de la Renta, Reed Vreeland, and Emilio Pucci can all be spotted in this photo. (You might recall that de Cicco was the ex-husband of Gloria Vanderbilt.)

In Swinging Acapulco, the Star was Merle Oberon


I'm a little confused about today's post. Last week, I featured a photo of Merle Oberon, which had been taken by Slim Aarons in 1966.  In Aaron's book, A Wonderful Time, the photographer wrote that Oberon's Acapulco house, La Consentida, was considered to be the most beautiful vacation home in the world.  And yet, when I did some sleuthing around the internet, it seems that around this same time, Oberon and her Italian industrialist husband, Bruno Pagliai, also resided in an Acapulco estate called El Ghalal. So, what's the deal?

According to a January 27, 1967 Life magazine article titled "In a Swinging Resort the Star is Merle Oberon" (a title which I borrowed for this blog post), Oberon and her husband built a real showplace of a home in Acapulco called El Ghalal, which is a Mexican-Indian phrase meaning "to love".  The article also mentioned that Oberon, a real social butterfly, liked to end her evenings at a disco called Tequila á Go-Go. I think that is beyond fabulous, but it's also a story for another day.  The Life article makes no mention of a home called La Consentida.

Fast forward to the 1977 book, Architectural Digest Celebrity Homes, which devotes a chapter to Oberon and Pagliai's home, this time referred to simply as Ghalál. The book refers to the home mostly in the past tense, noting that Oberon once shared the home with her former husband. So, I am assuming that when AD first ran photos of the home, the Oberon-Pagliai marriage was intact, but by the time the compilation book was published, the marriage was no more.

Perhaps La Consentida was the home in which the two lived before building El Ghalal. I can't be sure, but what I do know is that the photos featured here do in fact show El Ghalal.  And if some of you are wondering why we should care about a home of an old film star, you just might be interested to know that Merle Oberon and her early life, whose details are murky at best, were the inspiration for Michael Korda's book Queenie, which in turn inspired the mini-series of the same name. (A mini-series, I might add, that is actually pretty good. And Korda, just in case you don't know, is Oberon's nephew.)

According to the AD book, Juan Sordo Madaleno, the home's architect, considered this project to be "the most beautiful house of my career." What was unique about this house was that it was situated so that it received the heat of the afternoon sun, something usually avoided by most when building a home in Acapulco. Oberon wanted the house to have a view of the beautiful Acapulco sunsets, which meant a western-facing direction. The home's outdoor gallery, which ran the length of the house, was designed to be deep so that part of it was always in the shade.

The home was decorated in a British Colonial style, at least according to Ms. Oberon. The actress was a collector of porcelains, some of which can be seen here.

Mr. Pagliai's bedroom, which featured a red lacquered k'ang sofa beneath an Ethiopian painting, looks a little spare.

Ms. Oberon's bedroom, on the other hand, was far more decorated, which was fitting for a movie star. Ms. Oberon's Chinese teak opium bed had a removable center section which allowed for the low table to be used within the bed during the day, while at night, the bed was made up for sleeping.  The actress, by the way, designed the rug.

It looks like there was plenty of space for entertaining and sunset viewing.

All photos from Architectural Digest Celebrity Homes, Max Eckert photographer.

The Ultimate in Cozy


My all-time favorite, comfy-cozy looking space has to be this room, which is in the London home of the great designer, John Stefanidis.  I featured it on my blog many years ago, but I felt it was worth revisiting, especially since I recently bought the book, Living in Style London, because it featured Stefanidis' small library.

So why is this my ultimate cozy room? First, it has to be those red silk moiré-covered walls.  Red can be vibrant and energizing, and yet, it seems soothing here.  That moiré fabric is repeated on both the sofa and the table skirt, which further bathes the room in red so that this nook of a room feels safe and warm, as if nothing bad can happen here. (What I can't tell is if the sofa and table skirt are made of silk, like the walls, or rather cotton.)

Can we talk about those needlepoint pillows? They add warmth and texture, thanks to their wool thread, while their geometric and floral designs (which, by the way, are not too sweet-looking) add some pattern that keeps the room from feeling too peaceful and tranquil.  To me, a room that is too restrained seems, well, unnerving and the antithesis of comfortable.

Then, there is ample but soft light.  Again, if it were too dark, the space would seem a little scary.  The lamps, much like the use of red, bathes the space in warmth.  And Stefanidis' assemblage of art adds a layer of personality to the room.  We might not understand why he chose to congregate these pieces together, but he does, and that's all that is important.

And then, you have those books.  Lots and lots of them.  If you remember reading Mr. Stefanidis' list of favorite books that appeared on this blog a few years ago, you know that the designer is very well-read, a trait that is probably attributed to these books. Or maybe it's the other way around.  Perhaps the books' presence here can be attributed to the designer's love of books.  Well, whatever, it's a wonderful room, and one which ranks up there as a personal, and perennial, favorite.

Photos #1 and #2 from Living in Style London; #3 from Mr. Stefanidis' website.

In the Garden with Paolo Genta


I am currently in Chicago attending the Chicago Botanic Garden Antiques & Garden Fair, so it seems appropriate to end the week with photos devoted to gardens and flowers, namely those that are the handiwork of the talented Italian interior designer, Paolo Genta.  Garden design, follies, and the arranging of flowers seems to be part of Genta's bailiwick (along with interiors, of course), so it's no surprise that each figures prominently in the monograph of Genta's work.

Enjoy your weekend!