Entries in Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel (2)


On "Undecorating": Atemporality, Clutter, and Interior Boredom 


"I am really just bored with the interior design scene. I think it has become an uninteresting subject because everything has been said, everything has become sort of tired and finished." - David Hicks [uncited, via The Blue Remembered Hills, 3.27.11]

"Though his passions are legion, there are some things Mr. Holtzman does not like. 'I'm tired of found objects, people just assembling things,'' he said, adding snobbishly that the stylish eclecticism practiced by flea-market shoppers is nothing more interesting than 'just good taste.'" - Joe Holtzman in conversation with David Coleman [The New York Times, 9.10.98]

"In related news, DwellStudio founder Christiane Lemieux recently released her first book, 'Undecorate: The No-Rules Approach to Interior Design.' The title alone bugs the ever-lovin' hell out of me. It indicates a Selby-like approach of throwing thrift store knitted afghans all over the place and calling the result 'subversive.' Puh-lease. It's just crap decorating." - Raina Cox [via If The Lampshade Fits, 4.6.11]

"1. The cult of the amateur is digital utopianism’s most seductive delusion. This cult promises that the latest media technology -- in the form of blogs, wikis and podcasts --  will enable everyone to become widely read writers, journalists, movie directors and music artists. It suggests, mistakenly, that everyone has something interesting to say." - Andrew Keen [taken from "The Anti Web 2.0 Manifesto"]


"[Barbaralee] Diamonstein: There might have been another cue that you have given to the occupants. When that house was photographed with three perfect lilies in one place, and two books in another-you had soap powder for the kitchen sink on the kitchen sink, and some of the cupboard doors open. It was very much a lived-in environment. It seemed evident that this was a deliberate structuring of the photo to reflect an environment in which real people lived real lives.

[Frank] Gehry: Actually, it wasn't structuring the photo.

Diamonstein: It was taking a photo of the way you live?

Gehry: Yeah. Well, what happens is, I've had a lot of photographers there now. Each one comes in and has a different idea of how the place should look. So they start moving the furniture around. If I get there in time I start putting everything back."

"Such discussions imply a displacement of architectural space such that the positioning of its contents-objects and human bodies alike-becomes problematical. It is a feeling that can only be properly evaluated in a historical and comparative context and, in my opinion, on the basis of the following proposition: if the great negative emotions of the modernist moment were anxiety, terror, the being-unto-death, and Kurtz's "horror," what characterizes the newer "intensities" of the postmodern, which have also been characterized in terms of the "bad trip" and of schizophrenic submersion, can just as well be formulated in terms of the messiness of a dispersed existence, existential messiness, the perpetual temporal distraction of post-sixties life. Indeed, one is tempted (without wishing to overload a very minor feature of Gehry's building) to evoke the more general informing context of some larger virtual nightmare, which can be identified as the sixties gone toxic, a whole historical and countercultural "bad trip" in which psychic fragmentation is raised to a qualitatively new power, the structural distraction of the decentered subject now promoted to the very motor and existential logic of late capitalism itself." - Interview text: Barbralee Diamonstein in conversation with Frank Gehry, 1980 [originally from the video interview series American Architecture Now; transcription taken from "Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" by Fredric Jameson, 1991. Last paragraph by Fredric Jameson, from the same passage]


"I saw the book referred to in the link, Undecorate: The No-rules Approach to Interior Design, on the bookshelves the other day and I admit I, in my blasé way, walked on by, thinking that finally we had come to this: someone sat in an office somewhere planning the next wave marketing ploy, and this is the best that could be thought of?

Much, in the magazines, is predicted in terms of styles yet little actually stays the course. The mainstay of traditional decorating from the 1980s onwards, the so-called English Country House style as personified by Lancaster, Fowler, Buatta and Parish, and the American Style personified by Billy Baldwin, Hadley and few others, were merely longish-lasting fads - we're all trapped in our times and subject to the ultimate influence of our time - selling. The fads of one generation become the justifications for the succeeding generation to cite the names of its (preferably dead) practitioners and thus, it is hoped, give credence to their own work and place in history. Ultimately, I think, it doesn't actually matter. For if the only standard is to sell, and if quality - if it still exists - has been usurped by the logo merchants... then what hope is there? 

