inlaid furniture

Souvenirs of ShahJahan…Delhi and Agra in Instagrams

Taj Majal Agra India

I guess it’s not really fair to call this post ‘India in Instagrams’ as we only had a few days in New Delhi, ostensibly to “watch” our teenage daughters in a soccer tournament. While we did make it to the late afternoon games, the truth is it was an opportunity to dip our toes into the wonder that is India. Resplendent with color, in particular white, pink and green, it provided me with a jolt of energy after months here in the very beige desert. We managed to tack on a quick day trip to Agra for the Taj Mahal, because in the end, we needed to see that pearly resplendent monument itself, but I think we would all agree that it was not necessarily the highlight of our trip.

White marble was unquestionably one of the storylines throughout our days, from the incredible carved Mughal flowers in the walls of the Taj Mahal…

Mughal Flowers marble Taj mahal

…to the ongoing and surprising details at the nearby Red Fort in Agra – which is not at all just red! It seems apropos just after Valentines Day to mention one of the world’s greatest love stories – that of Shah Jahan building the Taj Mahal, over 22 years no less, as a tomb for his beloved wife. He was eventually deposed by his own son, but lived out his days confined to the Fort, with a perfect view of his masterpiece. Because Agra is not at all built up, some of the best views are from a distance, like those from the Red Fort and from the terrace of the Oberoi Hotel (more on that later).

Marble square Red Fort Agra

There were modern-day inspirations to be found everywhere, including this simplified arabesque floor pattern which I am planning to use as a model for a bathroom renovation back in Brooklyn.

Marble mosaic floor Red Fort Agra India

And speaking of marble and bathrooms, I must stop and mention one of my favorite places on the whole tour – the ladies washroom at The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi. This colonial era Art Deco masterpiece is on that list of historic hotels I have been carrying around with me and I was privileged to stay there this trip. The art collection and thousands of engravings that line the halls are worthy of a post of their own. But the ground floor loo with its bank of freestanding back-to-back sinks and mirrors takes the cake!

Imperial Hotel New Delhi Ladies Washroom Bathroom marble

We have all been told that pink is the navy blue of India and it is true. We could not stop snapping photos of the glorious pink saris everywhere, from the Sikh Temple in Delhi…

pink is the navy blue of india lady in sari

…to more subtly in Agra at the Red Fort.

Red Fort Agra Sari

Back in Delhi, we visited Humayun’s tomb which served as a model for the main building of the Taj Mahal. It was peaceful and relatively deserted, in great contrast to the aforementioned monument and therefore magical.

Humayan's Tomb New Delhi

In fact, other than the breathtaking moment when you first enter and the de rigueur perfect photo of the Taj, we often preferred the other sites for their mystery and mood.

Ladies at Humayan's Tomb New Delhi India

No trip to India is complete without shopping – and lots of it – so it is no surprise that green – the color of currency – was one of the other main hues of our visit. We hit many of the major markets including Khan market, Sundar Nagar and Santushi, along with a bicycle rickshaw ride through the streets of Old Delhi. I bought everything from Indian cottons – lots of scarves and kurtis at Anokhi and Fabindia – to carved wooden legs (custom ottomans anyone?) in the back alleys. I desperately wanted the stack of bracelets below, but you can imagine the price tag, so I contented myself with armloads of silver and a particularly delicate gold and raw sapphire necklace.  But all of that shopping was merely a distraction as I had come to India searching for one thing – Indian miniature paintings. At Sundar Nagar market, which sells bits and bobs of ‘antiques’ as well as all the lovely modern inlay furniture so popular today, I picked up a few fairly fine reproduction miniatures. In general these tend to be copies of famous original paintings done on old paper so as to give them a nice patina.

bracelets and indian miniature

In fact I had thought I might be content with my repros until we stopped in at the highlight of the visit, the home of Rohit Kaicker, also known as Gallery 29 Sunder Nagar. In all the rooms filled with spectacular artwork, this turn of the century painting of Shah Jahan himself on a background of malachite, surrounded by a border of Mughal flowers (remember the ones carved in marble at the Taj in the photo above?) screamed to come home with me from the very moment I walked in. I cannot recommend Rohit’s home gallery highly enough as prices are reasonable, his knowledge encyclopedic and seeing his home itself is worth the visit, although I guarantee you won’t leave empty-handed. I’m actually thinking Indian miniature paintings might deserve a post of their very own so let me know if that would interest you.

