Style and Grace: African-Americans at Home

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The doors to America's most soulful homes are thrown wide open in Michael Henry Adams' dynamic new volume, Style and Grace: African Americans at Home. With unprecedented access to the private residences of today's leading African Americans, this deluxe book celebrates and explores the African-American tradition of flair and creativity in home design and decoration. The first book of its kind, it is a rare and intimate portrait of unique individuals living in beautiful surroundings. From the relaxed and ...
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Overview

The doors to America's most soulful homes are thrown wide open in Michael Henry Adams' dynamic new volume, Style and Grace: African Americans at Home. With unprecedented access to the private residences of today's leading African Americans, this deluxe book celebrates and explores the African-American tradition of flair and creativity in home design and decoration. The first book of its kind, it is a rare and intimate portrait of unique individuals living in beautiful surroundings. From the relaxed and comfortable style of Russell Simmons to the eclectic decor of photographer Gordon Parks to the refined elegance of U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel, Style and Grace: African Americans at Home illustrates a wide array of individual design and taste. With easily accessible text, renowned historian and scholar Michael Henry Adams places each individual home within a larger historical and cultural context. His delightful accounts of the residences are paired with more than one hundred fifty original photographs by Mick Hales.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This volume features the urban and suburban homes of affluent African Americans in the New York City environs, primarily in Harlem, which is appropriate since Adams is an expert on the culture and architecture of this area. Unlike Sharne Algotsson, who in her book African Style described how to create a personal interpretation of African style for the home, Adams does not attempt to define an African American style of decorating but shows, with 150 color photographs by Hales, interiors whose styles are as diverse as are their inhabitants, from a "found," homey style to a sleek, modern style. The homes of Congressman Charles Rangel, photographer Gordon Parks, and Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons are included. Recommended for large interior design collections. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780821228470
  • Publisher: Bulfinch
  • Publication date: 9/17/2003
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 9.35 (w) x 12.35 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Style and Grace


By Michael Henry Adams

Bulfinch Press

Copyright © 2003 Michael Henry Adams
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-821-22847-1


Chapter One

EXCEPTIONAL AFRICAN-AMERICAN DÉCOR

AT HOME WITH THE HUXTABLES Today, it's hard to recall what an innovation The Cosby Show was. When the show first aired in 1984, even some blacks exdaimed, "Humph! There aren't any, or not many, African Americans who live like that."

Those familiar with the history of neighborhoods like Strivers Row and Sugar Hill in Harlem, Brooklyn's Fort Greene, St. Albans in Queens, or Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, and other "suburban Sugar Hills" reacted differently, but for most it was a revelation. That television program taught all America and beyond an important lesson: that affluent blacks resided in tastefully conceived interiors.

At the time, many African Americans, starved for affirming representations of black décor, rejoiced. The Huxtables' smart spaces had been a long time coming. Reassuringly normal, these rooms were "utterly unlike those ordinarily associated with black life in much of the national consciousness," remembers April Tyler, a Harlem Realtor. "They betrayed neither the unlovely meagerness of A Raisin in the Sun nor the crass, overconspicuous trendiness of Superfly. Traditional and comfortably furnished, they featured the occasional African artifact alongside good Colonial reproductions. Inherent in them, we were certain, was an appropriate guide, worthy of application."

Now the program's low key sets, depicting a fictional Brooklyn brownstone, might seem a trifle dull, which shows just how far things have advanced. Another indication of how far we've come in the post-Cosby Show era is the black influence on the dynamic and far-reaching new American multicultural eclecticism. Doors incised by West African master carvers or compact-disk shelves crafted in the Ivory Coast are par for the course. Black architects and black interior designers are working now as never before.

Hardly anyplace in this book is as conservatively decorated as the Huxtables' homestead was. If you're black and a neo-Florentine villa is your heart's desire, that's all right.

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN NEW YORK: THE WORLD CAPITAL OF STYLE

From the Colonial period to the Harlem Renaissance and beyond, New York holds a special place in the evolution of black style. Doubtless you are familiar with the songs about New York. Anything goes here-as long as it has style. It is the city that never sleeps, the hub around which the rest of the civilized world revolves. It's a wonderful town, where most residents are convinced that if they can make it here, in the Big Apple, they'll be all set. Millions have been drawn to this complicated, often frenetic place, and among the lures that cause the hopeful, far and wide, to be irresistibly attracted ever Gothamward is the pursuit of beauty. Many of this group have been blacks.

