July 29, 2009 | This week I came across a Georgian armchair that was recently offered at Christie’s South Kensington in a sale aptly titled “An English Look.” This chair—with its intricate fretwork, japanned wood, and fanciful imagery—typifies the style of chinoiserie that was popular in the decorative arts beginning in the 17th century as trade brought exotic new wares from Asia to the West. In the 20th and 21st centuries, designers ranging from James Mont to David Hicks to Kelly Wearstler have incorporated Asian motifs in fabrics, furniture, and carpets—often enlarging the scale for a bold and graphic effect. The vigorous design of the pierced back on this circa 1760 chair reminds me of the contemporary vogue for complex interlocking geometrics, while the sharp angles create a lightning bolt effect. Inspired by this imagery, here are some new finds that are, quite literally, striking:
July 9, 2009 | This week a striking pair of candlesticks that sold last week at Skinner auctions in Boston caught my eye. Here the brilliant amethyst glass has been molded into an art deco rock formation, reminding me of the current vogue for facets in furniture and design. The natural formation of rock crystal, both angular and irregular, has found translation in everything from West Elm side tables to high-design light fixtures, but it's the amethyst color of these candlesticks that feels of-the-moment to me. Purple often carries royal associations and definitely surged in popularity during the 1980s (think purple taffeta Scaasi cocktail dresses), but it waned as minimalism surfaced in the next decade. In 2009, however, the craggy quality of our inspiration pieces brings humility to the color and reminds me of several items on the market: » More
June 18, 2009 | This week I've turned my attention to a lot of three Chelsea porcelain plates dating from the late 18th century that are coming up for auction on Saturday June 20 at Pook & Pook in Downington, Pennsylvania. Each plate is decorated with leafy branches and tiny ladybugs and butterflies that capture the playful and animated side of the natural world. The smallest plate has even sprouted an organic twig-formed handle. Botanical motifs are nothing new in the decorative arts, but I'm drawn to the combination of naïve simplicity and modern asymmetry in this particular design. I also find the mix of teal blue and kelly green leaves on a single leaf or branch especially compelling—pairing adjacent colors of the spectrum feels fresh from a decorating point of view. Focusing on the leaf motif and leaving out the critters (a big trend from a few years back), let's take a look at some pieces that capture the plates' cheerful, garden-grown exuberance without veering into botanical kitsch:» More
June 10, 2009 | As a decorator I can tell you that fireplace accessories are usually a bit of an afterthought, but the exceptional andirons at right could serve as inspiration for an entire room. Made at the turn of the last century by Roycroft, the arts and crafts workshop founded by Elbert Hubbard in East Aurora, New York, this pair comes up for auction on Saturday June 13 at Rago in Lambertville, New Jersey. They exemplify the fluid decorative style found within that design movement, however, at first glance, the andirons’ graceful filigrees remind me less of the organic prints of William Morris, whom Hubbard idolized, but rather of Gilbert Poillerat, the French furniture designer whose wrought iron masterpieces epitomize my idea of 1930s luxe. Swirls, spirals, curlicues—whatever you like to call them—are popular motifs in today’s design market. All together the following items might make a dizzying ensemble, but a swirling gesture here and there never hurt anyone! Let’s go for a twirl:» More
June 3, 2009 | This week I'm taking inspiration from a remarkable quilt that will be up for auction at Skinner's American furniture and decorative arts sale this weekend (June 7). Dating from the turn of the 20th century, the design of this pieced wool quilt is comprised of four-point stars set between thirty-five full circles and ten half circles—known as a "moon and stars" quilt—that creates a bold pinwheel pattern. It strikes me as very of-the-moment, and not just because summer is around the corner (think beach balls and umbrellas), but also because folk art has been enjoying a recent renaissance at retail stores like Anthropologie and Wisteria. While a full-fledged colonial revival is probably not around the corner, I've noticed more than a few items that embrace the homespun look and cheerful folk motif of Skinner's unique quilt. Let's take a look:
Kazaguruma pendant lamp by Kozai Designs, price on request. This fixture, rendered in bent cedar, literally embodies the pinwheel shape, and casts unique patterns of shadows and reflections. The clear finish allows the simplicity of the design to shine.
[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi» View All