, in interior design, as in fashion, is nothing more than the re-styling of what has already been used but deemed out of style. Unfashionable and its siblings new and classic is but a concept that drives the wheels of industry, and turns the pages of books and magazines. Much as the words new and improved sell washing powders (even as the contents remain the same), the self-same same words or their synonyms are designed to sell magazines and the products the editors have to all intents and purposes discovered. New is never, however many times the taglines repeat it, about style.

Perhaps, then, here is the explanation for the growth in propping and accessorizing - the fictionalizing of interiors as I've called it before, with its underlying desperation for novelty where there is none - where nothing changes except for superficialities. Interest must be created somehow. The latest superficiality, seemingly, is to make a fashionable virtue out of disarray - mess, some of us would call it. Perhaps that pile of last week's clothing still on the bedroom floor, the unmade bed, sex toys on the nightstand, last night's dinner still on the kitchen countertop - in fact, all that is slatternly could, arguably, become storybook elements for the interior design stylist." [Author Unknown ("Blue"), via The Blue Remembered Hills, 3.27.11]



"The idea that history ended, and that the market sorts that out, and that the Pentagon bombs it if that doesn’t work - it’s gone. The situation now is one of growing disorder. A failed state, a potentially failed globe, a collapsed WTO, a collapsed Copenhagen, financial collapses, lifeboat economics, transition to nowhere. Historical narrative, it is simply no longer mapped onto the objective facts of the decade. The maps in our hands don’t match the territory, and that’s why we are upset.

Now, a new master narrative could arise on paper. That would be easy. On paper, if it were just a matter of paper, we could do it. But to do that via the Internet is about as likely as the Internet becoming a single state-controlled television channel. Because a single historical narrative is a paper narrative.

I don’t think we are going to get one. We could conceivably get a new ideology or a new business model that is able to seize control of the course of events and reinstate some clear path to progress, that gets a democratic consensus behind it. I don’t think that’s likely. At least not for ten years. I could be wrong, but it’s not on the near-term radar.

What we are facing over a decade is a decade of emergency rescue, of resiliency, of attempts at sustainability, rather than some kind of clear march toward advanced heights of civilization. We are into an era of decay and repurposing of broken structures, of new social inventions within networks, a world of ‘Gothic High-Tech’ and ‘Favela Chic’ (as I’ve called it), a crooked networked bazaar of history and futurity, rather than a cathedral of history, and a utopia of futurity.

That’s just the situation on the ground. I don’t want to belabor this point. I don’t want to go on and on about the fact that this is a new historical situation. If you don’t get it by now, you will be forced to get it; you will have no other choice." - Bruce Sterling [taken from "Atemporality for the Creative Artist," 2.25.2010, via Wired.com]



"I do not much like this word clutter. It has a pejorative tone. I read recently the phrase 'elegant clutter' used to describe Diana Vreeland's apartment in New York. But the Oxford English Dictionary gives the word no cosy connotations, not even a suspicion of charm or elegance. Clutter, it says sternly, is 'a disorderly assemblage of things'  ...  'crowded confusion' ... 'a clotted mass'. I discovered also the excellent seventeenth-century word cluttery, meaning 'disorder and dirt'.

As a style of decorating, however, clutter has an honourable history going back at least to the reign of Good King William and dear Queen Adelaide, and certainly cluttered rooms existed long before 1830. We can imagine them occupied by convivial rectors grown rich on pluralism, by amateur inventors with their combined libraries and laboratories, and by spinsters and dowagers surrounded by the souvenirs of a lifetime.

What was perhaps new in the second quarter of the nineteenth century was that the public or entertaining rooms of both modest and grand houses began to fill up with furniture and bric-a.-brac. All this embryo clutter converged in the middle of rooms. Nevertheless I suspect that the present orthodox opinion that in the eighteenth century all the furniture in every room was always pushed against the wall is a lot of fashionable claptrap.

