Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Abstract Art in Traditional Interiors, Part 2-The Masters of the Mix

I received so many emails about my last post (Abstract Art in Traditional Interiors, part 1) that it made the task of selecting images for this post really fun as I realized the subject hit home to so many readers. Here are examples of abstract art used in traditional interiors in projects done by the masters of design whose work I always turn to for inspiration when working on client projects. Billy Baldwin, Albert Hadley, Bunny Williams, Jeffrey Bilhuber, Todd Romano, and Suzanne Kasler are designers whose projects have filled my favorite rooms binders for years. 

When I was in college and began recognizing styles of design that I liked, Albert Hadley and Bunny Williams were at the top of my list (as well as Charlotte Moss and Mark Hampton). Through my first job in New York at Hinson & Company I was exposed to the designs of Billy Baldwin who is, for the record, my all-time favorite designer. By the early-mid 2000's Jeffrey Bilhuber and Todd Romano came on my radar, and in the last few years Suzanne Kasler has consistently done projects that have caught my eye.

Let's start by going way back to Billy Baldwin's interiors from the 70's. 

circa 1970: In the living room of Mr. and Mrs. Harding Lawrence's Dallas home, the first of four projects Billy Baldwin masterfully executed for the Lawrence's, a Theodoros Stamos painting reigns over a "raspberry colored glazed" room filled with chintz, antique chairs, celadon vases and lacquered pieces. 

Living Room of Mr. and Mrs. Harding Lawrence's Dallas home. image from

In Billy Baldwin: An Autobiography, Mr. Baldwin says, "The house in Dallas, which I did in 1970, turned out to be a wild success and I confess I did it in a taste that is not really mine at all: brilliant colors, American paintings, and good furniture both old and new. It also had colossal comfort."

I thought I had seen nearly all of Billy Baldwin's published projects but when this incredible accomplishment appeared before my eyes, I was WOWED! The Don Placido Arango's of Madrid were the lucky inhabitants of this unbelievably chic apartment overlooking the Prado and the Ritz in one of my favorite cities. The Spanish do have great style and the addition of Baldwin to the team of client-designer achieved greatness in my opinion.

In Billy Baldwin Remembers, about this apartment Baldwin says, "The Arangos wanted a bright, country atmosphere for their three beautiful children, so we gave the apartment the look of a country house, very light and breezy, with lovely old furniture from England and France."

America lost one of its all-time top talents in March when Albert Hadley passed away. Dubbed the "dean of American decorating" by magazine editors, Mr. Hadley created brilliance over and over and over in his projects. With a simple flair, which I think is hard to come by because projects with great flair can often be over the top, Mr. Hadley created real, as opposed to fantasy, rooms that always seemed so livable and never with too much unnecessary stuff and clutter. In an interview with Architectural Digest in 2011, Mr. Hadley said, "Whatever you put in your house should be interesting. I may not like it, but that doesn’t make any difference. And decorating is not about dollars and cents; it’s an emotional thing, it’s passion. Buying a painting or a piece of furniture just because a famous name made it isn’t passion." To read the full interview which is very interesting, click here after you've finished reading my post!

This fabulous room by Mr. Hadley has all of the elements that any chic room of its time would. Chintz curtains, lacquered walls, comfortable upholstered pieces, antique chair, simple coffee table, really great lantern that all co-exist happily and with great effect. But the painting is the shot in the arm, the kick in the pants, the energy necessary for the room to sing. The room, it turns out, is actually an executive office for the Bank of New York circa 1970 I am guessing. Who wouldn't mind going to work in this space??

