Monday, March 30, 2015

A retreat to spaces and places where the past is loved and knowledge was a quest ...

"As for the condition of the world which is devolving in front of our eyes faster than the speed of light, one simply has to sigh, retreat to spaces and places where the past is loved and knowledge was a quest rather than a google"

So wrote "home before dark" a sometimes and always pithy commenter on this blog, in response to the first post about Geoffrey Bennison.  As usual, her comments gave me much to think about and coincided with my finding the photographs you see here and having the idea I express below. 

The idea of retreat is so commonplace nowadays especially in bedroom and bathroom design – so mainstream, in fact, I wonder whether using the term is more reflex than conscious choice. Serenity and retreat are words that so often go together in copywriter's puffs that the eye glazes over. I feel rather they should be banned from any blogger's writings in the same way no-one ever should write or say "to the next level." But, Regina Grammatica-mode, notwithstanding, I shall shut up about it now and come back to that at a later date.

So, let me say again, I'm not overly-impressed with the state of interior decorating and, rather than continue to bleet, I want to investigate within the limits of my own aesthetic education and social values what and I think is of real significance. In other words, I want to clear away the dross and get down to architecture, the Maslowian instinct to decorate, the balance between commercial and aesthetic pressures and, maybe, just enjoy myself. If I occasionally lapse into professor mode, I hope you will forgive me.

The two photographs are by Thomas Heimman and are from Dezeen here – one of the most interesting and occasionally irritating blogs about design.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A last chapter, a fresh take on artful, modern classics and Tumblr, OMG, Ah'm Luvn' This

Fittingly, Gillian Newberry's excellent book about Geoffrey Bennison closes with a chapter touching on the interiors he began for Isobel Goldsmith. Bennison was halfway through this work when he died of a stroke, leaving his team of craftsmen to create what they, from long experience, knew he wanted to achieve. And, judging by these photographs of the library, they succeeded superbly.

Occasionally, I mention misgivings I have, (beliefs or prejudices, depending on your point of view) about the ability for the modern generation to deal with complexity in design, beyond what, risibly, is called layering. Buying specially-made trinkets usually dignified with the name Home Decor by famous personages whose seasonal "new arrivals" purportedly are "fresh takes of artful, modern classics" and scattering them – oh, excuse me! punctuating an interior with them – ain't layering a room any more than draping codswallop across a chandelier would be. But, let me not get carried away, for I have my prejudices.

Complexity in the way that Geoffrey Bennison dealt with it, for me, and I hesitate to use this analogy, is like the complexity of a well-made fruitcake. For those of you who only know the commercial variety, or only know of it, and merely subscribe to the perennial joke about fruitcake, the real thing made from the best ingredients, following a recipe from the early twentieth-century, well-matured, offering multiple yet unified layers of texture, color, and flavor, should come as a very pleasant surprise – much, in fact, as Bennison's rooms should after the celebrity-ridden, undiscerning mid-century-fetishism, and disagreeable flash of the last few years.

I am by no means advocating a return to late-ninetheenth century eclecticism, even if Bennison's style were such – there's enough last-century historicism being peddled right now, with more to come, without that – but what I will say is that I question whether anyone knows anything any longer or, worse, cares to. Where are the people who will write the next generation of scholarship? Where are the Israel Sacks of this generation? The Margaret Jourdains; the Geoffrey Beards; the John Cornforths or the Peter Thorntons? Where, as important, are those that will read the books yet to be published? These aren't rhetorical questions, at least not to me, because I have a distinct and sinking feeling that no longer is it true, culturally speaking, that no man is an island.

A strange idea, that residential design teaching is at a low point, given the number of so-called design schools there are in this country but, based on my experience as Chair of a CIDA-accredited interior design department at the time undergoing an, ultimately successful, reaccreditation process, and what I have subsequently heard about local schools, I am sure that residential design teaching is at its lowest standing ever. Surprising, or not, given what one sees in the magazines and most of the so-called designer monographs. I'll return to this.

The more Tumblr takes over from the OMG, Ah'm Luvn' This blogs (the literary kind) the more saturated and bored one becomes for, seemingly, everybody is "reblogging" from each other. It is as if posting a reblogged image alone is sufficient and obviates the need for further commentary. The really good thing is that one can see how bad the state of the industry is and how good of the really bad stuff is thought to be.

Did I just write "The really good thing is … "? OMG*

*OMG According to Scott, no-one over fifty should be using OMG when texting. Emojis are still allowed. Phew!

Photos are from the book which I stress is really worth having in your library, on your coffee table and in your hands to read.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The magic that was Geoffrey Bennison

I'm very glad to finally have this book but what struck me is how slim it is compared to many a designer monograph about people still living and who are much younger now than Geoffrey Bennison was when he died thirty-one years ago. The book's slimness does rather belie the excellent quality of its contents. The problem, of course, is that Geoffrey Bennison died relatively young (sixty-three years old) and his oeuvre is small – yet Gillian Newberry did not subtitle her book about Bennison Master Decorator for nothing, so full of treasures is it.

