This Week's Reads

For the gentle reader hoping for insights to an obscure new novel, check in another time.  The Dilettante is all about picture books this week (as he is most others).

After all the brouhaha that's been going about, including Christopher Petkanas' mean-ish piece in the New York Times (I'm not going to bother link to it, you've all read it), I'm reading Duane Hampton's ode to her late husband, Mark Hampton, An American Decorator (Rizzoli).  And yes, I know I'm late to this party.  I waited for the local library to get it.   I've always been neutral about Mark Hampton---some of his work I like very much, some I find lacking or derivative .  I barely dare say it out loud, because his fans are a loyal lot who, having crowned their God, will not brook any criticism.  Sarah Palin fans are wimps by comparison. Therefore, I am relieved to say that I like the book far better than I expected to.  Mrs. Hampton writes intelligently and lovingly, even objectively ,about her husband's work, and the best is very good indeed---and that is mostly what she has chosen here.

Susan & Carter Burden's first New York apartment, from Mark Hampton.  I like this.  How could I not with that art? (For a post about Carter Burden's uncle's house in Maine, click here)

I'm alternating Mark Hampton with Peabody & Stearns:  Country Houses & Seaside Cottages by Annie Robinson (W.W. Norton).   This book is way overdue, a serious history of the firm that was probably second only to McKim Mead & White in importance in the late 19th and early 20th century.  They were also among the major innovators in what we now call the shingle style, and that development is fully covered here.   The printing is beautiful and crisp with wonderfully reproduced vintage photos supplemented with modern material (take note Acanthus Press, publisher of seriously over-inked illustrations).  My only criticism is that the designer is guilty of one of the Dilettante's biggest annoyances in book design----the dread split gutter illustration.  What looks great on a flat layout rarely works as well once it's on the open pages of a tightly bound book, splitting the image in two and destroying the impact.  But a small quibble.  I'm enjoying the book enormously, and gasp, am even learning a few things.

Kragsyde, Manchester-by-the-Sea Massachussets, one of Peabody & Stearns most famous houses.  Many lesser known, but no less wonderful designs are featured in this book

I'm putting both aside now----I'm going to read Claudia Pierpont's The Dignity of Duke Ellington, next up  in this week's New Yorker, and if I'm still awake after, the May issue of World of Interiors is calling me---there's a seriously delicious library in a house in Kensington, and Jorge Pardo's house has me ready to sell up and move to Mexico.  

When I'm through with Hampton and Peabody and Stearns and Ellington, I'm hoping to have in hand the new Beatrix Farrand, Private Gardens, Public Landscapes, by Judith Tankard.  Although Farrand has been excellently covered in a couple of earlier books, this one has the largest format, and draws more heavily on the Farrand archives at Berkeley, as well as the Garden Club of America's amazing lanterns slide collection at the Smithsonian, resulting in much excellent material. I've flipped through it at the local bookstore, and it is gorgeous.  Farrand summered nearby in Bar Harbor, and designed many of the finest landscapes in this region ( a couple of which I will be posting about in weeks to come, now that garden season is here).   The vintage color photograph of the lost Satterlee garden at Great Head in Bar Harbor, a subtle masterpiece of site appropriate design, very different from the grand gardens she is most famous for, is alone worth the price of this book for me.  Another must-own is the collection of Farrand's own writings in The Bulletins of Reef Point Gardens, reprinted several years ago with a new introduction by Paula Dietz.  (Ms. Dietz once kindly wrote a couple of paragraphs about the Dilettante in the New York Times.  Many, many years ago.   I still fondly remember the fact checking department ringing me up before publication, to ask if I was still indeed 36, or had I turned 37?  That's a newspaper with a passion for accuracy.  And for those who care, I am long since past 37.  Way past.)

That's it.  No big intellectual revelations here.  But, if some of my choices this week interest you, let me urge you to think about ordering them from your local independent bookseller, and not from Amazon just so you can save that $10.00 that you'd only waste on something else anyway (unless you're really really really better than most of us).   Amazon is all good and well, but when the independents are gone, something will truly be lost.  One of my favorite commentators told me the other day about a Noel Coward record  he was seeking that was misfiled at Amazon under Christmas (Noel).   I prefer a world where people who know and love the material shelve it, read it, listen to it, recommend it.

