Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008 Magna Awards


Posted Jan 01, 2009 12:35 AM

Well, it’s certainly been an interesting year. Last year, in a Magna post about BrittanyDogMom’s wonderfully cozy & welcoming living room (posted, because of technical difficulties, on January 18th, not midnight on the first day of the New Year) I made the following comment:

“And of course, with the sub-prime mortgage debacle causing problems in other areas—the NYT said this morning that stock prices are down 9% since January 1, although the news isn’t all bad, since I figure that if the decline continues at the same rate, we can paper our powder rooms with stock certificates by August—“

Little did I know. Home prices are down everywhere, home loans are unobtainable in many areas, home equity credit lines—based on optimistic future selling prices, which no one has a clue about at the moment—have evaporated into thin air, leaving homeowners unable to finance long-dreamt-about improvements, and the down side of so many fantastic bargains on Main Street this season (if you’ve got the cash & feel confident) is that many of those cash-strapped merchants may not be around in a few months. Here’s what a recent piece in The New Yorker had to say about that:

“Walking or riding along the avenues, you can imagine the storefronts without tenants. Bank branches, juice bars, shops selling electronics & scarves, all of them gone, unable to make the rent, and the landlords, verging on default, unable to lure replacements…After an extraordinary era of construction & renovation, demolition & replacement, there will almost certainly come a long period in which little to nothing gets built. We have inherited, from the good years, a glut of housing, almost all of it the unaffordable kind—condos galore—amid a sudden, steep decrease in the need for it. … The clothes in our closets today will be the ones we’re wearing when we’re old”.i

Happy New Year Anyway, friends, it’s a good time to stay home, assuming, that is, that you’ve still got one. Many people don’t, who, a year ago, did. I do. I’m one of the fortunate ones, and I count my blessings every day: a roof over my head, power to run my computer & chill my Pepsi, a bunch of friends online & a bunch more in the larger world who, once again, whine that I’m spending this evening with all of you instead of with them. But they’ll get over it. I see them all the time. This is once a year. And a good thing, too

Anyway, so here are the Magnas for the year 2OO8, and just in case you’re new to the boards, here’s the deal. Every year, I save those photos of members’ rooms that, for one reason or another, seem to have a special quality about them. Often, what makes a room special is not its color or some cool accessory—anybody can copy that stuff--but something that’s much harder to define--its atmosphere, the way it reflects the personality of whoever created it. The great architect Louis Sullivan said it best “Our architecture reflects us as truly as a mirror.” So does the way we decorate our homes, good or bad.

I remember a story about the famous photographer who tried to reassure his jittery sitter who was fussing with her coiffure “Do not be worry about your hair, Madame. I will capture your inner personality, the real you.” To which his sitter replied. “That’s what I’m afraid of.” Anyway, judging by the following photos—all of which have appeared here on this board over the course of the last year--these people have nothing to be afraid of.

And speaking of which—photos-- a handsome room is only as good as its picture & there were several rooms this year which undoubtedly look great in real life but which I never saw in anything but poor-quality snapshots, or too-tight vignettes that didn’t relate to each other: the new cushion; a lamp; two candlesticks; the fabric for the curtains. Unfortunately, the pieces, handsome as some of them were individually, never came together, not in a photograph, at least, or, if they did, not on this board. And If you spend six months working on a room, friends, it only makes sense to take an extra hour or so at the end to take a nice portrait of it. Just remember Magnaverde Rule 66: Flash is for crime scenes & mug shots.

Lastly, you may notice the lack of kitchens this year & the abundance of rooms with beds : double beds, twin beds, day beds. It’s not that we didn’t have any good-looking kitchens this year, only that none of them made me wish I were there. Either that, or the photo of the kitchen in question—and I can think of at least one handsome example—never appeared on our board, although it showed up on several others, to which it was connected with ours by a link. But links don’t count. The picture has to be here, right on our own board. That’s the rule. “Whose rule?” I hear someone ask? Mine, of course. These are the Magnas.

Oh, and all the beds this time around? That I can’t explain, except that maybe there’s a subliminal message hidden in there: that it’s a big, scary world out there, & that some days, listening to the news in the morning, you just want to get back under the covers & stay there. And some mornings, I know I’d have to agree.

But till then, let’s look back over the years & see what we remember—or, better yet, what we might have missed--over the course of 2OO8.


