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12 April 2011

3 Beekman Place and The Wild, Wild West

                   Really. There's no number, but 1 Beekman Place is to the right, 5 Beekman Place is to the left of this door.

3 Beekman Place

      Decorators are often asked why or how they came to the field. I don't know the answer to either of those questions, since I seem to have become a decorator before I knew what a decorator was. Certainly the path was lit while I watched the film Auntie Mame when I was not quite ten years old. I was deeply in awe of those fabulous sets by George James Hopkins, and, while I realized that my family's house was about as far from the fabled 3 Beekman Place duplex as you could get, I saw every reason to try to get at least a little Manhattan glamour into our provincial Southern California surroundings. My best friend and I even fashioned a hanging fish bowl, just like the one in Auntie Mame's elevator lobby. Chez Mame, the decorative schemes ranged from Oriental Opium Den to Moderne/Vogue Regency to Louis Trocadero to Irish Georgian to the unforgettable Yul Oolu/Pneumatic Dada to the final scene's Taj Mahal Fantasia. All in the space of one hour and forty-three minutes. Chez nous, the scenery changed about every two years, and before I was out of high school we had gone from Ultra Modern (all those "hairpin" legs) to Chinese Modern (a lot of chartreuse) to something that was then known as Early American (not the Williamsburg Georgian sort of high-WASP early American, but more of an Upson Downs/Davy Crockett/Frontierland sort of early American–spinning wheel in the window, braided oval rugs, Sandwich glass) to French Provincial, which in those days was a sort of watered-down essay in the Louis XV style. (Its sister style, called Italian Provincial, was a watered-down essay in the Louis XVI style, which invariably involved a scenic wallpaper mural of the Bay of Naples and a fake wisteria plant) to, ultimately, something that was then known as Mediterranean, which conflated elements of French and Italian Provincial and borrowings from Spanish Colonial. We won't go into the All Avocado kitchen, I think.

Mummy and Daddy and Sis and me with the Skyliner, 1957*
*Sorry, I was having a Jackie moment.

My remembrances of things past are keyed to what year Ford my mother would have been driving—in this case a black '57 Skyliner with retractable hard top and Continental kit and parade bumper. We had just moved from a beautiful old Shingle-style house that I had loved, into a brand-new ranch house that I despised on first sight. It was last word in ordinary, and there was another just like it every block or so. In a draw of straws with my sister, I got the bedroom with the dreariest Olde Colonial Tymes wallpaper ever designed. No, thank you. While my parents were out, I got into the charcoal house paint that had been used to butch up the pastel exterior of our ranchstravaganza, painted out the Colonial and ushered in the Sixties, big time. My mother had a certain flair for décor, of course, and while she wasn't mad for the charcoal, she eventually let me make most of the decorating decisions. The die was cast. From there, it was on to my aunts' houses and my mother's girlfriends' houses and here we are, fifty years and countless rooms later. 

     And that, in a large nut shell, is how I became a decorator. Music up. Fade background to black with just my face in the spotlight....

"...I have my loom by the window..."


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