Sunday, February 27, 2011

Closet Space

Ok, I covered this below but I went back to my house photos to look at the master bedroom closet area, exterior and interior to see how to deconstruct it. These photos reaffirm my conviction that this house suffers from overuse of crummy doors all over the place. If you design closet space so it's functional and beautiful it doesn't have to be shuttered behind ugly doors. In my apartment I have a large open walk-in closet off my bath/dressing room and it never looks bad. I somehow manage to keep it in order.
I am so ready to rip off those butt-ugly doors, reorient the shevling layout, add built-in shelves at different depths for sweaters, shoes, etc. I'm open to using crate and barrell close organizers with those fabric covered pull out drawers that go into dark stain wood cubes. I have a few I use for accessories and I love them and the way they look. I've had them for years and they made it from NJ to Atlanta with no damage.
Open closet inspriation for enclosed master closets between master bedroom and bath. There are 3 doors I can do without. The door to the bathroom. This is our master bath.  The toilet is at far right inside it's own water closet with, you guessed it, another butt ugly door. It does have a window high up on the wall which helps but the point is we don't need "privacy" with a bathroom door. The shower stall will keep bathers warm in cold weather. The bathroom is so large and has a skylight and window so it's no guarantee it will ever be "warm" in damp Atlanta winters anyway. Closing the door wont' save us.
Next are the the narrow slit doors to the master closets on either side of this carpeted breezeway. With all the doors open at once and two men trying to bath and dress at the same time, it would be a nightmare.  I want all the doors out and those narrorw closet framing walls ripped out so we get one big open wall space for installing new shelving and closer oranganizers. We can coordinate paint, wood for shelves, even rip out the carpet and install new flooring for the space to cut that expanse of broadloom that runs like kudzu all over the top story of the house. 

Here are both closets, spliced together. The each have double-sided two-tiered
clothing racks with accesoriy shelves on end walls.  Rip all this out of both
closets and make continues shelving all round even over the bathroom door and
expand the closet and floorspace for dressing.

I'm repeating this inspiration photo to show what can be
achieved in a bathroom/bedroom connecting space with
thoughtful closet organization ideas.

New House Ideas

In talking over our house purchase my partner and I are starting to think about the decorating phase. We know there are fundamentals to take care of first, like painting raw wood cabinet interiors so they don't look like dark holes where you store cookware and china and pantry items. Ditto for the closets. Everything was refaced beatufully but interior shelves and cupboards throughout the house are dingy and dark. This is a major undertaking in a house this size.
I've been gathering inspiration from designing blogs. Mostly, I'm trying to overcome really bad entrances and exits in the living room (narrow openings with glass french doors off the foyer and a solid frame door painted white in the back left corner of the room going into the crosshall behind. These have got to be overhauled and altered unrecognizably. I have to somehow make them stand out as some of the best features instead of trying to mask them as a decorating coverup never really fools anyone, least of all the decorator. Easiest ideas are the costly ones involving highly skilled labor which may not even be available here: such as a flush jib door with a discrete metal door handle for the back wall opening, or papering a section of the wall and covering the jib door as well with the same paper to really make it disappear until you need to open it. This way the stupid door is nearly always shut. If open, the doorframe in the living room is exactly lined up wth the study door behind it instead of section of hallyway wall I could decorate in a bold way to make the view beyond the door attractive. Unless I cover the study door in fabric or use a bold paint and tie it in with a bold wallcovering for the crosshall, it will be a dead-end ugly view of a typical suburban white paneled door with an ugly knob or if left open, a view of the study and it's half-size window. I plan to give the study a bold look as well but doing the living room, hall and study at great expense right off the bat is, well, a bit batty considering we are not rich.
The good news is it stimulates creativity to think of the best interim solutions we can live with while giving the whole ensemble some style.
Because of the raw wood cabinet interiors, I want to focus on the kitchen cupboards first, then the master bath and master closets. I've found great examples of how to open and redo the master closets by using a great deep color to set off clothes and build on my small start at closet organization with open shelves and drawers.