Indian Miniature Painting Shahjahan Taj Majal Rohit New Delhi Mughal Flowers

And for one more glimpse of amazing Mughal flowers I must share the living room off the terrace at the Oberoi Hotel in Agra. Anyone else would be sharing the view of the Taj from the window, but then I am not anybody else. I wanted to move right in here and stay, or at least try this in a project. Any takers out there?

Oberoi Hotel Agra Taj Majal Mughal Flowers

I must give a final shout out to Fiona Caulfield‘s Love India, billed as a ‘Handbook for the Luxury Vagabond’. This book was our bible, albeit a carefully annotated one by our dear friend Lisa who used to live in Delhi. Other cities in India appear in the series and I am tempted to buy them and dream. Be sure to notice the accent color 😉

Love India Guide Fiona Caulfield

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Mid-Summer at the Shore

montana purple sunset

Sometimes you just need a full on vacation. For the first time in four years I took one – from the blog, from social media (well, there was a bit of instagramming), from the kitchen renovation that’s just not quite getting off the ground, from everything. I took a physical one as well, traveling out to Flathead Lake in Montana with 27 other members of our family for a week of kicking back, riding horses and extraordinary sunsets. But the net result of the relaxing is that here we are at mid-summer and there is much to do and much to fill you in on.

An absolutely brutal winter here on the East Coast left gardens decimated. Mine fared better than most, but everything still suffered, most importantly the hydrangeas which bloom on the previous years’ wood. Unlike some neighbors, mine survived, but had very few flowers – no comparison with last year or even the year before!

beach house hydrangea summer 2014

The new Aleppo (Leila) inlaid tables from Serena & Lily (which arrived after we had left last summer) look amazing in the master bedroom.

beach house master bedroom inlaid night tables

A few local finds and a change of vintage duvet have been keeping things fresh.

beach master bedroom inlaid serena lily nightstands

I tried out a beautiful silk lampshade made from a vintage sari – Robert Kime style – from Xenomania in the East Village, but it was too big and matchy-matchy. By luck, I stopped into Just Shades on Spring Street on the day I was bringing it back and walked out with the perfect simple green shade instead, for about a tenth of the cost.

master bedroom lampshades

With my mind on the move to Doha, I never shared a few of the things that got accomplished right at summer’s end last year. The Bennison ticking trimmed valances in my elder daughter’s room, for example, which came out more beautifully than I could have imagined…

Bennison lilac ticking trimmed valence

…or the sweet art wall developing in the blue hall bathroom.

beach house blue bathroom art wall

It’s more than a year later and I am still kicking myself for passing up a $15 wicker headboard at a garage sale for my younger daughter’s bedroom. That’s all she needs, along with something like this Maine style pine painted cottage dresser. If you see either on Craig’s list or at your favorite shop, be sure to let me know!

wicker headboard Maine cottage pine painted dresser

Local antique stores here haven’t been as rich with goodies as normal and many have gone under, their land being redeveloped into condos or strip malls. I find it depressing but the truth is that the house needs very little outside of these few specific pieces so it hasn’t been a personal tragedy. I have stumbled into a new shop I quite liked, finding a great pair of 1855 Morris Gull prints (which will probably be added to the blue bathroom art wall)…

1855 Morris Ivory Ross Gull print engraving

…as well as an amazing antique lidded Seto porcelain dish (because of course, as one Instagram friend put it, I need MORE blue and white porcelain)…

antique Japanese Seto blue white porcelain dish lid

…and a salvaged mantel shelf that might be perfect for over the stove in the upcoming kitchen renovation (which hopefully will get started).

vintage antique mantle shelf

At the end of the day, the house here is so tiny that even an extra chair can’t fit. Found this diminutive charmer at my Brooklyn favorite Fork & Pencil, but it is going to have to make its way to a client’s house. There is simply nowhere to put it!

