4/30/09

The Magic of Madeleine Castaing

A young and stylish Madeleine Castaing. Her nickname in France was "The Magician."
Photo: © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe *

An email surprise recently landed in the Topsy Turvy inbox with a resounding, "ding!" I do forget to turn the Mac's volume down sometimes, and when I hear it alerting me to an incoming email after I'm in bed at night, well, sometimes it's a little tempting to get up and take a look.

You may recall that photographer/cinematographer, Christopher Flach, completed a documentary over a year ago about the legendary French decorator and antique shop owner, Madeleine Castaing. He dropped us a note to let us know that the film is available through his website, so we talked a bit about how the project came to be:

Christopher Flach

CF: "I traveled to Paris frequently and often times would walk past her shop on à l'angle des rues Bonaparte et Jacob. Then one day I went into the shop and it was like walking into what one reads about in the newspapers or magazines ... it was the magic of Madeleine Castaing. I knew that I had to document this world. For me she was like Coco Chanel, simply timeless. Madeleine truly was an artist."

Antique shop of Madeleine Castaing in Paris (7th arr.) at the corner of rue Bonaparte et Jacob. Juin 1960. © Roger-Viollet. Photo by Francis Hammond for The New York Times.

"I directed and produced the film, and it stars Castaing at her best, thanks to vintage 16 mm footage kindly provided by Lord Cholmondeley of Houghton Hall, near Norfolk."



The film weaves the vintage footage with contemporary interviews of those who knew her, including ... French interior designer Jacques Grange ...


French writer, photographer and painter, Francois-Marie Banier ...

and Barbara and René Stoeltie, who have collaborated on numerous interior design books and articles, with Barbara as writer and René as photographer ...

Barbara Stoeltie, who, in the film, reportedly shares extensive recollections about Castaing.

René Stoeltie

... along with Stephen Sills, of Stephen Sills Associates (in my mind, a genius, who would be on my top 10 designer list – if I had one) ...



At only 34 mins. long, the film is described as being more about mood and atmosphere, inspired by Madeleine Castaing's love of Honoré de Balzac. The film portrays her Paris shop and her magnificent directoire manor house in Lèves, just outside Chartres.

By happy chance, a new book is just out, featuring Castaing's beloved Maison de Lèves, as well as two residences of Yves Saint Laurent, the renaissance chateau of Hubert de Givenchy, and much more. French Interiors: The Art of Elegance, by Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery, from Flammarion, is getting rave reviews, and, judging by these photos via the telegraph, looks like a must-have!

Lèves, with shutters in Castaing's favourite blue. Photo: © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe*

The writer Maurice Sachs described a visit to Maison de Lèves in the 1920's as "a dwelling full of whimsicality, invention, and audacity."**


French doors in the dining-room open onto luxuriously landscaped gardens. The carpet of leaves and berries was designed by Castaing. Photo © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe*

After looking at these photos, Castaing's love of nature becomes obvious.


In a bedroom, a swan-necked iron bed is hung with muslin. The walls are covered with Rayure Fleurie, one of several Castaing designs for fabric and carpets that are still available.
These rooms, ingeniously, have a wide-open feel – like you are outside in the garden – yet at the same time, they impart a sense of being cocooned in luxury. Photo © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe.*

A blue-silk 'indiscret' (circular sofa) from the Napolean III era and miles of leopard carpet in the circular salon. Photo © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe.*

The vestibule with muslin curtains tied high in the directoire style.
Photo © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe.*

A long view of the salon. Photo by Rene Stoeltie, via An Aesthete's Lament.

Another view of the salon, by Rene Stoeltie, via An Aesthete's Lament.

Castaing has become a cult figure, in spite of, or because she created "rave-review rooms with undistinguished objects, often of dodgy condition," and for "creating rooms that her followers describe as closer to art than decoration." **

"She used colors and patterns that make you wince when you hear them in the same sentence" ... "But when you see this house in person, you realize how perfect her taste was." Esther Brodsky, a client from NY. **

In a Topsy Turvy interview with French designer Bruno de Caumont last year, he talked about a similar fascination with the designs of Madeleine Castaing, and how his own work has been affected.

For those fluent in French and/or up for a challenge, Jean-Noël Liaut wrote a biography last year called, Madeleine Castaing: From Montparnasse to Saint-Germain-des-Prés (published by Payot). It is described as lavishly illustrated, if that is any incentive.

