Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tea and Jamb

WOI 1/12 Photo credit Simon Upton

The January issue of World of Interiors arrived unscathed a few weeks ago (it's been mangled by the post office more than once), and while luxuriating in its pages over tea, I realized that Will Fisher's home on page 66 contained a solution to a problem (visit Fisher's company Jamb here). There, staring back at me was his ceiling, painted the same color as the walls with lighter colored crown molding. "Good god!" I thought. "It's beautiful. I should do this."

Right now my own ceiling is painted stark white which doesn't quite work. Too harsh. But like Mr. Fisher's house, the crown molding (and beams in my case) is a half shade lighter than the walls. I used an equal amount of ceiling white and the wall color which is cameo white. (This same half-tone was also used on the mantel.) Painting the ceiling the same as the walls will out bring the coffered ceiling and crown molding, add a modern touch, and create more coherence. 

There is more inspiration in Mr. Fisher's blueish-green walls. I tried painting mine providence olive this past summer but chickened out after two walls were finished. Why? I realized that I would have to totally rethink the matter of light sources. The providence olive was too dark during the day time with one north facing window and the light sources having gold shades.  Overhead lighting might provide a solution? Or a lighter green like Mr. Fisher's?  

In any case, I'm going to be up on a ladder soon. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Maurice and Wilbury Park

Wilbury House

Wilbury House, the house where Maurice was filmed, later called Wilbury Park. Have you seen the film? If not, this Merchant & Ivory movie is like their many others: amazing for the interiors. 

What you see above, are the original plans for the earliest example of a Neo-Palladian house in England before it was renovated to that below. I haven't been able to find any pictures of the interior (it is a private house after all), though there are a few at a site of the firm that recently renovated it.

Wilbury Park 

Here is Wilbury Park as it was during the making of the movie. It's renovated self is below. 

The folly that appeared in the poster for the movie. It looks like it may been renovated as well.

For gay men of a certain age, the film adaption of E.M. Forster's novel Maurice was nothing short of extraordinary when it opened in New York in September of 1987. I still remember how I felt when I left the Paris Theatre on 58th Street, walking past the Plaza Hotel in the late afternoon sun on my way to Columbus Circle, Penn Station, and the train to New Jersey where I was living at the time: giddy with heart bursting. Who would have thought that an unabashedly romantic film about love between men could be made? One that had a happy ending! 

I had read the article Maurice becomes a movie  in the NYTimes a year before the movie had its New York premiere (excellent review of the movie here), anxiously awaiting the film's arrival having already read Forster's novel. The thing that stuck out in the Times piece, beside the jolly anticipation of another wonderful movie by Merchant & Ivory, was the word "homosexual."

Historically speaking, the word has had a clinical and negative connotation, especially as the Religious Right is concerned. The NYTimes called Maurice a "homosexual love story," rather than a 'love story between two men,' a subtle, yet profound difference. However, the Times had its own coming out experience a year later when it began using the word 'gay' instead. Why? It realized, along with the American Psychological Association, that the word 'homosexual' was being used is a derogatory manner. To it's credit, the paper established guidelines about the usage of both words with the Associated Press and the Washington Post.

Forster's novel was published posthumously in 1970, only a year after the Stonewall Riots. The first person to lay eyes on it in America was Christopher Isherwood, perhaps most famous for writing the play I am a Camera, which became the source for the movie Cabaret with Liza Minnelli. Forster had mentored Isherwood, so it was natural that the manuscript should come to him. If Isherwood's life was more extroverted than Forster's in terms of relationship, Forster's sexual inhibition was poured into Maurice, creating a work which yearns for the experience his student lived (Isherwood had a serious relationship with a man while in Berlin in his 20's, then met the great love of his life when he was in his early 40's and his partner 18, remaining together until Isherwood's death). Forster didn't quite have Isherwood's freedom, being a product of his time, place and circumstance, his mother's negative influence being a major factor.

E.M. Forster 

There were others, however, who helped reveal Forster's nature to himself, perhaps the most important figures being Edward Carpenter and his boyfriend, George Merrill, the former touching Forster in the small of his back which Forster later recounted as a mystical experience.

For more detail on the matter, I can recommend A Great Unrecorded History by Wendy Moffat.

