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.


  1. I love your writing style! If only my design history professors had this much humor and interest incorporated into their lectures... I might be more knowledgeable. Looking forward to seeing more!

  2. What a wonderful Blog. Great perspective!

  3. The Parthenon and Versailles - it doesn't get better than that. Can't wait to follow along on your new blog adventures - you're off to a cracking start!

  4. Where did the cabriole leg diagram come from? Is that the Chippendale directory?