Fork & pencil brooklyn chair

And speaking of chairs, I’ve seen a pair of bergères her in New Jersey that look like they might be worth shipping back to Doha to replace the ones so unceremoniously taken from me.

vintage bergere NJ antiques

On a negative note, my vintage sink in the downstairs bath developed a rust bubble over the winter. I am in desperate need of advice on how I might repair/reglaze it. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

rust bubble vintage porcelain sink

I’ll be looking for more input on upcoming posts, including major decisions needed on new exterior paint colors. I’ll also be having a giveaway for a beautiful book on ukiyo-e by Fred Harris. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying your summer!

Eastern Dreams…Serdar Gülgün’s Istanbul Jewel

I don’t know what is different about this arrival and re-entry to the US, but somehow I can’t wrap my head around being here. Only seven hours of jet lag should be better than the usual thirteen, but it hasn’t been and that’s the least of my troubles. Perhaps its the pressing and unfinished business commitments back in Doha, or perhaps its the breakdown and subsequent immediate ticketing of my car as I entered the five boroughs? Maybe the tearing of my new (and very cute) dress by a careless woman on the subway or the breaking of a molar while eating some pretzels!?! Whatever it may be, my inconveniences, while actually quite small, have kept me from fully entering the mix here. On that note, I picked up the summer issue of Town & Country and was immediately transported back east by the opulent Turkish fantasy created by Serdar Gülgün in his Istanbul home, Macar Feyzullah Pasha – a home with a name like that should in itself prepare you for what is about to come! I’ve been making it a habit lately, being entranced by these extraordinary renovations and recreations, this one being a hunting pavilion built for an exiled Hungarian pasha in the 1850s. Lovingly restored by Gülgün, an interior designer, author and Ottoman art expert, the house features myriads of finds from decades of exploring Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. The massive antique Oushak sets the tone for the carpets to come while the light filtering in from all sides makes the space glow like a jewel box. Be sure to click the photos for large detailed versions.

T & C Istanbul entry

Proving yet again that there is nowhere that doesn’t benefit from a dose of blue and white porcelain, this entry vignette with its antique red Chinese tables, porcelain ginger jars, inlaid mirror and Islamic ceramic medallions from the Grand Bazaar is the kind of mix that references centuries of trade routes.

T & C Istanbul entry detail blue and white porcelain

Like the Lebanese houses I have written about before, the rooms open directly off of the central entry. Here the dining room is laid with a vintage suzani for a tablecloth.

T & C Istanbul dining room

The second floor is laid out in the form of a Byzantine cross, giving 360 degree views all around. The layering continues, but my eye is drawn to the pair of slipper chairs upholstered in a myriad of fabrics and ringed with bullion fringe, much like the ones I always love in Muriel Brandolini’s projects. I also spy a massive inlaid armoire (one of a pair actually!) in a study that contains Gülgün’s collection of antique embroideries and textiles. Can you imagine? While soaking up the rest of the details – carpets, calligraphies and accessories – be sure to note the delicate domed ceiling.

T & C Istanbul upstairs

A detail shot of the back study reveals that color combination I am loving lately, with lavender, yellow, light blue and grey/beige playing off with wood tones and mirrors. This makes my bedroom updates feel tame by comparison. And that Iznik pitcher has me swooning and simultaneously hoping in my earthquake sensitive way that it is sticky tacked to the pedestal.

T & C Istanbul LR detail

The global mix is evident again here in a series of bedroom chambers hung with Chinese ancestor portraits.

T & C Istanbul bedroom

The Belvedere is a private guesthouse house that sits above the main house with incredible views out over the city. An unexpected and bold color combination works in the light suffused space.