And if you aren't lucky enough to have an independent bookseller anymore, I'd be glad to recommend our local bookstore--they couldn't be better.


Martha said...

And Amazon is not alone in "killing" off Mom and Pop's -- look what WM and big box stores have done to all of the merchants that used to fill store fronts in small towns all over America!

I applaud your stand on your independent book seller!

You're the second blogger who has commented on Mark Hampton's book -- I may have to go see what it is about!

Anonymous said...

Each of these books intrigues me, but I guess I must be one of those rabid Mark Hamptonites, because I found Christopher Petkanas's NY Times piece irritating in the extreme, particularly his closing lines that dismissed Mark Hampton's work as wholly unoriginal.
I should like to pose the question: how many fine
rooms are made from whole cloth, with no element borrowed or adapted or inspired by "something else"?
There isn't a good designer on earth who hasn't derived motivation from another source, however obscure or tenuous. There are very few Jean Michel Franks out there, the sort of artists who do seem to be reinventing the wheel at a given time in history.
My hero, Sir John Soane, was one of the most distinctive architects who ever lived yet he was the first to acknowledge his debt to Piranesi and the French architects of the late 18th century. You take it, then you re-make it.

Raina Cox said...

A "mean-ish" NY Times piece on Hampton?

I'm off like a shot to read it...


home before dark said...

Hampton is on the blog waters today. I am voting directly with Mr. Worthington. I think Shakespeare (whomever he really was!) would agree. I thought the Hampton book, despite its proofreading glitches was interesting and better than most of the book foam that has floated to the top this year. Thanks for the tip about the new Farrand book. I admire her work and her place in landscape design history.

Blue said...

Dilettante, I agree about the library in Kensington though I'd probably fling in a couple of armchairs for comfort. The house in Mexico is magical - the bedroom and bathroom especially so.

Your book recommendations are noted as is your plea for the local bookstore - in my case that means Barnes and Noble and Borders. Atlanta's independent bookstores are long gone, more's the pity. This weekend we're going to New York for four days and one of our excursions will be to walk along Madison Avenue heading towards that most fascinating of survivals - a bookstore, small, stuffed and totally engaging.

Janet said...

We are obviously on the same wave length today. I was literally just down in our bookstore, perusing the Peabody & Stearns book, and talking with our book buyer about supporting museum book shops. {However, I must admit that while I do buy from there whenever I can, there are still a fair number of boxes that arrive from Amazon.}

The Farrand book is fabulous, btw.

Reggie Darling said...

I have the Hampton book, too, and am enjoying it. Do I think it could have been better? Maybe. But I am happy with it, and have great respect for its subject and author. Many of the interiors shown are noteworthy, some are rather, um, "staid", and the opulent beyond comprehension Saul and Gayfryd Steinberg palace at 740 Park had me all astonishment. Decorators are working for clients, whose taste, budget, and requirements inform the interiors, not just the decorator's.

I have been irritated for many years with the natterers who shriek the falsehood that if it (be it fashion, decor, architecture, etc.)isn't "original" or "new" then it must be derivative, hackneyed, and beneath contempt. So that's what explains the dreck I see foisted off on us today in the name of the new. Pheh! I am firmly of the view that one needn't be "original" today (as there is little beyond the realms of technology that really benefit from it anymore given how far everything has been pushed already), but rather "excellent" at what one does. Mr. Hampton was a master at his craft, and that is where his inspiration lies. Christopher Petkanas doesn't get it. But then Mr. Hampton wasn't decorating for the writers at the Gray Lady, was he?

The Down East Dilettante said...

Oh, but Reggie, how do you really feel?

Karena said...

Love the Mark Hampton image you chose, and yes, the art grabbed me immediately.

I say take the best of the best and use it in your own way of design and style. How much is truly original now?


Art by Karena

Anonymous said...

Mean-ish? Grow up. Mark Hampton was gay and died of AIDS. Carter Burdern was his lover. Christopher Petkanas has trouble with Duane Hampton's sins of omission and with Mark Hampton's mediocre work for famous people. Seems like fair game to me.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Anonymous 9:50, if you're going to comment, comment politely or not at all. I'd hate to have to start moderating comments. "grow up" is not a very grown up remark, and you missed the point completely.

while it was well known that Mark Hampton was all that you say, and while I personally am always appalled at gay men who marry and dishonestly complicate the lives of those they involve in their deceit, it is also clear that he and Mrs. Hampton did love each other, and she chose to live with the status quo. While I actually agree with you about all you say, it was nevertheless a mean-ish piece, and a picture book retrospective of his work is probably not the place to expect his widow to do a tell-all biography. And truthful or not, it was a mean-ish piece.

