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Posts from the ‘Historical Perspectives’ Category

“Designer of Dreams”: Villa Fornasetti in Milan c. 1955

The majority of my inspiration comes from images I find online. The internet is a great resource, but often I find myself starring at the same pictures over and over again. Just the other day I was in desperate need for inspiration. As I battled some icy blasts of Melbourne spring wind I was saved by a book in a shop window which I immediately had to look at.

It was The Iconic Interior: 1900 to Present by Dominic Bradbury. I bought it there and then even though I am sure I could have found it cheaper online somewhere. Given that I love books and I love bookshops I feel it’s important to support them. And what’s not to like about seeing something, buying it on a whim and taking it home that very moment.

So, here is my first instalment for you from this wonderful tome: the Milanese home of three generations of the Fornasetti family. Fornasetti was established by Piero (1913-1988), a Milanese painter, sculptor, interior decorator, engraver and furniture designer who was known as “the designer of dreams”. Naturally the house is filled with countless Fornasetti pieces, yet it does not feel like a showroom. It just invites you in.

I adore the fearless use of colour throughout the house. The Fornasetti’s Mediterranea wallpaper (below) I’ve loved for ages and recently been thinking about using it in the very neglected entrance of my house.

This must be one of the best salon hangs of mirrors I have seen. It works so brilliantly, not just because of its scale and the amazing dark green wall (white would simply not have the same impact), but also because none of the pieces match, yet each is stunning in its own right.

The art historian in me loves the giant mural of The Ideal City after the early Italian Renaissance painter Pietro della Francesca on the wall of the studio below.

Fornasetti’s iconic butterflies appear in odd spots all over the villa.

The house certainly reflects Piero Fornasetti’s values. He said “I do not believe in eras or times. I do not. I refuse to establish the value of things based on time.” In an era when fashions are changing faster than ever before, this timelessness is something to celebrate.

I look forward to sharing more incredible interiors from my latest purchase. Do you still buy books from bookshops or are they just showroom for you before purchasing cheaper copies online? I do both and would love to hear your thoughts.


Elsie de Wolfe: Rebel in an ugly world

As an art historian in a former life I am often asked to write some historical posts. And who better to write about than the woman credited with being the first interior designer: Elsie de Wolfe (1865-1950) pictured wearing Schiaparelli below.

Before de Wolfe  interiors were put together by male architects and upholsterers. Consequently, the interiors of the time were dark, heavy, masculine spaces filed with leather and wood.  Elsie’s style was a complete departure: she used fresh warm colours, loved chintz, initiated America’s love affair with trellised rooms, wicker chairs and 18th century reproduction furniture.

Villa Trianon, Versailles

Self-described as a “rebel in an ugly world” Elsie never trained as a designer or architect, indeed she was an actress who achieved more success as a socialite. In her early 20s she began what was then known as a Boston Marriage with Miss Elisabeth “Bessie” Marbury, a highly influential literary and theatrical agent whose client list and personal friends included the likes of Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Cole Porter. The first interior which Elsie designed was their own home in Irving Place and it became the ideal platform to showcase her style and talents.

At the age of 40 she launched her career as an interior designer by securing a prestigious commission:  to design the interiors of the Colony Club, New York’s first women’s social club, located on Madison Avenue. She did so through her personal contacts and it was a savvy move as all of New York’s most influential society women including Anne Vanderbilt, Anne Morgan, Florence Harriman and Elsie’s partner, Miss Marbury were founding members. When the Club opened in 1907 its soft feminine feel, created by tiled floors, pale walls, light drapery and chintz and trellised rooms, made Elsie became an overnight sensation.  The iconic trellised Garden Pavilion (below) inspired by 18th century French aesthetics is considered today as one of the turning points in American interior design.

During her career, which spanned some 50 years, Elsie worked for Anne Vanderbilt, Cole Porter, Conde Nast, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Adelaide and Henry Clay Frick. For the latter she decorated the 14 rooms which made up the family and guest quarters of their 5th Avenue residence. Sadly these were demolished and remodelled in 1931, but extant photos reveal luxurious yet cosy rooms filled with Louis XVI furniture. The only surviving room is the Boudoir she designed for Adelaide Frick (now the Boucher Room) complete with its Boucher panelling and Carlin and Riesener furniture. In her dealings with Frick she established a finders fee of 5% for all the furniture she acquired on his behalf; this was additional to her design fee and this way of charging became industry practice.

The year she received the commission for the Colony Club she and Bessie purchased Villa Trianon in Versailles, which she decorated with great aplomb. Elsie also published “The House in Good Taste” in 1914, full of practical and inexpensive decorating tips, which solidified her style. Interestingly, much of her advice is still relevant today: “I believe in plenty of optimism and white paint,” she argued, “comfortable chairs with lights beside them, open fires on the hearth and flowers wherever they ‘belong,’ mirrors and sunshine in all rooms.” She advocated for ambient lighting, flowers, reproduction furniture and declared that decor, including dining chairs, need not match.