Portrait of Madeleine Castaing by Chaim Soutine, who was a close friend.
The painting is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


For a double-dose of artistic inspiration, I'd like to watch Chris Flach's film and then open up Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery's book.* Then ... just maybe ... I'll venture into the realm of Honoré de Balzac. I found some of his stories online translated into English and after reading a few paragraphs it became obvious to me that it is going to require some serious concentration just to keep up with the train of thought through those long meandering run-on sentences from which I can see right away Balzac's influence on the writing style of the great Jack Kerouac who sometimes wrote sentences that filled a whole page ...
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*From French Interiors: The Art of Elegance by Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery (Paris: Flammarion, 2009)
**nytimes
Photos not credited provided by Chris Flach
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4/28/09

James Rosenquist ... Starting Over

James Rosenquist in his Aripeka studio, 2007. Photo from ARTINFO.

"Everything's gone," world-renowned artist James Rosenquist said Saturday night. "Totally wiped out."*

This, after an 80-acre brush fire destroyed his home and studios in Aripeka, Florida over the weekend. The origin of the fire is under investigation and has been called suspicious.

Rosenquist is considered a leading figure of the pop-art movement. His work has been shown at the Smithsonian, the National Gallery and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Guggenheim organized a retrospective of his work in 2003 that traveled internationally. A couple of days ago he was preparing for a fall show in NYC; today, all of that new work is gone, virtually up in smoke, and none of it insured.


This view shows only a small part of the studio building. Photo from ARTINFO, 2007.

After being evacuated, JR could only watch the blaze from afar, from a friend's fishing boat out in the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately, no one was injured, but it's hard to imagine the devastation of losing part of a life's work and personal belongings, all at once. JR moved to this little patch of old Florida about 30 years ago, and built his residence and two airplane-hanger size studios.

Some years ago, I had the good fortune to visit the compound in the sleepy north-central coastal town. There are no pretty sandy beaches there, just acres of grass leading off the landmass into the water, with occasional paths for boats to access the occasional docks. JR had graciously agreed to an interview and photoshoot for Flair Magazine.

On the day of our meeting, he posed good-naturedly for lots of photos – most inside the massive, un-air-conditioned building where his largest paintings were located. He was kind and interesting ... all at once, a commanding presence and possibly a little shy ... musing about his life in NYC and parties with famous people. He seemed just a bit like a befuddled professor who didn't feel that he truly belonged in such heady company as, say, Marilyn Monroe. Perhaps that's why he has chosen to live and work in such a secluded area, surrounded by mostly "normal" folks. Of course, in his younger days, he lived and worked in NYC, with and amongst a group of revolutionary artists, such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Youngerman.

Mary Mulhern, JR and I, sweltering in the airplane-hanger-size studio in front of the still-in-progress, "Joystick." Photo by Will Staples. Mary was a free-lance writer at the time, but has since been elected to the Tampa City Council (in 2007), and is a great advocate for the arts in our community.

Unless "Joystick" had been moved, which I doubt given its size, it was destroyed in the fire, along with many other paintings and JR's prized Ferrari (usually parked inside the studio building, along with an old Mercedes or two). The only losses mentioned in news articles were a 133' x 24' mural commissioned by the government of France, and 15 new pieces for his upcoming show.

The entire painting: Joystick, 17' x 46', 2003, painted at Aripeka.

JR has several assistants who had their own studio spaces within the building, and I'm sure their work, paints and supplies were lost too.

From an ARTINFO interview in 2007: “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” (Rosenquist says as he considers the somewhat improbable trajectory of his life.) “I just feel lucky that I’ve been able to make a living by doing any damn thing I feel like.”**

"As a person gets older," ... "time gets more interesting. As a kid you waste so much of it."***

At 75, it must be a little overwhelming to have to start all over again. JR has talked about rebuilding, and says he will stay in Aripeka. Right now, I believe he is probably chatting with his friends at the local general store, sipping on a beer, and trying to muster the energy to get back to work.

I don't doubt he will, since, like most artists ... his work is his life, and his life is his work.

The catalog from his 2003 restrospective show in Moscow.

Rosenquist worked as a billboard painter, before he was able to support himself with his art. This experience was great training for the huge paintings he has become famous for.
This photo is from 1958, 47th St. and Broadway, NYC. Image from Rosenquist: Moscow.

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•tampabay.com
••ARTINFO
***tampabay.com
CBS news
MyArtSpace
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4/24/09

Avenging Picasso



In the 70s, art critics abhored the later-in-life works by Picasso ... he was widely considered crazy. But in today's art world, these rarely-seen paintings are being re-evaluated, and gaining new respect – largely because of an exhibition now showing at the Gagosian Gallery, in NY – Pablo Picasso: Mosqueteros.