By the end of Queen Victoria's reign, as we all know, if somebody wanted to glide about in what had once been called rooms of parade, it meant going on a species of assault course round whole clumps of potted palms, sociables, and occasional tables awash with framed photographs.

Only a decade later at the beginning of George V's reign there were already signs of change and Queen Mary set vigorously to work to simplify the Royal palaces. However, I know of one instance when, on expert advice, the Queen cleared out all the junk in a room in Buckingham Palace without telling the King, who, when he found out, made her put it all back!" - Min Hogg with Isabelle Anscombe [taken from "Interiors", 1988, by Min Hogg, Wendy Harrop & The World of Interiors]



"In fashionable circles in those two hectic decades between the World Wars - indeed in all circles of people who wished to appear Up-to-date and Thoroughly Modern - the stripped-to-the-bone look was all the rage. Down came the Nottingham lace and up went the hessian. Almost all pictures were banished. A mass of knick-knacks would have looked very odd on a streamlined side-table veneered in Empire woods or on one of Mrs Maugham's dubious pickled commodes. For the rich the only touches of lushness were the bosomy Bower arrangements of Mrs Spry. Here is a description of a room (as late as 1939) by the great historian of taste James Layer. An imaginary cultivated couple of modest means have ' ... plain distempered walls, straight-lined open bookcases, chairs comfortable, but without any unnecessary upholstery, covered with plain, coarse canvas. Their carpet is self-coloured harmonizing with the tone of the room. Their lampshades are made of plain sheets of parchment. On their walls they have one picture: a varnished Underground poster. Good Taste.' Those who remember those sparse rooms can understand why reaction set in.

There were exceptions already among the avant-garde. Pioneer connoisseurs of the Regency had already packed in the sphinxes and obelisks, the marble busts and the ormolu. Already also, a trickle of 'amusing' domes of wax fruit, Berlin woolwork of overblown roses and papier mache painted with sad-eyed dogs was infiltrating many a smart interior as war loomed.

The notion of clutter - and its boon-companion, Wit - as a decorative theme was spotted and plugged by the English edition of House and Garden (bi-monthly in those rationed days) well before the Festival of Britain in 1951. Not for nothing were a revived pair of white and gold Staffordshire figures of a lion and a unicorn one of the official souvenirs of that extraordinary show. In 1959, Osbert Lancaster brought up to date his brilliant pre-war collection of satirical essays on interior design, Home Sweet Homes. He called his wicked version of clutter 'Neo Victorianism' because clutter then was mostly of Victorian artifacts and aimed to revive the cosiness of that era. It was not the mad mixture of all periods popular today. Lancaster blamed the style on the cheap second-hand furniture couples were forced to buy because most new stuff was For Export Only. 'So strong', he writes, 'was the character of these pieces that, like a faint touch of garlic, they completely transformed any interior into which they were introduced. One Victorian work-table ... heralded the arrival of a whole summer of ottomans, Aubussons, beadwork fire screens, Martin engravings, lustres, portieres and Bohemian glass ...'" - Min Hogg with Isabelle Anscombe [taken from "Interiors", 1988, by Min Hogg, Wendy Harrop & The World of Interiors]



"Nevertheless, the style of clutter-mania as we know it took a long time to catch on. John Fowler, on whom the look has often been unfairly blamed, was sparing with his pictures and objects, and his own rooms were positively sparse by today's standards. He was also very economical with the chintz with which his followers smother their rooms. True clutter is very different from those artfully arranged tablescapes, piles of expensive books and endless buttons and bows aimed to give an instant lived-in look. It is based on the often unconscious acquisitiveness of many of the Human Race who cannot resist making jackdaw nests for themselves with things which have taken their random fancy. Another sort of clutter springs from the passion of the dedicated collector who will always find space for yet another incunabulum, stuffed bird or snuff box.

