Windsor Smith

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.

Related Posts
Thoughts for 2012…We Are The New Victorians
Is Blanc de Chine Chinoiserie?
Provenance: Inlay
Inlay All Over the Map…A Peek at my Collection

A Windsor Smith Revival…Camel-Back and Sheraton Style Sofas

So I declare that giant oversized couches and seating are officially dead. Not for me to decide or declare, but saying it anyway. Even Restoration Hardware has come out with that apologetic ad and its new Big Style, Small Spaces catalog. And as a side note, their baby and child line also has some nice smaller pieces like this iron Parisian side table I just ordered during their July 4th sale.

But back to the topic at hand! One classic piece that has fought its way back to the forefront of fashion is the camel-back sofa. Common as ice in Alaska in its big early 20th century revival, it fell out of favor as dated and grandma-ish, since everybody’s grandma had one! For me personally, it was designer Windsor Smith who led the charge in pulling it out of its old lady depths, with her oft photographed and changed example in her own home. In one of its earliest published incarnations it was a soft sea-foam green, partnered with that amazing Indian octagon coffee table I am perpetually obsessed with. I have to thank Kristen Kerr of Simply Smitten for the link to where to get one… But back to the sofa – it is the Gwen Curved Arm Sofa from Smith’s own furniture line.

Its most famous version was in her iconic pink living room, featured in House Beautiful and later put on the cover of their pink issue. I have this memory that designer Kathryn Ireland gave her the amazing blue embroidered textile she used to recover it, but I can’t remember if that is actually true.

The side angle view with that amazing upholstery job…

Here’s a later view of the same room. Sorry, while the wall art and inlaid chair are fabulous, this room looks absolutely bland with the modern sofa and table in comparison to its pink incarnation above. I love the wall color of both spaces, but wish the camel-back was still here in this one.

Never one to rest on her laurels for a minute, she is always changing things around. I am feeling too lazy to track the chronology of it all, but the ceiling moulding tells me this is a different room than the one above –  the sofa is now in her family room.

So not to get off topic into a Windsor Smith design crush or to fight with those who would argue it was Ruthie Sommers who resuscitated the camel-back on that very first Domino magazine cover – an equally valid argument in my book – I want to offer up the ready availability of these sofas in great condition at truly inexpensive prices in antique and secondhand shops around the country.  Pick a fabric, whether it be bold David Hicks style, ethnic embroidered, humble ticking, velvet, or even a more avant garde choice, and you’ll have the most modern, streamlined, practical piece for your home. The charm and comfort of them lies in the fact that almost their entire length and depth is devoted to actual seat space and not wasted on oversized puffy arms or big loose cushioned backs.

Camel-back is a casual name for a sofa with a curved center hump and scrolled arms, first encountered in the late 18th and early 19th century as the whole concept of sofas and settees was invented. Prior to that there were chairs, but the idea of sitting in comfort was new. Those three famous “cousins” Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite, cabinet makers in the late 1700s, were influential through the early to mid 1800s when styles changed, only to become popular again in the early 20th century Colonial revival craze. Those are the pieces that are easily found today.

This is how easy it is. Last week while doing the rounds at Point Pleasant Antique Emporium, I could not believe how many nice, inexpensive camel-back and Sheraton style sofas they had out on the floor.



And this was just one large multi-dealer shop! Produced in huge quantities for the last hundred years or so, those from the 20s-40s are the best made so don’t forget to shop your grandma’s attic.

I am not the only one with camel backs on my mind. Michael Penney recently sent a recovered camel-back on its merry way from his new shop – Penney and Company – covered in this fabulous blue ikat.

Ally over at From The Right Bank took a Sheraton style settee from this…

…to this, with some Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and new velvet upholstery.

You all know I have been drooling about Nightwood‘s deconstructed pieces for a while now. Katy Elliott just posted their custom Parker Sofa as an idea for recovering her family heirloom camel-back. The linen upholstery on this piece has such an organic feel.

It makes such a play on its own vintage-ness by having exposed sides (and maybe back),

I’ll follow up tomorrow with my favorite modern version of a Sheraton sofa, great for those who can’t bear the thought of buying one secondhand!

Related Posts:
More Real Locations in New Jersey…Antiquing Along the Northern Shore
Ume Blooming…Maybe Pantone Should Have Called Their Color of the Year Plum Blossom?
Wabi-Sabi Essence in Brooklyn, Courtesy of Nightwood

Image credits: 1-4. via Windsor Smith, 5. Veranda January 2012 via Simply Smitten, 6. Domino via Style Court, 7-12. me, 13. via Michael Penney Style, 14-15. via From the Right Bank, 16-17. Nightwood via Katy Elliott

New Sayonara Series…Mixing In Asian Pieces

This time of year, like always, is bittersweet. It is sayonara season in Tokyo as the school year comes to a close and people get ready to leave, some just for the summer but others forever. Jobs get reassigned back in the US or other home countries, or sometimes there are new assignments, new adventures in store for folks. I have had a flurry of new clients recently who want help sorting out what else they should rush to purchase and pack into their containers and more importantly, how to deploy it all when they get home. Many have entire households of furniture back in the States in a totally different style while others have filled their homes here with tons of Japanese and Chinese pieces that need some space inserted between them to feel fresh. I wonder if the word fusion is too trite to use these days – it is actually quite apropos – and honestly what this blog is so often about, but there is truly a need to fuse their items together to make a cohesive decorative whole.

