Sunday, February 26, 2012

From a film star's home to yours: Kathryn Grayson's wing chairs

It's Oscar Sunday, so the neighborhood is essentially shut down and I'm at home, Crock-Pot going, eagerly awaiting the start of the red carpet shows.

In honor of the day I thought I'd post an interesting pair of wing chairs I found last week. We've been looking for a set for quite a while now, so on Thursday a friend and I popped into an antiques mall in Pasadena to see what we could find. And there on the ground floor, all the way at the back, we spotted these... a charming duo from the estate of Hollywood legend Kathryn Grayson.

Kathryn Grayson's wing chairs, a touch of the traditional in a very glamorous life.

The actress, known for her roles in Lovely to Look At (designed by one of my personal favorites, Tony Duquette), Kiss Me Kate, Show Boat, and Anchors Away, died in Los Angeles in 2010, so presumably the chairs came out of her estate at that point. Finding the image of her below, from the 1950s and seated in a similar style of chair going over interior schemes, was just an added dose of fun. 

Kathryn Grayson 1950, © 1978 Paul Hesse/mptvimages

The wing chairs, which date to the 1940s and are newly reupholstered, are with dealer Richard Baker of Baker St. Antiques & Decorative Arts. $3,350 for the pair; 562-644-0794

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hooray for Hollywood — and Palm Springs, too!

It's Modernism Week in Palm Springs, so we picked up a couple of self-driving maps (one for architecture, one for celebrity homes) at the Visitors Center (a former gas station designed by Albert Frey) and set off on a beautiful and sunny morning to see what we could see. Turns out it was mainly a tour of gates, but we had a terrific time nonetheless. At just $5 a pop the maps are fun little investment. The only lament is that the star map tends to overlook mentioning the architects, many of whom became stars in their own right. Perhaps they'll remedy that in a future printing. But for now, a virtual tour. 

Happy peering!

Elvis and Priscilla Presley's home (um, the owners go above and beyond making that clear) on Chino Canyon was built in 1946 for Richard McDonald, co-founder of the hamburger chain. Elvis purchased the house in 1970 (for $85,000) and he still owned it at the time of his death in 1977. Ronald McDonald *and* The King. Does the National Trust have a Pop Culture award? 

Zsa Zsa Gabor's place (or so it's believed, there seems to be some disagreement) just a few doors down from the Presley house. The curious finials gave us pause...

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn's hacienda is visible through a couple of gates but this one is the pedestrian entrance (and I think a relatively recent addition). The house meanders back quite a bit, so it really must have felt like a true hideaway. "I never lose sight of the fact that just being is fun," Hepburn once said. We couldn't have agreed more, lazily driving around the old neighborhoods and sipping our coffee.

Nancy and Ronald Reagan called this place home while he was governor of California, but they eventually sold it and stayed with the Annenbergs at Sunnylands on desert trips during his presidency. Can't say that we blame them. Sunnylands was—and still is—the epitome of desert chic.

Built by a Vegas tycoon in 1924, this is also the former home of Elizabeth Taylor. Just driving by the gates you do get a pretty good glimpse of the living room—and it looks like the interiors are just as beautifully maintained as the exterior. It reminded me of La Mirada, the most romantic house in Monterey, where Taylor and Richard Burton stayed while filming The Sandpiper in 1965. Perhaps it reminded her of that historic little adobe, too.

Kirk Douglas' family get-away, which he kept until 1999.

This home, which belonged to Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, may have been my favorite of the day.

The former (and astonishingly accessible) Alexander-designed home of Dean and Jeanne Martin.

Peter Lawford's place, long-rumored to be the site of a Kennedy/Monroe rendezvous. She did live just up the street...

In fact, right here. Marilyn's former home is a quirky little bungalow with beautiful tilework and a patio to the right that looks directly up to the mountains. The house is in slightly sad shape (or maybe it's just the landscaping) but there's still something glamorous about it, especially the black and white awnings.

Debbie Reynolds' former home. “She is one of the most delightful persons you could ever meet," Frank Sinatra once said of his co-star in 1955's The Tender Trap.

