Welcome to the social design: loose lessons from the stylized representation of the social in cinema and print. A blog very often about the interior design, fashion, social manners, and music created for and reflected in vintage cinema and print. Especially from the Sixties and Seventies, especially Italian, and especially from swingin' party scenes. We're awfully big on disco hippies and the OpArt accent here. Guaranteed, of course, to wander off on the occasional tangent into (maybe?) related subject matter, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek commentary for your consideration along the way. Comments are welcome, so please consider yourself invited...

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Last October I took a tour through Virginia and one of the little treasures that came home with me was a copy of the book The Finest Rooms in America by Thomas Jayne.  I picked it up in the museum shop at Jefferson's Monticello, where it is stocked as it features in its pages the great house's tea room.  But the content of the book is not entirely historical: Jayne, who worked for the noted Parish-Hadley firm, has culled a collection of exemplary rooms ranging from the colonial to the contemporary.  And though in perusing his selections, I am not entirely in agreement that all of these rooms warrant inclusion as being among the very finest, I will say many of them still are or come very close.  Which brings me to my obsession of the moment ... black floors.

One of the interiors included is the de Menil house of Houston, Texas.  It's the former home of the late John & Dominique de Menil, who immigrated from Paris to the U.S. during the Nazi occupation of France and eventually settled in Houston - to oversee a petroleum services empire and otherwise amass a breathtaking art collection in excess of 17,000 pieces.  And in the process probably drop the biggest chic-bomb the state of Texas has ever seen.  It's delight

The couple commissioned Philip Johnson to build their residence there in the International style, and they hired the fashion designer Charles James for its eclectic decorative program - though I am assuming the artwork was always consistently rotated at the de Menils' direction.  Apparently though when the house went up in 1950, it might as well have been 1850 for the ensuing reception of bewilderment.  A New York Times article on the house quotes Houston architect Anderson Todd: ''Most people in Houston knew nothing about Philip Johnson or Mies van der Rohe or Le Corbusier. This wasn't a house -- it was a dental office or a Laundromat.'' 

The results probably do warrant inclusion among the finest rooms in America, but today it is that black floor that I am in love with in particular.  The flooring is described as glazed black Mexican tile, but I'm curious as to whether it was the specification of architect Johnson or designer James?  Apparently Johnson - who preferred strict Modernism in furnishings - was outraged with James' decidedly eclectic and voluptuous treatment of the interiors.  Funny how it's the one thing that really could have been from the hands of either of the two opposing polarities...

The de Menil living room: my apologies to Siegfried & Roy, but really, this is the best use of a White Tiger.  For interior purposes anyway.

I'd have to say that's a Magritte over the piano.  When the artist visited Houston, the de Menils arranged for some students to escort the artist to the rodeo.  How surreal is that?

Probably a pretty comfortable nook to cuddle up and shop the auction catalogs...

Of course these rooms would likely be equally stunning with a variety of other floor coverings, but as we all know (and I cannot seem to stop thinking about lately), it is black that really does make a terrific, appearance-enhancing backdrop.  And here I am also brought to mind the soft black walls Rosamond Bernier chose to offset her own remarkable art collection as well.  And so we know this so well, but sometimes its just very nice to be arrestingly reminded of the fact, in practice and not in theory...   


- a.t.s

The Finest Rooms in America: 50 Influential Interiors from the 18th Century to the Present is available through Random House : www.randomhouse.com

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