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).


Mrs. Blandings said...

An amazing way to end the year - a totally terrific post. Especially for a great over-thinker.

Style Court said...

Thanks Patricia. Hope it wasn't too long! I did forget to wish everyone a very happy new year. So, cheers!

La Maison Fou said...

I love the focus of this post, the reference to kids & their unknown love of color was brilliant. I also agree with the use of sculpture in the home, with so many choices out there these days, you can use so many different media & styles in your home.
And Marie Antoinette, it is one of my fav's, the candy colored theme is for me refreshing & almost child like itself. If done in dark or drab I think the entire film would have changed directions & produced an entirely different feel & allure! I so look forward to your posts;
Best for 2010,

Belle said...

Awesome post! A favorite! Much to mull over - I just might come back and comment again! I just started paying attention to what I liked when I was very young for the very same reasons you and others pointed out.

I also do not think Coppola got enough credit for Marie Antoinette (and for Lost in Translation). I look forward to the Victorian steampunk-y goodness that the new movie Sherlock Holmes (directed by Guy Ritchie) promises to deliver.

Happy new year to you and the other commentators I often have the pleasure of reading here (*waves* at Mrs. Blandings).

balsamfir said...

Several really interesting ideas here. I would much rather see sculpture than bad sculptural junk (oversized plasic lamps for example). The preponderance of the latter indicates a visual craving for the former I think. If that works out in english. I loved the color and style of Marie Antoinette, but it was hard to accept the silliness of the movie in the face of the real history. Antoinette was, after all, nearly middle aged when the revolution began. I had similar trouble with Begnini's Life is Beautiful movie (unpopular opinion here). Your Doctor Hanson has it right I think. Perhaps he should make a film.

Style Court said...

Hi Leslie,

I also thought the techni-pop, or maybe I mean Pop Art, colors made sense on several levels. It's also kind of interesting to revisit the movie after the economic meltdown of last year.

All the best for you in 2010!

Style Court said...


You made me smile with the lamp example! I know just what you mean.


Style Court said...

Thanks Belle! I welcome any thoughts you may have later. A very happy new year to you.

style chronicle said...

Beautiful way to end the year/decade. You are right, we do tend to over think things. A childlike mentality would sure infuse more delight into our homes and homemaking. Cheers and Happy New Year!!

LINDA from Each Little World said...

What a marvelous post; an end and a beginning both contained in it. I have to concur and say that once you add the dimensionality (and personality) of sculpture to a room, you will never be without it again — especially if you have money and space for something oversize.

home before dark said...

Quite a delicious confection to mull over on this snowy day, the last of this decade. I so agree about the overthinking thing. A book I enjoyed this year was Janice Lindsay's "All About Colour." And she, like you, agree that children already know what they need to know about color. The rooms that excite me are those multi-layered, accumulated, collected not decorated rooms that tell a life story. I so agree with you about sculpture. It is tactile, 3-D, and always has something to say. Wishing you the very best for this new decade where, we hope, style will hold court.

Terry said...

I'm with you all the way on the fun part: rooms that look lived in, that make you smile from your first glance, rooms that don't require thinking or analysis but reward both.

For the past years and the new: I enjoy your posts so much and I think of you each time they change the window display at Providence Antiques: the same sort of un-looked-for delight that I get from your posts. Best wishes.

Style Court said...

Oh Terry, what a wonderful thing to say. Made my evening. Happy 2010 to you to!

Style Court said...

Linda, appreciate your perspective on the sculpture. And your comment about the beginning and end.


Style Court said...

HBD, thanks for the book tip and, as always, your perspective. All the best to you in the new year!

Style Court said...

Style Chronicle, so glad you responded to the over-thinking part. Joy definitely should be an ingredient. Best wishes for 2010 to you too!

Maureen Sullivan Stemberg, Interiors said...

I agree with Mrs. Blandings, A wonderful way to end the new year...
I would like to add: with all due respect to T.S.Eliot, with any ending comes new a beginning. A wonderful post to take into 2010. Happy New Year to all!! ~maureen

Daniel Hale said...

WOW, dead on. Just discovered your blog and will be back for sure. Happy new year! Great post. Daniel

Karena said...

Inspiration comes from so many things. I love to look at fabric designs and color for my art. I tear sheets all the time.

Trouvais said...

What a delicious post to start the new year with...designing from the inside out and from the past to the present. Love your fantastic post. Merci and happy new year! Trish

Laura Casey Interiors said...

What a wonderful post! I love your connections between kids & colors, texture and sculptures, pastels and wonderful movies. Just what I wanted to read on a cold, wet New Year's Day up North. Happy New Year Courtney!

robyn said...

wonderful, insightful post, wishing you all the best 2010!

annechovie said...

Very thoughtful post, Courtney. I think you are so right. Happy New Year!

cotedetexas said...

What great movie ideas for tonight - instead of football! I think i would love to rewatch M.A. - or some of your suggestions.

HOpe you have a wonderful New Years - happy and healthy!!


I've found Marie Antoinette endless inspiring and I also can't get enough of Miles Redd. Thank you for a great post and happy new year!

Style Court said...

Hi guys!

It's great to hear from everyone on the first day of the new year and I really appreciate the warm wishes.

Joni, another sports alternative is Orlando, if you're up for something with an edge :)

And Last of the Mohicans is visually speaking an alternative from all the opulent 18th-century fare, or at least it offers interesting contrast between the lush and the rustic.


Style Court said...

Here's the trailer for Last...

Ivy Lane said...

Happy New Year Courtney! This post is right on time for me! I just posted projects that I want to accomplish this year..been over thinking them to death!!!

Great post! Can't wait to see what you have in store for us in 2010~

Happy Weekend!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Lipstick said...

I spent an afternoon at Cheekwood this week and thought of your beautiful blog!

pve design said...

Oh dear, that Crayola Box is always tempting too me, I meet a new color each time and find JOY!
You are the exuberance in the blog land!!! :)
happy 2 0 1 0

Lynne (lynnesgiftsfromtheheart) said...

I just discovered your beautiful blog. I enjoyed reading this post so much. I believe a home should reflect who you are and how you live. hugs ~lynne~

Style Court said...

Ivy and Lipstick -- I'm so glad! Thanks for letting me know.

PVE -- Cheers!

Anon and Lynne -- Really appreciate the input. Thank you!

Emile de Bruijn said...

As you say it is very difficult to find the right balance between scholarship and style. One of the reasons I am fascinated by the decorator John Fowler is that he managed that balance very well. The research that went into his English country house style was not perfect, but it did give his interiors a classic integrity. And he never forgot the importance of beauty. The window of the Colefax and Fowler shop in Brook Street, London, is a testament to his taste to this day. It never fails to cheer me up when I walk past.

Craig said...

I've continued to think about our current fascination with Marie Antoinette and recently came across an interesting article that tries to account for it -- Suzanne Ferris and Mallory Young, "Marie Antoinette, Fashion, Third-Wave Feminism, and Chick Culture," Literature Film Quarterly (April 2010). It's available online here:,+third-wave+feminism,+and+chick+culture.-a0227974266