You'll want to take a minute to watch this fascinating video. The show curator, John Richardson, talks about his motivation for bringing the show to NY, his connection to Picasso, and the artist's last years.

Picasso's work has always appealed to me – I love the strength of line and brushstroke, the bold color, and his unique point of view. I am plotting, right now, a way to get to New York before June 5.
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4/22/09

Meet The Designer: Elizabeth Martin

Image from Elizabeth Martin Design

I was recently introduced via email to the new Elle Décor "cover girl" – Elizabeth Martin. The work of the San Francisco-based designer is featured in Elle Décor's May cover story. The project: a 1907 Georgian Revival that Beth decorated for her friend, Ali Wentworth and her husband, George Stephanopoulos, in Washington DC.

Beth turns out to be bright, thoughtful, and talented – just the kind of woman you'd want to have for a best friend – or perhaps an interior designer. I was impressed, and thought you might like to meet her too.

Beth was gracious enough to chat with us about the project – and about design in general:

TT: Tell me about that hand-painted rug in the living room.
BETH: Originally when I conceived the design for the living room, I spec-ed a Zoë Luyendijk rug for the space. However, as we got into the project, we made the decision that we would forgo an expensive rug based on kids and dogs, and go with a simple bound-wool rug. As life happens – let's just say there were some accidents on the rug. After a proper cleaning, the stains in the rug were still visible. True to Ali, she does not throw out anything and she takes chances in experimenting (one of the many things I love about her.) She decided that she would create a pattern on the rug to disguise the stains … and this is where we arrived. (Pretty great.)


TT: This home is decorated in a style that I would call casual elegance. Is it family-friendly throughout?
BETH: Ali is one of the most unfussy people I know, as is George. Ali loves beautiful and interesting things, but she is not one for an overly designed home – that simply is not her. When I try to make something too specific within her homes, chances are she wants to deconstruct it. As example of this point, the shell book shelves seen in the living room: Originally I wanted to find a case to contain all her shells, only we could not find the right piece. She wanted to get her shells displayed immediately so I recommended what materials to use, how to put up shelves etc. Ultimately, when I saw the shelves, they were not entirely as I had specified. But the beauty is that they are perfect as they are – and are totally her and add to the “casual elegance” of the home.

The family-friendly part comes into play in that kids and dogs are allowed into every room in the house.

Save the living room rug, most of the carpets in the home are either textured or darker in color to hide dirt and stains. All the furniture is comfortable and livable for everyone as are the fabrics. You are not going to find a chair, say, that is so delicate or rare that if someone jumped on it, the concern would be damage.

The family room.

TT: Is this style similar to your own personal style?
BETH: Yes and no. There is not a job that I do that I don’t impart an aspect of my personal style or myself into the work.

Where my style and this design merge is in the refinement of some details, the funkier pieces, bold accents and use of color and pattern.

Personally, I am probably a bit more spare in the placement of objects, a bit more whimsical, and on the whole, this home is more traditional than my own style.

The master bedroom.

TT: The owner, Ali, is a friend of yours. How did that affect the design process?
BETH: Ali is a friend, and in the case of working with she and George, the process was/is easy. Understanding one's clients is probably the single most important aspect of any design job. I say this often: designing homes for people is about being in a relationship with them ... it is about knowing that you have listened to their wants and needs and in the end created a home that is inspired and that they hopefully love.

Once you understand your clients and how they move through life, the rest becomes easy and fun. Knowing someone well before working with them gives the entire process a jump-start.

Foyer, with table from Gregorius Pineo. Image from Elizabeth Martin Design

TT:
Ali, said that the color scheme was chosen based upon the favorite color (fuchsia) of her two daughters. Is this a first, in your experience - using a child's color choice as the basis for the decoration of a home?
BETH: I suppose so. Sure … but why not? I love it. Again this comes back to knowing your clients. Ali and George let their girls have a voice within their home, however young. Incorporating the wishes of the girls makes for an integrated happy place for everyone to live. The house has a balanced feeling throughout. There is not that delineation that happens sometimes in homes with young children ... of adult rooms vs. young persons' rooms. The pink – and color in general – is the thread that pulls one through the entire house.

I love when inspiration happens from the most unlikely of places … why not from a child? Pink is a beautiful color – and to make it work in a home where adults interact with children was great fun.