As a result I am launching a new regular sayonara series, not meant to be comprehensive, but instead to a focus on an idea, a decorative item or answer a question from a reader specifically about integrating their old life into their new one. Since I attended a sayonara party last night – a “college graduation” party – that required me to dress as I did in college, which for me was an Indian print skirt (who else remembers Putumayo?) and Birkenstocks (which I have had to borrow as I forced my self to graduate from them years ago), I decided to focus on the mix of Chinese and Japanese antiques with Indian block prints and other South East Asian textiles to lighten them up. It doesn’t hurt that I have some of this mix going on in my TV room project at the beach house too.

This Chinese cabinet in an older version of Windsor Smith‘s bedroom is just the kind of piece that people living in Asia have purchased. Functional in any room, I love it in the bedroom where all the soft furnishings and fabrics can lighten its dark heaviness. The ruffled bed valence and mix of Indian block print textiles – in indigo no less – link through their shared exoticism to form a pleasing contrast. Vintage luggage junkie me loves the travel reference too that all the Louis Vuitton makes piled on top of the armoire. The graphic modern rug, which looks to be Madeline Weinrib, keeps the space grounded but is much fresher than a Persian.

Here’s the mix again in bedroom designed by Amelia T. Handegan for her South Carolina bungalow. The Chinese table (doesn’t everyone here have one?) and mirror play off the soft paisley of the bedding. The graphic black and white striped rug keeps the space modern and casual. Actually, Handegan’s entire cottage is an exercise in just the kind of mixing I adore and well worth scrolling through on the great new Architectural Digest website. She even repurposes an old Chinese table as a bathroom vanity.

For me personally, I have just scooped up a nice sized remnant of Michael Smith’s Devonshire for Jasper fabric, thinking the tiny print and deeply stained background will make nice pillows to add to the textile mix in the back TV room.

So send me your conundrums – include photos is if you can – and let’s start a conversation about how to integrate our wonderful finds into our larger decorative life. Cheers!


Today’s Treasure…Nautilus in Shades of Grey and White

Today’s treasure from the sea is most of a huge nautilus shell, with striations and gradations of white and grey. Together, they have always been my favorite color combination, so I have just pulled a few photos from my inspiration files to illustrate their beauty.

I am going to let the photos do all the talking…


The combo of rustic and industrial…

I love a fully stocked dish pantry – marble bust required…

The light and the perfect proportions make this dining room dreamy…


Same room, different view…


Sally Wheat’s famous kitchen – perhaps the most blogged about kitchen ever!

I am not usually a fan of exact symmetry, but this just works…


French linen and painted wood make this one of my favorite spaces…

A close-up of the ironstone jugs on the fireplace mantle…


The Scandinavians have pale grey down like no one else – both traditional…

and modern…


One word for this room – heavenly!


Windsor Smith outdoes even herself here with this combination of Bennison fabric everywhere and silver gilt Japanese screen…

In her own house, she creates the most divine skirted console…

Beat out in drama only by this one…

Just a sliver of cool on a hot summer night…

Image credits: Please excuse me a bit on this one as the credits are a mess. Many of these photos I have had in my files for years and never noted where they were from as I had no plans for them other than personal use.

1. me, 2. via Willow Decor, 3-5. unknown, 6. Sally Wheat’s kitchen via Cote de Texas, 7. Ginger Barber bedroom via Cote de Texas, 8-9. Red Chair house via Apartment Therapy, 10. via Skona Hem, 11. unknown, 12. via Grant White, 13. Windsor Smith via House Beautiful December 2010, photo credit: Victoria Pearson, 14. Windsor Smith via House Beautiful September 2009, photo credit: Victoria Pearson, 15. via A Perfect Gray

Ume Blooming…Maybe Pantone Should Have Called Their Color of the Year Plum Blossom?

Perhaps I am a little late to the party as many bloggers have commented on Pantone‘s choice of a bright pink called “Honeysuckle” for Color of the Year already, but nonetheless, I cannot resist commenting. I don’t really see honeysuckle in the vibrant pink – usually I associate it with yellow or golden orange. Instead, I am thinking of the mid-winter ume (plum blossom) opening now against the cold, the first sign of winter’s turn towards spring. That is the bright pink they are talking about!