And one more thing, speaking of 'grow up'. Get a name and don't make this sort of comment anonymously.

home before dark said...

DED, I know you live in Maine; however, your last remark to Anon shows you know how to "cowboy up."
I'd be proud to have you in my posse. Like you, I abhor hypocrisy and deceit, but there is timing and grace that adds nuance to this situation. When you look at it beyond the surface of the Hampton book, it is a very public knowing that Mrs.Hampton chose to look in the eye and not blink. She wrote their story. Just not as revealing as the tabloid minds would have preferred.

magnus said...


If you're looking for a read this week, try The Great Lady Decorators by Adam Lewis, et al. Very good, I think. And since a love of interiors often goes hand in hand with a love of food, try "Specialities de la Maison", a reprint, just issued, of a compendium of recipes submitted by all sorts of grand people to raise money for war torn France in 1940. And, if you have some spare time, check out the upcoming Patricia Kluge auction on Sotheby's website. It's something to be seen. I would very much look forward to your comments on the house and its contents. It was all done by the normally hugely circumspect David Easton whose work is typically so beautiful that it makes me weak in the knees. The Kluge place strikes a discordant "McMansionsny" note to me, and the interiors have very little of the charm and restraint I so associate with his work. I hope i'm not being too critical but would love to hear your thoughts.

As for me- I won't be reading before bed this evening,just sleeping soundly knowing that I have nothing to fear from giant Maine hooved rats. This week at least.

magnus said...

And for those of you close by, buy your art type books at Archivia here in Manhattan. A gem of a store that deserves to be patronized. As DDE so rightly points out, We will all be losers if our local bookstores disappear

The Down East Dilettante said...

Magnus, your comment just caught up with me, and I hope you see this reply, because in fact I AM planning a quick post about the Kluge's McMansion, and agree with every word you said (I also have a special little twist to start the post)

Also very looking forward to The Great Lady Decorators, which I haven't been able to get around to yet.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog very much, having found it after reading your many interesting comments on Zach's "Old Long Island" blog and following the link he provides.
Though late in commenting, I too recently read Annie Robinson's Peabody & Stearns book -- purchased at my local bookstore, Vroman's in Pasadena (originally founded in 1894!).
The shingle style (or Craftsman as we typically say in Pasadena) has always fascinated me. Robinson's book was an informative and well illustrated look at Peabody & Stearns's impressive residential work in that style and in general. Learning about their work and clientele provides a remarkable illustration of the late 19th / early 20th century era in the Northeast.
In addition to your interesting posts on various topics, you provide a wonderful tour of Maine that I find fascinating. I'd be very interested to see a reading list of books you recommend on the subject!

-- CDR from San Marino (formerly of NYC)

Anonymous said...

Whether Mark Hampton was or was not Gay is hardly the point. There is, one regrets to say, plenty of bigotry even today towards Gay people. But be that as it may.

On the point of the quality of books perhaps it should be remembered that it is often difficult to find original photographs of houses and it is often the case that they have to be copied from magazines etc, as is the case with many pictures in Adam Lewis' 'The Great Lady Decorators'. There are programes which can digitally enhance pictures but very often the quality is not brilliant. It is a pity so many photographers archives are either lost or untraceable.

JohnT said...

There are still hard feelings about Mark's refusal to support Gay Rights and AIDS research despite his high profile and proximity to the President. But shoulda/coulda is a moot point now. And so what if Duane wants to put her own "Camelot" spin on it? In the 80s he was one of this country's most famous decorators and the book is an interesting record of that.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Anonymous 7:12, your recent comment just caught up with me, and I agree---it is astonishing that in this age, photographs are still lost, and archives not more highly valued for the future----to say nothing of those who will not share or give permissions to keep giving the photos life.

John T., I was always one of those appalled by Hampton's lack of activism, something one encounters in lots of closeted men who are in a position to do good without compromising their closet. And Mrs Hampton is absolutely allowed her take and her memories, and a I agree that a retrospective of his work is not likely to be the best forum for a discussion of his personal choices.