Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Laboratory


The walls of my study were painted more than twenty years ago in an Arts and Crafts theme in acid green stenciling but I've recently redecorated the room to include the new and unexpected in response to my changing needs and tastes. While the clock, of Belgian black marble, is from 1835, the stainless steel lamps are of my design. They stand on a nineteenth century bookcase where my first editions and more prized volumes are stored.

We're under the roof here as evidenced by the old beam and the sloping ceiling. My desk and companion storage unit were made for me twenty years ago to my Biedermeier-inspired design. The casual chairs are Victorian English while my desk chair is eighteenth century Italian. On the back wall is a portrait of Gil Cohen by photographer Crawford Barton, 1978. The painting on the right is mine, entitled "Sacrifice Hit," 1980.

The corner sofa is late eighteenth century, Italian. The gouache above is by me from 1981 and the bronze medallion is by Walker Hancock, 1940s. The 1887 photograph to the right by Eadweard Muybridge examines the locomotion of a woman getting out of bed. Below is a New York roofscape done by me in pen and ink from our Chelsea Hotel window in 1991.

The table is by Alvar Aalto and the framed gouache is mine, from the late 70s. The lamp and the chair are by Ikea.

The wall sconces, with downward pointing arrows, are late 18th century, French, bought in Cannes many years ago.

A recently completed watercolor, from a new blue series of works on paper, dries on my tabletop.

Private Gardens of Taroudant


A single figure heads home from the fields and his dress is that of his ancestors, the blue and black—perhaps only the shoes are modern, made in China by now. And the walls to his right are those that have held this city of his in safety for hundreds of years. But strangely there are new residents just beyond them now busily restoring Taroudant's architectural patrimony. If he climbs up on the wall, an easy enough task, he can look down into some of these gardens and even perhaps get a glimpse, if he permits himself, of a young European girl sunbathing. What goes through his mind one wonders?

This beautiful old house has been transformed by a pair of Belgian architects. I have no idea what it might have looked like before this recent work was done, how much of this is authentic and how much a fantasy come to life. But a charming fantasy it is in any case.

To the side, in this same garden, a pergola, built to afford shade at the poolside terrace, is covered with climbing roses that thrive in this dim winter sunshine.

The gardening style is a European/Islamic hybrid of roses, rosemary and olive trees—it looks like Tuscany perhaps, but not enough to wake you from your reverie.

This house might have once been the home of a well-to-do merchant—even without the pool it would still have the air of a quality residence.

This is a different house with a series of less formal terraces, this one in artemisia vulgaris and rosemary.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Claudio Bravo: A Private Visit


The works of Claudio Bravo might not come instantly to mind to many of us were his name mentioned in a conversation about contemporary painting, but Bravo is in fact one of South America's most admired artists and his canvases go easily for seven figures. Born in Chile in 1936 Bravo had lived in Tangier before moving to this several hundred acre estate outside the Moroccan city of Taroudant.

An alley of Washingtonia palms leads to the main entrance of the Bravo palace. The artist is a self-made man the sale of whose "photo realist" works has financed this extravagant dream. But make no mistake or snap judgments based on first glances at this apparent grandeur, there is no solid gold flatware or livery fit for a Saudi king to be found within these imposing walls. This is the world of an artist, a man of culture and refinement.

The master leads us on a walk through his estate even though he's suffering from a mild fever. Dogs follow, servants are never far. He carries a walking stick from his own Chilean Andes and he wears a vicuña pancho.

The first destination is the stables where the artist has a collection of thirty-seven Arab horses. All of the buildings on the property were built by Bravo following his vision and designs.

One prized mare shows off her blood with the help of a stable hand. This entire wing of the facility is covered with screening to protect the precious animals from flies.

An antique neoclassical relief, of European origin, decorates the watering trough near the entrance.

Further along, the grounds are embellished by a collection of contemporary sculpture, mostly work by the artist's friends.

But the garden is the creation of the artist himself.

I admired the contrasts of form and materials.

The inclusion of indigenous plant life.

The generous planting of mature cacti and rare succulents.

A pavilion, inspired by a domed building Bravo visited in Cairo, houses the artist's collection of Moroccan pottery—a private museum containing literally thousands of rare examples.

On a final note, Claudio Bravo is also a philanthropist. Through his generosity the people of his community have seen vast improvements in their quality of life. He is currently building a full-sized hospital for his local village planned and financed entirely by himself.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Berber Town House, Taroudant

The delightful playfulness of Moroccan decorative arts is endlessly pleasing; you see it in the handcrafts, the ironworks, the weavings, and in the architectural details of these simple old village and town houses. This Berber style house, within the city walls of Taroudant, is a European refashioning of an old town house, which faithfully preserves its traditional details.

