Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pictures to Embrace: Chartres

In finally going through tax receipts from my 2010 Paris trip, I recalled how much I  enjoyed  visiting  several  of    France’s   renowned   Gothic   cathedrals :
and the   BASILICA   of    SAINT-DENIS.
I must first confirm that I am a novice when it comes to the Gothic period.  Each of these cathedrals is fairly bursting with majestic architectural details and historical imagery which I couldn’t begin to recount.  I’ll also admit that, as much as I enjoyed these excursions, the Gothic period of architecture doesn’t normally top my list.   “Be that as it may,” as my friend (let’s call him Michel) would say, they are at the top of his list!  Michel is a dear friend who joined me and my husband on our trip.  He also managed to visit the great cathedrals of both  Amiens and Reims.

During our pre-trip planning I’d agreed to visit Chartres with Michel 
(Le Corbusier’s  Notre Dame du Haut chapel at Ronchamp is more my speed!), 
half-hoping he’d forget about it.  That not being the case, Michel and I parted ways with my husband in the Paris metro one morning around 7:00 am.  He was hopping an early tgv for Verdun and its WWI battlefields via the Gare du Nord and we departed the Gare Montparnasse around 8:00.
Through some good fortune the sun began to poke through the clouds that morning--not an every day occurrence in the area.  A short  ways  outside  of  Paris,  I  spotted  one  of  the long,  man made  ‘lakes’  of  Versailles ' Palace,  known as  
Le  Grand  Canal,  out the window (actually, I’m now thinking it was the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses, a similar edifice, but stunning nonetheless). It  appeared  through  the  trees,  perpendicular  to  the  train  tracks --  a  magical  surprise,  
especially as I’d not visited in 25 years.

“We’re here…” I heard Michel say as I was nodding off.  Gathering my things and emerging from my seat, I had a brief glimpse out the opposite window of the train.  I’ll  never  forget  the  silhouette  of  Chartres'  two  gray,  contrasting  towers  rising against  a  pale,  orange  sky.   Although we’d have less than a minute to exit the train upon stopping, I couldn't help doing second and third takes of this spectacular sight.

Over bright, uneven cobblestones, we walked the short distance from the train station to the Cathedral, and then just stood and stared.  As my former, French landlady would have said, “C’était un splendeur.”  (It was splendid!)   Michel observed that, unlike the honey-colored stone used in much of Paris’ buildings, the stone here was a beautiful off-white. The portals on the south side were as magnificent and impressive as the front (west) portals.  Michel explained that only the king was allowed to enter a cathedral through its front portal. Visitors and pilgrims entered through the sides.

A Romanesque church once stood here and was all but destroyed by fire in 1194.  The Royal (west) Portals, among the few surviving elements, were incorporated into Chartres' new, High Gothic-style cathedral (construction: 1205-1260). They were inspired by the Royal Portals of the Basilica of Saint Denis, and their carvings are amongst the most important examples of Early Gothic sculpture.

Along with Amiens' and Reims' cathedrals, Chartres Cathedral is the standard bearer for French Gothic design.  It was the first of the Gothic cathedrals whose original plans included flying buttresses.  This extension of early buttresses allowed clerestory windows to expand, especially in height.  The carved figures on Chartres' exterior, another innovation, were the first since Roman times to display elements of naturalism and personalization.  These figures have distinguishing features and also stand away from the walls (as opposed to being  part of them).  More than 2,000 such figures exist on Chartres' exterior.

Unlike most cathedrals, the towers of Chartres are different in height and design. They were constructed at different times, with centuries in between.  I preferred the earlier (south) tower, with its less-adorned, octagonal form, its flat-edged surfaces finished in stone tiles. It was simple but beautiful, and said to have been influential in similar designs.  The northern tower displayed elements of a higher (later) Gothic architectural period, incorporating more intricate, flamboyant details.  Its spire wasn't added until the 16th century. Perhaps it’s the contrast of the two that makes for the grandeur of the final product.

And back to Michel and me, we spent a fair amount of time on the windows.  As they're known for their extraordinary color, we couldn't imagine what we’d have missed had there been no sun. I’ll never forget the  blues  and  reds  in particular.  Their brilliance and intensity was beyond description, especially as the sun shone through them (some argue that the intensity of these colors kept the sun from truly lighting the insides of cathedrals).  (On an off-note, I enjoyed a few moments' shopping at the nearby Galerie St. Fulbert!)

As Chartres Cathedral was built upon the highest peak in the region, it was exciting to discover the lovely view of surrounding countryside to the east.  Included just below was a small copy of Chartres' famous Labyrinth – in hedgerows!  The labyrinth itself was something I’d looking forward to seeing as it had been part of Lenten studies at my own church for years. In person, its diameter was gargantuan!  And though it was mostly covered by chairs, one still imagined countless pilgrims making their way through it on their knees.  The areas of passage were lower and worn down with wear, and the black ‘delineating’ areas raised.  We puzzled at the center which was also worn down and containing iron or metal studs. We later learned it had held a gold medallion which was taken to melt down for arms in 1792.

In closing, I repeat that these facts about Chartres Cathedral only begin to scratch the surface of its treasures!  In spite of this post, much history and detail remains uncovered!  Chartres Cathedral holds the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a designation not made to either Notre Dame de Paris or the Basilica of Saint-Denis.

Auguste Rodin summed it up nicely...
"Chartres Cathedral is the Acropolis of France."

