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Posts Tagged ‘interior decorating’

Triumph of the Will

February 10, 2014 | by

Dorothy Draper at MCNY

Some years ago, the Museum of the City of New York mounted a fantastic show devoted to the work of the decorator and entertainment doyenne Dorothy Draper. Draper’s two books, Entertaining is Fun! and Decorating is Fun!, have been rereleased with the original splashy covers, and the firm of Carleton Varney, Inc. continues to use Draper’s exuberant prints and insouciant style. The museum had done up several rooms with Draper’s signature oversized roses, and replicated the decor of West Virginia’s famous Greenbrier resort, which Draper refurbished in the 1940s. The effect was determinedly cheerful and pretty darn fabulous.

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Museum of the City of New York

The books are arresting, too: between bits of absolutely authoritative advice on color, proportion, and élan (presented with the assurance of many generations in New York high society) Mrs. Draper presents the reader with “case histories” of “A Lady Who Thought Formality Meant Fuss” or “A Young Man Who Understood Women” or “A Lady Who Gave Herself a Party Instead of a Pill.” Read More »

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Art House: On “John Ashbery Collects”

October 22, 2013 | by

Installation view of "John Ashbery Collects: Poet Among Things."

Installation view of "John Ashbery Collects: Poet Among Things," at Loretta Howard Gallery, New York.

So just what is the “thingness of the thing” that Heidegger was talking about? The phrase’s riddlesome poetry could easily have been penned by John Ashbery, instead of the crusty German phenomenologist. Is Heidegger suggesting that material things possess an essence, an abstract quality that both defines and constitutes, say, a shoe—its shoeness? Perhaps, but Ashbery, in fact, offers a more straightforward assessment of the unseeable stuff that makes stuff stuff in the opening lines of “Grand Galop”: “All things seem the mention of themselves.” Such are my thoughts as I roam the rooms of Ashbery’s Hudson, New York, home … well, only to the degree that the galleries at Loretta Howard, in Chelsea, have been decorated with trompe l’oeil drawings—wainscoting, doorways, mantels—to look like the rooms of the poet’s well-appointed nineteenth-century house.

Thoughtfully curated by Loretta Howard Gallery and poets Adam Fitzgerald and Emily Skillings, the show offers a selection of Ashbery’s own paintings, prints, collages, bric-a-brac, and furniture; it’s all cozily arranged to conjure as much domestic atmosphere as might be had in a gallery space. Kitschy figurines, VHS tapes (Daffy Duck and Jack Benny among them), bawdy toys, and hand-painted plates line the shelves of cabinets and bookcases that could have been lifted whole from Ashbery’s parlor. Other items, like the French Provincial chairs and Oriental rugs, have been. They complement a piano drawn on a wall on which are hung several selections of early twentieth-century sheet music (“Mr. and Mrs. Is the Name,” “Flirtation Walk”), as if resting on the instrument’s music desk.

Alongside such homey items (the cartoons playing on the TV jangle in a familiar way with the filigree wallpaper designs) are pieces by many of the poet’s friends and artistic confederates, such as Joan Mitchell, Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers, Trevor Winkfield, Jess, Alex Katz, Jane Freilicher, and Willem de Kooning. There’s a gemütlich vibe, equal parts wry and melancholic, generated by this assemblage of things cultural that ably recalls the mood and manner of Ashbery’s writing. To elucidate this point, the curators include wall text featuring apt passages of his verse that treat the world, if not the mind, as a congeries of curios, a kind of Cornell box. Of course, the show includes a few of those; with poems populated by Popeye, Henry Darger, Chopin, Faust, Parmigianino, and a myriad of other, less identifiable references, it’s no surprise that Ashbery is a devotee of Cornell’s eclectic connoisseurship. Both share an affinity for the metaphysique d’ephemera, an aesthetic that elevates the trivial to the transcendent. Read More »

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Age Gaps; Authorial Décor

July 29, 2011 | by

The man Im dating is smart, charming, charismatic, handsome ... and almost twice my age. Everyone around me keeps saying that our relationship is destined to fail. Do you have suggestions for reading that will give me hope for a happy ending?

Oh, dear. As a wise relative once said to me, “It’s easy to love in a vacuum—it’s other people who are the difficulty.” While it’s true that literature does have its share of unhappy May-December relationships (Laughter in the Dark, anyone? A Gentle Creature? Keep these titles far from smug naysayers!), there’s no shortage of success stories, either. Off the top of my head: Jane Eyre, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Little Women, Gigi, Little Dorrit, Daddy Long-Legs … and I’m sure readers can name others. I’d even add Rebecca to that list—the DeWinters may have their issues, but I wouldn’t say the age gap is one of them. I can’t pretend any of these is guaranteed to make your friends keep their views to themselves, but I hope they provide a little comfort.

I need help putting together my first-ever apartment. Can you share the decorative tastes of any writers you know? Or literary passages about especially inspiring interior spaces?

My decorating training began and ended with a childhood love of a 1928 book called The Young Decrorators, in which a bunch of kids learn the basics of interior decoration.

That said, I do have a few ideas. If you’re looking for literary inspiration, I feel bound to invoke Joris-Karl Huysman’s paean to hedonism, A Rebours (variously translated as Against the Grain and Against Nature):

He had long been a connoisseur in the sincerities and evasions of color-tones. In the days when he had entertained women at his home, he had created a boudoir where, amid daintily carved furniture of pale, Japanese camphor-wood, under a sort of pavillion of Indian rose-tinted satin, the flesh would color delicately in the borrowed lights of the silken hangings.

This room, each of whose sides was lined with mirrors that echoed each other all along the walls, reflecting, as far as the eye could reach, whole series of rose boudoirs, had been celebrated among the women who loved to immerse their nudity in this bath of warm carnation, made fragrant with the odor of mint emanating from the exotic wood of the furniture.

So there’s that. On the other end of the spectrum, I am also a major fan of Dorothy Draper’s Decorating is Fun which, while not technically “literature,” is colorful enough to double as entertaining reading. And Serious Pleasures, the biography of bright young aesthete Stephen Tennant, contains jaw-dropping descriptions of his home, Wilsford Manor (inspired by Huysmans). As to authorial décor, you might get a kick out of this slideshow of writers’ homes.

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