The project that repeatedly brought Mr. Hadley so much attention is the apartment of Mrs. Vincent Astor. The famous red lacquered, brass trimmed library is one of the most often seen photographs of excellent design. A photo I have not seen as much is the below image of Mrs. Astor's bedroom. A room that really could have tipped the sweet scale is tempered by two paintings. Still feminine and soft like the rest of the room, the abstract pieces break down the girly-ness of it all.

image from required reading: Adam Lewis's Albert Hadley: The Story of America's Preeminent Interior Designer

Virginia native Bunny Williams is at the top of the design world in every way. Her successful firm with major clients has led the way to a beautiful shop, Treillage, in New York as well as a wonderful line of furniture, lighting, accessories in her Beeline Home collection. When perusing the many years covered in Ms. Williams' online portfolio, the use of abstract art in traditional interiors is a staple of the classically good interiors that Bunny Williams Inc. brings to life. One of my favorites is this "House in Provence" living room where damask, needlepoint, tufted furniture, and Tang-dynasty figures are in perfect harmony with a very large painting in a simple floater frame.

image via

For the Beeline Home showroom at the 2011 Spring High Point market, Bunny Williams selected a painting by Mallory Page from Mrs. Howard/Max & Company in Atlanta. "An Unusual Repertoire" was center stage above the classic Knole-style sofa against faux-ivy covered walls. Mallory Page's fantastic painting now hangs in a Bunny Williams client's home in Delaware.

Mallory Page's "An Unusual Repertoire" in Beeline Home's High Point Showroom. Image via Stylebeat.

In my opinion, Jeffrey Bilhuber is one of the top five American designers working today. Bilhuber's projects are always good, never a slip, and represent 21st century traditional. I featured a bedroom a couple of posts back that is from the same London town house as this living room. This project is from an old issue of Elle Decor that is as fresh in my mind now as the day I saw it seven years ago. It represents another of those "AHA!" moments for me where I realized I had seen genius design as I flipped the pages and saw example after example of balance, proportion, scale, and harmony.
This project remains one of my all-time favorite published projects and, since the day the magazine hit the newsstand, has remained in its entirety in my special binder used only for Mr. Bilhuber's projects. 

The Ross Bleckner painting above the sofa is a wonderful counterpoint to the details of the room. Again, like Mr. Hadley's work in Mrs. Astor's bedroom, the abstract piece was needed to keep the room from becoming too feminine and too formal.

 "In the drawing room of a townhouse in England, a Ross Bleckner painting and a rococo gilded-gesso chandelier; the collection of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain above the door is from John Rosselli. "--Elle Decor

Note how the painting above the mantel perfectly picks up the color of the pair of ebonized slipper chairs in the center of the room. Anything other than the painting by Kristian Ryokan would have fought with swag detail of the paneling. Balance, proportion, scale, harmony...Mr. Bilhuber gets it.

"In a living area in an England townhouse, the wing chair is upholstered in Sahco Hesslein’s Faro linen; the painting, Speedster, 2003, is by Kristian Ryokan."---Elle Decor

both images above by Simon Upton, from Elle Decor

One of Jeffrey Bilhuber's most recent projects exemplifies what this post is all about. In the living room of a New York townhouse, one sees this view when entering the room:

"The living room’s center window is dressed in swagged curtains of a Robert Kime printed linen; the chandelier is Continental, and the banquettes were custom made. The 19th-century Amritsar carpet is from J. lloulian."--Architectural Digest

You can't really get any more traditional than the swagged curtains and crystal chandelier and 19th-century rug. And then you turn right and see this unbelievable Joan Mitchell painting from 1952. PERFECTION!

"An untitled Joan Mitchell painting from 1952 hangs above a custom-made sofa in the living room; the tables are 17th-century Japanese."--Architectural Digest

As if it could get any better than a Joan Mitchell focal point in the living room, a vivid Alex Katz elevates the dining room from so-so to fantastic. A show of Mr. Katz's work at The Jewish Museum in New York in 2006 is one of the turning-point moments in my life. I have never forgotten the show and still recall the hours I spent in the museum in awe of what was before me. This experience showed me that my true passion is art. Mr. Katz's figurative work is what I was blown away by and one of the reasons I can beat artists up a bit when they paint figurative pieces that just don't add up, so to speak, to the genius of Mr. Katz's portraits. I am not as familiar with Katz's abstract landscapes but really love the piece below which serves as another window with a view in this dining room.

