Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Eyes Wide Open

[Photo by Francois Halard from Kelly Wearstler's Hue published by AMMO 2009.]

Kids don't pull crayons from the box because a certain color is in good or bad taste, worry about whether or not colors clash, or collect rocks for their provenance. Sheer visual pleasure seems to be what guides children.

[Photo by Annie Schlechter from Kelly Wearstler's Hue published by AMMO 2009.]

When it comes to creating a home, I think adults often get so caught up in trying to define their style and in analyzing what kind of statement they're making -- i.e., modern, bohemian, classic, smart, sophisticated, edgy, different from their parents or just like their parents -- that they loose the joy.

[Shards collected on the beach in Naples by artist Zuzka Vaclavik.]

Furniture, landscaping, renovations -- it's all incredibly expensive. So of course it's important to read, collect the tear sheets, and educate one's eye before making an investment. But at the same time it can be helpful to step back and save pictures of more abstract things: textures and colors that you've loved since age three, maybe even favorite plants or animals. Many professional decorators talk about keeping an inspiration box or drawer filled with found objects including ticket stubs, pebbles, seashells, bottles of nail polish, museum postcards and so on.

[Photography by Paul Costello, design by Miles Redd, art direction by Sara Ruffin Costello as seen in Domino, April 2008.]

One of the more popular concepts of the past decade was "home should make you happy," credited to Jonathan Adler.

[I love the playful touch of the striped modern hard hat on the classical bust in Chicago-based historian Bart Swindall's apartment as seen in O at Home, fall 2008. Photography by Roland Bello.]

Maybe the reason many of us can't stop talking about Miles Redd is because he infuses his elegant projects with such a sense of adventure. And he doesn't need a vast estate to create a feeling of wonder. While he keeps the furniture timeless, the rooms are always fun. (Betsy Burnham does this too.) Often the magic comes in with accessories, dynamic art, or an unusual wall treatment. Last year when I interviewed gallerist Emily Amy, we talked about a new frontier for many people -- sculpture.

[Image above is from Paris Rooms by Stephen Mudge, Rockport 1999.]

She said, "Many people think that sculpture can be difficult to place, but it adds so much drama to an interior. You don't have to think of sculpture as large scale bronze statues though...there are many great smaller sculptures that could fit on bookshelves or a console table to add great interest to a room."

[Photo by Grey Crawford from Kelly Wearstler's Hue published by AMMO 2009.]

To let go and simply look at shape, texture, and color, movies are a good place to start on a cold, wet January day.

[Photo via Anthropologie.]

Redd uses history as a jumping off point in his work and Janet Blyberg just mentioned how refreshing she finds pastels after Christmas, so that, along with all the pretty macaroons I've been noticing in Hue and Anthropologie's January catalog, made me think of Sofia Coppola's candy-colored Marie Antoinette.

(Also Whole Foods did not receive their usual shipment of New Year's Eve peonies, thus a Marie Antoinette viewing will probably have to serve as my flower fix this week.)

[Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette from IMDB.]

It may seem contradictory in a post about the joy of looking to introduce serious analysis, but I've been very curious to know what scholar Craig Hanson thinks of 2006's Marie Antoinette. Coppola wanted to avoid what she has described as the sepia toned look of many period films, and, for better or worse, she adventurously used vibrant imagery and 1980s music to draw parallels between the 18th century and our own era. Hanson generously took time to share a link that represents typical criticism of the film, then he explained why he, to some people's surprise, liked it.

"Whether she succeeds or not, Coppola was, I think, trying to find a cinematic equivalent of an 18th-century aesthetic. In other words, faulting her for not being historical enough is misleading since the whole project was apparently about finding a diachronic visual response. What happens when the 18th century collides with the late 20th century? I think the collision was all about trying to see if there might be some common connection (however loose in terms of a sensibility).