Twin Palms, Sinatra's legendary estate was built by E. Stewart Williams in 1946. Don't be fooled by the maps that say it's on Alejo, that's the service entrance. Drive around to the other side of the block, where you'll find this, the main entrance, and the iconic palms that still stretch skyward from the piano-shaped pool.

And no driving tour would be complete without a spin around Ladera Circle for the hugely famous Honeymoon Hideaway, home to local builder (and local legend) Robert Alexander, and later rented by Elvis Presley in 1966. Elvis and Priscilla had intended to marry at the house but celebrity gossip (and neighbor) Rona Barrett blew their cover, and they married in Las Vegas instead, thanks to the loan of Sinatra's jet. The couple lived in the house until 1968.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dressed for love: a look at Queen Victoria's wedding gown on the 172nd anniversary of her marriage to Prince Albert

A portrait of Queen Victoria in her lace wedding dress, painted by Franz Winterhalter seven years after her marriage to Prince Albert.

On this day, in 1840, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert married at St. James's Palace. So it seems a perfect opportunity to take a closer look at the dress she wore—a dress that influenced the future of bridal gowns.

There's a common misconception that Victoria was the first bride to wear white, when in fact it had been a long-standing tradition for wealthy or noble women. She was, however, the first royal bride to shun the traditional robes for a more common (though still fanciful) style of dress. Marriages, which were primarily secured for reasons other than love, were largely displays of wealth, and the dress—with its rare fabrics and precious jewels—was a potent symbol of the bride’s dowry. The choice of white had little to do with purity (that’s a 20th-century application) but rather the sheer value of white textiles. Before the invention of simple bleaching techniques white was a very hard color to achieve, and extraordinarily difficult to maintain. 

But for Queen Victoria, who came to the marriage not merely as a youthful bride but as a head of state, the dress had to reflect more than wealth. It needed to reflect power, and to make a firm political statement. In an era of new technology and the mass-production of goods, Victoria chose a gown of hand-made Honiton lace, giving an immediate and much needed boost to a dying trade. While white did still symbolize wealth, the making of the gown represented her support of British arts, duty and patriotism. 

Engravings of the wedding were widely distributed, popularizing the couple's personal and trend-setting style. Although white was still a pricey option, brides throughout Europe and America followed suit.
But there were sentimental symbols, too, woven into the queen's wedding regalia. Rather than a tiara, the queen wore a wreath of orange blossoms (for purity) and myrtle (for love). It’s said that a small branch of the myrtle from her bouquet was planted, and that cuttings from it have been used for every royal wedding bouquet since, including that of the Duchess of Cambridge.
Kate Middleton's bouquet, designed by Shane Connolly, featured myrtle, lily-of-the-valley, sweet William, and hyacinth.

Queen Victoria was so fond of her wedding dress that she was painted in it many times, and long after 1840. She lamented the fact that photography had not yet been introduced at the time they married, so years later she and Prince Albert recreated the ceremony to capture it in pictures, like the one below.

Victoria made numerous alterations to the dress over the decades, and its original lace skirt no longer exists, but conservators at Kensington Palace in London have been hard at work preparing it for a new permanent exhibition, Victoria Revealed, opening this spring.
A conservator at work on Victoria's dress.

A detail of the lacework on the sleeve.

Victoria's silk wedding slippers.

A detail of the manufacturer's label.

To learn more about the upcoming exhibition and other royal wedding objects in the collection of the Historic Royal Palaces, click here.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Follow the leader

Timothy Oulton may be best known for his furniture lines, but his accessories and showrooms offer a plethora of inspiring design ideas that can be culled for your own home. From vintage cobblers' forms (an easy find at flea markets), to massing collections of pewter tankards or ceramic mugs, to framing old equestrian gearall sorts of fun and easy displays to replicate. The examples below come from the designer's space at H.D. Buttercup in Los Angeles.
The Union Jack's a perfect fit. Now imagine them painted with colorful stripes, polka dots, Magritte-like umbrellas or even flowers...
Duchamp celebrated the bottle dryer unadorned, but this is a cute and practical reuse of the rack. (Love the coronation mugsa timely nod to Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee.)
Mounted bits and stirrups: simple, clever, chic.