Plan for living room back (shortest) wall. Built in
bookshelves up to existing moldings. Ceiling is 9ft but
molding takes about 1foot of that. Cupboards on bottom
to store clutter possibly china we use for the dining room as we
have no butler's pantry. We'll skip the ladder. The top shelf is
for complete works and collectible titles we want out of reach.

Flush closet doors (at right), strip existing hinges and trim
from master bedroom closets. Still too "WHITE"

Wall sconces installed on either side of Dining Room sideboard.

Pantry storage, but where? Basement wine room?

Use dark grey/black paint and replace ugly hardware
for doors. Great contrast if using white walls.

Downstairs bath is a full bathroom with shower stall and tub, not
a powder room which is what we prefer. After all there are 4 other
full baths in the house.  I like this paneling and tile treatment.
We'd have to rib out the tub/shower to get this amount of space.

Closet organization: cubes, shelves, hanging rods, etc. The master closets
face each other in a small breezeway between master bed and bath.
They are "walk-in" but there isn't much floor space and they each have those ugly
fake panel doors (stark white, of course) with ugly pewter/nickel finish doorknobs.
Yuck! See below for a doorless solution to join the two separate closets, tying in
wall color, paint, etc into a single space. At least we are both men and there will
only be men's closthes on display. And besides, it's our bedroom so who is going to
be inspecting it?

Another dark door color with metal hardware.

The study has two double-door closets side-by-side on
a long wall. Door placement in this photo is identical to
the study;. Door at right is that problem door lined up with the
narrow living room opening across the hall and closet doors at
back are repeated. Right now they stick out like a sore thumb with
brass knobs and louver panels. Yuck Again! Smooth Finish flush doors with
invisible hinges, covering doors with wallpaper blends in with the room decor. A great
way to make these eyesores disappear.  Sure I like the storage but I don't want
an elegant room I want to spend time in to scream "Look. Wall Storage!" constantly.

View of dark door paint with light stain floor. Our foyer is painted white
and the wood flooring is even lighter than this. Have to coordinate dark paint color
carefully. 

Here's my open closet idea.  If the facing closets
do not have load bearing walls we can rip the drywall
and framing out and open both and the "breezeway" disappears,
there's more light from the bedroom and bath shining through
and we can unify them with a bold color statement that goes with
menswear. See men's closet photo down below.


Great Exotic powder room statement. Oh for
a true downstairs powder room. I know it sounds
indulgent to reject a full bath here, but no one is
going to shower or bath down there. The study will
not be used as a bedroom.

Another contrasting door color to make a virtue of bad
door placement. 

Attic guest room twin bed treatment. Paper the window
wall with a nice print, coordinate bedding accessories
with the wallpaper color, sisal over broadloom to add
texture and hanging bed lamps because the two twin beds
have no room for end tables. They have to share the chest
surface for water glasses, books and eyeglasses, etc.

Stain or dark contrasting color on cupboard interiors.
I'm not married to white for interior cupboards but I need the paint color
 to reflectlight, not absorb it, to see what's inside.  My eyes
ain't getting any younger, kids.

Typical bad boring dull suburban bath. 

Same bath reborn. Botanical illustrations from a
magazine pasted all over the wall. Textured framed mirror
or medicine cabinet. Neutral shower curtain replaces cold
metal stall frame.  Certainly softens and beautifies
the room. Not sure I want to wash and disinfect a curtain
liner when I have 5 bathrooms.

Floor to ceiling bookshelves, no discrete cupboards and no ledge
to stack books on. This one is backed with paper or panelling or the
wall treatment for the rest of the room with open backs? 

Another contrasting door color with downscaled hardware.
This door might work instead of two narrow glass-paned french doors
now hung in the living room foyer entrance.

More door color contrast. Blue foyer, violet door color
for living room doors.

What do with our huge cookbook collection? We have some
shelf space above the kitchen desk and we may use the ugly food
pantry next to it by ripping off the door and shelving more cookbooks
and some heavy cookware. 