In 1926, at the age of 61, she stunned society by marrying the British diplomat Sir Charles Mendl. The Times reported that “the intended marriage comes as a great surprise to her friends . . . when in New York she makes her home with Miss Elizabeth [sic] Marbury at 13 Sutton Place” with whom she continued a relationship until Bessie’s death in 1933.

Later in her life she  was been desired as “probably the first woman to dye her hair blue, to perform handstands to impress her friends, and to cover eighteenth-century footstools in leopard-skin chintzes.” I would have liked her.

Image Credit {1}{2}{3}{4}{5&6}{7}

Chinoiserie Wallpaper: a 500 year old trend

Wallpaper has undergone a renaissance over the past years. Many traditional patterns are being put back into production. Moreover, new wallpaper designers such as Fromental are reinventing traditional themes. This is particularly evident with chinoiserie wallpaper.

Chinoiserie literally means ‘chinese-esque’ in French and is a European artistic style inspired by the art and design of China. It is mainly found on decorative arts including vases, textiles, furniture and wallpaper. It emerged in the 17th century when merchants returned from the East with porcelain and other objets d’art in their cargo and depicts stylised and fanciful imagery from the ‘Orient’ including inhabited landscapes, man-made structures, pagodas, lattice work, exotic birds and flowers.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the East India Company first imported hand-painted wallpapers from China which were specifically made for the European market and by the early 19th century no European palace was complete without a Chinoiserie room. Some extraordinary examples can still be seen in the Brighton Pavilon, Sans Souci, Chateau Chantilly and Nostell Priory.

Without further adieu, here is a small gallery of images of Chinoiserie wallpaper in modern interiors (and one very old one). Can you spot it?

deGournay wallpaper via Bo Bedre

via decor8

Joakim Blockstrom

deGournay ’portobello’ silk wallpaper

Fromental ’paradiso’ wallpaper in ultramarine

Fromental ’ sylvander’ wallpaper in burnish

Fromental ’paradiso’ wallpaper in mahogany

House and Beautiful July 2010 vía Real Estate Resuscitation

Paul Raeside Photography P via Desire to Inspire

Thomas Chippendale at Nostell Priory via The Ornamentalist

Paul Montgomery Studio

Shawn Henderson Design via Desire to Inspire

Hans Wegner’s Wishbone Chair (1949)

The Wishbone Chair was the first designs of Hans Wegner’s for the legendary furniture manufacturer Carl Hansen & Son. Also known as the “Y” chair or CH24, its frame comes in ash, maple, beech, oak, cherry or walnut while its seat is made from 120 m of woven paper cord. These natural materials are gorgeous and, not surprising, ideally suit modern Scandinavian interiors. In 2010, to celebrate its 60th birthday, 12 colours were added to the range including four hues each of blue, green and citrus. What I love about many pieces of 20th century iconic furniture is that even though the designs are relatively ‘old’, they still look fresh and instantly add a contemporary feel to a space.

I am thinking about getting a Wishbone chair either in purple, lime green or black for my soon-to-be created workspace at home. A couple of these I have featured previously, but they were so good that I could not resist to include them again.

vía Suite NY

via My Ideal Home

vía Nuevo Estilo

via Bolig

via Furnish

via Carl Hansen

via The Designer Lifestyle

via Milk and Honey Home

via Carl Hansen

via Decor Pad

via La Maison d’Anna G

via Contemporist

Escape to the Town Hall Hotel, London

The recently opened The Town Hall Hotel in London is 100 years in the making. The building first served as Bethnal Green’s town hall, opened in 1910 in a grand Georgian style, reflecting the Edwardians’ optimism – which within a very few years was to come crashing down. The building was then dramatically extended in 1937 with amazing Art Deco rooms, including the then ultra-modern Council Chambers. Now, thanks to the sensitivity and courage of the designers, Rare Architects, the building has been given a contemporary update by wrapping the back of the building and extension in a laser-cut power-coated aluminium skin, inspired by the buildings Art Deco details such as air con vents. To preserve the integrity of the original interiors, glass panels are cleverly used to display details, keep vistas and spaces open, yet offer the intimacy that hotel rooms demand. The result is a blend of three architecturally distinct, yet easily coexisting styles for which Rare was awarded the prestigious RICS prize for Building Conservation, as well as the national Project of the Year Award.

Maybe it’s my former life as a historian, but I do adore interiors which mix contemporary style while paying homage to the past but without stifling modern design. And, finally, if you read my blog regularly, you’ll also know I don’t shy away from eccentricity; here, there’s an award-winning restaurant, Viajante, but what really tickles my fancy is that the ‘Town Hall Tea Lady’, who is not always a lady, serves martinis!

Photos The Town Hall Hotel