Posted Jan 01, 2009 12:37 AM

Most Honest & Forthright Approach---Patty Louise

Well,the Magnas have already been to Patty Louise’s place twice before, so with this, her third appearance, she moves, like Bella & RaymanRetro, into the Magna Hall of Fame. Not that Patty Louise has been lobbying for inclusion, but then, she doesn’t need to, because her house speaks for her, all of it. Her down-home kitchen snagged a Magna a few years ago & her new beadboard bathroom—inspired by Mary Ruth’s excellent use of the same material at her place—-is a beauty, the latest in sparkling modern convenience—“convenience” as of 19OO, anyway. But it’s Patty Louise’s bedroom that gets the Magna.

I love the way she has combined a bunch of disparate pieces, in different styles and of different periods and given them a feeling of unity. Her spectacular walnut bed is in the Rococo Revival style, which had been long out of fashion by the time her house was built, but she has given it a late-Victorian feel by setting the bed at an angle, which (contrary to what those TV decorators will tell you) is nothing new. In fact, using furniture--and rugs—on an angle was common in late Victorian decorating, which makes perfect sense when you think about how common corner fireplaces were in turn of the century bedrooms. Too, the windows’ swags and the strong contrast between dark paint & white trim are not authentic Victorian touches, but the scale of one & the color contrast provided by the other create a perfect background for the handsome bed.

In other words, while this is not, technically, a Victorian style room, it looks like many rooms did during that period. Except for rich folk--who could create an entire interior in one narrowly defined style—most regular folks’ rooms were seldom of-a-piece. That is, most Victorian rooms were eclectic conglomerations of good pieces that the family had held onto through the years, not because they were valuable antiques,—like I said, in 19OO, when lightly-scaled brass beds were the fashion, this beautiful bed would have merely been considered “old”--but because they were solid, well-made pieces. In other words, rather than a fancy-schmancy catalog room of 19OO—and don’t forget, in Victorian days, catalogs were to isolated farm families what the Internet is to them today—this looks like a room in a real farmhouse of the period: solid, substantial, and most important, real.

And also practical. By this time, Victorian housewives—even out on the farm—knew all about “germs” and the importance of surfaces and materials that could be easily cleaned, such as that gleaming floor, those practical washable curtains, & that simple cotton bedspread that kept itself from dragging on the floor. No dust ruffles for them.

Too, the honesty of the mix of an electrified kerosene lantern—no sense replacing a perfectly good lamp just because the house switched to electricity--with a graceful hand-painted Art Nouveau ewer & a frankly modern alarm clock on the bedside table sets just the right tone of practicality & honesty, to say nothing of the no-bones-about-it TV. After all, the Victorians loved technology—think Jules Verne here—and the last thing they would have done with an amazing piece of machinery like a TV was to hide it away in a portable closet. No, they would have put it right out in the open, where everyone could see how up-to-date the family was, and Patty Louise has done exactly the same thing, mounting her TV to the wall right above the door behind the camera, the better to watch the plummeting London markets as soon as the sun comes up.

Ok, I guess that’s what I mean about wanting to pull the covers back over your head in the morning. After all, we can visit the past, but we can’t really live there, even though, reading the news, we may sometimes want to. But we can dream, can’t we? And this beautiful, honest room certainly makes it easy to do. Congratulations once again, Patty Louise.Posts: 1086 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2009 12:38 AM

A Charming Tudorbethan Guest Room--Annielinz

We move forward along the aesthetic timeline from 19OO, about another 25 or 3O years--but no farther--to Annielinz’ evocative guestroom. These small-scale but richly carved 192OS beds—I don’t know whether their detail is Tudor or Elizabethen or Jacobean (or ‘Tudorbethan’, the catch-all name coined by the English historian/cartoonist Osbert Lancaster) and I’m not sure their designer knew either—but I do know this: they’re unusual & they’re very cool. So is the way Annielinz—perhaps unconsciously, I don’t know--has recreated the authentic look of a typical American Suburban bedroom of, say, 1925, rather than trying to recreate her beds’ [supposed] original ‘Ye Olde Englishe’ setting of, say, carved linenfold paneling, turkey carpets & forged iron lighting. This way is more authentic, not to mention a lot friendlier, and the complete ensemble reminds me of the charming simplicity of some of the smaller guest bedrooms at William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon, which quality the bigger, fancier rooms for the more important guests never achieved. Anyway, these are wonderful. After all, when is the last time you saw twin beds in anything but shiny red metal from IKEA?

