Showmanship and fantasy: the designs of James Mont

Mont suffered another financial setback in 1952, and his inventory and his own collection of Asian artwork was auctioned off to pay debts.6 He would rebound and continue to receive large commissions into the early 1960s. But time and tastes were working against him. Easygoing modern attitudes were at odds with the burly, often monumental scale of his work. Mont’s habit as a decorator was to cover every inch of space in his interiors, and that method began to seem overdone and confining in a day that embraced fresh and airy decors. Money was still a problem, the mob deserted him, and Mont drifted into obscurity. Today, his work has been rediscovered by a new crop of interior designers such as Kelly Wearstler and Thomas Beeton, who disdain sleek modernist design in favor of lavish, exotic, and ebullient mixes.7 Mont, the singular scoundrel-aesthete, would be pleased.

1 Roberta Maneker, introduction in Todd Merrill, James Mont: The King Cole Penthouse (Todd Merrill and Associates, New York, 2007), pp. 12–17; essay in 20th Century Decorative Arts Including Arts and Crafts, Christie’s East, New York City, June 10, 1997, p. 54; Mitchell Owens, “Godfather of Exotic Modernism,” New York Times, October 6, 1996.
2 20th Century Decorative Arts, p. 54; and John Karfo, interview by Todd Merrill and Erin Johnson, October 26, 2007. I gratefully acknowledge the help of Todd Merrill and Erin Johnson and thank them for providing the transcript of the interview with John Karfo, a nephew and sometime employee of Mont.
3 Maneker, in Merrill, James Mont, pp. 12–13; “Bail Is Increased after Accuser Dies,” and “Interior Decorator Convicted of Attack,” New York Times November 23, 1939, and January 18, 1940; Owens, “Godfather of Exotic Modernism”; 20th Century Decorative Arts, p. 54; and Karfo interview.
4 Quoted in Owens, “Godfather of Exotic Modernism.”
5 Maneker, in Merrill, James Mont, p. 13. 
6 Ibid., p. 16.
7 Author interview with Merrill. 

GREGORY CERIO is a regular contributor to Antiques.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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