Photo by Tim Street-Porter.
Of course, it is a truism that you cannot have great decoration without great architecture. I think this is a particular consideration with modern rooms that have elegant proportions, sufficient components of personality, and a strong relationship to place. One of my favorite examples of this balance of architecture and decoration is the Eames house. Ray and Charles Eames brilliantly employed the landscape setting of the house and the landscape setting of the house and their collections of antiques and handmade objects are a perfect foil for the design of the building. Their rooms required no elaborate decoration.
After all, architecture is the mother of the arts. I can vouch from my own experience that it is always easier to decorate a room with beautiful structure and good “bones.”
Photo by Tim Street-Porter; photo by Julius Shulman.
I was informally reminded of this tenet this past summer. I had the privilege of staying at the house of my friend, Daniel Farris, on Fire Island. He has a superb house designed by Harry Bates in 1975. It is a low slung pavillion with four identical bedrooms that open out to the surrounding trees. The geometries are perfect and hence there is little decoration per se.
Still, with the occasion of our friend Robert Clepper’s 50th birthday, I had an urge to decorate that cusped on bad taste. I bunted the room he was staying in with gold lame and fashioned a canopy, au style Empire, with a paper crown. My display proved that an elegant room does not need additional decoration…as these blurry photos taken by my Blackberry phone attest.
Photo by Thomas Jayne.
Photo by Thomas Jayne.
I behaved better earlier in my career when I was asked to advise on a penthouse apartment in San Francisco, in fact the higest residential space in the city. The building was completed in 1966, also in the modern mein. In the early 1990’s when I stepped in, the modern style was perceived as out of date and cold.
At my interview, I observed a contractor preparing to warm it up by applying Navaho white paint on the polished teak panels, Georgian moldings, and a series of other gestures meant to camouflage the building’s true nature under the guise of a 1980’s country house.
Images courtesy of Thomas Jayne.
Instead, at that meeting I argued for restraint and preservation and made a case for restoring the space. I promoted the idea of decorating it in a way that was sympathetic to the original design and mindful of its panoramic and dramatic views. Today such an approach seems expected, however, at the time, it was almost subversive to even suggest it.
So, I offer that before beginning any decoration, always look at the architecture for inspiration. Usually good architecture only requires restrained decoration.
Except if it is a big birthday—then no matter what, employ gold lame.