Annielinz’ choice of a typically pale 192Os wall color and--again, as on Patty Louise’s bed—a pair of simple cotton bedspreads—enhance the aura of simplicity & comfort in this small room. No flouncy 8-piece matched-out-the-wazoo sets of expensive “designer" catalog linens also means no nightly pillow-dismantling routine here. Just move a pillow or two & climb into bed. What could be more comfortable than that? That quality—comfort—is one which many of this year’s Magnas feature, but one which, sadly, many of today’s rooms lack. Comfort—and here, I’m not talking thread count--beats anything. It beats Glam dramatics, it beats the Wow Factor any day. No, if I want drama, if I want to see the wow-factor, all I gotta do is watch my 4O1K plummet to earth, and believe me, I’ve had enough of that already No, calm & simplicity—this kind of effortless-looking simplicity--is much better, even though it’s seldom truly effortless.

Even Annielinz’ accessories follow through, and even though, in themselves, they’re not all that unusual, she uses them in such a low-key way that they blend right into the overall effect, instead of calling excessive attention to themselves. You don’t often see plates in bedrooms, but here, a constellation of mismatched transferware fills up just as much wall space as a bigger piece of art would, yet it does it much more gracefully, and I’m sure, at a lot lower cost. Good art is rarely cheap, and cheap art is rarely good. Here, Annielinz has made an end run around the problem of what to put on the wall, and it paid off.

Even the candlestick lamp—and in the last few years, I’ve seen lamps like this at just about every gift shop & home store & in every catalog—seems to fit right in, alluding to similar lamps from 8O years ago, lamps which had very similar shades, that is, if they weren’t covered in fragments of ancient church vestments or vellum manuscripts. Authentic 192Os shades like that can still be had—for a price—but they’d be out of character in a simple, fresh room like this anyway, and besides, the red floral fabric has just as much style & greater informality. All in all, Annielinz has put together a delightful room, and one which probably has a line of potential guests waiting to visit. And no wonder.


Posted Jan 01, 2009 12:38 AM

A Handsomely Restrained “Modern” Bedroom—TimView

Now we jump another ten years--in feel, anyway--to see a room in an apartment that’s barely larger than mine. It’s TimView’s place, and according to Tim—and I’m sorry to say that we haven’t seen him since he stopped in back in November--it’s ‘only’ 6OO square feet. Tim must have no idea what I could do if I had an extra 5O square feet to work with. At any rate, like the other Magnas so far this year, , Tim’s room has a bed, and like them, it’s simple, but that’s where the similarities between them end.

The other Magnas went to rooms like you’ve visited in dreams: you’ve never been there, yet they seem strangely familiar & comforting. This room is less familiar, and honestly, less comfortable-looking, but what it loses in visual comfort—and it may be quite comfortable in actuality—it gains in power. In fact, its crisp, geometric bed reminds me of rooms from the mid-193Os, after the fussy, historicist styles of the previous decade had fallen from favor, but before people’s incessant hunger for change & the unstoppable urge to gussy things up had burst out again, this time in the form of surrealist additions—say, white plaster sconces in the form of human arms bursting through walls to hold electric torches, that sort of thing--to one of the architect Le Corbusier’s pristine white “machines for living” as he insisted on terming what everybody else was still stubbornly calling ‘houses’ & ‘apartments.’ This room in TimView's tiny apartment could have been created by the industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes in 1934. Nothing in TimView’s bedroom--as far as I could tell from the pictures he posted—is anywhere near that old, but it has a feel that’s very different from most new places full of frankly new furniture.

This photo shows what I mean. There are no obvious artworks (and here, I’m assuming those things on the wall are speakers, clever speakers, since as some designer has clearly realized, there’s no reason not to locate the cones off-center, which minimal change immediately turns them into virtual artworks)—but his speakers, attractive in themselves to begin with, are placed in such a way that they become stand-ins for pieces of art. A few inches lower & the balance would be all wrong, but this high on the wall, they separate themselves from the pieces below, thereby standing—literally, as well as figuratively—on their own. Presto—Art.

Too, a lot of people who use dark, ‘espresso’ finished furniture today use it against stark white walls, or, if they find the high-contrast look too strong, against a colored accent wall or walls. TimView, though, has gone in another direction & he’s let the dark tones stand on their own. In a later photo he posted, he added a few small shag rugs in a pale color to the dark floor, but the total effect is still monochromatic and, therefore, very elegant, even though this is all, I’m sure, off-the-shelf furniture.