Looks crowded, doesn't it? but scale is still right even for a smaller
room. It's intimate instead of cluttered. Console and painting mounted
on mirror over-scaled, while chairs and occasional tables are small scale with open legs
for air and light to travel. Dark glazed walls add luxury and mirror reflects
bookcase wall opposite.  Use floor lamp or wall sconces for lighting instead of table lamps
in living room where there's no floor space for lamp tables. Put armchairs or settees against the bookcase
and mirror walls and install sconces at reading height instead of lamps. 

Always remember sconces facing a mirror reflect nighttime
lighting and warms the room up for inhabitants.

Possible LR treatment with wall mirror and desk jutting
out into the room from the wall, lamp near outlet on wall,
of course.

This looks like stain. More trouble than paint and you can
tell what you may get with paint whereas stain is pain. It's always
uneven and streaked. No Thanks. I do like the contrast in tone.

Kitchen cupboard interior paint: Tiffany blue.

There is an arched window at one end of our LR. Maybe building an
arch for the single door exit on back wall will complement that and
get rid of the suburban box look.

Here's my closet idea with a great red that works well with
menswear fabrics and dress shirts. 

Benjamin Moore Iron Mountain black for LR doors

Benjamin Moore Just Black for doors

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My First trip to NYC October 1976

My sixteenth birthday gift was a fall trip to NYC, a place I had fantasized about all my conscious life. This was true of millions of suburban kids of my generation across the US, but my interest in this urban mecca was heightened by my obsession with musical theater, devoted attendance at all the Kenley Players productions I could get to see at Memorial Hall in downtown Dayton. I had the usual vast collection of original cast LPs, was alway on the lookout for any show albums or studio remakes, longed to know the shows that came and went whose recordings were far out of my reach in suburban Ohio. NYC was the home of broadway musical theater and all its denizens and the focus of many of my adolescent fantasies of fame, fortune and a glamorous life in the theater. I don't know how this interest of mine was born; i don't recall any point where I was tuned in or turned on, particularly, except my first exposure to music of any kind that stimulated me began with the R&H soundtracks every early 1960s house had: Oklahoma, King and I, South Pacific. I listened to these over and over and memorized every word and each note. When I was five years old, I was taken to a huge cinema downtown Dayton to the premiere of The Sound of Music. I will never forget this; I have a very good recall of that day while my memory for most other far past events in my life is hopelessly muddled and out of focus. That day, we had perfect sunny blue skies; I can still remember walking across a busy intersection to cross to the cinema entrance and a giant 70mm cinnescope screen curving from end to end of the vast auditorium. When the Alps appeared and a camera zoomed in on a tiny figure who slowly grew into close-up of Jule Andrews who I'd seen the year before in Mary Poppins, the music swelled and I was hooked.
Well that was a long time ago. I'm still hooked but with a few more reservations about NYC and the theater than I had then. I don't recall planning the 1976 birthday visit but it was to take place long after my birthday in October that year, probably because my mother had to schedule vacation to join my grandmother and I who travelled out first together.
We stayed at the now demolished Abbey-Victoria Hotel between Times Square and Rockefeller Center.
Our room looked just like the one in the postcard in terms of decor and plaster walls and square windows, but we had a corner room with twin beds on one end, an ell-shape with another bed (for my grandmother) and a large old fashioned bathroom with its own large window.  From the main bedroom window I could see the huge marquee of the Winter Garden Theater announcing Pacific Overtures in large block letters. The downer was that the show had closed already which I learned after running downstairs and across the street to buy tickets, finding a shuttered and locked theater with a bare closing notice taped to the doors.
7th Ave Marquee of Winter Garden Theater today.  A shuttered house in
1976 with Pacific Overtures in tall block letters across the marquee.

The Abbey-Victoria stood on the right corner at 51st St. From my corner view on a high floor
I saw the 7th avenue marquee of the Winter Garden with Pacific Overtures still on the bill nearly
three months after its July 27 closing. In Nov. 1976, Natalie Cole moved in for some concert dates.

