FOR EVERY DOROTHY DRAPER OR JOHN STEFANIDIS, THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF UNTUTORED AMATEURS WHO’VE CAUGHT THE INTERIOR-DESIGN ‘BUG’ AND SET UP IN BUSINESS. BEWARE CHARLATANS BEARING PAINT CHARTS, ADVISES ALISTAIR McALPINE.
The 20th century has seen interior decoration flower as a profession and produce its own bona-fide stars, from Nancy Lancaster to Tony Duquette. The past had its important practitioners too, but often they laboured in relative anonymity. In England, country gentlemen equipped with a pocket volume of Palladio or a useful pattern book worked on the look of their estates alongside practical men who understood the parameters of the use of stone, timber and gilding. These builders and craftsmen knew how to erect a sound structure while respecting their patrons’ search for fantasy and classical beauty. Many examples of this work survive today and are much admired.
To record all the decorators who joined the profession in the 20th century would take up as many pages as the Encyclopedia Britannica. But for every educated and talented decorator who worked during this period, there are a thousand amateurs who aspired to the trade. Most were inspired by personal experience, having treated their own house like a Christmas tree, adorning it with their own collections. (This works if your collections are worthy of display, and it can even work, as an expression of identity, if the stuff is dross – but that’s a hard trick to pull off.) However, there is a vast difference between harmoniously arranging your own possessions and doing the same for a stranger.
Many decorators with minimal skill embark on changing the shape of a client’s house while employing builders as untutored as they are. After walls are demolished and beams left unsupported, homes face a real danger of collapse. The true interior decorator is highly trained, often an architect with an understanding of the principles of construction. To list such people and to enthuse about their ability would take only a short volume; great names are inevitably few and far between. They tend to be innovators, too. You may prefer John Fowler’s crisp romantic style to the flamboyant modern baroque of Dorothy Draper. If the subtle minimalist of John Pawson leaves you cold, you may gravitate to the rich layers of John Stefanidis’ Patmos retreat. But at least we can agree that these practitioners all have a unique signature. All are (or were) knowledgeable too, which is critical – but knowledge alone is not enough; talent alone is not enough; a great decorator has an extra touch of magic; not only understanding how a building can be transformed, but how it can be made to stand out from other similar buildings.
Some people believe that the mark of a truly great decorator is that he or she makes your heart race with joy. A racing heart is not a comfortable condition, however, and in fact much decoration has the more modest job of creating an efficient environment to live and work in; a home is not a work of art, and an office has to function. Indeed, the real point of decorating is not to astound but to create a harmonious atmosphere that humans enjoy, without their really knowing why.
The art of arranging objects on tables, shelves or walls speaks volumes. The arrangement, the objects themselves, the colours, cluttered or spare, regimented or placed in a seemingly random manner– all reflect personal history and character…….. and style.Here, in a masterful selection of tabletop arrangements,John Stefanidisshows different ways of displaying objects, art and personal momentoes. These ‘Tablescapes’, as David Hicks called them, are not fixed – items can be removed or added as whim dictates.
Metal ribbon lamp from Habitat
Sculpture in glass by Laura di Santillana – Venice
Sculpture by Takis
Sculpture by Gordon Baldwin – Marsden Woo Gallery London
Garouste and Bonneti table of the 1980’s
Select a colour scheme. John Stefanidis has predominantly black on gold with red and green highlights. An arrangement of objects which reflects his many travels. Same table in two versions, the second with display of hellebore flowers in a silver bowl which, ofcourse, could be some other seasonal bloom.
On John Stefanidis’ timeless Cloud Table in brass – his furniture just DOES NOT DATE – are (clockwise from bottom):
Cigarette ‘etuille’ with John Stefanidis’ initials (www.harryfane.com)
Sculpture by the Venetian Laura di Santillana
Evil eye – Venini, Venice (www.venini.it)
Metal box from Japan – faux bois
Jade beads bought in China and made into worry beads(www.harryfane.com)
Granite fragment from an Egyptian obelisk
Bronze Buddha’s hand – a treasured possession from Burma
A simple arrangement showing how an original juxtaposition of two unrelated objects will draw the eye and create interest.
John Stefanidis’ Patmos table. This is the original ‘go-anywhere’ table looking equally chic used inside or outside.
Simple dish made from moulded glass and picked up by John Stefanidis on his travels to Venice.
A metal footprint of Buddha from India is inscribed with auspicious signs.
You can enhance a kitchen or bar area, this a small display on an oak top.
Rattan blinds from India – Joss Graham (www.jossgraham.com)
Oversize silver spoon for ice
Brass sculpture by Lucio Fontana
Moulded glass dish from Venice
A digital frame – a modern gadget to show images of your latest trip, adventure or indeed your beloved.
Items arranged by colour and similar sparkle and opalescence on an oak surface. If and when you are bored of an arrangement – clear it away and start again.
Crystal shell from India
Crystal rocks – from Ben Gaskell
Etched glass dish 1940’s
Spectacles encrusted with diamonds from Zitomer (76th Street at Madison Avenue – opposite Hotel Carlyle, New York)
(Centre) Inlaid jade box 1920’s
Crystal with silver crayfish
Loulou de la Falaise brooch on the largest crystal rock
A sparse uncluttered look which emphasises the beauty of the items on display.