Of course, it helps that he picked handsome pieces to begin with. Inexpensive doesn’t have to mean cheap-looking, but, sadly, it often does. Here, you can’t say for sure what’s what. With, say, white laminate furniture from IKEA (or Walmart) you can see every seam. With a dark color, seams disappear, meaning you don’t see individual pieces---or sheets--of laminate, but instead, you see the pure forms of the furniture. I’ve seen Tim’s lamps before somewhere, so I suspect they may also be from a mass-market retailer, but it’s hard to say. In Tim’s living area, he has some of those wine-themed pictures I see around, but in this room here, there’s nothing so easily recognizable, and mystery is always good thing. Best of all is something we saw in all the entries a few years ago: restraint. Tim wisely ignored the opportunity to hang something else in that empty spot above his bed. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you[/i] should.[/i] There’s nothing wrong with a blank wall, and like I said on a regular thread one day, better to have nothing than something junky. Way to go, Tim.Posts: 1086 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2009 12:39 AM

A Classically comfortable Morning Room—2SoldiersMom

OK, for everyone who’s sick of looking at beds, here’s a room without one, although that sunny patch on the sofa looks like it might be just right for a half-hour nap. For all of you who don’t recognize it immediately, it’s 2SoldiersMom’s morning room. Remember the epidemic of red rooms a few years ago, rooms that had no business being red, rooms with walls so broken up with soffits & niches & bumpouts & who-knows-what-all that all that red paint did was make the rooms look even more jittery than they already were? Well, this room is not one of those.

This is a red room done right, one that meets its color more than halfway, instead of rolling over & playing dead, and it reminds me of classic rooms of the 193Os & 194Os & 195Os, back before there were TV celebrities making everybody fret that their décor was ‘dated.’ Of course it was dated, and it was supposed to be. It was Colonial, for crying out loud.

I grew up in a small town in the 195Os & 196Os, in rooms more-or-less like this one, rooms that hadn’t seen many changes since the 194Os except for changes of things like lampshades & cushions & family photos in silver frames on the piano. And you know what? It was OK that rooms stayed the same from year to year. I mean, isn’t that the whole point of going with a classic décor in the first place? So that it can free your mind to think about other things than whether people can tell something isn’t Brand New This Season? And so what if it ain't?

No, 2Soldiersmom has created a room that will outlast all those trendy rooms copied from last season’s TV shows, and the only thing that even provides a clue to the fact that this is a new room & not one that’s been this way for years are those rooster pillows, and when it’s time, those will be easy enough to change. Everything else is here for the long haul. The walls’ red paint--trendy or not--is a perfect foil for the wood tones of the 19th Century cupboard, and it’s refreshing to see a true red paired with a true blue & a clean yellow again, instead of dank reds hooked up with murky olives & golds. When somebody refers to an “all-American” décor, this is what I think of, not a room chockablock with themey stars‘n’stripes accessories imported from China.

The other thing that will give this room longevity is its confident mix of styles. Matching, smatching. Going by its smooth veneers, beaded panels & rounded corners, I’d say 2SM’s cupboard looks to be 184Os or 185Os, and the little bronze-mounted coffee table is a nice 2Oth century adaptation of an 18th century French design, but the comfortable modern upholstery makes it clear that this is a room for actual living, not for show. And yet it looks great. Too many people—especially people with kids—think that antiques should be restricted to special party-manners rooms. They think it’s either/or. Antiques or comfort. But that’s crazy talk. If antiques were as fragile as all that, they would have fallen apart a long time ago. Lady of Shallott just replaced her beautiful Empire sofa with a new one that’s a little more comfortable, but I used to have one almost exactly like hers, and the thing was solid as a tank. In a kid-vs-sofa standoff, the sofa would win every time. Besides, even if we’re not talking indestructible pieces like that, why should you have to wait until your kids are grown to have nice things, and why should you have to put everything away again once they start to have kids of their own? More important—well, for the kids, anyway—is the question of how they’ll ever learn to appreciate nice things if they’re never allowed to get close to them.

My 3 brothers & I grew up in a series of houses full of antique furniture & cabinets filled with 19th century porcelain & crystal, and somehow, the furniture, the dishes & the kids all survived, with only a few minor scars here & there. But hey, that’s patina Besides, an 183Os sofa can take a gouge from a wayward R/C monster truck a whole lot better than a slick new sofa from Ethan Allen can. At any rate, this gracious, handsome room says “Welcome!”, not “Hands Off!” Congratulations, 2SM! You walked a tightrope, & you’ve made it safely to the other side. Best of all, you’ve done it in great style.Posts: 1086 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2009 12:42 AM

A Warm & Welcoming Sun Room-Annabel16

I could be totally comfortable in any of this year’s rooms, but if I had to choose only one room, I would spend the afternoon in Annabel16’s sunporch. As I recall—and it was last spring that I saved Annabel’s photos--most of this stuff was here when she arrived, an inheritance from the previous owner: Maddie? Hattie? It’s vague in my memory and I can’t go back to check the original thread because the entire contents of this board have been flushed down the digital toilet since then—twice, I believe. That’s why I always try to save whatever things I like when I first see them: to preserve—for a little while longer, anyway--those images that speak to me, since they can disappear without a trace, without any warning, at any moment, and if you don’t believe me, watch this thread.

