Through September 12th, I encourage anyone who loves modern cultural history, stories of female empowerment or just beautiful design to check out this exhibit. Here are the highlights, but seeing the textiles in person is a real treat. Focusing on the contributions of female designers to Britain’s textile industry in the years following World War II, the exhibit provides a window onto the cultural landscape in that era. After years of privation due to the war and economic hardship, England entered into the 1950s with a great deal of optimism and was fortunate that in the realm of design, a new generation of innovators waited for the opportunity to express fresh perspectives. On display are the works of Lucienne Day, Marian Mahler and Jacqueline Groag, all women whose careers coincided with and defined style in the mid-century. Greeting visitors at the entrance is ’Calyx’, the first textile design that was to bring Day real recognition in 1951. An abstract piece in unique colors, suggesting anything from tulip blooms to martini glasses, at once grounded and weightless, this is clearly at the heart of graphic design to follow. Drawing their inspirations from painters and sculptures of the era, these women created a bridge through fabrics that linked contemporary art and architecture to home design. To get a glimpse online, visit

In Praise of Small Houses

With the shift towards saving vs. spending that our economic times has inspired in so many people, one can only hope that the real estate and building markets will seize the day and begin promoting smaller scaled homes. The benefits are many. Less energy use, and thus smaller bills, and lighter mortgages are only a few of the perks. From a designer's perspective, the intimate scale of the modest home lends itself to more complex decorative work.
For the homeowner with a larger budget, fewer square feet translates into dollars that are better spent on custom details such as non-standard moldings and finely crafted cabinetry. And for the nester who has a more confined budget, but still values quality, the more tailored the size of the home to the functions of good living, the more funds can be allocated to finer furniture and appointments. Often in the last decade, houses with a grand footprint have been tricked out shoddily in over-shopped furnishings. This greed for excess has lead to a consumer base that wants the lowest price possible to purchase the maximum amount of things. Not only has this impacted the world of craftsmen and stateside suppliers, it has taken design into a more overtly homogenized direction. For a large corporation to sell the greatest number of sofas, for instance, the design must have the fewest stylistic objections to the masses, so the characteristics become more bland.
This design consultant lives in under a thousand square feet and has tried with mixed results, numerous times, to lend a sense of character and warmth to homes as much as ten times that size. When it has been possible it has been through a host of ploys: texture and tone to draw down the ceilings, layers of textile in front of over-scaled windows to lend grace or alterations in the proportion of openings to create more anticipation of the next space. When all is said and done, very often the client has wound the process to a close long before the desired level of interest has been accomplished.
When the Victorian barons of industry began building their American castles, they employed hundreds of craftspeople. Even when the results were ostentatious, the rooms felt rich and interesting aesthetically. Rarely does one see such commitment to detail in the modern home, but if one were to narrow the scope to something workable and honest, than with thought and time, one could accomplish a personal masterpiece. It ought to be a point of pride for thinking people of large social ethics and normal-sized egos to live in only the space they need for a comfortable existence, be it simple or grand in its appointments.

The Immmortal Dorothy Draper

Shown in this stunning photograph, the lobby of the Greenbrier Resort, in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, is without a doubt an eye-popping, drop-dead gorgeous space. Originally designed by decorating maverick Dorothy Draper and later renovated faithfully by her protege and heir to her business, Carlton Varney, the Greenbrier is a testament to the fact that the best designs happen outside the box. Here we also see how good taste, whether conventional in its time or not, does not die.
Draper's style is oft called Modern Baroque, largely due to the fact that key ingredients to her designs were elaborate plaster moldings juxtaposed against simpler furniture forms. Her use of color was flamboyant and she was a great proponent of employing vivid graphic design to articulate space and provide a more robust overall aesthetic. Black and white checkered floors, shown above, were one of her staples, but she also was fond of crisp polka dots, often in exaggerated scale, and riotous floral textiles. A closer inspection of the photo above reveals the cabbage rose chintz that was her signature, used here on the treatments of the Palladium windows. While not this designers favorite material, one admires Draper's confidence in pairing it with the cleaner and more refined fabrics of her upholstery.
After decades of dusty and predictable interiors, one can only imagine how exhilarating Dorothy Draper's interiors must have been to the first eyes to behold them. Here was a style that really spoke to the new energy and optimism of the twentieth century. Her aesthetic is so integral a part of today's concept of cheerful good taste that one sees the bastardly offspring of it in all areas of design, but still the original cannot be beat. Here's to a bit of Draper's ageless confidence in every life!

Movie Homage: Rebecca 1940

At the heart of Daphne du Maurier's deftly rendered novel, Rebecca, the seaside estate Manderley is the essence of British grandeur.  It is also arguably a character in the story, much like the people who walk its halls. Under the confident hand of its former chatelaine and story namesake, until her death before the story opens, the manor house was host to celebrated soirees of 1930's high society.
As the tale unfolds, the audience follows a shy and inexperienced second wife as she strives to navigate the trappings of a new life with wealthy, handsome widower Maxim de Winter, all the while reminded in countless ways of how short she seems to fall of his first bride's successes.
The set had to meet the expectations set by the novel and the standards of its director, Alfred Hitchcock, who knew the kind of real homes Manderley was based upon and who insisted decoration be opulent but believable, not a stylized Hollywood fantasy.  Details must be rich, but not ostentatious.  Most importantly, the spaces and furnishings would need to figuratively and literally dwarf the female protagonist.
The results are breathtaking.  Plaster moldings are hefty, though not Italian or French in character, and the woodwork looks hundreds of years old.  The smooth and slow roving camera of photographer George Barnes garnered the film an Oscar and shows lovingly the fine work that set decorator Howard Bristol brought to the production.
The morning room the new Mrs. de Winter is expected to use for daily estate work boasts a deep window seat below diamond mullioned windows.  It is tucked away from the fray.  The luxury is unmistakable, but due to the intimate scale, one understands that while she may not use the room as her predecessor did, she feels more at home here than in the grander rooms beyond. 
Across the house in a wing overlooking the sea, the suite where Rebecca slept underscores the stature of the dead woman and heightens the contrast between the two wives.  Here the ceilings are high and the architecture more contemporary.  The textiles are as supple and transparent as a fine peignoir; that the fabrics suggest a seductive garment is no accident, for as the story unfolds, we discover that Rebecca was as bold in her sexuality as she was in conquering the haut ton.  The modern treatment separates Rebecca from the moorings of the past, suggesting a woman free of conventions.  Furthermore, the design shows Rebecca felt enough ownership of Manderley to transpose her tastes unapologetically over the antique preferences of her husband's ancestors.
Watching this 1940 film is a pleasure on many levels, as the story adaptation, production values and performances are all stellar. Yet in making a character of the set while furthering the story through detail, Howard Bristol certainly deserved his own portion of the praise.