Thursday, May 27, 2010


Well everyone (9 followers allows me to say everyone), lets wander (yes, we are wandering today instead of strolling) back in time again, to a time before Salt Lake (city that is, not the actual Salt Lake, that was here long before Drayton Hall)....
Starting roughly where we left off...the height of American design, that is...


Of course, photos do NOT do this Georgian home any kind of justice. Another stunner from the deep South, not far from Charleston. Just about everything is painted the most stunning blue-green color, and the carvings, oh the carvings. The woodwork is exquisite. And the best part is that the building has essentially remained untouched since it was built in 1738. And one of the most remarkable aspects when visiting is the fact that the home is completely open year round. I mean all the doors and windows remain in the open position. There is no a/c, no humidity control, no nothing. Just the Southern breeze flowing straight through. It is such a change from the standard stuffy historic house visit. The other great thing is the lack of furniture and annoying carpet runners standard to such homes. You can wander freely through, without having to worry about stepping on the original carpet or bumping into a priceless antique. There is such a different sense of really being in the space. It is a wonderful experience; please visit!

This photo courtesy of

A few detail shots:


Robert Adam was a genius in so many ways... space planning, furniture design, architecture. However, if I had to pick one aspect of his brilliant and blessed career, I easily pick his plaster ceilings. They are so delicate, so subtle, and yet so bold at the same time. They are essentially the two-dimensional architectural version of Wedgewood. And who can't appreciate that!

Detail shot:


Adam in Wedgewood:

I LOVE when he mirrors the ceiling design in the flooring design as seen here (photo from the book 'The Hyde Park Antiques Collection' by Emily Evans Eerdmans):


Minimalism in the 18TH CENTURY! Remember when we talked about minimalism and the antique? Well here it is again. Sir Soane was a real leader in this area, in both his exteriors and interiors. But his exteriors strike a special cord with me, so I thought I would show a few. The facades are so devoid of ornament and so blocky, yet they are ultimately elegant and highly refined. While some today might have thoughts of power plants or water treatment facilities, you must remember what he was designing next to. These facades were quite revolutionary in their simplicity.
Shotesham Park 1785:

Letton Hall 1783:

Dulwich Picture Gallery 1817:

Two typical facades of the time (still classical, but a lot more decorative and fussy than above):


Hope was a purist. A real purist. Convinced the "distasteful" antiquity knock-offs so popular in the Neoclassical period were just horrid, he decided to design his own house to better educate the London set.

A "horrid" (according to Hope, not me) Neoclassical chair with an shield-back (classical-inspired in motif but not form)

In his themed house (each room had a classical theme such as the Egypt Room, the Vase Room, etc) he displayed what he considered 'authentic' furniture he himself designed based on Greek, Roman and Egyptian originals. Well, I am not sure how many originals he actually saw, because he came up with these, um, interesting pieces.

Now don't get me wrong, I think these are pretty awesome, however, I think they might not be much truer to the originals than the Neoclassical he so abhorred.

Vase showing Greek Klismos chair (I see a few similarities to above, but it is not exactly a pure copy):

But you know the Brits, they always have a somewhat different perspective on things. Anyway, Hope had a great big party in his new home and invited everyone who was anyone, including the Prince Regent, and well, the more correct form of neoclassical, the "Empire" style or "Regency" style (English term) took off and enjoyed great popularity in the UK.

Regency Klismos chair:

So ultimately, Hope did get his wish, and did change tastes for the more pure. He just maybe stumbled a bit along the way. If you want to see more Hope, check out the site for the fantastic V&A exhibit I was privileged enough to see in 2008:


This stuff is beautiful! Who would have thought the Austrians would ever be such good designers?! Forgive me, but I am still missing the whole idea of a more economical, modest and comfortable version of French Empire. Yes, Biedermeier has less gilding, pieces are smaller and somewhat more human-sized. However, I don't really see this as a 'poor-mans' version of Empire. It is stunning and completely Art Deco in feel, a style that didn't emerge for another 100 years! The Austrians were 100 years ahead of everyone else! Can you believe it? Well done. I just wish you had made more of it.

Louvre Biedermeier exhibit in 2007:

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I thought we would digress this week from the treasures of old and focus on a few treasures of Salt Lake. For all of you east coasters, hopefully this will broaden your view of Utah (as it did mine). For the locals, hopefully this will open your eyes to some beauties you are privileged enough to have in your own back yard. We will return to more of my favorite things next week.

Let us explore a few of the fabulous historic properties in central Salt Lake....and just enjoy. (And maybe learn a bit about the facades at the same time.) Hey, I teach now, I can no longer just have fun, I must always inform as well.