If shame kept Forster from publishing his novel in his lifetime, he would be pleased at its profound reach and effect once it saw the light of day. Reading the novel before seeing the movie didn't lessen the impact of the latter at all. Yes- there are minor changes, but as the review in the link above notes, there are subtle and powerful things in the movie - because it is a movie- that give it great power. That it was also produced during the first dark decade of the AID's crisis should not be forgotten. It was life-changing for a kid like me who spent his adolescence and young adulthood in conservative religious confines where being gay was anathema. You see: seeing people like you in love is magical. 

Everything about Maurice is rather wonderful; the men, musical score, story and ending, interiors and atmosphere. I have been enamoured of English Country House Style ever since. 

The blog Maurice, Clive, Alec awaits those who can't get enough. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Inspiration: Oscar de la Renta's House

I first saw this room in World of Interiors, of which I have about 10 years worth on my bookshelves (finding the exact issue might take awhile). The bookshelves themselves were a result of seeing what Oscar and Annette de la Renta had created in their Connecticut home.

I'd had ones made already, but they were only a third as tall as the current nine feet. Not enough room for the mountain of books stored under the piano. What to do? It was when I saw this room that I thought: "We should do that!" And while the apartment is miniscule in comparion, the effect is similar, if nowhere near as grand. It's a big statement with a large mirror, mantel and moldings, white walls, green upholstery and classicism. And what a bed! Draped in Chinz with deep fringe. Another idea that is being mulled over, though I may forgo the fringe and keep it to a lamp shade.

I sang at Carnegie Hall a couple of months ago, and afterwards, while running down the stairs to the stage door exit ran smack into Mr. de la Renta who was coming up dressed in a snazzy silvery-gray suit. Late for dinner, I wanted to say: "I love your room!" But didn't, my New Yorker 'I see you but gushing is for tourists' training getting the better of me.


What do I love, especially? All the off-white and green textiles. Wonderful! 

Images from Habitually Chic, Photos by Francois Halard. 

Monday, January 23, 2012


Frederic Edwin Church 

A prolific landscape painter within the Hudson River School, Frederic Edwin Church bought a parcel of land on the side of the hill just south of Hudson, New York, and built a cottage, later purchasing the hill itself on which he built his mansion - Olana.

Twilight in the Wilderness

Crowning the top of the hill, Olana is Persian style house that commands an iconic view of the Hudson Valley. Conceived as a refuge, residence and artist's studio, it was built by Church for his wife and four children after having lost a daughter and son to diphtheria and a long tour of the Near East - a trip which inspired the design for the house.

Looking South

I first saw Olana three years ago after traveling two hours north from Manhattan to Hudson, a town that is now experiencing a Renaissance. Visiting the house was a heady experience for this writer since the interiors had been preserved as they were during Church's lifetime- a rare thing.

Polychrome stenciling on ceiling, doors and walls is ubiquitous as is the use of vibrant color. This, together with the layering of objects, architecture, layout of rooms, oriental carpets and placement of paintings, gives the interior an unusual beauty.

Olana in Winter as photographed buy Robert Near 

The overall effect is not one of cluttered Victoriana, but rather, that of refined sensibility. The exterior is ornate, with tilework in intricate patterns outlining the stonework. One has the sense that everything has been contemplated, considered and executed with care and attention to detail.

Entrance to Olana

The bold use of color starts just outside the front door which is painted a vibrant red. The visitor then enters an entry hall which is deep lavender purple with amber colored stenciling which surrounds the doors all of which are painted Renaissance blue. 


Turning left, one enters the East Parlor. Its Moorish windows and brown and muted green colored walls give it an air of formality. Church's paintings hang here, as they do in every room, their gilded frames creating windows to other realms.

East Parlor

In contrast to the reserved East parlor, the Court Hall is a sunflower yellow which elevates and excites the eye. The landing leading to the second floor (not open when I was there unfortunately) is bracketed with oriental carpets hung as curtains. Evoking the Near East, the room is furnished with brass objet and inlaid ivory tables.

Court Hall 

The window on the stair reveals Church's ingenuity. Since he could not obtain the glass he wanted to create the desired effect, he placed cut paper between colored and clear glass which warms the cool Northern light and burnishes the wall color.