"An Alex Katz painting, 5:30 PM, Late May (2007), makes a big splash in the dining room. Above the Irish Regency table glitters a Russian gilt-bronze chandelier, circa 1800; the George II walnut side chairs are upholstered in an Edelman leather."--Architectural Digest

images above via AD, images by Pieter Estersohn. To read full article:

One of the first projects I remember seeing where I was aware of great use of contemporary art in antique-filled rooms is the Helsinki, Poland, home of Earle & Carol Mack done by Todd Alexander Romano, Texas native, and featured in the December, 2005, issue of Elle Decor.

This is the American Ambassador to Poland's home and the collection of modern masters is out of this world. In the image below of the living room, we have Alex Katz again. About this shot, Elle Decor says,

 "Myrtle, a painting by Alex Katz, and a side table covered in Surabaya Glazed Chintz from Brunschwig & Fils in the living room of Earle and Carol Mack’s Helsinki home. "

images of this home by William Waldron from Elle Decor

"In a living area of Earle and Carol Mack’s Helsinki home, which Carol decorated with the help of designer Todd Romano, a pair of ebonized-wood Chinese garden seats next to Todd Romano’s Bridgewater chairs upholstered in linen velvet from Christopher Norman; the print on the mantel is Picasso’s 1964Buste d’Homme Barbu. "---Elle Decor

and in the dining room, you have Ross Bleckner again (same artist as in the Jeffrey Bilhuber project above):

"In the dining room of Earle and Carol Mack’s home in Finland, Ross Bleckner’s Falling Birds 1 and Carol Mack’s collection of 18th- and 19th-century Delft porcelain. "---Elle Decor

But it is Todd Romano's former country house that I have really, really been in love with for a long time. You have lacquered walls, chintz (including one of my all-time favorite patterns "Le Lac" from Brunschwig & Fils on the French arm chair), animal print rugs, gourd lamps, swing arm lamps, Staffordshire figurines, Chinoiserie, English and French antiques, essentially every traditional design element. But to break it all up, Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol over one sofa and a Josef Albers piece over the short-end of the velvet covered banquette and other abstract pieces above and on the mantel are present in signature T.A.R. style. Every time I flip through my binders and come across this project of Todd's, I am immediately reminded why I think he is such a great designer.

And then you have Suzanne Kasler, one of Atlanta's finest designers.

Kasler has a love for the paintings of Carolyn Carr, Steven Seinberg, and Scott Ingram, and pieces by these artists show up in many of Kasler's projects.

There is actually very little about this room that I like. It's just a bit too much for me but the Scott Ingram piece above the sofa makes it all work so this is an example of when good art decisions really pull a room together. It is the white of the frame and paper with the subtleness of Ingram's deft strokes of color that makes this piece perfect for over the sofa. Everything is so horizontal in this space and the vertical strokes bring it all in. Ingram is represented by Emily Amy Gallery in Atlanta. To see more of Ingram's great work, visit

To me this foyer is one of Suzanne Kasler's greatest rooms. I love everything about it. The various styles of furniture, the flooring, the walls, the lantern, and the Steven Seinberg painting is just magical in this space. 
from Suzanne Kasler's book "Inspired Interiors". photo by William Waldron. image from Suzanne Kasler website.

In the same house, this shot from Suzanne Kasler's website shows a Carolyn Carr abstract works on paper piece in a grouping with landscapes and realist pieces creating a perfect "art wall" composition.

A few weeks ago, Suzanne Kasler took the blogger Mrs. Blandings (Patricia Shackelford) on a tour of her favorite Atlanta resources for an article for

The first stop that Kasler made was Mrs. Howard/Max & Company which perfectly represents what this post is all about. The image below shows one of New Orleans artist Mallory Page's fantastic abstract paintings in the traditional space created by Jim & Phoebe Howard. 

image by Patricia Shackelford via

The Combustion of Passion and Obsession, 4' x 6', $ 6,200. available from Mrs. Howard/Max & Company, Atlanta--for more information, email me.
To read full article of designer Suzanne Kasler's favorite Atlanta resources:

I am never more inspired than when I am in Provincetown which is where I am for the next three weeks. I am looking forward to sharing some of my favorite Cape Cod artists with you in upcoming posts.

Until then, happy Summer!

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