We may note all these themes in this chapter of the book. When I was squinting through my magnifying glass at the O.E.D's harsh definitions, I flattered myself that they did not remotely apply to me. Then I found a couple of my rooms had been cruelly selected as illustrations. These photographs were taken eight years ago. To my horror, looking at these same corners today, I found the breathing space (not generous, I admit, even then) has become even more clogged. Brackets now climb the walls to support even more junk, yet more surfaces have become packed with books and objects. I now realize I am a terminal case of cluttery even though the disease has lasted many years - and I may last a few more.

Although I suspect that the style's days of high fashion are already over, this section of the book is a Grim Warning to those who may still want to inject cluttery artificially and all at once. They will probably catch the disease in real earnest and though the symptoms can be fun, the infection is almost certainly fatal." - Min Hogg with Isabelle Anscombe [taken from "Interiors", 1988, by Min Hogg, Wendy Harrop & The World of Interiors]


"The question is: now what? Given that we have atemporal organized representations of verbal structures, what can we actually do? Where is the fun part?

Where is the fun part? And I think there could be some, actually. We are living in an atemporal network culture, and I don’t think that requires a moral panic. I think it ought to be regarded as something like moving into a new town.

We’ve moved into a new town, and the first order of business is like : ok, what gives around here? Well, there seems to be this sort of decayed castle, and there’s also a lot of slums…. That’s not the sort of thing which requires a punk ‘no-future’ rage. Like: ‘You’ve taken away my future, and I am going to kill you, or kill myself, and throw a brick at a cop!’ I don’t really think that is helpful.

What’s needed here is like a kind of atemporality that’s like agnosticism. Just a calm, pragmatic, serene skepticism about the historical narratives. I mean: they just don’t map onto what is going on.

So how do we just — like — sound out our new scene? What can we do to liven things up, especially as creative artists?

Well, the immediate impulse is going to be the ‘Frankenstein Mashup.’ Because that’s the native expression of network culture. The “Frankenstein mashup” is to just take elements of past, present, and future and just collide ‘em together, in sort of a collage. More or less semi-randomly, like a Surrealist “exquisite corpse.”

You can do useful and interesting things in that way, but I don’t really think that offers us a great deal. Even when it’s done very deftly, it tends to lead to the kind of levelling blandness of ‘world music.’ The kind of world music that’s middle-of-the-road disco music which includes pygmy nose-flutes or sitars.

That kind of thing is tragically easy to do, but not really very effective. It’s cheap to do. It’s very punk rock. It’s very safety pins and plastic bags. But it’s missing a philosophical high-end, really an atemporal meaning of life. High-art.

And I would like to see some of that. I think there is a large hole there that could be filled, from an atemporal perspective. Not at the lowest end of artistic expression, but way up at the top philosophical end." - Bruce Sterling [taken from "Atemporality for the Creative Artist," 2.25.2010, via Wired.com]


"2. The digital utopian much heralded “democratization” of media will have a destructive impact upon culture, particularly upon criticism. “Good taste” is, as Adorno never tired of telling us, undemocratic. Taste must reside with an elite (“truth makers”) of historically progressive cultural critics able to determine, on behalf of the public, the value of a work-of-art. The digital utopia seeks to flatten this elite into an ochlocracy. The danger, therefore, is that the future will be tasteless." - Andrew Keen [taken from "The Anti Web 2.0 Manifesto"]

"Since I founded DwellStudio in 2000, however, the thing that's had probably the biggest impact on me, creatively and professionaly, has been the Internet. It's no exaggeration that the Internet has totally changed the way the world works. It used to be that you'd design something (anything: a dress, a pillow, a car) and then send it out into the world, and the only way to gauge its success would be to look at how many people bought it. But with the proliferation of design websites and personal blogs, a whole new window has opened up: I get to see how people are actually living, whether it's with the bedding, tabletop, and home accessories we design at DwellStudio or with the stuff they've turned up while trolling eBay. I used to turn to the experts—the fashion and interior designers of the world. These days, I much prefer to go to the amateurs. The Internet offers so much proof that the most vibrant style ideas are coming from the minds of real people.