The doors are as decorated as the walls, being finely stenciled by Church's own hand. They recall the kind of metalwork that would be seen in fine houses and buildings in Syria and Egypt. 

West Parlor 

The West Parlor was used by Church's wife Isabel as an office. Here Church installed one of his great paintings -  El KhasnéPetra (1874) - over the pink marble fireplace. The wall color is a grayed blue which has a calming effect. 

From the height of the desk and chair, one surmises that the occupants were not very tall! Of course, this would have made the high ceilings that much more majestic. The paintings are hung gallery style. 

Tower View

The courtyard atop the main part of the house has amazing views of the surrounding countryside. The windowed view above is seen from a room above Church's studio, a photo of which is below. One could reach the room above through a stair enclosed in a corner of the room. 


Church's studio has northern and western light, the walls being a rich terracotta color with deep blue doors. Here the ceilings are higher than in the rest of the house, giving one the sense of having entered an inner sanctum. 

South Porch

Just outside Church's studio, the porch at the southern end of the house polychromed Egyptian Revival Style. The use of bold color extends to the porch ceiling which is painted the deep blue of the interior doors. 

The tilework on the exterior of the house is simply stunning. The more you look up the more you see.

My aesthetic has been greatly shaped by this house even if I don't think of it consciously, the striving towards a clear and happy confluence between form, space, color and pattern being key. That is what Church achieved. There is a joy about Olana that is palpable, one which must be experienced firsthand to be fully understood.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Old Dogs

The pointer and setter were a flea market find. Signed and dated 1904, they are probably English, as I learned from William Secord, who had a look at them and was informative (execution of the eyes is an important matter) and helpful. After this outing to the East Side, I had them cleaned and set in an old gilded frame. They scampered across the bookshelves for about a year, looking rather smart, until I decided to part with them. Sometimes we have to let things go so that let other things can enter our lives. 

The green silk damask curtains bracketing the large North facing window were made with my own two hands. Well...four actually. My friend José taught me how to sew when these were made. The lining is a dark green which protects the fabric from the light and the heat of the radiator under the windowseat. I love their subtle iridescent sheen. Not so pretty? The phone on the table behind the sofa. Its gone along with the painting, an Iphone taking its place. The old French brass cutlery tray with its original teal colored felt, which I used as a pencil and pen holder, is now back to its original function holding old steel knives with ivory handles. The box is Georgian and inlaid Greek key pattern which is hard to see because of the reflected light, while the lamp is Japanese c. 1880. I think it needs a bell-shaped shade with fringe. Over-the-top perhaps. But then, the thought makes me smile, as do the dogs.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I love waking up, pulling back the curtains, and seeing that it has snowed, which is exactly what happened this morning. Tea and toast, followed by a walk in the Park, which has turned into a Wonderland, is on the menu.    

Thursday, January 19, 2012

High Tea

I once held almost two cups of steaming hot Dajeeling. But now look at me! I'm a mess. I was meant for high tea, not a goddamn violet!

So this new guy has me sitting in 100 percent peroxide to clean me up. Talk about intervention! It's been 4 days now and most of the stain is gone, though I'm not sure about the crusty stuff around my rim. It's not budging much. Any ideas? I want to be ready for my debut with my mate, the yellow and gold dandy. Wait till you see him.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I am fascinated by Classical Order. Whether doric, ionic or corinthian, columns make for great spaces and soaring thoughts. Can't get enough of them. Two are close to my apartment, the one above just around the corner on Central Park West at a Synagogue, while the other is on Central Park South- a stone's throw away.

One thing about New York City. You have to look up to see it, the column above being a perfect example. If you are on the same side of the street as I was when I took the picture (with my Iphone I must confess), you have to look straight up. But most people are too busy rushing around to see this view. You need a steady gaze when you are looking straight into heaven.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chinoiserie Pelmets

The late 19th century Chinoiserie molding that was perched on the bookshelves during the Holidays a few years ago was finally sent off to a carpenter friend: returning in the form of pelmets from which I hung Italian cotton curtains with flying dragons. Very grand for the shoebox of a bedroom. But you know what? You have to think big in a small room.

