Friday, October 11, 2019

MGM Style - Cedric Gibbons and the art of the golden age of Hollywood

 As long time readers of this blog may remember, I'm a huge fan of movies, particularly classics. A large part of that fascination may be for the sets and the most famous set designer is, of course, Cedric Gibbons. Of the many exciting books out this fall, one looks into his life and work, MGM Style, by Howard Gutner.
Filled with beautiful photography, a lot are of movies I've never heard of.  Not only was Gibbon's career prolific it was long-lived.  Even movies where he isn't listed as designer he was still the head creative director of all MGM pictures.  While he's primarily known for movies from the 30s & 40s, he was working until shortly before his death in 1960.
While MGM promoted him as a son of architects and a trained architect himself, this glossy version was far from the truth. Despite a lack of education he went on to have one of the most influential design careers of the 20th century. Gibbons even designed the Academy Award's Oscar statuette in 1928 (as well as his own notorious house)!
When one thinks of art deco, one immediately thinks of the movies and sets such as these; a look defined by Gibbons.
Remember Crystal's bathtub in 1939's 'The Women'? Gibbons!
Above is the aforementioned house Gibbons designed for his glamorous wife, Dolores Del Rio. You may remember the house from Architectural Digest where it was recently featured after an extensive renovation. Read the story HERE.
I was very excited to receive my copy of this book, a must for any design library of both film buffs and early 20th century design!
All images courtesy Lyons Press

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Landmark Trust chateau -or the most perfect little house in the world!

On my recent vacation spent touring English country houses one of the best decisions was to rent a property from The Landmark Trust. The Landmark Trust is a charity that rescues important buildings that would otherwise be lost. The best part?  They then make them available for rent to help fund their enterprise; Most brilliant idea ever! 
We rented a mid 18th century lodge in the shape of a French chateau built by a local lawyer as his weekend getaway bachelor pad. This central UK location in Lincolnshire provided a spot to explore 8 different country houses within 8 days;  each being only about an hours drive away.
A full history is made available for all of their rentals online, some of which are quite interesting. The draw here though isn't the history but rather the bucolic setting overlooking the River Trent and surrounded by 100s of sheep and other wildlife.
Bunnies in the backyard and sheep in the frontyard (is this a country song?).  I could have stayed here forever. Having perfect early June weather didn't hurt.
Above: Looking back towards the house from the river.  The most perfect siting for the most perfect little house.  The house was basically a ruin when the Trust took over in 1982. Architect Philip Jebb worked with the Trust to restore what was left but basically rebuild the Grade 2 listed property and update with modern kitchen, bath, etc.  Read more about that HERE.
 Perfectly situated table and chairs to admire the view of the River Trent.
 Shall we go in?
One enters a few feet below grade into what originally was service space,unconnected to the rooms above on the main floor. During the renovation an interior staircase was inserted into one of the small wings.
This lower level has all of the basic services still; bathroom, mechanical space, a kitchen, and storage.  Upstairs on the main level are the living spaces.  Plan from the Landmark Trust website - all of their rentals include floorplans which make for a lot of #floorplanporn!
On the interior the only original elements are this octagonal stone floor which instructed how the space was to be laid out and the fireplace stone upstairs.
Expenses were not spared in creating the quality of space downstairs that one expected from the main level -including this really charming lattice work. Above is the dining nook. Notice the integrated wood interior shutters on all of the windows. All the furniture is antique with vintage light fixtures which add to the charm.
This compact kitchen had everything needed to make a full meal: oven, range, refrigerator, and an enormous selection of cookware. The most perfect countryside view from the kitchen sink was a bonus. The rather complicated oven turned out to be great: toaster, microwave, and oven all in one!
The side wing on the lower level was fitted out as a dressing room / storage which was very useful in keeping clutter at bay.
 Heading upstairs into the high and light filled living space was always a tiny thrill!
But turning around in the stairwell one was rewarded with a view of the river and a nuclear power plant which cast a beautiful red glow at night. While at first the power plant view seemed rather strange and out of sorts in the bucolic setting(in the far distance a few miles away), it quickly became one of my favorite things about this quirky little house.
The down-filled comfy sofa was incredibly comfortable and the little tables were great to move around to hold your book, cup of tea, or even a meal of cheese and crackers. The only music was provided by opening the French doors to the bahhing of the neighbor sheep which provided endless hours of entertainment, particularly the lambs!
A little bedroom nook mirrored the staircase. My one complaint is only one of the windows was left open with the other 2 covered by sheets of painted plywood.  One would have felt as if in a treehouse with windows on all 3 sides of the bed (refer to photos in the beginning of the post and the floorplan to see the windows on the exterior). This is easily reversible.
The proportions of the room were so perfect I measured them for future reference! 4' wide double doors and a 13' tall coved ceiling just for the record. 
 All of the interior trimwork is new in a typical Georgian style as a guess as to what would have been here originally: notice the wide plank wood floors. Deep windowsills hold the interior shutters and radiators.  The only original detail in the space is the stone fireplace surround.
 At night it was a cozy place to light a fire and enjoy a book or game of cards. As it was June daybreak was at around 4am and it stayed light until nearly 10:30 at night!
I highly recommend a stay in any Landmark Trust property but in particular The Chateau!!
All pictures my own, floorplan via the landmark trust website. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