The variety of styles I see on the Internet doesn't necessarily translate seamlessly to book form. Or so the editors kept telling me. We needed to narrow it down a little, to sift through all the great design and inspired ideas that are out there and figure out what it all meant. So I spent months looking at everything from slick, well-designed blogs to humble sites documenting one homeowner's DIY renovation. And somewhere along the way I heard a word that stuck in my head, a word that seemed to me to encapsulate the one common thread in all these great spaces. Because design has its rules, and what I was noticing more and more is that the most stylish people are wiling to disregard those rules. And this word I picked up from who-knows-where seems a very apt one for this approach to decorating. That word is undecorated." - Christiane Lemieux [with Rumaan Alam, taken from the introduction to "Undecorate: The No-Rules Approach to Interior Design", 2011]



Angelo Donghia / Erica Brown's "Interior Views" 

[ED: This post is a continuation of a previous post on the work of Angelo Donghia. Available online texts on Donghia's work can be sparse, and more often focus on his legacy as a businessman rather than his skill as a decorator. More information on his life and work can be found here and here. It should also be noted that artist Richard Giglio's apartment was attributed to Donghia in Architectural Digest's New York Interiors, 1979.

The video interview below was taped in 1981, four years before his death of AIDS-related pneumonia.]

"Light pouring through multifaceted skylights makes its own geometric play in a living room where checks and plaids are counterpointed against white. White separates—and at the same time holds together—the strong blues and reds used on sofas and chairs and in the rug. The bar stools came from the S. S. Caronia."

"At the age of forty-five, Angelo Donghia is unique in the world of American interior design. While most designers find their work with private clients all-consuming, he has successfully embraced almost every aspect of the design business and even achieved the impossible: he has moved into the mass market without lowering his reputation in the eyes of his private clients.

Today, in addition to his interior design company, Angelo Donghia has four other distinct corporate entities: a fabric company, a furniture company, a licensing company, and an ever-growing collection of showrooms throughout the country. In all, he employs eighty people.

At the age of ten, Angelo Donghia was growing up in the small mining town of Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, aware that he didn't want to follow in his tailor-father's footsteps and that he liked making things more attractive. According to Mr. Donghia, nothing has changed. "I'm really doing the same as I was then," he says. "Except now I'm doing it in the big wide world. I've always wanted to do things. In high school I was the president of five different organizations at once. I was always very busy, and I love getting lots of people involved. Strangely enough, I didn't do any of that at college; I was very quiet."

College was three semesters at the University of Miami followed by three years at Parsons School of Design. From the day he graduated, his life has followed a logical progression of one success after another. "At the end of 1959, I decided to apply for jobs. I had three designers on my list: Michael Greer, Yale Burge, and Billy Baldwin. For no particular reason, Yale's name was first so I called him first and he hired me. I asked for one hundred dollars a week. He said, 'You'll take seventy-five,' and I said, 'You're right.''' It was an association that ended only with Mr. Burge's death in 1971."

"The bedroom opens onto a small sitting area. The carved-wood sofa was spray-painted white and covered in white cotton. The room divider holds objects but also encloses ugly, but necessary, water pipes."

"Angelo Donghia became an associate of the company in 1962, a vice president in 1964, and in 1966, when he was made a partner, the company became Burge-Donghia. "By 1968," says Mr. Donghia, "I was running the decorating business and designing rugs and fabrics and some furniture for specific jobs. Yale had a furniture business separate from our partnership, and he decided I should have one too. So we created  Vice Versa, a fabric company, for me.

"I needed furniture on which to display my fabrics, so I used the pieces I had designed for customers. The fabric company became successful, but I felt I could do more. So I started selling the furniture through the same outlets.

"Then Yale died. I continued the decorating business as well as the fabric and furniture companies, but I noticed I was being 'knocked off' by the large furniture and fabric companies. I decided it might be a good idea to do my own 'knock-offs' of my own designs, and that's when I entered the mass market." To work with the manufacturers involved, the licensing department was formed in 1973.