My first taste of show business reality. There are a lot sadder things in life than a show closing but to me it was a slap in the face, a reality check that a real trip to NYC might include disappointment and letdowns I'd experienced in my life back home. It wasn't all a bed of roses, but I loved the grit and dirt and smells of mid-seventies Manhattan.
The hotel was completely old-fashioned. It hadn't been updated since the early forties and I loved everything about it. It's newstand whose polished brass fittings had seen better days. The giant, upholstered round pouf in the center of the lobby was hopelessly out-of-date then, comparing it to the spanking new modernity of the Americana lobby on Times Square that looked like a Disney resort.
The dusty pendants of the grand chandeliers suspended overhead. You can see all of this in the postcard photo. No one today could admire this decor but at 16 this was my idea of a great NY hotel lobby. The ticket desk, the coffee shop, gift shop, and Stockholm restaurant were all in full gear when my grandmother and I arrived from the airport at around noon that October day. The weather was chilly but sunny. It got much colder the next few days but stayed dry during our entire visit.
The Abbey-Victoria Hotel
I love this matchbook cover MAP of the Hotel and environs. First it depicts NYC as its own planet. The north pole is Central Park and the meridian lines stretch from Columbus Circle to Madison Square Garden. The most evocative aspect on this map is the curving line of Broadway that cuts across the straight as an arrow line of 7th Avenue (where the hotel was located). The artist dotted the script like marquee lightbulbs and instead of naming the curving black line as 'Broadway', he spells out "The Lights of Broadway."  There is no better illustration for my own dazzled viewpoint at 16 then this matchbook cover of my temporary home base in 1970s Manhattan.



NY Magazine review of Abbey-Victoria from the early 1970s

Button-tufted settee, chandeliers, gold-flecked mirrors, paneled walls,
well-stocked newsstand, reception desk behind square pillars, french provincial chairs
and upholstered seating. Nothing like a hotel lobby today and much the better for that.
I'm nearly certain our room had the same red carpet and furnishings. Only open up the right wall,
add an ell-shaped addition with another twin bed and a large bath beyond.

The main impetus behind my getting this tremendous birthday gift was tied up with my piano lessons, my undertaking a piano vocal score of Gershwin's Porgy & Bess and a splashy NYC revival of this show by the Houston Grand Opera at the Uris Theater.  I somehow convinced my mother this was the perfect sixteenth birthday gift and a reward for all my hard work as a budding musician.  She also liked the idea as she wanted a good shopping spree herself. It was decided my grandmother and I would go a day ahead of her and she would join us on Friday and stay the weekend with us. My grandmother was 72 years old and usually up for any sort of travel. She had taken my brothers on several trips to New York in previous years when I was considered too young to go along with them. I resented this of course and this made my birthday request even more reasonable in view of the fact I had been passed over many times before.
It was October. When we arrived there was a distinct wintry chill in the air. Having lived fifteen years in metro NYC i know now that you can have a beautiful Indian summer in October or an early winter blast.  Our weather was reasonably mild on arrival, probably in the 50s but it quickly started dropping down into the low forties and below with some tremendous wind gusts. I was relentless and dragged my grandmother all over town that first day. We took a sightseeing bus tour, ended up in Chinatown for a walk through a temple, got out at the UN for a hike through the lobby and gift shop, and hit all the high spots from the Empire State Building to Battery Park. I was uncontrollably happy and she was having a good time as well. After the tour we traipsed all over Times Square. My grandmother loved dimestores and in those days there were still vast emporiums like Woolworths' and McCrory's and we hit many of them around the hotel neighborhood, stopping for dinner at a vast coffee shop with a big diner menu. My grandmother had started to feel the chill by then. She wanted a warmup on her coffee and the waitress was busy so I got up to grab a coffee pot from the warmer plate to serve my grandmother. As I was pouring out the coffee, a typical New York accented waitress who probably had terribly sore feet, shouted across the room at me "Hey, you! What do you think this is, a cafeteria?"  Still my grandmother had her coffee and I had a red face, flushed with embarrassment as the entire room had turned to stare at me.  I felt I had my first (and last, I hoped) big-city faux pas and was unduly ashamed of my conduct. That's how naive I was at sixteen. By the time I got home it made a funny story and I got over the embarrassment.
My mother arrived either late that first night or the next morning. By then my grandmother had a bad cold and I was sorry I had pushed her too hard the previous day. I remember feeling badly and apologetic but I felt pressured for time to squeeze as much sightseeing in as possible. We had tickets for Porgy & Bess the next night and had to leave my grandmother behind at the hotel to recuperate quietly.
This production was the first to perform the complete opera in a Broadway House since the premiere in 1937. The Uris Theatre (now the Gershwin where Wicked has been playing for years and will probably run for twenty more) was vast and modern with perfect sight-lines. At that time the auditorium was terraced with several deep mezzanines ranged in tiers like a nightclub instead of the usual  multi-story balconies that cut off so much of the views. We had terrific seats and enjoyed the entire opera with several intermissions. I was so excited to hear the complete score with orchestra and full-size cast. There was no complete recording of the opera until after this production when the same cast members of Houston Grand Opera recorded the entire show. I got a box set of this immediately after it came out, now lost forever.
Last-minute theater booking to a Broadway Play:
Sandy Dennis & Ted Bissell in
Same Time, Next Year