PHOTOS: 1. Chartres Cathedral, UTexas, 2. La Pièce d'Eau des Suisses, Versailles, Julien Benatar, 3. Chartres, west facade, www.interamericaninstitute.org , 4. Chartres, north portal carvings c. 1230, Sacred Destinations, 5. Chartres interior, Bluffton University, Chartres, Blue Virgin Window, flickr, 6. Chartres, Labyrinth, unknown, 7. Chartres, Rose Window, John Glines, 8. Chartres, Angel Sundial, Picasa, 9. Chartes, Landscape Labyrinth, Discover Chartres, 10. Chartres, view from the top, Travelpod 11. Chartres' Aries window, Zodiac Images.


Pictures to Embrace: Saint Denis


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

for the love of: JOE NYE

I am hard pressed to say that I like any interior designer's work
moreso than I do that of Miles Redd
But the rising star of JOE NYE's work has caught my eye
and is set to grab that title right out of Miles' hot little hands!

In August 2009, House Beautiful Magazine published these photos of Mr. Nye's 900 square foot, 1 bedroom/1 bath LA apartment.  Read excerps below including design and decorating tips from Mr. Nye.

The Living Room, includes a mirrored wall and etagere, upholstery is from DowntownNye describes his apartment as "Late 1970s English decorating in 2009, in that it's heavily layered with lots of pretty clutter." 

NYE on his Living Room bookshelves:"I wanted a place for my books that would also function as an architectural anchor for the room, which it needed. But I really wanted the books, not the bookshelves, to be the big statement. I have a nice collection that's important to me." 

NYE on living in a small space: "It's 900 square feet, and I was worried about living in such a small place. But I found out it's freeing! I decided to practice the decorating philosophy that I preach to my clients: Live the way you live for 350 days a year. The other 15 are aberrations."
Meaning that (cont.)"if you don't have houseguests, you don't need a guest room. If you don't have large sit-down dinner parties, you don't need a separate dining room. If you usually just have people over for drinks, you only need seating for six or eight."

NYE: "Obviously you can tell from the wallpaper and the fabric,
I'm crazy for anything chinoiserie, but you can't have everything black and painted with birds and pagodas."
NYE: "That really tense juxtaposition between potentially twee wallpaper with the drama of an intense painting, with its riot of color, has this almost anti-lyrical quality to it. I like having an important piece of contemporary art against a very, very traditional handprinted English wallpaper. I have an Eero Saarinen side table next to a Frances Elkins dressing mirror.
You need some contrast to rooms. When everything is of the same great pedigree, rooms look like museums.
I didn't want my bedroom to look like Babe Paley's."

 NYE on the Bedroom furniture:
"It's a buffet from the Mandel House in Highland Park, Illinois, which was done by David Adler and his sister, Frances Elkins. It's such a giant piece of furniture in a small room, but sometimes that can make a room feel bigger. There aren't many people who would put a dining piece in their bedroom.
When I bought it, I didn't have a clue where it would go,
but I had to have it."
NYE on managing clutter: "For me, there can never be enough vases and objects and candlesticks. But you don't have to have everything out all the time.
I have cabinets filled with things,
and I rotate constantly."

IT IS A THRILL to survey and contemplate these photos of NYE's LA Home bedroom alone.  The fabrics, patterns and colors he chose to complement one another...the layers....are something to behold!!  Nye has packed an absolute multitude of goodies into this relatively small space, and yet it does not seem croweded or "over" decorated.  It is inviting and lively and one wishes it might be magically transplanted into ones own bedroom!

NYE describes the inspiration for the home's color palette: "She owned a piece of porcelain that was bright turquoise and she said, 'I really love this color, can it be the catalyst?' One thing led to another and we came up with turquoise and raspberry pink, a combination we both love."
NYE: "This is an old decorator's rule, but it's important to remember:
For every piece of furniture with a solid base, including a skirt, you need to balance it with something leggy, more delicate." 
NYE: "My mantra is mixing humble with grand. If everything in a house is at the same level of taste and importance, it comes off looking like an upper-middle-class tract house.
This job was really done on a budget. Her mother and father had given her some fine antiques, like a French Directoire daybed and a painted chinoiserie cabinet. But there's also stuff from flea markets and Crate and Barrel. There's pedigree going on with no pedigree. We did spend a lot on beautiful fabrics."
NYE: "[What makes a room great is]
the last 10 percent. 
People get the big stuff done
and they ignore the accessories." 
NYE: "In her very feminine bedroom, I used a beautiful 1920s copy of a Louis XVI settee and we put a pretty serious Scalamandré raspberry silk damask on there. I wanted to make the room girly without being silly."
 "NYE sums up this feminine bedroom as 
Christian Dior in Palm Beach."
NYE: "The cocoa-brown sitting room is her office and it doubles as a guest room. It has a Crate & Barrel sleeper sofa with animal-print silk pillows from Hollyhock. Those two pillows cost more than the sofa. I think the big predictable things like fully upholstered furniture are a bit easier to fake because they recede in a room. It's the accessories that you put on them that have to be fabulous."
NYE: "The end result looks like my client,
is a true translation of her taste and style.
I promise you, she doesn't have one friend who lives in a place that looks like this.
Integrity, personality, and idiosyncrasy
will always be stylish." 
NYE: "The wallpaper in the powder room was an idea I stole from the decorator Steven Gambrel — he had done that same thing with a book called Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, where he took the book apart and used the plates to paper a wall. Because my client is such a fashion girl and we had a sad second bathroom to make pretty, I bought that Taschen book called The Complete Costume History and I had my brilliant master wallpaperer cut it up. We figured out the arrangement of the plates on the floor first. I think it looks as good as an $1,800 roll of de Gournay."