I really was quite astonished to find so many charming facades here. Of course, the city was established in 1847, so I am not sure why it was so surprising. And of course, almost everyone that moved here in the 19th century was in fact from New England or Northern Europe. But I was quite convinced such houses as per below were to be found nowhere outside of New England or the Antebellum South. I know, I know, here is the East-Coast- centric point of view I am trying to avoid. West, I apologize, you once enjoyed the finer things in life too.
I must also apologize for all the electrical wiring (please consider burying these SLC) and trees (I should have taken pictures in the winter) and the cars and the no-parking signs (not sure which is worse).

Contestant # 1: The New Englander

Really, how can one reconcile this lovely rambler with the rough and tumble pioneer state of Utah? It even has a widow's walk! Wasn't the whole point of the widow's walk to look out to sea for your mariner-husband's eminent return to Marblehead or Portsmouth? Not much sea to see here.

In fact, the widow's walk developed from Italianate revival architecture. During the Victorian era and the Victorian's never-ending infatuation with ever more elaborate and exotic styles, the Italianate (an over-the-top revival of the Renaissance) took off in the 1830s and lasted well into the 1870s. What does the widow's walk have to do with Italy, you may ask? The widow's walk form is essentially a bad version of a cupola or balustrade. Here is what the great architects of the day were looking at:

And here is how they interpreted it:

See the little cupola at the top there?

And here is how the humble mariner/builder of New England port towns interpreted it:

And finally we get to the Utah version:
A bit of a long shot, but you get the general point they were going for. This bastardized version of the cupola/balustrade did, however, turn out to be very handy when watching for storms or your loved ones who likely perished in said storms.

Contestants # 2 &3: The Federal Ladies
Talk about a perfect Federal-style entry door. I love everything Federal (almost as much as everything Empire). While the overall form of the home does not conform, this entry is perfect.

Here is a neighbor, which is a pretty good overall representation of the Federal, but lacking the door of perfection. Of course, these are all later revivals, as the Federal architecture style flourished from about 1780 to the 1820s. No SLC in those days.
Here is one of my favorite originals from the East Coast. The keys to the style are: the brick, the simplified facade, boxy shape, symmetrical layouts of windows and doors, the hipped roof, and of course the fab doorway with a fanlight above and sidelights with interlaced geometric patterning for mullions.

The Otis Gray House in Boston.

Contestant # 4: Are We in Charleston Yet?

Charleston, SC has some of the most stunning architecture on earth. One can just feel the southern hospitality seeping in.... and this Greek Revival style property of Salt Lake certainly gives a feel of the old South. You can't beat lots of really, really large columns.

But if you want really, really, really big columns, take a look at the Milford Plantation. I was privileged enough to visit the Milford Plantation while studying at Sotheby's. This is a private residence owned by financier turned historic restorer, Richard Hampton Jenrette. It was built in 1839 and almost destroyed by Union troops in 1865. The Union commander was so taken by the property it was spared. THANK GOD! Well done Commander! Since it is privately owned, there are very few photos online of this property , but there is a fabulous book (Adventures With Old Houses by Jenrette) which everyone should go find!

Contestant # 5: Ms. Queen Anne

The Queen Anne revival is probably one of the most recognizably Victorian type of home. Many of these gems have fallen into disrepair as they often require a lot of maintenance. However, this beauty has been very well preserved. Enough said here, I think.

Contestant # 6: The Little Cutie
OK, so this is not a stunner like the others on the list, but it just spoke to me. It is such a simple block house and could have been so plain and dull. But it's not. It has a personality. Even despite the horrid 1970s plastic awnings over the windows. They work, painting as they are. And this house makes a good point, being that a property doesn't have to be a mansion to be in good taste.

Contestant # 7: The Grand Dame

This Italian Renaissance building (totally different style from Italianate) is so well maintained and in my opinion, just to die for.

So what is the difference between Italianate Revival and Italian Renaissance Revival architecture? The Italianate is a loose and romantic stylization of anything Italian (or anything conceived as being somewhat Italian at the time). While the Italian Renaissance Revival took a much more serious view of things. If at all possible, there was a desire to directly copy elements of Renaissance architecture. These scrolls are a good example. They are highly ordered and strictly follow classical forms.

This is quite different from the Renaissance Revival furniture of which I am more familiar. There was absolutely no interest in maintaining purity in these items.....
But before I digress even further, I will stop....for fear of creating the longest blog in blogging history. We might have to revisit this topic in the future, but for now I will only ask you to cast your vote for your favorite (if you can decide)!


Now, I know I made it quite clear this blog is not dedicated to putting down the fair city of Salt Lake, but I must ask one question before ending. How can so many Salt Lake residents prefer to live in this:

Instead of this?????

Please take a moment to consider and then, move out of your development nightmare and move back into the city and revitalize some of these fabulous beauties just waiting for a makeover! Then hire me to do the design...I am just dying to get my hands on hundreds of them....