Again, I'm not sure how successful that project was, but I do think she should get more credit for the experiment than she did in many quarters...telling history wasn't exactly the goal. Yes, it may ultimately be eye-candy, but only if you think eye-candy was actually quite important philosophically for the 18th century (as well as our own)."

If you want to have a private weekend film fest of visually compelling movies that relate to the 18th century, Hanson suggests The Madness of King George, Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, The Duchess, and Amadeus.

[Screen grabs from Bright Star directed by Jane Campion.]

Interestingly, though, Hanson says he isn't sure if the films noted above offer anything quite like Bright Star, which takes place during the early 19th century.

"Obviously, different aesthetics are at work in the 1760s and 1820, but that's not quite what I mean. I think what's so striking to me about the Campion film even now is the degree to which it evokes a period when things were made by hand. My hunch is that it's difficult for lots of people to appreciate the Rococo (or even Neoclassicism) because they fail to see this ornament as the direct result of artisanal skill. Rather than seeing wood, bronze, silver, and gold transformed into something fantastic, they just see 'gaudy' as a category that they associate with bad machine imitations."

[Click here for the YouTube video.]

He adds, "An 18th-century film that slowed down a bit and juxtaposed exquisite beauty with the ordinariness of life (the strange juxtaposition of extraordinary dresses and [chamber pots] being emptied in the streets) is one that I could get excited about."

Dr. Hanson also recommends: and

Update 6.8.11

More thanks to Dr. Hanson for sharing a link to a fascinating article by Suzanne Ferris and Mallory Young: Marie Antoinette, Fashion, Third-Wave Feminism, and Chick Culture, Literature Film Quarterly (April 2010).


Project Runway for Chairs

[Michael Smith design photographed by Michel Arnaud as seen in Michael Smith Elements of Style.]

Chair slipcovers with feminine dressmaker details were especially popular in the 1990s, and obviously in many circles they've never fallen out of favor (Suzanne Rheinstein is a fan), but by nature they are breezy and laid-back and therefore, some might say, at odds with the clean-lined mid-century-modern aesthetic and high glamour that dominated the last decade.

Although I'd say the Michael Smith-designed slipcover shown here is as chic as a Vera Wang. (Note the expansive window in the image at the top; this L.A. house was designed by architect Paul Williams.)

[Above, Dan Carithers, Caroline Ritter and Mary Elizabeth Stevenson photographed by Deborah Whitlaw for Southern Accents. Below, a Cheryl Dalton photo from the same issue.]

Cotton or linen slipcovers are very Southern too. Historically they were used during long hot summers to make heavy velvet-upholstered furniture cooler to the touch. Since they are also typically associated with the country house look, slipcovers sometimes get the granny label, but again, if you think about all those discreet slits that reveal a hint of the chair's frame, they are kind of sexy.

Apart from the potential to be easily washed (if a slipcover is made from machine-washable fabric it can be laundered frequently at home), slipcovers have appeal because they can lend a softer, yet impermanent, dressed-down appearance to a fussy piece. For example, an ornate damask-covered gilded chair inherited from a great aunt that just isn't your style.

And they allow you to change a room's look without buying new furniture.

Just know that, depending on the amount of fabric needed and the couture details you may choose, having a slipcover made can cost the same as (or in a few cases more than) full on upholstery.

For Christmas my parents gave me some Peter Dunham fabric, Kashmir Paisley in peacock (not going in the blue room seen here). To maximize the print's border, I'm going to have a chair seat slipcover made, as well as little covers for the arm pads. Like choosing a dress, pondering all the options is half the fun -- even if in the end the decision is to go with something really restrained.

While scrolling through this post, if you've been thinking the pictures look familiar, yes, they were cropped from very dogeared tearsheets: Cheryl Dalton's photographs of chairs on the Swan House lawn. All of the slipcovers were designed by Atlanta-based decorator Dan Carithers, and Lydia Langshore wrote the story for Southern Accents. Deborah Whitlaw shot the indoor pictures.