Anyway, however it came together, this is the room that Annabel showed us, and for me, at least, it was love at first sight. Some people, knowing that I have a design degree, assume that I go for designer glitz & glamour, with the ceiling lights aimed just so at the valuable limited-edition print on the wall above the one-of-a-kind designer sofa. Nothing could be further from the truth. I got my degree so I could work in the field after the Illinois Legislature passed a Title Certification bill, and if you don’t know what that is, well, it doesn’t really matter. Let’s just say I needed a piece of paper & after a few years of poverty & heartbreak, I got it. Anyway, those years of schooling taught me things like space planning & fire codes & all the basics an interior designer needs to know, but they didn’t teach us anything at all about decorating, and really, that’s what I am, a decorator, not a designer. Which means I’d take a room like Annabel16’s over one of those gussied-up rooms on TV any day, or, at least, what I imagine those rooms on TV look like, since I don’t own a TV.

This sunporch speaks—and whether it speaks honestly, or artfully doesn’t matter—of comfort & calm & history & memory, and if not mine, then of someone else’s. Again, it doesn’t matter. History is history, and to sit out there on the daybed on a cold, sunny day, reading a book & watching the squirrels run around the snowy yard while I eat a sandwich of cold turkey on toast & drink a cold Pepsi, and then, falling asleep in the sun halfway through my chapter, well, that’s my idea of a good time. The cool ship model, the framed prints on the ship-lap walls, the handsome old pump organ on the other side of the porch, that stuff’s all set dressing, and it doesn’t matter if it’s all inherited heirlooms or if it came from the antique shop across town. What’s real is the feeling those things create. A good decorator can create a room like this and therefore can create those kinds of feelings—that atmosphere—but what’s even cooler is finding that such a room already exists, even if it’s nowhere close to where you are. Annabel16, thanks for sharing this with all of us—and thanks for preserving it.
Posts: 1086 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2009 12:45 AM

A Guestroom with a Double Dose of History-Paintlady

Well, the day’s over—it’s going on 8Pm as I write this in Chicago—going on 1O:10 as I get back to the same spot to clean up my typos--and it’s time to start shutting down for the night, and for 2OO8. One of the rooms that really spoke to me this year did so for a really simple reason: it’s about so much more than mere decorating. There’s that, too, of course, Paintlady’s whole house is cool, and last year, I talked about her dining room—but in her guest room, like on Annabel16’s sunporch, decorating overlaps with history, and not generic history, either, but that of a very personal kind. The 6OOO-piece Yo-Yo quilt on Paintlady’s bed was made by her mother, who spent 2 ½ years working on it. Now that’s love. But it’s also dedication, My mom loved my dad, but the pair of argyle socks she started knitting for him when they got engaged still sits—unfinished--in her sewing basket, twenty years after she died, where I see it every time I need to get a needle to sew on a button. That’s my reminder to finish what I start. But 6OOO pieces? The mind reels. But it wasn’t only Paintlady’s mom who contributed to this cozy room. Her mother-in-law contributed a handsome Victorian dresser, and she painted a faux landscape seen through a window. And Paintlady herself remade a generic lampshade to give a vintage style lamp the look of a piece that’s been there forever. In a world full of flashy-but-meaningless ‘designer’ rooms & cheap furniture that falls apart after a single move, a room like this--where décor & history blend & merge—is sadly, all too rare, and it’s becoming even rarer as people toss family heirlooms that don’t lend themselves to fast-track “glam” makeovers and replace them with particle-board pieces made in China. Will our grandchildren treasure our Billy bookcases and our Rifnisk chandelier simply because they belonged to us? Or will they toss them in favor of ever cheaper stuff?

But we can’t do anything about that. What we can do, though, is create homes that have meaning for ourselves, without worrying what the next generation will think of them. That’s they’re problem. But here’s a great quote from the playwright Lillian Hellman, courtesy of today’s ”House of Beauty and Culture” blog

The past, with its pleasures, its rewards, its foolishness, its punishments, is there for each of us forever, and it should be.

Have a great evening, friends, & a great year.
Posts: 1086 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002

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