Style Court

Eight Years of Textiles, History, Art, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes

9.29.2008

Second Ingredient: Sincerity

To illustrate Vogue's second essential ingredient found in a well-mannered, harmonious home -- sincerity -- I've chosen some preview images from Michael S. Smith Houses. For years the designer has been on my short list of most admired, and when I briefly met Smith in person he seemed relaxed with a great sense of humor.

This humor, and Smith's true voice, really come through in his latest book. I treasure my signed copy of his first title, but the second edition has a soulful edge. He spends more time exploring his passion for cross-cultural design and the style to which he has always been true -- a sexy, laid-back take on English country.

And although Smith is known for using high-end fabrics and fine antiques, his interiors are enduring, flexible, and never need to be "updated." So, in a way, there is something frugal and very real about them.

In a few weeks when I put together my list of book picks for holiday giving, I'll share more on Smith Houses. (You will flip for the bedrooms and textiles.) For now here are some guidelines for sincerity as described in Vogue's Book of Etiquette, 1969. To me they echo Smith's approach.

"Sincerity in a house is simply the look of belonging so completely to its occupants that they are familiar and at home with everything in it. It is a true sense of values and a lack of serious pretense in any form."

Specific examples:

The most beautiful antique is made to be used as well as admired.

Ornaments are collected because of genuine interest and delight rather than current popularity.

Vogue says avoid displaying photographs of famous people you barely know; no decorative name-dropping; nothing solely for impressing others.

Choose everyday china that is "as pretty as your purse permits..."

Have fresh flowers even when guests are not expected.

Reproductions are fine when they are honest and not trying too hard; avoid the grandiose.

In the right hands a little obvious pretense can be light-hearted and fun: the frankly fake fur rug, enormous paper flowers. But in the wrong hands these things can "cheapen a whole room."

A sincere interior comes in all styles -- modern, minimal, layered. The point is that it feels real for the occupant.

"A wise client will never allow a decorator to tempt her into choosing any object, color, or pattern that has no meaning for her, or into discarding any possession she loves."

Image three is from Elle Decor

All others are ©Michael S. Smith Houses by Michael Smith and Christine Pittel, Rizzoli New York, 2008.

The top two images, again from the book, are renderings by Mark Matusak.

26 comments:

The House of Beauty and Culture said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The House of Beauty and Culture said...

Too long forgotten, this should be part of every design school's curriculum.

Style Court said...

HBOC--
Many rooms today are lacking sincerity, now that you mention it.

94stranger said...

In a rush but...
finding your blog makes me feel like Ali Baba after saying Open Sesame... I look forward to having time to browse. Thank you!

S. Adler said...

Vogue's wise words resonate -- as true today as they were in 1969.

I really had to comment on your first image. I am curious to know if the painting was done as a memento of one of Smith's rooms or was it created from the artist's imagination? The painting depicted above the mantle is Whisler's The Princess From The Land of Porcelain. She resides in the magnificent Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C. The wall in this rendering is clearly a take on The Peacock Room. Whistler created the room for Frederick Leyland's dining room --- in London. The story is quite amazing and I will really botch it if I try to recreate it here. The decorator (Whistler) went totally against his client's wishes and created this masterpiece of a room which now resides in Washington, D.C.

Style Court said...

94stranger --

What a fun comment. Thanks!

Style Court said...

S Adler --

Good question. Smith talks about his design, shown in the rendering, as a slightly bohemian take on classic English country with inspiration drawn from the Aesthetic Movement -- the Whistler painting, the bamboo, Chinese wallpaper, rattan chair etc.

I'll have to re-read to see if the rendering was part of a proposal, or something else. Thanks.

The Peak of Chic said...

Vogue summed this up quite well (and you did too!). Sincerity all too often gets thrown out the window during the design process. Can't wait to read the Smith book!

Style Court said...

Jennifer -- i think you will appreciate the references in the book to William Kent and Nancy Lancaster.

Ms. Wis. said...

The Vogue book sounds like a must read. I'm going to have to put it on my list so I will notice it should I be lucky enough to stumble across when I'm browsing.

In the meantime, thanks for another great post using it as inspiration.

And yes, Ms. Adler, I also immediately noticed the Whistler over the fireplace and thought how lovely to have a copy that size rather than making do with a poster. Then again, perhaps it draws too much attention to itself since it interrupted our enjoyment of the rest of the room?

Style Court said...

Hi Ms. Wis -- thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

At this point all I know is that Smith describes the room as a project in the Hamptons, with the other stylistic notes I gave above, and that he identifies the painting as a Whistler.

pve design said...

Sincerity and Authenticity go hand and hand in making a house a real home.

Mrs. Blandings said...

Courtney - I am truly enjoying this series. I was just in a home where people were ohhhing and ahhhing and one of my friends asked what I thought. Stylistical, lovely, but it could have been a hotel lobby. The entire first floor did not tell me one personal thing about its inhabitants. Failure all around.

Just pre-ordered Regency Redux and Michael Smith today - simply cannot wait.

Style Court said...

Patricia -- you always manage to be candid without being rude :) Were the homeowners around?

You will love both books.

Style Court said...

Oh and thanks!

Erin Sledd said...

"The most beautiful antique is made to be used as well as admired."

How true! How many people have I known with beautiful possessions that just sit in drawers, storage, closets . . . so afraid to use something that they might as well not own it at all.

p.s. the cover of the Beaton book is so very tantalizing . . . can't wait to find out what you find once you receive it!

Style Court said...

Erin as soon as I have the book, and can get a post together, I'll share!

Thanks for stopping by.

E. Floyd said...

This is a wonderful series! I am loving how you are culling the vital points and presenting them.

I have been following your blog for a while, I love it! Liz

Style Court said...

Oh how nice Liz. Thanks for letting me know!

Brilliant Asylum said...

I wholeheartedly agree with the fresh flower sentiment.

Ivy Lane said...

Loving this series..I am learning so much! I think my home is a little too contrived now that I read this.. YIKES! I am going to get to hanging my art and putting out my momentos.. see if that warms it up.. Your blog is always so inspiring and educational.. I too love the "Ali Babba" comment! So true! ;)

Style Court said...

Oh thanks Ivy!!

Chakra Pennywhistle said...

"The most beautiful antique is made to be used as well as admired."

Love this! Function is key, really. I think that whether something is antique or fabulously modern, when it has a useful purpose, it is icing on the cake. I really enjoy sharing a find and then saying, look there is more ;) Definitely automatic appreciation and smiles to follow. Plus, it is so darn pretty :)

katiedid said...

I am an avid admirer of Michael Smith and had the good fortune of meeting him and getting a signed copy of the first book as well! It is one of my favorite things. Wonderful post, and I look forward to seeing the newest book as soon as it comes out!

Style Court said...

Katie -- I know we both got such a kick out of meeting him! You are in California, though, and closer to so many of our favorite designers.

You will LOVE this book.

Cote de Texas said...

Where is my copy? And you met him and Katie too? I'm sooooo jello!