Above, a grainy view of a Windsor Smith slipcover cropped from Vogue Living, fall 2006. As mentioned in the previous post, Windsor never abandoned them. Below, New Orleans' own Ann Holden and Ann Dupuy used a lushly textured slipcover on a chair in a glamorous red-lacquered powder room with a brick floor. It does bring a certain looseness to the room.

[Photo via Southern Accents.]

Now, for an about-face. As much as I love the relaxed country house look, as well as Jane Scott Hodges' heritage chic highlighted in Victoria, October 2001...

and let's not forget gallerist Timothy Tew's cosmopolitan Southern style seen in Atlanta at Home, published by Wyrick & Company, 1994...

I still completely appreciate the fantasy and explosive drama of Kelly Wearstler's Hue, so excuse me while I get lost for a while in the powerful colors (and the children's books).

Term of the Day: Chimi Technique

[Photo by Don Tuttle via Hali.]

Hali's winter issue features a nice story by contributing editor Katie Loux that looks at Bolivian textiles. Shown here is one of the dynamic pieces used to illustrate it, an 18th or 19th century Camelid wool Aymara mantle. According to Loux, this example represents a rare form of Aymara weaving characterized by the chimi technique seen in the central pink band. Using the technique, weavers pile different colored yarns together creating a speckled effect; the blending of colors yields a whole new hue for the weaver's repetoire.


New Exhibition Schedule Begins

I'm using Annie Butrus' Into Winter pieces, from her Peach Tree Trail series, simply because they relate to the season but at the moment I can't say for certain which of her works will be on view in the upcoming exhibition, Transitive Geographies: Contemporary Visions of an Evolving South, at GCSU in Milledgeville, Georgia. What I do have is an opening date: January 28, 2010. A reception is scheduled on the same day from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and the show will continue until May 8, 2010. Learn a bit about the exhibition and its curator, Shannon Morris, here.

And a reminder: the winter salon continues through January 13 at Emily Amy Gallery in Atlanta. Small works start at $100.


Crammed-in Birthdays

End-of-December and early-January birthdays often get short shrift amidst all the holiday fanfare. For a grown-up, I think a really simple cake embellished with a few seasonal camellias would be appealing. The cake shown at the top is covered with garden roses, but you get the idea. I love how the light dusting of sugar gives it a snowy effect that doesn't feel particularly Christmas-y.

Since the silver is probably already out and polished, why not bring in more fresh blooms for a quiet-yet-romantic birthday supper? As we're always discussing here, more and more grocery stores are carrying lush garden roses and sometimes a New Year's luxury -- peonies.

[From the top, photographs one, three -- a cropped detail -- and four are by Art Streiber from Shabby Chic, Harper Collins, 1996; photo two is by Mark Starnes.]

Speaking of silver, architect William T. Baker will discuss 18th-century silver on Friday, January 22, 2010, at 6:30 p.m. as part of the learning lecture series offered during the Cathedral Antiques Show. Tickets for the talk cost $25. This year's beneficiary is Cool Girls. Related reading: Romantic Readiness and A Bowl for Camellias.

Looking Ahead

Hang on to those book store gift certificates. Lots of great titles are scheduled to be released in the new year.

Actually, the new edition of artist-educator Josef Albers' seminal Interaction of Color, the book we discussed last month, is now available.

Weddings by Tara Guérard with photographs by Liz Banfield is expected to be out next month.

Spring 2010 releases include Susanna Salk's Room for Children, shown at top, Annie Kelly's latest edition to the Rooms to Inspire series, Rooms to Inspire in the City, and Adam Lewis' The Great Lady Decorators.

With illustrations by the acclaimed interiors painter, Jeremiah Goodman, Lewis' book looks at 20th-century design icons encompassing Elsie de Wolfe, Rose Cumming, Nancy Lancaster, Ruby Ross Wood, Frances Elkins, Eleanor Brown, Sister Parish, Syrie Maugham, Madeleine Castaing, and others.