Style Court

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


Library Thing

  [Photographs by Tim Street-Porter © Rooms to Inspire in the City Rizzoli New York, 2010.]

Whenever I see a handsome secretary, I think of Katie Denham. Two years ago, when I asked her about "forever" pieces that are great investments, she talked about old secretaries, not pricey sofas or beds. Secretaries can last for centuries, and as Katie says, the timeless vintage and antique versions pair nicely with a slipcovered IKEA sofa. You might say estate sale or hand-me-down secretaries bring weight to a room -- literally and stylistically. They also function beautifully in a tiny apartment, storing books and serving as a bedside table or dining surface for one (think Grant K. Gibson). The only fault I can find with the classic secretary is that it typically can't accommodate taller art and design tomes.

Since I can't seem to resist picking up more and more books (used, out of print, or new, I'm drawn to them all), storage is a major issue.

[Image via House & Garden, from the Kate Spade Domestic Bliss story.]

I'm all for letting books spill out of conventional bookcases into myriad random stacks, and ironically one of the new spring releases I keep talking about, Annie Kelly's Rooms to Inspire in the City, has a chapter on making space for books in tight spots, such as the secretary shown at top, but I think I'll max out at around 450 volumes.  After that, no one will be able find a place to sit down and I'll be violating the consideration principle. So over the weekend I started weeding: donating to libraries and book drives the editions that aren't vital for work, or that I simply don't love. 

Titles I do plan to buy for myself or give as gifts? Here's a little review.

[Book images via Anthropologie.]

Vera: The Art and Life of an Icon is on the short list. It's a joy just to flip through the pages and look at Vera Neumann's art. However, for anyone with a serious interest in textiles or design history -- even the history of women in the workforce -- the book has lasting appeal. Before embarking on a career as a textile designer, Vera studied at The Cooper Union and the Traphagen School of Design. Her life nearly spanned the entire 20th century and she is now seen as a pioneer because she brought color and pattern into linen closets across America. On a deeper level, too, many credit her with bringing fresh, modern art to the masses via placemats, sheets, and of course scarves.

By the way, Vera: The Lady Behind the Ladybug, an exhibition of Vera's art and scarves, is on view through May 31 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Continuing with women in design, Adam Lewis' The Great Lady Decorators deserves another mention. Beginning by giving Candace Wheeler her due as the first woman to establish herself as a professional interior decorator (yes, she preceeded Elsie de Wolfe, although as Bunny Williams notes in the book's forward, Elsie's flair and imagination really launched the field of interior decoration as we know it today), Lewis offers a candid analysis of the stengths and foibles of thirteen women who shaped 20th century decor.  

Including Nancy Lancaster, Ruby Ross Wood, Sister Parish and Syrie Maugham, most in the group were self taught. It's a special thing to have so many images of iconic rooms in one volume. For example, there are samples of Sister's work that previously I've only seen in the coveted Parish-Hadley: Sixty Years of American Design.  And Jeremiah Goodman's stunning paintings -- twelve original interpretations of the profiled decorators' work -- add a layer that goes beyond beauty because, as Lewis explains, the artist was part of the inner sanctum during the early years of decorating.

A more budget-friendly option for Mother's Day giving is Joe Nye's debut book about entertaining, Flair.

Flair Rizzoli New York, 2010.]

Apart from the strong photography of colorful, inspiring table settings, what strikes me most about this one is Joe's straightforward, unstuffy approach. The Peak of Chic's readers know that Joe is no snob when it comes to grocery store flowers, carnations included, and here he shares his full range of ideas for working with them.

Flair Rizzoli New York, 2010.] 

One of my best friends loves to savor the whole process of party planning: family birthday parties, baby showers, dinners at home.  She always does the work herself and enjoys researching invitation options, playing around with her china, and dreaming up new centerpieces. She and Joe are definitely sympatico (except for the carnations but perhaps she'll change her mind when she reads Flair). Described as a neo-traditionalist, Joe keeps it elegant yet real.

In addition to covering paper at all price points, flowers high and low, and table settings, Joe also offers 21st-century etiquette guidance, so the book sort of serves as a nifty primer, compact enough to travel in a handbag (Joe is a big proponent of visiting brick and mortar shops for ideas).  And I still think the chic black-handled flatware and glasses -- the way Joe utilizes black to cut the sweetness of pastels -- will prove to be one of the most chatted about aspects of the book.

