My husband and I recently purchased a home in Brooklyn that was built in 1860. It is technically a “pre-pre-war” building, meaning it’s lived through the Civil War, and all of the World Wars. The Brooklyn Historical Society keeps amazing records on the evolution of city blocks, parks, and skylines.
Perusing the digital collection, I was able to see what part of our new neighborhood looked like at almost every decade – the outdoor marketplaces, the children in backyards, the evolution of the subway system. This virtual timewarp essentially showed me that although my new home is almost 154 years old, its bones, original architecture, and facade have not changed so much. There is something fascinating about the fact that in 154 years, New York City and its boroughs can change so swiftly and yet, in many ways remain stagnant.
Seymour Joseph Guy – The Contest for the Bouquet – The Family of Robert Gordon in Their New York Dining Room 1866
The trim in our home is so similar to Guy’s that it is uncanny. We’ve also recently become obsessed with Victorian gilded frames, and the keeping of cloches and terrariums. Everything old is new again! Look at those nail-heads on the mahogany chairs – are those not on trend for 2014? Even the chandelier with its cantilevers and pulleys can be found in stores ranging from Pottery Barn to Arhaus. The retro-futuristic Victorian fixtures are replete with decorative harnesses and pulleys echoing maritime mechanics It seems simple machines will always remain a basic of human existence.
Guy, who was born and trained in England, settled in 1854 in New York. Typical of the time period, this highly-detailed “conversation piece” (a portrait with narrative elements) was commissioned by Robert Gordon in 1866. Three of the Gordon children have finished breakfast and appear to vie for a small corsage before setting off for school. Gordon, a founding trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, collected American paintings, some of which he displayed in the dining room of his home at 7 West 33rd Street, depicted here. The room was decorated in the up-to-date Renaissance Revival style.
“I was never going to get any sleep. I was going to have Alice in Wonderland conversation after Alice in Wonderland conversation until I died of exhaustion. Here, in the restful, idyllic Victorian era.” ― Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog
In an article on Houzz, Kerrie Kelly, an interior designer who specializes in authentic and livable spaces, said that if you find modern ‘too sleek’ and ‘traditional too stodgy’ when it comes to sprucing up your home, you may be able to define your style in one simple word: transitional.
Eclectic living room in Sweden from Dusty Deco, photographed by Martin Lof
But what IS transitional style, exactly? Basically, it fulfills your desire to have little bit of this, with a little bit of that in their living room. ‘Column A’ meets ‘Column B.’ When my husband and I first moved in together three years ago, we had a melding of the worlds: his antique dresser, my mahogany side table, his modern slanted bookshelf, my 1950’s diner stools. To be frank, our personalities meshed well, but our interiors did not.
Luckily, people tend to not hold fast to the old rules regarding what ‘works.’ Before, an old couch may have looked out of place in a modern home, and a contemporary piece of art, for example, may have stood out (in a bad way) in house full of traditional pieces. But not anymore! We live in a glorious time.
We can revel in picking out a piece that take influence from bygone eras to complement an otherwise strikingly modern room. Pieces like tables made out of wire, and bold rugs, and smaller accessories are used in spaces featuring furniture you’d be likely to spot in the gentlemen’s clubs of yesteryear (cigars, snifters, and all).
I find myself continuously drawn to Valentino. Italian designer Valentino Garavani held his first significant show in 1962 at Florence’s Pitti Palace, an appropriate setting for his opulent collection. Gorgeous lace, feminine details, gossamer-like chiffon, and a vibrant shade of red were Valentino’s hallmarks. Today, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli honor the house’s heritage while adding more modern touches.
This past season, Valentino’s standout hit was the Embroidered Silk Organza Gown in White and Green. The gown showcases expressive and vibrant embroidery that mimics pointillist brushstrokes. Claire Danes wore this number while accepting presenting at the 20th Annual Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Norway. It’s a STEAL at merely $25,000. I kid, I kid.
Something special happens to my friends and I when we discuss couture designers. We intelligent, double diploma-ed, women begin to curse like sailors. As my friend Erica says, “Fuck you Valentino for making my dreams come true!” and my friend Jennell continues, “Honestly, I can’t even talk about Valentino or Chloe without dying of envy for those who can frock about in that shit.” It is just too much beauty for we plebeians to handle.