Mr. Donghia's network of showrooms grew from his dissatisfaction with the "way his custom fabrics and furniture were being represented on the West Coast. "They were pushing me off into a corner and not supporting me. So, to protect my designs, I looked around for my own small showroom space." In doing that, he discovered that he wasn't the only designer who was unhappy with his representation. This persuaded him to buy a large Los Angeles showroom, where he now represents twenty-seven companies. Its success led him to open others in Troy, Michigan; Chicago, and Miami.

The story of Angelo Donghia's career may sound too cool, calm, and collected to be true. But for those who know Angelo Donghia, it's hard to imagine it otherwise. A man of calm assurance, he also has a creative, versatile, quick mind, and he realized early on the importance of having a cool, hard business head as well.

"It's very easy to be creative in the design business," he says, "but it's very difficult to make money. As a designer, your expertise is in pretty colorings and gracious living, not in dealing with other people's money. But you have to do that too. So you might as well make them work together."

"More counterpoint of color and pattern in a bedroom. The small geometric design of the carpet is picked up and enlarged upon in the quilting pattern of the bed cover. The effect of these hard edges is softened by the curved headboard with its broad rim of gathered white cotton."

""I was brought up by a father who was a terrific businessman. I was exposed to the constant effort needed to make any business grow. Then Yale Burge gave me the best possible training in our particular business. But I think the main reason I succeeded has been that I was never afraid to fail. If I fail, I know one thing: I am very talented with my hands. If all this goes out the window, I'll never starve. If you reduce everything to the necessities of life--being able to feed and protect yourself-I'll always be able to do that.

"I never take success for granted, and I don't do things for success. At the same time, I'm not going to do things that cause failure. I'm going to work hard and follow all the rules that make one successful—establish a good credit rating, make choices that appeal to people, gather a staff that supports me, not suppresses me. And I believe very much in integrity and in keeping agreements."

These are not the kind of words one hears often from an interior designer-or from any creative personas—as the reason for his success. And Angelo Donghia is creative. He, more than anyone, has given us soft, sensuous luxury in a modern setting. While his designs are light, airy, simple, and meticulously tailored ("I learned from my father how to cut pants and vests, but I never got to the big time-coats"), they are also romantic in their softness, their colorings, and their interplay of pattern and shape."

"At the other end of the living room, pattern plays on texture. A Victorian wire birdcage stands in front of a window shaded by vertical blinds. The floor is covered with terra-cotta tiles. The rectangular table is rattan covered; the round table with animal-like legs is by John Dickinson."

"Mr. Donghia doesn't think there are many secrets to interior design. Furniture should be comfortable and suit its purpose—"A reading chair is not a reclining chair, and vice versa"--and versatile--"Dining tables should have other purposes, and you can dine in rooms other than the dining room. Remember that windows exist to let in light and air, not as an excuse for fancy treatments. Use less but bigger pieces of furniture and only a few important accessories. Get rid of the unnecessary.

''There is no magic to color combinations. Look at the colors you enjoy wearing most, and look at the way nature combines color; you never see anything ugly there. By all means, play safe with neutrals. They are always good backgrounds for people."

The house shown here exhibits all of Mr. Donghia's design principles and also points up his sure hand with color and pattern. In lesser hands, mixing strong colors with equally strong plaids and geometrics is a certain recipe for visual disaster. When it is done by Angelo Donghia, however, one senses the cool control of the man along with the romanticism. Nothing is extraneous, but the rooms are soft, not stark.

Obviously, Mr. Donghia no longer plots the details of every interior his company designs. But he does control them. ''I'm now half designer and half businessman," he says. "I deal only in concepts. But I have the ability to project what I want to the people who work for me so that they produce what I have asked them for." As he crisscrosses the country keeping his designer's eye on the myriad spokes of his business life, Angelo Donghia has time to reflect. "I always resisted the way my father constantly drove himself. I always thought he worked too hard and was too successful. I have become exactly what he was-and I'm not sorry.""