A visit to Winterthur

As I mentioned in my previous post, Costuming the Crown, a few weeks ago I went to visit Winterthur, the renowned museum founded by Henry Francis duPont.  The house had been his family home which over decades he slowly transformed into an enormous museum housing his world class collection of early American furniture and decorative arts.
Now as one can imagine this method of enlarging any building can result in a building that is at best cacophonous and some might say a hot mess. I know calling beloved Winterthur a hot mess may not be the most popular opinion to hold, but architecturally speaking can anyone suggest otherwise?  The collection is world class, the interiors are superb with the best quality of lighting I have ever seen, but the building itself is not so good.
Two photos above you see the original front entry which had been abandoned from that use and now acts as the conservatory door.
This isn't a pretty house museum and no one is visiting for the architecture; See the elevations above which I found on Winterthur's blog to prove my point. This house is all about the interior.  As Frank Lloyd Wright suggested "A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines" and that seems to be the approach taken here: one cannot fully see the house due to the lush trees and planting.
However the interiors are strikingly lovely and really that is why one visits. Above is the Chinese Parlor, obviously named after the 19th century wallpaper, which is one of the favorite rooms in the house. My favorite part of any tour are the stories about how the family lived. I love that they keep fresh flowers in the rooms and show faux martinis and hors d'oeurvres (period appropriate to the early 20th century of course!) which make the house feel alive.
Watch a great tour of the room with Bob Villa on youtube HERE.  As I visited in summer the famous green damask upholstery was seasonably covered in yellow slipcovers. The duPonts had cocktails before meals in this room.
The family moved out of the house in the 50s so it could be totally converted to museum use, and many of the other spaces don't show their original purpose as they have become more institutional. The small anteroom below is seen on the plan above just north of the 'empire parlor'. Another example is all of the guest baths have been gutted to show more of the collections as well.
The Baltimore drinking room, named after the suite of furniture, features another 19th century scenic wallpaper, 'Paysages Italien' by Desfosse & Karth.
The China Hall features beautiful built-ins showcasing the porcelain collection. The china in the cupboards below belonged to Martha Washington and is a larger collection than the one at Mt Vernon. 
The immense scale of the building creates some strikingly lovely enfilades.  Notice the subtle lighting creating warm pools of light - #goals.
The stairhall features another beautiful scenic wallpaper.
This lovely green space is the candlestick room but would make an excellent butler's pantry!
As I mentioned previously Winterthur takes great pains to recreate life as it was in the early 20th century for the duPonts.
The number of rooms and fireplaces are staggering. Although very different, this collection of period paneling and architectural pieces does bring to mind another early 20th century collector, William Randolph Hearst (of Hearst Castle fame).  Winterthur does not like that comparison -haha. I however love Hearst Castle (see my myriad posts on that house in the search box in my sidebar).
The 'Empire Parlor' (seen on the plan above) is charmingly set for the duPont daughter's childhood birthday party.
The rather stiff Marlboro Room is set for afternoon tea with an impressive display of silver.
One of the masterpieces at Winterthur is the Montmorenci staircase which was taken from an early 19th century North Carolina mansion and rebuilt at Winterthur, described as the largest freestanding spiral staircase in the United States.
The stair is really quite the thing!
As you can see from the swimming pool in the photo below, the house is kept well hidden behind lush trees.
I do love this figural pool filler!
My favorite part of the grounds however would have to be the teahouse in the backyard (note the classroom and library space beyond).
The view of the teahouse from the lower garden feels like part of a fortress.
Inspiration is everywhere - the floors to the changing room in the poolhouse were the most lovely combination of brick and slate.
Winterthur is open most days of the week and I highly recommend a visit!