Peccant Color: The Dark Soul of Charles James

  • June 24, 2010 5:22 pm

In 1982 the Brooklyn Museum mounted an exquisite exhibit from their holdings of the couture apparel of Charles James.  A solitary genius who lived and died in the Chelsea Hotel, James employed breathtaking construction to create the most glamorous and startling of silhouettes.  What was also self-evident from the exhibit was his astonishingly unusual, slightly off, yet perfectly pitched sense of color.  To my mind no clothing designer has ever come close to him, perhaps his palette could only be compared to some Renaissance palettes.  The colors are never obvious and never used to simply flatter.  Instead he mixed color for a subtle effect to intimate an arcane sophistication and also to suggest something just a tiny bit evil, a whiff of Les Fleurs du Mal.  The colors are a teensy bit bitter and the combinations work a sense of tension and dark power.  Even when using black and white he just had to add a certain dirty quality; The iconic gown below mixes pure black velvet with a slightly grayed beige  silk faille, a particular color that creates a certain imperfect foil to the black.

Creating a room is a lot like creating a painting. Each dab of color creates a need or a hint or suggestion for another.  One can play with the eye by pressuring it to accept that an orange is more coral when set next to a blue red.  Mixtures of warm and cold, especially in the blues can be startling.  Think mixing Yves blue with wedgwood, and then throwing in an icy blue.  I don’t think you can go wrong if you study-really study-how great painters slide those colors around.  Matisse, Caravaggio, the Fauves, Vermeer-there’s so much to learn from the relationships of color in their palates.

Decorating is Fun! Dorothy Draper in the Breakfast Room

  • June 24, 2010 3:14 pm

Dorothy Draper table base

Now this is something else.  Pretty exotic, huh?  The base is made of aluminum, for heaven’s sake!  I’ve declined to take the glass top. It  will be interesting to see what will work instead.  Perhaps an oval top, covered in aged copper, possibly in zinc.

I think this table base  paired with the mauve Mauny wallpaper* cum  olive parrots could delectable.  And quite hysterical.  A mix in metaphors!  Could be so wrong it could be right.

Somehow, I can see the 50’s Thonet style chairs** working with it as well.  Painted something or other, don’t know yet, but with olive wool upholstery. It remains to be seen what alchemy will work when the wallpaper is up and the furniture assembled.  Would I want to spray paint the chairs a metallic?  Or am I going metallic c—-razy!

By the way, you can read all about the Divine Draper at



The Glamour of a Kitchen Sink

  • June 23, 2010 10:58 am

As if the German silver sink were not lovely enough, Walter, the genius of antique plumbing has come up with the most beautiful all-in-one sink faucet, and he’s as chuffed about it as I.

These are Walter’s photos showing the faucet’s top and bottom. The faucet is from the 1890’s, as smart as the brass buttons on a Victorian fireman’s uniform.  And entirely ingenious.

The handles on the two sides at the bottom are for hot and cold. And I’m not sure what each of the other two single valves are up to but clearly one is for the spray and the other for the goose neck.

Four holes on the sink deck in front of the back splash are in mysterious pattern that doesn’t  conform to where I’d like to put this faucet or any other I might use.   My guru Walter suggested that I find an old brass door kick to cover up the flat expanse.  I’ve found quite a nice appealing one that’s new and shiny.

I do love the fuddy-duddy black utility hose for the spray!

I learned today from Walter, his plumbing highness, that because these silver sinks are flat on bottom they need to be canted ever so slightly for the water to flow perfectly towards the drains.  Who knew that plumbing fixtures and the execution of plumbing could be such an art form?

A Word About the Floor Stain

  • June 22, 2010 10:59 am


I’m taking a bit of a risk since I don’t know anyone who has used this stuff but I’m planning to stain every floor in my house using it.  I’m attracted to the fact that it is extremely environmentally friendly (not VOC’s) and that it’s applied in one coat. No polyurethane is needed to coat. The stain is pretty impervious to water and should the floor be scratched, the stain is simply applied over it.  No need to sand the floors again.  I’ve been admiring the dry-look floor recently, heaven knows why, but I’m finding it rather elegant and understated. Monocoat by itself produces no sheen, but was can be applied if that’s what you’re after.  I’ve chosen a color we’ll produce by mixing the mahogany and walnut stains, a wee bit heavier on the browner walnut side.

Wish me luck!

The Laundry Room

  • June 21, 2010 4:44 pm

In my pre-married days I was a passionate laundress.  I learned the arcane skills of couture dressmaking and concomitant with learning how to prepare a hem and make a dart were the skills of washing fine fabrics and ironing properly.  Besides a regulation size ironing board one needed such tools as a a much smaller board for ironing collars and such and also a rounded muffin like tool for ironing shapes, such as darts in blouses.  And the art of handwashing was profoundly impressed on me.

In our almost sold house I grabbed a small closet on the second floor for the laundry room rather than putting it in the deep dark dungeon of the basement. It has a sink, nice Maytag washer and the most divine dryer, heaven for the hand laundry crowd (don’t all raise your hands).  It’s by Maytag and it’s called the Maytag Neptune Drying System.

SO not for everyone that I believe they may have discontinued it.  The bottom cabinet is a normal ole front loading dryer but the top steam cabinet-OOH LA LA!  Just look- the gentle steam heat simmers inside the cabinet and carefully dries your sweaters, baseball hats and Hanky Panky thongs. You can do two things at the same time, tumble and steam.

Also in my laundry lineup is an Ironrite Mangle #85.

For the laundry lunatics only- but how else can one iron natural fiber sheets at home, let alone those great big tablecloths?

In case you’ve been wondering about the nun praying and laundering-as I discussed the laundry room with a wonderful friend of mine she remembered a wallpaper done by an artist friend of hers named  Liz Shepherd.  I’ve contacted her and I’m hoping that her wallpaper will be the crowning touch!

A Hiatus but Work Progresses

  • June 21, 2010 3:09 pm

Moving from a large house filled with the bric and brac of the entire family’s lives from fifteen years has focused me in one gigantic way: I want to keep this new house free of the immense amount of clutter.  I feel so behind the curve! All of the disciples of Martha and Domino have been  making a mantra/style out of the religion of spareness.  Perhaps the pendulum is going to swing the other way in the next decade towards an 80’s style exuberant and flagrant plenty and as usual my personal pendulum will be swinging the opposite way!

But wait-the English have devised a way to have both, that is a disciplined and clean approach to design that allows a chaotic freedom.  I’ve absorbed some lessons from pondering English garden style.  Not all certainly, but many gardens come precisely from that style.  Observe the formal and linear hedging-there they resemble the French.  But then what do they do?  They strew the interiors with a wild abandon of flora.  The long borders display this as well.  Face to face, but never matching, they are symmetrical in layout, but divergent in plants.

Perhaps the house can have the discipline of sparseness, but pockets of free fall STUFF. My European “picture walls” with art hung according to the rhythm of patterns and colors can be interspersed with a wall with very little hanging on it, nothing showcased but itself, creating another kind of pattern.

The kitchen which has been hollowed out is all at once a different space than I could have imagined.  With the removal of an outside wall, the new interior is suddenly larger and brighter and the focus has shifted to a different kind of plan.  A plan that may very well suit itself to being spare with concentrations of personal clutter…

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