The walls are a mix of mud and straw, a building material that's been used historically throughout the world and in a vast array of cultures. The room on the upper floor with its grander windows was the sort of thing only the well-to-do enjoyed—it's now a wonderful sitting room with a fascinating, recently painted mural on its ceiling.

The interior spaces in this house are for the most part diminutive but they've been put to elegant and intimate use here in a sophisticated pallet of desert colors.

Local doors were often a focus of decorative invention and this is a very charming example. The freshly painted white border has been used traditionally even here in Italy in farm buildings and in small towns.

An aconite has found it way to this windowsill. Note the ample depth of the walls.

An original, untouched ceiling shows the clever and beautiful use of un-hewn trees, from the nearby mountains.

Stones, wood, mud, vines; in this world we're very close to the earth and the art employs available materials.

The open first floor loggia is cooling and full of charm and it looks down upon a shady courtyard.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Country House in Taroudant

Taroudant is a bit like Marrakech was many years ago, perhaps, long before the boom that some say has destroyed it. It's an hour or so inland of Agadir, on the edge of the desert and the climate, especially in the autumn and spring, is delightfully dry and sunny. This is the entry hall of a private villa just outside the city walls; remarkably, it was built only a few years ago.

It's a jewel of Islamic/Berber simplicity in which every element has its roots in Moroccan tradition. And while it might be more inspired by the palaces of Marrakech than those of Taroudant it doesn't seem at all out of place in its desert landscape and with its sensitive use of locally sourced materials, such as these charming hanging lamps.

The owner of this elegant palace, though European, has spent much of his life in North Africa and he has great knowledge of the decorative arts employed in creating this Moroccan country house. The central courtyard retains elements of the Islamic order and yet it's all reduced to an almost contemporary purity here.

In classic Islamic gardens the central fountain is always small and quiet, in contrast to the European model, which is big and audible. Typically they are fashioned in the shape of lotus leaves, as is this one. I think you could almost say that this tiny interior courtyard qualifies as a garden even though there isn't a single plant in it. The garden element that it does have, which makes it a garden to my mind, is sky.

The rear garden, with the Altas mountains in the distance, is planted out entirely in citrus and now, in the winter months, the perfume of orange blossoms fills the air. At the bottom of the garden is a kind of folly with a loggia, which looks back to the main house.

The interior is enriched with the occasional Berber antique, such as this doorway refashioned as a hall closet.

European touches appear in the living quarters. This window, much more French in style than Moroccan, still succeeds in harmoniously fitting in.

But this beautiful doorway in the garden pavilion is purely Berber and purely Taroudant.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Preppy Retrospective

There are so many blogs these days about preppy style that I thought I'd make my comment to them all in a post. It's the early 1960s. We were the best dressed in our school, I dare say, and everyone knew it. This is my friend Mark Hopkins and me at 16 on Commonwealth Avenue, in Boston. Mark is wearing black and white saddle shoes from the Andover Shop in Harvard Square while I'm head to foot in Brooks Brothers boys' department: rep stripe tie, blue and white stripe shirt, gray flannel trousers and Weejuns (unseen).

More Brooks Brothers at my prep school graduation: the blue blazer, the rep stripe tie, the white Oxford button-down collar shirt. The preppy look was something we thought about, but not too much. And what's more, it was a gentleman's agreement among us all that you never, ever talked about it. Once you talked about it it became false—if you had the style, it was there in spite of you.

Years later, the sixties were still doing their thing and we maturing preppies were part of it. The hair was longer but the style was entrenched. The Brooks blazer, frayed at the elbows, still has a life, the pink corduroy pants meant flare. This is me on my first trip to Mardid in 1970. I thought I'd show it because Gil and I are off to Madrid on Wednesday and I haven't been there since I met up with two girlfriends from Boston studying abroad all those years ago.

This was me a month or so before I left for Europe in 1970, a product of a time and place.

And in 1974 in Boston when I was a young Mad Man in the advertising business. All the attire is still Brooks.

In 2010, after nearly 30 years of living in Italy, the old boy has his DNA written across his face but the style he favors is European by now. The suit is bespoke, a must in Europe, the shoes are Cleverly of London, the tie is Missoni, the shirt has a spread cut-away collar and the cuffs are French—all Italian, and yet it's still me.

A billiard table green woolen jacket from Lucciano Gallacci, that too bespoke, as are the trousers, a custom made shirt from Franco Montanelli, Lucca, shoes by George Cleverly, London, a pocket square of natural indigo dyed silk, and yes, a rep striped tie (I must say I rarely wear them anymore as they have no significance to me and my world, pretty and dignified as they are. I suppose you could say, I've grown up.) There you have it, enough said!