The Ground Floor Restaurant in the CBS Bldg. My grandmother and I
stopped here for lunch and saw Truman Capote a few tables away.

A color photo of the Ground Floor, ca. 1964.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

House Ideas

OK it's over the top and grandiose in a bad way,
 but I'm thinking about glazed wall color;
deep, rich satisfying for an entrance hall especially
for a high ceiling or 2-story entrance. If you leave it dead white
it's not going to make any statement except...."ho-hum."

Built-ins for the living room. Great for that awkward recatngular front to back wall
living room. Nice placement of large desk, lamp easily plugs into wall outlet (no special
electrician magic required) and casts glow on wall art and reading light for end of
sofa. Not a bad layout. Great large scale coffee table and perfect place for an ottoman.
Very inspirational.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Daisy Fellowes--Golden Riviera Part 2

Roderick Cameron was writing his own epitaph when he launched on a description of Daisy Fellowes in his memoir, The Golden Riviera. His subject is the ephemeral splendor of the fashionable, rich, and famous:
"Her dominance was of the most ephemeral kind and went no deeper than the social scene. But the fact remains that it is difficult to write about the Riviera without mention of her. She has coloured one's impressions of the coast for at least the length of time that any of us who knew her still lives. In all probability death will dispel the lingering reflections of the charm and the elegance with which she, and people like her, lived their lives.  Like the faint odor of a long closed trunk, all will evaporate past recall. Perhaps not? It all depends on how many people will have remembered her in yet unpublished letters or will have made her live in unsuspected memoirs."
Uncanny how his hope for remembrance of this vanished existence is actually being kept alive in the blogosphere, which after all, is an aggregated and interconnected record of the thoughts and whimsies of the unknown and obscure "memorist' of today.

Roderick 'Rory' Cameron

'Rory' Cameron, child of the Golden Riviera, at
his writing desk.


