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08 March 2011

La Vie en Rose

Back in the palmier days of the Hollywood studios, big stars got big "dressing rooms" on the lot, veritable cottages, really, with all the amenities of hotel and home. They were decorated by the set department in whatever style was the current rage. Period looks and ultra modern looks, and a hybrid of the two that came to be called Vogue Regency or Hollywood Regency, were employed in the design of these cozy retreats. Billy Haines, the silent era matinee idol turned Joan Crawford's decorator, was the grand master of this rarefied realm. He took the look from the screen to the street, so to speak, adapting for domestic use (okay, Hollywood's idea of domestic use) the luminous worlds created by set designers such as Cedric Gibbons, who did every picture you ever wanted to see. The Art Déco that had been the ne plus ultra of cinematic taste since the Roaring Twenties lost favor in the United States as things turned decidedly Nazi in Berlin. Déco, then called Modernist or Moderne - the term Art Déco was coined in the 1970's - was the victim of its association, in the American mind at least, with the whole Nazi mise en scene. Think Albert Speer. Think Metropolis. What to do?

Look homeward was what the studios did, to an idealized take on our colonial and Federal past. The columns and pilasters and cornices and architraves and broken pediments of what was basically a transported British style served as the inspiration for this delightfully bastard style. To see an example of exactly what I'm talking about, just slip in your DVD of Dark Victory. You'll behold the epitome of Vogue Regency at its glamorous, shimmering height in the first three minutes of the film. The staircase railing alone is worth a treatise. Do watch the rest. Years ago, when I first met Barbara Pohlman, another decorator working in Hollywood, she told me she was looking for something like "that Dark Victory wallpaper" for Linda Ronstadt's house, and we bonded instantly. I knew she meant the paper in the Spoiler Alert scene at the end.

Here, then, an homage to those studio dressing rooms or bungalows, as they were sometimes called. They were no more "bungalows" than those glorified garden-court apartments at The Beverly Hills Hotel are true bungalows. For that you'll have to watch The Letterbut we haven't time.

I wanted Christmas, but Christmas in Hell!

The task here is to start out over-the-top and to stay over-the-top. If you lose your nerve, you'll wind up with your grandmother's house, and, assuming your grandmother was not Norma Shearer, that probably won't be a good thing. When your main fabric pattern features red roses the size of dinner plates, the very idea of restraint is just plain silly. Close your eyes and think of Dorothy Draper. Better, think of Ruth Draper.

Soigné to spare - the star's dressing room look: over-scaled floral prints, striped satin, big white lamps, white flowers, sparkly objets, a real telephone. The only things missing are the cigarette boxes and lighters. 

Repeat after me: There's no place like home...except my bungalow.

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