I think this kind of plum blossom pink looks best with the colors it appears with in nature – the blue and white of the sky and the dark brown of the branches. Decorating with pink has to be handled carefully. Pink unmoored, or paired only with white can look little girlish or nursery-like. But handled correctly, it can be sophisticated and warm. In this post I think I’ll start out as saturated as it gets and slowly take it down….

Mary McDonald is a master of intense color and in this bright pink hallway she pulls out all the stops with walls and upholstery covered in matching shades. The key to making all that pink work? The contrast of the gleaming mahogany, the zebra rug and all the blue and white porcelain. The golden chinoiserie mirror doesn’t hurt either. This is an entry that lets you know you’ve arrived!

Jonathan Berger uses Benjamin Moore’s “Razzle Dazzle” in this Brooklyn entryway. It’s a bold move that not all could live with, but it certainly jazzes up this small space. Note the blue and white porcelain (again) and the brown needlepoint upholstered chair, white paneling and dark stair risers, all of which help to balance the brightness of the shade.

This Windsor Smith living room, featured in the September 2009 issue of House Beautiful is one of my absolute favorite rooms, both in terms of the colors and the furniture. I have been tracking that scroll arm sofa and painted Indian coffee table through many variations in her homes and designs…Click here to see an earlier incarnation.

In the course of writing this post over the last weeks, I heard through the grapevine that the March 2011 issue of House Beautiful was going to feature pink. Guess how surprised I was to see this same living room as the cover feature! Am I wrong in thinking it is fairly unheard of for a major publication to feature the same space twice, without any major design changes??? Of course the issue has been on the newsstands for days now in the US, but I have yet to see it. This post may need a follow-up once I do! [Quick addendum: I got my hands on a copy and it featured “Ten Rooms They Couldn’t Forget”, so it was the exact same room from the original photo shoot. I guess they wanted to do a “pink issue” but it must be difficult to rustle up many new projects with pink in them. It actually made the magazine feel more like a blog post…kinda like this!]

Too much pink for you? Moving the pink off of the walls and onto the major upholstery and fabrics might be the way to go. Here, in another interior designed by Mary McDonald, pink fabrics play off the soft blue walls, and lots of wood furniture softens the design. Gotta love those bamboo armchairs, and, once again, the blue and white porcelain. [In reality, this room is red, and only looks pink in the photo. But lets all pretend anyway, since I think it is softer and prettier in pink!]

This Schuyler Samperton designed project has heavy wood beams that balance the vivid pink fabrics…or perhaps it is the other way round and the vivid pinks brighten and lighten up a heavy beamed space. Here turquoise has been used as the major accent color, along with woven rugs from Texas as a throw and upholstery, giving the room an updated ranch feel, slightly Southwestern. See Style Court for more photos of this room.

Another home that has influenced me and scores of others is Alayne Patrick’s Brooklyn home. Using amazing textiles and colors from India, she has put together a pink and white dhurrie, dark tropical feeling blinds and a cane daybed piled with pillows. I’d love my TV room/guest room at the beach to have this kind of feel.

Patrick’s Brooklyn shop Layla has the same vibe as her home. I spent quite a bit of time there over the holidays searching for the perfect throw pillow. They reopen today after renovation and I really recommend a visit!

Sometimes a little goes a long way, as in actress Rashida Jones’ Manhattan studio, cleverly made over by Domino. The antique Persian helped set the palette with magenta and blue accents. White paint ties otherwise disparate furniture together and the wood edge of the sofa and touches of black ground the color scheme. Pale blue walls give the tiny space an expansive sky-like feel.

Would Rita Konig’s chair and her entire apartment actually, be the same without that shot of magenta? Again, a pale grey blue wall, soft as a cloud white window treatment and bits of dark wood in the frames.

And finally, for those too afraid of a real pink commitment, I give you Deborah Needleman’s bedroom…All the components are there, it just takes that pink scarf to pull it together.

This can also be done with flowers, particularly a big bunch of pink peonies or some beautiful branches of plum blossom. I am cheating here, as these are actually redbuds, but you can get the idea…

The only downside to picking a “Color of the Year”? Calling anything “in” always implies that there is an “out” coming…

Image credits: 1. Pantone, 2. me, 3. Mary McDonald, 4. House Beautiful July 2009, photo credit: Francesco Lagnese, 5. House Beautiful September 2009, photo credit: Victoria Pearson, 6. House Beautiful March 2011, 7. Mary McDonald via mydeco, photo credit: Miguel Flores-Vianna, 8. Schuyler Samperton via style court, photo credit: Lisa Romerein 9 & 12. Domino May 2007, photo credit: Melanie Acevedo, 10. The New York Times, 11. Lonny Magazine October/November 2009,  photo credit, Patrick Cline, 13. Domino March 2006, photo credit: Mikkel Vang.

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