T & C Istanbul Belvedere

On my must buy list now is Gülgün’s and Laziz Hamani’s book, The Grand BazaarI haven’t been to Istanbul since my honeymoon, and it is only a four and a half hour flight from Doha, so I am thinking it needs to be revisited this fall.

The Grand Bazaar via Assouline

For more details and photos, see the entire article by Whitney Robinson, photographed so beautifully by James Merrell over at Town & Country. For a video walk through and interview with Gülgün (in French), take a look at Maisons d’architectes. And I’m off to pick up my car from the mechanic and allow myself to get absorbed back into my America life…at least for a while.

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Artist Spotlight…Inlay and the Orientalist Painters

Lawrence Alma-Tadema? The Drawing Room, Holland Park 1887

Lawrence Alma-Tadema? The Drawing Room, Holland Park 1887, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum (Bournemouth)

The Alma-Tadema painting from my last post is just one of many late 19th century works that feature an item of inlaid furniture. In that case, an inlaid Syrian chest figures prominently in a British home elaborately decorated in the style of the ‘the East’. Such furniture was also found in 19th century European paintings from a movement called Orientalism, which idealized views and scenes of the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. Wildly popular at the time of their creation, these paintings fell out of favor, much like the Pre-Raphaelites, only to be re-appreciated at the end of the 20th century. Along the way they have stirred up much controversy about the patronizing nature of Orientalist views, but I am going to leave the politics aside and just share the decorative aspect of the paintings.

John Frederick Lewis’ Intercepted Correspondence from 1869 was a painting I looked at and perhaps should have included in my post on Iznik ceramics and the language of flowers. In it, a young woman is caught before her master with a bouquet from her lover. Much can be said about this work, but it is the elaborate mashrabiya, the dowel latticework covering the window openings and the small inlaid table on the bottom right side that catches my eye today. Over and over again, the key props in the work of the Orientalists are these types of screens, Iznik tiles, elaborate carpets and textiles, pipes, musical instruments and of course, inlaid furniture. In all of the paintings below, each one has the ubiquitous inlaid side table somewhere – be sure to spot them.

The 19th century painters aren’t the only ones to have a fascination with the east, for example 18th century Swiss-French painter Jean-Étienne Liotard visited Istanbul and painted numerous scenes like the one below, a formal precursor to these later works.

monsieur-levett-and-mademoiselle-helene-glavany-in-turkish-costumes-jean-etienne-liotard

But the advent of easier travel and discovery created an insatiable desire for the exotic and painters were happy to comply. Lewis spent ten years living in Cairo, which gives his work a very authentic feel.

'Interior of a School, Cairo', by John Frederick Lewis, watercolour. Museum no.68-1890, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Arthur Melville, a Scottish painter, also traveled in Persia, Egypt and Turkey from 1880–82.

Arthur Melville, An Arab Interior, 1881, courtesy National Galleries of Scotland.

Austro-French painter Rudolf Ernst traveled to the Middle East in 1885. I am particularly intrigued by the bench in this painting as it is so reminiscent of the ones I recently purchased here. To see Ernst reusing his inlaid props over and over again, click here.

Rudolf Ernst

In 1858 English painter Frederick Goodall spent eight months in Egypt, and he returned in 1870. He continued with Orientalist themes throughout his very successful career.

Copt Mother and Child', by Frederick Goodall, 1875, watercolour. Museum no. 517-1882, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

One of the most common scenes painted was the interior of the harem and Lewis wasn’t the only one to paint it. These are clearly a fantasy view of the harem as the male painters would never have actually been able to enter the female spaces.

Frederick_Goodall_-_A_New_Light_in_the_Harem 1884

French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme visited Egypt for the first time in 1856. He too became fascinated with orientalist themes.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pool in a Harem c. 1876

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pool in a Harem c. 1876

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Orientalists and I only included paintings with inlaid furniture in them for the sake of brevity and cohesion. I’m sure I’ll be returning to the subject sometime in the not so distant future.