To be fair though, these photos do not show the whole color story throughout this house, in part because of the limited natural light at the time of shooting (one of the two days was particularly rainy and grey outside) and in part, the vignettes don’t show all the color in the rooms.) (Though I do love the photos.)

The office.

TT: Was it difficult to shift from CA-style to DC-style?
BETH: Not at all. Ali and George are young and fun and have two creative, energetic girls. They wanted that vibe reflected in their home in DC. The last thing they envisioned was the “typical, Washington DC- style” home.

TT: I'm reminded that the Obamas' choice for White House designer, Michael S. Smith, is also Calif.-based. Perhaps west-coast design is a new trend in DC. Do you think you'll take on more work there?
BETH: I hope so. I love DC and the surrounding areas. I love working outside of California, as much as being here in California – it's always about the challenge and the difference. Other than Ali and George, I have two other clients in DC.

The dining room.

TT: Tell me a little about a few of my favorite pieces in the house, such as ...

That table in the foyer:
BETH: I wanted a table that could withstand the wear and tear of backpacks, keys, mail, leashes, etc. I like the wrought iron base with the warmth of the walnut hand planking. It has a beautiful simplicity while being durable and has the high-style factor that Ali and I love. I wanted a round for traffic flow in that this is the heart of the home.

The vintage army cot topped with glass to make a table:
BETH: Ali and I share a passion for flea markets and antiques. When we decorate her homes together, we are forever on the prowl for interesting furniture and objects. This cot was found at a local antique store in Washington. I was looking for a long silhouette for the living room coffee table and saw this great piece. The cot fit the requirements and it had so much character and interest. I had glass cut to fit – and presto – coffee table.

The charming chandelier in the master bedroom:
BETH: That is a chandelier that Ali found herself and brought from LA.

The family room.

TT: I’m always interested in art, and how the right pieces can take an interior from so-so to exceptional – or the reverse. How do you choose the art for the homes you design?
BETH: It varies from project to project. In the case of Ali and George, they are avid art collectors and George has an unbelievable black and white photography collection, so working with their art was a pleasure and a definite starting point in designing each room.

However, when a client does not have great art, then I see it as my job to educate or “lift” a client’s understanding of how art can impact a space.

Specifically in choosing art for projects – I first show art that I know the client will like that is perhaps more on the “safe” side. Once I fulfill that requirement, then I show them the more interesting, daring pieces that as you say would take the room to being “exceptional.”

What is fortunate with my clients is that the art is generally bought toward the end of a project when the trust between the client and me is probably strongest. At this point my clients are much more brave, if you will, in their choices. Recently, in fact, a client said to me that a piece of art that she was originally pushing back against is now the most treasured item in the house. I love hearing this because it confirms that I am doing my job.

Image from Elizabeth Martin Design

TT: What or who has most influenced your own design aesthetic?
BETH: My mother, hands down. She is one of the most chic women I know – from her personal style, to the way she touches most anything. She has such a natural ease that I so admire in people and keep top of mind in most things I do, especially with design. When things start feeling too labored, I know I am in trouble.

She also taught me to find the beauty in everything … whether it is seemly something broken or tattered to something pristine and sparking.

TT: What designers do you most admire?
BETH: Here is a smattering: Paul Rand, Tony Duquette, Lulu de Kwiatkowski, Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, Alberta Ferretti.


Breakfast room. Image from Elizabeth Martin Design

TT:
Can you tell us about your goals or any projects in the works that you are excited about?
BETH: Well I do want to grow my business so that I am able to work abroad and travel internationally. I love all the variables that come from working in a different place and I love differences of culture. Working abroad would tie both of those things together and hopefully expand my vocabulary (literally and visually.)

I would also love to get into some sort of product design (eventually) ... though it will have to be the right thing. I don’t want to create more stuff just for the sake of creating more stuff.

And finally I want to create a non-profit organization to do with interiors and our elderly … it is an idea I have been tossing around for some time.

I have an exciting project in the works right now ... lets just say that it will be something that will help people in the planning of their homes and interiors and will de-mystify how interior design is done.

TT: What would be your dream project?
BETH: Designing George Clooney’s bedroom.

Whether or not she ever gets to decorate George Clooney's bedroom, I'd say we'll be hearing a lot more from Beth in the future. I do hope George is listening, however, and gives her a call ... she promised I could be her assistant for the job!
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Unless indicated otherwise, all images by Simon Upton for Elle Décor, 05/09.
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4/21/09

Free Shipping On All Orders

My blogging friend Wendy, has been burning the midnight oil lately, working fast and furious to get her new online shop up & running. (How many clichés can I use in one sentence, you might be asking?)

