Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Enduring rooms, Part One: "Elsie in Amber"

An old friend, who always amazes with her savvy observations on life, recently remarked that all young starlets look alike.  We chalked it up to plastic surgery.  Why settle for thin lips when you can have Angelina's?   But will these sweet nothings be remembered like a Katharine Hepburn or a Greta Garbo...or even a Ms. Jolie for that matter?  Doubtful.

There's a correlation in the design world, and it evidences itself as sameness.

Sure, we all follow trends, but hopefully a designer can transcend them.  Not that I dislike natural linen, reclaimed wood or ikat prints, but there a great big design world out there to explore.  In the next several posts I'm going to show you some of my favorites.

Elsie deWolfe sits securely in the pantheon of famous American interior designers.  In the mid-thirties, while most of the country was still reeling from the Great Depression, Beverly Hills was basking in a golden age.  It was there that deWolfe designed a jewel box of a house for Countess Dorothy di Frasso.   But what's so amazing is that 70 years afterwards, the rooms were basically unchanged.  House & Garden chronicled these interiors in their May 2007, issue, photographed by Simon Watson, and wittily titled "Elsie in Amber."

The sunroom, above, looks strikingly contemporary.  It's focal point is Zebra and Black Panther with Cacti (1936) by Charles Baskerville, which was commissioned for the house.

In a old photograph from 1944, this same room was the setting for a party thrown by Elsa Maxwell.  It included celebrities such as Orson Welles (top right) and Charles Boyer (with drink in hand.)  

The living room boldly features Chinoiserie wallpaper, a deWolfe signature.  But look closely at the mirrored treatment around the fireplace, the doors, and even the chamfered corners -- and all trimmed out with bamboo.  It's these details that make a room memorable.

The dining room also features details that verge on mind boggling.  The walls are mirrored panels in the style of Jean-Baptiste Pillement.  First, painted canvases were adhered to the wall.  Then mirrored panels were affixed on top of them, but with their mirrored backing scraped away to reveal the scenes behind them.  Whew!  Can you imagine that being done today.  Also notable are the Rococo Revival chairs and the table with the green enameled top.

A close-up taken in the dining room shows off the mirrored panels.  Behind the magnificent Hispano-Moresque commode of mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell, you can get a glimpse of the walnut paneled dado that runs around the room.

The motifs of Chinoiserie and mirrors are carried through to the master bedroom.  The wallpaper panel behind the bed is hand painted.  The mirrored panel behind the Art Moderne demilune is topaz-tinted.  And the headboard:  yes, it's also mirrored (look closely.)  It's a combination of clear and topaz faceted mirrors and part of a five-piece Art Deco suite designed by deWolfe.

The master bathroom features a specially commissioned pale blue tub.

It's hard to imagine creating spaces today with so much painstaking attention to details.  When I saw last month's Elle Decor, I was struck by the color saturated bedroom on their cover.  And while it's not even close to the richness and the layers of deWolfe, it is still nice to see how beautiful jewel tones can be.

Thanks for reading, everyone!