If these richly adorned spaces have caught your eye, you must take a look at Bill Willis’s work in the 1960s and 70s for Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge amongst others in Marrakech. There is a great piece in the The Wall Street Journal really worth perusing and exploring for anyone interested in design related to the Middle East and North Africa. The late Alberto Pinto has some amazing rooms (including this lavender one I am always going on about) in his portfolio and his hard to find book Orientalism. More recent fantasies include Veronica Webb’s Key West home in Architectural Digest and Howard Slatkin’s extraordinary Orientalist library in New York City.

And as for the actual painter of the Alma-Tadema painting at the very top of the post? I was utterly sure I was on to something and that his daughter Anna had painted it, so I dug deep and came up with this great post. It always feels good to be right! I also think I need to get the book she mentions, Artistic Circles: Design and Decoration in the Aesthetic Movement.

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Inlay Then and Now…Syrian Dowry Chests

In addition to checking out housing and schooling, I was busy checking out the antiquing here in Doha on my ‘look-see’ (expat speak for a pre-move approval visit) last spring. I trolled the alleys of Souq Waqif, the central marketplace selling everything from delicious Iranian bread to stacks of cushions to tie-dyed baby chicks but not much in the way of antiques (or so it seemed at this first perusal). I turned a corner and under a colonnaded walkway stood this inlaid chest on triangular legs. These Syrian wedding trunks or sunduqs are highly decorated with mother-of-pearl inset between fine tin wires and sometimes additionally ornamented with brass or bone. They are one of the more common shapes found among antique inlaid furniture and you can see, while their ‘official’ use is as part of a bridal trousseau, they can obviously be useful to store just about anything.

Credited to Dutch born, but lifelong English resident painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema, this 1887 watercolor of his Drawing Room at Holland Park is a painting I have long had in my inspiration files. Alma-Tadema was famous for his hyper realistic oil paintings of Ancient Rome, Egypt and other Orientalist subjects – he was called the ‘marbelous’ painter for the perfection of his technique in depicting said stone. His own home in Regent’s Park was decorated in the high Aesthetic taste, an amalgam of styles and objects referencing Ancient Greek, Pompei, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires as well as Asian countries such as Japan. This still life of the drawing room is a quintessential example of the artistic taste of the period, with its exotic objets, portiere and Pre-Raphaelite portrait, and its main highlight – the inlaid Syrian dowry chest. [As an aside, I think this was actually painted by his daughter Anna, as she painted the other watercolor interiors of their home and this is not at all in the style of his oils. Take a look here and here at works credited to her and here for a large catalog of Alma-Tadema’s classical paintings. Let me know if you agree with me.]

Lawrence Alma-Tadema? The Drawing Room, Holland Park 1887

What I love about the next image is how it shows on one hand, how much has changed in interior design, while on the other, how little actually has. While the overall look and palette may have simplified, the main players are the same in this bedroom designed by Windsor Smith for Veranda‘s Greystone Estate showhouse. The portrait above the sunduq is now an antiqued mirror – still in a luscious gilded frame. Exotic Asian objects line the top of the chest, in this case Buddhas, and the luxurious bed hangings stand in for the portiere.

In an even more paired down interior by Gerri Wiley in Traditional Home, the mother of pearl inlay sets a luminescent theme that is echoed in the chandelier, painting and soft silvery grays. I’m sure my Japanese glass fishing float junkies will notice the one bit of accent color.

inlaid trunk via veranda house

Los Angeles based designer Anna Hackathorn uses one to add texture to a grouping in a very California bohemian great room. I think the raised legs of these pieces are what make them so useful and easy to work with.

Anna Hackathorn inlaid dowry chest

Back on my home front, an artist friend here in Doha has created a modern still life with a Syrian dowry chest and her own work hung on a vintage wine bottle drying rack.

Inlaid syrian dowry chest

If you like the Alma-Tadema painting, be sure to watch for my next post featuring the 19th century Orientalist painters. They used inlay pieces as props all the time.

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