Formerly of Tonic Home, Wendy's Clayton Gray Home is a great online resource for an eclectic selection of stylish home furnishings and accessories. Click over and see what she has to offer – I think you'll find something to like.

One of my favorite items is this ikat pillow with jute fringe.

One great incentive to shop Clayton Gray Home - Wendy offers free shipping, all the time! You just can't beat that.

Oh, and until the end of month (4/30/09), enter code TOPSY10 when you place an order, and she'll take 10% off your entire purchase.

You're not there yet?

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4/14/09

How To Teach Your Children To Be Neat



Give them these charming and clever architecture-inspired storage cabinets and closets.
Custom sizes, styles and colors available, from 415 euros.

As seen on Interior Design.
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4/11/09

Redecorating the White House, Obama Style

Those crazy Obamas. They are re-inventing the roles of President and First Family – at a rapid clip – and we are ecstatic (along with most of the world, I think)!

The newest word on the street* is that the Obamas have decided they will not be using any public funds for the decoration of the White House residence, nor will they use any of the $100,000 allotment from the White House Historical Association. They will be funding the project entirely themselves, with the budget being kept private as well.

How refreshing!

Now it's up to Michael S. Smith to wow us with a design. (No pressure there.) Perhaps he'd share some sketches?
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*From New York magazine.

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4/10/09

Accessorize your home with a handbag

Is it a home accessory or a handbag? I think both.
These are a few of my favorites ...

Lauren Carpetbag is made of a Clarence House cut velvet and embellished with a removable plaid silk taffeta bow pin (not shown here). $325.00.

The Sophie Carpetbag is made of a luxurious Scalamandre cut velvet gros point, and embellished with an oversized removable silk taffeta bow pin. $325.00


Ritz Petite Carpetbag is made of a Scalamandre cut velvet. It wears a removable bow pin made of silk taffeta and trimmed with vintage millinery flowers (not shown here). $305.00.

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4/3/09

A Historic Weekend

I'm heading up to St. Augustine for a long weekend – re-connecting with an old friend from high school. It will be a historic occasion for Cathy and I (on a personal level), so what better place to meet! Cathy has always been an inspiration for me – smart and focused – and it recently occurred to me that, although we haven't spoken in about 20 years, her spirit has always been there, in my memories. That little voice in my head, constantly urging me to do better, to have the courage of my convictions, to think independently and apart from the crowd, I think has been Cathy's voice, speaking to me all along.

St. Augustine was founded forty-two years before the English colony at Jamestown, Virginia, and fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts - making it the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent. I don't feel quite so old now!

I thought I'd share some photos from a previous trip, a few years ago.

A street scene in the old residential area of St. Augustine, a couple of blocks from the Matanzas River. Narrow streets are lined with houses that are mostly hidden from view behind walls and fences, much like old European villages.

Copper lanterns flank a wooden gate with a charming dolphin door knocker. The wall looks like it could be coquina rock.

The somehow mysterious, circular peephole in this gate nicely relates to the design of the ornate wooden overdoor. The colorful patina is accented by a climbing wisteria (or is that a weed?)

Pink houses with wooden shutters always stand out to me.

This house, from around 1790-1800, is one of the oldest surviving Colonial structures in St. Augustine, and is made of coquina stone. The Murat House is named after its most famous resident, Prince Achille Murat, a nephew of Napolean Bonaparte.



Tim rounds a corner near the river. Thankfully, he is very patient while I'm dawdling, taking photos and looking at architecture and gardens.



In a shaded courtyard in Old St. Augustine Village, this interesting combination of square and octagonal tiles has a center pattern of decorative cement and glazed tiles. I had thought I might try to replicate this design somehow in my own landscaping plan.

The tile pattern, up close.

Another nice courtyard design with several shades of hexagonal tiles (concrete, I think), in Old St. Augustine Village.

I love peeking into walled gardens!

Symmetry, slighty off, in Old St. Augustine Village.

A boy and dolphins cavort on a fountain inside the Fountain of Youth Park. To taste the waters that are reported to bring eternal youth, visitors enter a Spring House – built around the famous spring to protect it from the elements. I'm still waiting for the effects to kick in, five years later.

Several peacocks live on the grounds of the park.

Hopefully, I'll have more photos to show next week when I return.

Photos by Topsy Turvy.
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Enjoy your weekend, and if you missed April Food Day, it's not too late to participate!

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