Browsing design blogs is a favorite pastime. Topics range all over the place but I like best those bloggers who have a strong sense of the history of design and the cavalcade of personalities,  eccentrics and trendsetters who make this history so entertaining. Well-known and influential designers all had influences of their own to start with; tracking down their inspiration is as interesting as looking at the results of their work.
The personal contacts and relationships of famous designers and their personal history often reveals many influences on their taste. Remember, taste is made, not born. Creating a personal style that resonates with people takes innate talent, but taste is formed out of influences and observation and education.
As I was reading the early chapters of David Hicks: A Life of Design by his son, Ashley, I was taking note of the early acquaintances and encounters of Hicks with the fashionable and wealthy.  The author frequently mentions houses and design influences that formed Hicks' taste in those early years. Most of these names and places are obscure references to most of us today, though in their time they would have been as recognizable to magazine readers of that time as the latest World of Interiors cast of characters will be to avid fans today.
I made a list of Hicks' known influences, past friendships, acquaintances, and blogged many of them. One reference stood out in my list for several reasons. Roderick, or Rory, Cameron was an aesthete, a writer and more honestly, an amateur and dilettante whose inherited wealth and social position, and nearly lifelong residence on the French Riviera, placed him in an ideal position to be acquainted with and observe the fashionable and famous from his childhood in the 1920s till his death in 1970s. Rory had one advantage over most of the faded glories of that dead and gone era. He wrote and published some obscure volumes which are a blend of autobiography, memoir, aesthetic treatises, and travelogue.  His books are often unfocused and reveal much about his own snobbery and seem a bit too eager to reveal his connections (translation: name dropping) and his own self-determined social status. This makes him a fun read if you enjoy sitting down with a book of little redeeming value other than it's pen portraits of the rich and famous of a bygone era along with detailed information about their homes, their possessions, their pleasures.
Don't expect salacious gossip. Rory is circumspectly silent about the private lives of his subjects. He writes many pages about Maugham and his "secretary" but only from the perspective of a guest at Maugham's Riviera retreat. The homosexual relationships of many of Roderick's set are not explicitly stated but neither are they denied. They are, rather, taken for granted and not dwelt upon at all.
His best book in this vein is The Golden Riviera (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1975). It is chock full of amusing portraits of high society and chocked even fuller of endless descriptions of the decor of restaurants favored by the rich, parties attended, and elaborate tours of their homes and possessions.
Rory Cameron is no stranger to blogdom. He is mentioned in connection with many mid-twentieth century tastemakers, but few bloggers seem to have delved much into his personality and writings. La Fiorentina, his mother's Riviera mansion where he spent much of his early and mid-life, is well-known and still famous today as landmark of high Riviera style and fashion.

"The immediate approach to the house, a large empty rectangle, proved the perfect
setting for a planation of oranges... they were planted four rows deep in lines of
ten and the drive swept up the middle."
"A further detail was the coating of lime with which we daubed the trunks and lower limbs.
The citrus growers do this as  a protection against parasites. We painted them for a purely
decorative reason, to give luminosity to the dappled, subaqueous light filtering through
the dark leaves."
La Fiorentina

Early decor

Redone by Billy Baldwin
Set on the peninsula of St. Hospice, extending out
from Cap Ferrat on the 'Golden Riviera.'
"Angled east-west, the house faces due south and full out
to sea on one one facade, and to the shelter of a large, open
bay on the other."
One of the first "horizon pools"
"The second hall Martin Battersby painted for us in trompe-l'oeil,  the theme being architectural
drawings on simulated sheets of vellum attached to the walls and ceiling with thumb tacks, and so
convincing is his work that one instinctively touches them to make sure they are not real. The ceiling
represents the elevations of a dome drawn on a sheet of folded paper in sepia."

"For the dining room we had been fortunate enough to find a late-eighteenth century Piedmontese
fresco. Using advanced techniques it had been detached from its original  wall and backed onto rolls of
canvas" and a team of experts from Pisa were hired to install it. The fresco consisted of a study of "rocks and
trees with, here and there, views of distant castles. Clipped hedges trained roung white marble putti
frame the doors, while birds flit from wall to wall, in company with a hawk who dominates the
ceiling which, of course, is the sky."

Add caption
La Fiorentina's "whole raison d'etre is the position, its
gardens reaching right down to the rocks and heaving
Mediterranean."
The view above is a famous one, at least in the annals of grand Riviera villas of the 20th century. Every famous person from the late 1930s to the early sixties visited La Fiorentina and its spectacular gardens.
Garbo, the Lunts, Daisy Fellowes, Graham Sutherland, Somerset Maugham, the usual litany of Riviera residents and visitors. The focal point of this garden..."the view most often reproduced in the different gardening books--are the great shallow grass steps leading down to the sea."

Library at La Fiorentina
Rory Cameron's retreat at Menerbes, his last house in France,
its terrace had a spectacular inland view.