Any of you who have read my blog before know that I spend a great deal of time discussing the "oldies": Elsie de Wolfe, Syrie Maugham, Billy Baldwin, and the like. While I am inspired by the here and now and what I see around me, I will say that my greatest inspiration comes from the past. You can get great ideas by looking through old books and vintage magazines. Obviously, many of these rooms from the past have dated elements to them; like I've said before, nothing dates a room more than lampshades! Still, when you really dissect these rooms, you'll find certain fabrics, wall treatments, and furnishings that actually seem rather appropriate for today's sensibilities.
I thought it would be fun to delve into the CQ archives and find some images for us to discuss. First up, Elsie de Wolfe's Beverly Hills' home , the Spanish style house that she moved into after being forced from her Versailles home during World War II. What I've always loved about this cheeky home is that de Wolfe seemed to have really embraced that whole dramatic, theatrical Hollywood look. I guess that's appropriate as de Wolfe was once a stage actress.
So, what about this photo at top, one that I'm assuming dates to sometime in the 1940s? It was de Wolfe's cocktail lounge/dining room. Perhaps it's a little campy, but here's what I think looks fantastic:
* The Tented Ceiling- How fabulous is that? I'm dying to try this in my home. You can achieve the look using either paint or fabric. And if this task seems a little daunting, tent a powder room or a small entryway. I don't think Elsie's cocktail lounge would look half as chic without that tent.
*Bird Cage Light Fixture- Antique bird cages are always hot commodities, so if you have one, why not have it transformed into a ceiling fixture? I think these lights would look great on a porch, in a breakfast room, or in a solarium. Or, in your very own cocktail lounge!
*Mirrored Wall- Large panes of mirror attached to walls were de rigeur back in the 1930s and 40s. Look how this mirror almost acts as a third window on that wall. While this type of mirror is a bit dated today, you could certainly use a large framed mirror between two windows to achieve the same effect.
Another great room at After All was the Withdrawing Room. Haven't you always wanted a Withdrawing Room?
*Lattice ceiling- Look closely. The trellis on Elsie's ceiling was not an architectural element, nor was it painted on. Rather, it's wallpaper. Gorgeous! Ceilings seem to get lost in the hustle and bustle of interior design. Why not paper your ceiling in a trellis paper like Elsie? How great would a trellis ceiling look in a sunny kitchen?
*Chintz curtains- The curtains were made of Elsie's iconic fern-print chintz by Brunschwig & Fils. The combination of the botanical chintz, the green lacquered walls, and the trellis ceiling probably gave visitors the feeling of being in a verdant garden. Who wouldn't want to withdraw to such a room?
*Throw rugs- Back in Elsie's day, throw rugs were often scattered around rooms. You don't see them too often today except in country homes. Perhaps we should reconsider them. They certainly add a layer of warmth to a room, but at the same time they allow you to see the richness of a wood floor. If your floors aren't so good looking, I'd avoid throw rugs!
So you see, if you borrowed After All's look lock, stock, and barrel, you might get accused of being stuck in the past. But add a few fabulous elements here and there to your home, and you'll only be lauded for your stylish flair!
(Images from the May 1997 issue of CQ)