African Americans in the world's greatest city, now and in times past, have created compelling and enchanting home environments. Those decorating efforts, until recent years, have been all but ignored, although blacks have called New York home for as long as any European colonist has. Little survives to document the décor of the black presence in New York for the first three centuries of its history, but much of that heritage is embodied in this cross section of black New Yorkers' homes today. It provides a rare look at incomparable, sometimes unconventional, spaces, hopefully rendering questionable a host of enduring popular stereotypes about how black people live and providing answers to more interesting conundrums about black style.

BLACK STYLE?

One recurring issue is whether or not an identifiable "black style" exists in interior decorating.

"I can always identify a black singer. Whether Bobby Short, SarahVaughan, or Jessye Norman, there's always a definite quality held in common by even the most disciplined and rigorously trained among them. It's a kind of warmth and depth, a richness, sometimes a subtle thing but, for me, always unmistakable," says the elegant Grafton Trew, an actor by trade and an aficionado of matters of taste. Born in Harlem in 1915, Mr. Trew now lives in Turtle Bay. But he concedes, "It's a different story altogether with a room."

Stephen Birmingham, that prodigious chronicler of elite Americans, seems to have concluded that there is a "black style." In his 1977 book Certain People, which examines customs among African-American upper echelons, an entire chapter is devoted to "Taste."

"I remember well, reading that book and especially that chapter," says Carson Anderson, an architectural historian. "It was anonymous rich black vulgarians versus mostly anonymous rich white connoisseurs, and it was awful! Chief among the complaints of the 'connoisseurs' was what they deemed to be characteristic black ostentation. Especially memorable was a caustic quote, attributed to Louis Auchincloss, the novelist. Referring to the homes of 'gracious, cultivated' blacks he had visited in Harlem, Auchincloss reportedly said, 'It's very hard to describe. There were things in their houses and apartments that, while obviously expensive, I just wouldn't want in mine.' Most unjust," recalls Mr. Anderson, "was the finger-pointing directed at a certain matron, who it's implied ought to have known better than to display 'gold painted' walnuts in a costly classic Steuben glass bowl. But didn't Helena Rubenstein fill a wooden African bowl, on the floor of her Park Avenue drawing room, with colorful glass vegetables? What sanctioned Emily Post's use of silver-painted artificial fruit in a silver bowl? What made that more correct than gilded walnuts? Birmingham depicted bourgeois blacks as obsessively house-proud."

Whether house-proud and having a fondness for the ornate, blacks-only out of slavery for one hundred forty years and beyond Jim Crow for only fifty years-are still clearly in the wonderful throes of a rapidly evolving African-American decorating style.

Says an amused Grafton Trew, "My friend Diana Vreeland used always to say, 'Even bad taste is to be preferred to no taste at all.' It might be good or it might be god-awful, but I tell you, our folks have got some style! The way we fix our hair, wear our clothes, or decorate our houses-it's, well, just as my grandmother used to say, 'You might be shocked, but you won't be bored!' I'm convinced we were born with style. We brought it over in the dank holds from Africa."

A hereditary style sense is an intriguing concept. A taste for fine objects and stylish surroundings comes to many as a matter of course. It's in our souls.

HOUSES and HOMES

As much as I appreciate and admire the beauty of objects and the solemnity of noble architecture, I've come to realize that they are all but meaningless in the absence of context provided by people. The most vital role that heritage and history play is to connect us one to another-past, present, and future-and to enable us to discover ourselves.

What is shown on these pages are not only interesting spaces, they are homes. They reflect the soulful living of those who have so generously opened their doors to share with us a bit of the beauty they have created.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Style and Grace by Michael Henry Adams Copyright ©2003 by Michael Henry Adams. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Exceptional African-American Decor 9
Michael Henry Adams 17
Alma and Charles Rangel 27
Phyllis Briley and Rocky Baron Boler 35
Donna and Peter Sanders 43
Gwen and Alvin Clayton 49
Kimora Lee and Russell Simmons 55
Norma Jean Darden and Joshua Givens 63
Courtney Sloane and Cheryl Riley 67
Sylvia Waters 73
Nancy Lane 85
Lana Turner 93
Joy and Kesha Crichlow 98
George Faison 101
Gordon Parks 107
Richard Dudley 113
Gordon A. Chambers 131
Johnny Machado and Gerd Breckling 137
Michael McCollom 143
Curtis Q. Phelps 149
Emil Wilbekin 153
David Lloyd Flemming 157
Index 160
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2004

    Beautiful living for anyone of any race!!

    This book is a must have for any collector of interior decorating books. The homes in this book are absolutely beautiful, and gave me some great ideas on how to update the look of my home. I love the theme of the book, and hope that people of other races will pick it up as well, because it's a great addition to anyone's library!

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