Anyone lucky enough to have gazed this adoringly into Joan Crawford's eyes leaves me green with envy.
Or should I say pink?
I'm talking about Carleton Varney, author, jet-set designer and onetime protégé of the late, great Dorothy Draper. Here he is in 1962 with his first collection of fabrics in splashy colors and big, bold patterns.
Now, with 15 showrooms in this country and London, Carleton V Ltd. produces some of the prettiest textiles in the business. Their wovens are especially good, like this modern herringbone, Alexandria in Guava. Juicy, isn't it?
One part Boho, two parts Domino. Now imagine a jewel-box window on 3rd Avenue swathed in it. That's the vision I had when Carleton's son Sebastian called just before Labor Day, charging us with the task of reinventing the company's image at the D & D Building in New York, where all the designers shop for fabric. "I want people to stop and look," he said, leaning in, eyes wide. "Just like they did at Bloomingdale's." He was talking, of course, about the Big Window Challenge we won for ELLE DECOR back in January, thanks to all of you! But unlike Bloomies, this window is barely 90 inches wide, 34 deep.
No room for a sofa with flanking end tables. No elaborate dining scenarios with china for days. LIke any good window, though, the product would have to shine, and in this case, it was that splashy herringbone, together with all the coordinating solids and a single painterly floral that pulled it all together.
Good windows tell good stories. They stop people in their tracks, drawing them into a world that inspires and delights. I wanted for there to be this kind of fantasy in ours as well, together with doable ideas for how other designers might use these fabrics in their own work. To start, bold patterns like this herringbone can enliven and enlarge even the smallest space, so why not cover the walls of a den, front hall or foyer?
You could splurge and upholster the walls with batting or simply back it and apply it like wallpaper. For the window, a temporary installation of two months, I used a staple gun, pulling the fabric taught to match the pattern on either side.
Fabric up, sisal down. The pattern is so bold, you can't help but stop and look!
It was nearly midnight now. Trim out the walls, and we'd be done for the day. To pick up the black in some of the furniture we planned to use, I finished the walls with grosgrain ribbon, just as you'd do in any upholstered room.
But as pretty as the window looked with just a single pattern on the walls, there would need to be more, many more, layering one upon the other, all within the framework of a narrative. So after mulling it over in the days after our meeting, sketching and pinning up fabrics at home, I couldn't help but revel in the process I myself was experiencing. And there it was! A work space for a designer, a busy one, with well-heeled clients in far and distant places. Fantasy? Perhaps, but I prefer to think of it as a healthy optimism. So with day two upon us, we headed back up to the showroom, where my concept for the space was slowly beginning to take form.
Three projects lay ahead, all of them easy and inexpensive that just about anyone can do. The first was a skirted table I made using painted plywood and metal tubing from Lowe's. Don't ask me how, but in one of those rare and beautiful moments, scouring the aisles in a nine o'clock panic, both just happened to be the precise dimensions I needed! Using one of my favorite linens from Carleton V, Siena in Coral, I stapled the fabric to the table, trimmed the edges, then hot-glued grosgrain ribbon to hide the seams. Plus, if this were real life, you'd gain more storage than you might know how to handle!
This Chippendale style chair we found at a country antiques store upstate. I liked its lines, and I knew I could easily recover the seat myself. The wood, however, was badly damaged, so with a quick coat of spray paint, I turned it a chic, glossy black.
The floral on the chair, Meadow in Anemone, I also used in a picture frame pillow our good friends Donna and David Feldman at Chelsea Workroom made, along with three others in coordinating solids. If you're in or around New York and need top-quality upholstery or soft goods, they're the best in the business.
For the third and final project, I covered a cork board in silk, Wales in Cranberry, then trimmed the edges in grosgrain ribbon. It's a fast, easy way of customizing any pin-up board to suit your space.
After all the projects, placement and propping, it's the end of day two and the window's nearly done!
LIke everything we do, I wanted this project to have a rich sense of history with beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces, as though collected over time. And for those, I turned, as I often do, to our good friends David Duncan and Deborah Buck, both skilled antique dealers whose talents are only matched by their generosity. From Deborah came an opaline box on the desk and the vintage brass swirl tray above the chair. And from David came the wall art above that, along with the 1980s brass and Lucite lamp on the desk. Together, I think these pieces add warmth and luster to the space.
On the Chippendale style chair sits a box pillow in the same herringbone linen as the walls but in green. Just back from a late afternoon meeting uptown, our stylish interior designer finds beside her desk a gift.
Fantasy? Why yes.
Day three and we're done!
The finishing touches are complete, including the upholstered board above her desk, where she gathers inspiration and ephemera.
Every swatch, bolt and pillow are meticulously labeled. As you can see, she's very busy.
She's also a risk-taker, mixing periods and patterns with supreme confidence. The 1960s faux bamboo highball on the desk holds a simple bouquet of flowers, while the antique swan toast rack keeps stationery in order.
And while vintage books and magazines provide endless inspiration for her work, she's equally up to date with all things new in design.
At the moment, she's browsing a cherished copy of Vogue from March 1950, lingering over a palette she adores.
After all, here was the page that inspired her world, a lush, opulent palette in pink, orange and black.
Huge thanks to Sebastian Varney at Carleton V for the opportunity to represent a brand we love, together with our longtime partners for their continued taste, talent and generosity. If you're in New York City this fall, stop by the D & D on 3rd Avenue and 58th to see the window in person! But don't wait too long. We're already dreaming up plans for the holiday window in November!