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Before we delve too far down the rabbit hole of design philosophies, I thought we should have a nice relaxing stroll through history and take a brief look at the things that stir my very soul the very most.
So why not start at the very beginning? Just as Fraulein Maria did. A very good place to start indeed.


It is impossible to speak in any sense about minimalism and antiquity in the same breath and not include the Greek temple. The stark white monolith screams - nay- whispers to us: minimalism, simplicity and elegance. I am far from the first to drool over the refinement of this remarkable structure. Upon conquering the Greeks, the Romans enslaved anyone and everyone except....the architect. So revered were Greek architects and their temples, they were allowed to keep their jobs . Of course after that, Greek architecture never disappears. Not ever. The Renaissance Man, our Founding Fathers, the masters of Art Deco, all seized upon the lines of classicism.
However, this pristine image of grace and simplicity only applies to the Greek temple as we know it, not as the Greek knew it. No. Things were quite different in those days. In its day, the Greek temple would have been much more at home in today's Atlantic City. There was gold leaf, jewels, and lots and lots of bright paint. Ugh. But let's not speak of the way they were...lets only consider what remains, and be thankful paint does not fare better in the weather of the centuries.


Sure, you are probably thinking, Versailles? That's a pretty ornate place. Home to the French Monarchy, built by Louis the XIV, the King that believed himself to be a reincarnation of the sun, and the palace where Marie Antoinette infamously proclaimed the starving street urchins of Paris should eat cake if they had no bread. No, not much simplicity there. However, just because I enjoy creating minimal spaces doesn't mean I don't love pomp and occasionally even some circumstance. I actually secretly love it often. But the thing I love most about Versailles? Its highly ordered nature, everywhere you look.
Those of you not familiar with the enfilade, it is a fabulous French invention which entails lining things up to create a charming and visually pleasing symmetrical axis upon which one can look down. Once the French came upon this idea, they just ran with it. Rooms were aligned, buildings were aligned, plants were aligned, even trees were aligned. The more symmetrical the better. You can walk for miles throughout the so-called 'forests' of Versailles, never happening upon another tourist, and never leave the perfectly aligned trees. It is a highly pleasing effect.


Granted St. Paul's Cathedral is by no means the most stunning cathedral in Europe or even in London. But there is a quite quality to it that stays with me. My design students were none too thrilled with this Baroque structure; they all had difficulty understanding why it was great in any sense. Its scale and mass is lost in photographs. The sense of solitude and weight only manifests as you stand, in the middle of a horribly busy city, looking straight up at its monumental dome. When you are there, you know. Sir Christopher Wren, I take my hat off to you. If only the Monarch had allowed you to rebuild all of London after the great fire of 1666. Next time you are in London, go.

What is there to say? In my mind not much. Just gaze upon the beauty that is American Furniture. Sure, I might be a bit bias since I specialized in American furniture at Sotheby's. However, it's hard to argue with the elegance of this little, simple table. It is not just pleasing to look at it; it seems to have a soul, a personality, perched there atop its dainty legs. It looks as though it runs, giddy, around the house at night when we sleep.  Many say furniture reached its peak in the Queen Anne/Chippendale periods in America (1720-1790). There is such economy in these designs, due to the nature of working 'in the provinces', away from the style centers of London or Paris. Americans at the time had less money, furniture makers had less training and access to less expensive materials. Because of this, craftsmen were forced to create great furniture without the gilding and elaborate carving the European aristocracy so craved.


I know, I know, once again I am being bias, but even my beginning design history students agreed the Sotheby's table was better than the one that was auctioned off at Christies. I swear they were not prompted. This is stunning. You can google the Christies will not find it on this blog. (No, its stunning too...just not as stunning!)
It is likely no surprise there is a little bit of a rivalry between the two biggest auction houses in the world. But sales rarely match up so closely as they did in the fall/winter of 2007/08. Picture it: two remarkably rare tea tables carved by the very same anonymous but well documented so-called 'Garvan Carver'. (Doesn't that name, the Garvan Carver, have a great air mystery and romance? It rolls off the tongue so sweetly.) Each table turning up essentially out of nowhere, the first auctioned at Christies....the second at Sotheby's. Which one will be more coveted? Which one will be fought over by the most influential American collectors of the day? Which one will sell for more money? Ah, how the rumors flew...who wanted which, who owned which, which was better? And finally the day of the Christies sale came. And the competition was fierce...and then, in a matter of mere minutes, the Christies table became the most expensive piece of American furniture ever sold at auction. $6.7 million. Wow. But what was to become of the Sotheby's table? The one many experts felt to be superior? Alas, it was not the first, it was the second. And nobody wants the second one. Almost nobody. A mere $1.6 million. But man, what a bargain. It might be number two, but when it's this stunning, who cares? Obviously I share the tastes of buyer number two. Good job.