Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sheer Opulence

"Less Is Not More," a painting I made in 1999 as a gift for an interior designer friend (whose initials are NLM.)

I think every artist loves “doing” their interiors. We may not be interior decorators but the urge is always there to use our surroundings as yet another creative outlet. My taste in interiors, like the art I make, tends to be of the “Less is Not More” school, and looks to the past rather than to current trends for aesthetic nourishment. I love looking at interior design (usually on the printed page) and there are many practitioners whose work I admire, ranging from icons like Nancy Lancaster and Sister Parrish, to current masters like Bunny Williams and John Saladino, and on to the wild frontiers of Diamond and Baratta. Now I have a new addition to my A-list:  I recently acquired a copy of Nicholas Haslam’s Sheer Opulence, subtitled Haslam Style:  Glamour in Contemporary Interiors

Opulence and glamour are, alas, not very evident in my present home, but I add touches where I can, and slake my thirst for those qualities by acquiring books such as this. Haslam originally trained as an artist, and the Introduction contains several of his interior watercolors. Haslam’s opulent aesthetic--why just one layer when more can be contrived to richer effect?--is achieved by obsessive attention to detail. Floral print draperies in a bedroom are given a “fuzzy, funky” edging made of 3 layers of heavily gathered, scallop-edged chintz, looking like rows of flower petals attached to the curtains. He can also do sparer, more restrained interiors that nevertheless exude style and that ineffable quality, “taste”, via that same attention to detail. A dignified, monochromatic London drawing room is saved from stodginess by a gorgeous chandelier, cascading drapery swags and deep fringe on an ottoman. Dee-lightful! 

After perusing these beautiful photos for days, I began reading the text. As a young man Haslam was introduced to some well-known personages among his parent’s contemporaries, including Lady Diana Cooper, Cecil Beaton, and Oliver Messel. Geoffrey Scott, author of The Architecture of Humanism, was his father’s cousin (and one of Vita Sackville-West’s lovers) and had a hand in decorating his parent's home. Haslam says these people “taught me the point of the past,” something so very lacking, it seems to me, in the education of today’s younger generations. Or am I showing my age?

“Every room should have a touch of pink in it, because it makes all the other colors sing.”
 -Nicholas Haslam

Along with this lovely book, I am currently reading Serious Pleasures, a biography of Stephen Tennant by Phillip Hoare, which contains photos (by Beaton) of rooms in his family home, Wilsford. Stephen was assisted in decorating Wilsford by Syrie Maugham, another iconic decorator. Pink was his favorite color. These books, one about a legendary aesthete and one by a contemporary artist/designer, make delightfully complementary reading. I recommend them both.


  1. This is a great combination book read- I have not read Stephen Tennant book- now I am tempted. NH is of course my favorite!

  2. LA, do read the Tennant book. He was a constant traveler and there is much about continental travel and hotels in the 20's and 30s, and other interesting things.

  3. It's always so lovely to read your musings dear Diane. You always educate and interest me.
    Not very good news as yet re Freddie and I am suffering a chest infection and feeling very unwell.
    Hugs xx


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