I have written a number of times about Bennison (see sidebar Labels) including him as a member of the Lost Generation though his name was not forgotten, as are the names of many. The author of this book, with others, kept the Bennison name in front of the public through his fabric designs and now, splendidly, with this book. 

In the introduction, John Richardson, calls his friend Geoffrey Bennison "England's best decorator" and this book goes a long way to proving his point. Bennison, however camp he might have been in his humor and way of commenting at life, was no satin britches, powder and patch kind of decorator.

I'll keep my opinion to myself as to whether or not he was the best but see how many times I have written about him. I sought photographs of the Lord Weidenfeld rooms above for a long time, having glimpsed them once but never found them, and here they are in all their literary splendor. Some of my favorite Bennison rooms.

A 19th-century automaton of a seated pasha 
which smokes a hookah and raises a coffee cup to its lips
In Bennison's living room

This is a book entirely worth having. Believe me, you will pore over it and go back to it time after time. It is a treasure.  

I'm making this recommendation purely for the pleasure of doing so – my only recompense. Oh, and I bought my copy here

Friday, March 13, 2015

Well, as I was saying ...

"Gentlemen, it's by the man who designed your dining chairs and the building is the same color, bronze."

Bronze Brno, and a Chinese Crested Powderpuff
taking a Chance on love

Three dapper dudes dashing along Park Avenue intent on buying Belgian loafers are not easily turned by a suggestion from the fourth member of the troupe to detour for a building but, major pout notwithstanding, we walked the extra couple of blocks to gaze at the most elegant International Style building in the city. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe didn't figure much in our conversation thereafter but the Four Seasons restaurant, Philip Johnson's lunchtime habits, the Mark Rothko commission, and a fancy for shoes with epicene little bows occupied the three-minute trek to the Waldorf-Astoria for the cocktails I'd promised to stop 'em bleating about the cold.

Three dapper dudes

To see and be seen one of the blandishments offered by the blurb writer of Peacock Alley Bar for,  looking back, that day two women, classical in inspiration if not origin, occupied my mind. The first, her back to me when I took my chair, turned to look as I sat and as she stared, I thought, as one does when a gorgon-gaze alights, quos deus vult perdere, prius dementat. There she sat, bringing to mind nothing less than a bridge-and-tunnel Fury, hair a perfect ice storm immobile as she chewed gum, sipped wine and turned her head towards her slack-bellied Perseus, planning her next pursuit. In reality, possibly, as kind a granny as one might wish but that image did not fit my sense of being found wanting, so sinking my thoughts into the sunny land of Blurberry, I sipped a "hand-crafted cocktail," and ruminated on the inventiveness of today's innovative cocktail culture. "There you go," I said, "thinking like a blurb, yourself now!"

As the three dapper dudes blathered I read that "Bar mixologist Frank Caiafa pour (sic) premium shelf, rare and house-infused spirits, classic cocktails and has invented a series of contemporary and exclusive libations" and wished for the days when mixologists were still barmen and barmaids (I know, I know ...) premium shelf was just top shelf, and we all believed what we tippled was made in a factory somewhere in New Jersey and, frankly, cared less.

Helen Mirren, the second woman of that day, is a marvel to more than me, I know. I had never seen her live as it were, and I'm loathe to say even after seeing The Audience she is one of the great actresses of our time – such a Vanity Fairish superlative, I feel – but she impressed the hell out of me that night. Who else at the age of sixty-nine could convincingly inhabit, however briefly, the role of of a twenty-something, grieving young woman and, further, have the emotional range (without the gothic histrionics expected from most actresses of the day) to portray not only a woman aging, but a monarch maturing, over a reign of sixty years during which she has to deal with twelve Prime Ministers who govern in her name. A "stellar" performance indeed and the supporting cast was equally brilliant - the actress playing Margaret Thatcher almost had me raging in my seat so much did I, and still do, despise the original. Harold Wilson, always my favourite PM was a joy to watch, and the actor playing Churchill played the great man right. It's real professionalism to do this every day, and it's real magic to make one forget the actor or actress and just see the character. Helen Mirren has both.

I hadn't meant this to be a theatre review but I found The Audience so wonderful and perfect for a cold night in Manhattan and as a celebration of old friends' new lives in the city – with or without Belgian Loafers. In case you are interested, I do not own a pair and am not ever likely to.

When I stopped blogging three months ago I received many kind comments most of which expressed a wish that I would eventually reconsider. When I announced a few days ago I wanted to begin again I immediately began to receive comments welcoming me back. I was so moved and still am.

Someday I will write about a journey with a black dog (one that so many share) and if you want to see where my awareness of that journey began look for the gypsy caravan.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

If you don't mind,

I'd like to take a Chance and come back