[Photograph by Tim Street-Porter © Rooms to Inspire in the City Rizzoli New York, 2010.]

Back to Tim Street-Porter's photograph of Peter Dunham's dining room, another friendly reader, a different Tim, sent me a fun tidbit about those How to Marry a Millionaire side chairs. Apparently art director Lyle R. Wheeler used the mid-century T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings-attributed chairs in three films. Along with 1953's How to Marry a Millionaire, and the 1954 movie Three Coins in the Fountain, Wheeler selected the chairs for Leave Her to Heaven, a melodramatic 1945 thriller known for its brilliant color and sophisticated interiors.

These YouTube stills show the chairs in the film's New Mexico house. If you think there are a lot of house plants in Shampoo, check out LHTH. Strangely though, it's not too much. The plants work.

I received no compensation from the publishers or authors of the books discussed here. I did have an opportunity to preview some of the editions, and images are posted with permission.

Update: To see all of Anthropologie's Vera-related offerings, click here.


Anna Spiro said...

Flair is on my wishlist too Courtney. Thanks for the introduction to Vera!

Hope you are well.


Style Court said...

Anna -- You will love Vera! Her prints are definitely something you'll appreciate. Thanks for stopping by :)


Michelle @ Divine Finds (Australia) said...

Hi Courtney. I love your blog and just posted your pics of FLAIR and those gorgeous knives and forks on my new blog. Any idea where I can purcahse the knives and forks from???
Michelle Mitchell - Divine Finds Australia

Style Court said...

Hi Michelle -- thanks! Let me check. I'll try to post the answer tomorrow.

Michelle @ Divine Finds (Australia) said...

You are WONDERFUL...thank you so much.
Michelle @ Divine Finds Australia

Lacquered Life said...

I love secretaries. There is something about them, beyond their amazing addition to any decorating scheme, something historical, that just grabs me. I just think about all the amazing historical figures who penned many a famous document or text sitting at a secretary much like the one you pictured. W and I got the steal of the century on a beautiful secretary from Doyle. And I think its my favorite piece of furniture of all time!

annie said...

That secretary came from photographer Tim Street-Porter's family- from a place in England owned by his grandfather called Coveney Manor.

Style Court said...

Annie, an absolutely stellar "hand-me-down" :)

home before dark said...

The secretary that has pride of place at our place is a secretary we inherited from my husband's great uncle. He was a bigger than life kind of guy (I always say think Jay Gatsby, with we fear more than a touch of Bernie Madoff). Visiting France after WWI, he purchased three panels from the bombed cathedral in Reims. He brought them home, found the best cabinetmaker he could and had them fashioned into a secretary. The artwork is very gothic and didn't play nice with the other things in our living room, so we moved it into its own little library. Happier there. It's unique, holds a ton of stuff and has a story. Who could ask for anything more. Books, books and more books. I fear as I age, there may only be a small trail through the house for walking about!

Style Court said...

HBD, what a story indeed. Sounds like that secretary has character to spare. Glad you shared the background with us.

I do hope one day to have room for thousands of books. Right now 450 is almost the limit.

Style Court said...

Olivia, congrats on your find!

Style Court said...

The black bamboo flatware is by Juliska.

The plate on the cover, Isis Ceramics. I have one of their pitchers :)

Style Court said...

Tabletop links:

Style Court said...

I bought my Isis pitcher a few years ago at Erika Reade in Atlanta. Here's the company's site:

TSL said...

Something so intimately personal about a beautiful old secretary.

Emile de Bruijn said...

450 vols. max! You must be so disciplined :) But it is true that one consults certain core books again and again, while there are others that one thinks one ought to read, but never does!

Charlotta Ward said...

Oh I so totally enjoyed this post.
I am huge book lover!

I agree with you on all points. I mean what can be more charming than the spilling of books out of bookcases - it is what makes a house a home in my mind. A book-less home is a little frightening to me..

I loved your book suggestions and will definitely add some to my wishlist.

Thank you for this great post dear - I love reading what you write!


Michelle @ Divine Finds (Australia) said...

Thanks so much for that. I have an event coming up and they will look perfect! Michelle @ Divine Finds Australia

Style Court said...

Michelle -- have fun!

Charlotta -- thanks so much!