My style has been called gemütlich, a word which rings true, at least in this space. I'm not concerned with obtaining a high polish and getting everything perfect. Rather, a pleasing combination of form, symmetry, color and texture interests me more than anything else. Often, what I find interesting and beautiful isn't perfect to begin with. Witness the chinoiserie molding. I had no idea what I was going to do with it when I found it. I simply knew that an idea would present itself, and that I had to bring it home. It turned out that I had the exact amount for two pelmets.

The ceilings are nearly twelve feet, and the window treatments lift the eye up, a necessary thing in the narrow room where the pelmets are located. They'll be finished when a blind descends from behind each pelmet to the windowsill, creating one long line. A work in progress: one thing leads to another. This is how the best English Country House Style is done, right? That's what I tell myself anyway. However, I could see myself living on the twentieth floor in a modern building with floor to ceiling windows, modern furniture and lots of glam and glass. But I think it's smart to play with the bones you've been given.

What interests me in the picture above is the critical mass that was achieved. The place was stuffed with objects. The molding finding its usefulness made quite a few things move. The process continues: soon there will only be one big mirror.

We'll see how long the red curtains stay since I've got green on the brain.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I saw him at the flea market a number of years ago. Half afraid of my own desire, I walked right past, trying not to stare. How delightful then to see him swimming in the same blue-green sea a week later. Of course he came home with me. He's not a youngster, let's get that clear, the signature on the lower left giving him a date of 1909. Perhaps Austrian, I don't care how old he is or where he's from. I just know I love him.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mad for Mikado

What a cad, standing there smirking at the camera. Forty-something on a thirty-something-degree rake: he's practically falling into the audience. It was Jonathan Miller's The Mikado at New York City Opera. The 1930's, black and white, Gosford Park, man-eating Victrola version of Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular work. Huge gessoed palm trees (just out of the frame on the right) referenced grand hotel palm courts, while long cigarette holders, bob cuts and tortoise shell sunglasses a glamourous chic. 

The gentleman in question later made an appearance in white in the second act (do people have second acts anymore?) with a lovely lady of long acquaintance. No, that is not his wife, silly. But they are stage chums having once had to stand stock still together in Boito's Mefistofele - the Classical Sabbath scene to be exact. He got to wear a leotard with a fabulous painted and artfully padded physique (why go to the gym?) while she wore a sumptuous grecian gown of white with crisscrossing gold cord. Very flattering, I must say. Holding statuary poses for fifteen minutes while singing, they then had to the float off-stage with utmost grace- not an easy thing to do when the limbs have fallen asleep.

Wide awake for The Mikado, they had their Fred and Ginger moment dancing the Charleston during the Finale.  Her hat went mad one night, flying off her head. Neither missed a beat as he caught it.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Blue Boys

Jaunty fellows out for a stroll, walking sticks in tow, having a smoke. Who were they and where were they off to on that summer day when captured in cyanotype blue? Smartly dressed in high collars and buttoned up suits, was it a concert in the Park or a walk across the green to a smart cafe?

The other two, no bigger than a postage stamp, lean towards each, heads together in heavy pea-coats, more lovers than brothers. Did they explore the polar ice caps together, sail to far-off India, or have tea and toast in Amsterdam on a cold Winter's day? 

Looking for myself in the past, I find glimmers of could be and I bet they were. 

For more imagined history, visit Woolf and Wilde

Bugs & Birds

Bugs and birds stare up at me from my banged up 1880's china. I swear the wild imaginings of Louis Carroll and his red queen move when I'm not looking. Found on an early morning treasure hunt, they worm their way onto the table quite frequently, shrugging off the day's concerns with a smile.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


My good friend Steve sent the bulbs four weeks ago. I opened the box to find them nestled in a lovely ceramic pot, the instructions saying 'just add water and keep me in the light.' So I did. They kept the Christmas greens company while they inched up out of the ground ever so slowly, really getting going the week of Christmas. The dried greens now gone, the fresh tall stalks have reached into the New Year, blossoms filling the air with the fragrance and promise of Spring.

Morten Lauridsen

I find myself listening to his music when I need to be still, calm and reflective. Taking its basis from chant, Lauridsen's art is an internal one, calling to mind the ineffable and eternal. Going deeply within, the dark night becomes luminous and the all of the everything that is- is. No believing. Just being. Beautiful.