Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.
For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.
“There are those who spend lifetimes in houses that have nothing to do with who they really are. They may be perfectly designed, yet if they fail to reflect the personalities of the people who live in them, the very essence of intimacy is missing and this absence is disturbingly visible.”
—From “a window inside”
One of the most influential designers working in America today, Rose Tarlow knows that creating a truly beautiful room is as much an emotional matter as it is one of color, light, fabric, and furniture. In The Private House, she offers insights into the mind of a master designer—as well as a glimpse into some of the extraordinary homes she’s decorated.
Drawing upon her wealth of experience as an antiquaire and a designer, Ms. Tarlow discusses and illustrates simple principles of creative design that are appropriate to any home. Always arrange your comfortable, upholstered furniture first, she writes; pay special attention to how light affects your spaces; and use carpets as background only, never as the focus of a room.
With chapters on lighting, fabrics, color, and intimate spaces, Ms. Tarlow encourages readers to plan and decorate each area of their house with elegance and personal style, covering all the essential elements of design—including the emotional ones. The result should be a house that welcomes family and friends, one that enhances our quality of life.
|Publisher:||Crown Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||1 ED|
|Product dimensions:||7.33(w) x 9.37(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A Window Inside
I live inside my head, often oblivious to the world outside myself. I see only what I wish to see. Everything else is obliterated by a convenient discerning device, a window inside-a window that, in an instant, will open and record the vision of a single blade of grass reflected in a raindrop, a gift to store in the recesses of my mind. The memory of this moment of pure perfection will be enhanced by the paintbrush of my imagination. This is the source of my creativity.
I have just spent three nights in a dull hotel in Dublin and have no recollection whatsoever of my room. My mind frames only the particular place I need to see, and eliminates any unrewarding details that would cloud my perspective. To this special form of discernment do I owe my successes, and most possibly my shortcomings.
Without a moment's hesitation, I can describe in great detail the aerial view of the unbelievably beautiful quilt of farmland that covers the low, hilly landscape that is Shannon. I am alert, no longer just in my head. From my airplane window, the clouds are a brilliant translucent white, meshed with so clear and bright a blue that if it were translated onto canvas it would seem totally unnatural. The earth below is blanketed by hundreds of different shades of vivid, glorious green-a kaleidoscope of color that is indelibly etched in my memory. Ireland has provided me with a visual experience that will continue to influence my design work far into the future.
For many of us to feel truly content in life, we must constantly be creating, continually refining that quality of life that is preoccupied with harmony, structure, and beauty-those intangiblethings that educate and delight us. Yet I know there are times when we plan our houses as much for the pleasure of our friends as for ourselves, because we wish for their enjoyment, and rely on their appreciation and praise-especially their praise. Thankfully that stage of my life has passed! Today, I am far more interested in a home only for myself and those I share my life with. A house is what we design and decorate to suit an image of ourselves, and a home is what we establish by actually living there. To be at home in our house is ultimately the reward of all the effort and thought we put into that most private process of decorating.
There are those who spend lifetimes in houses that have nothing to do with who they really are. They may be perfectly designed, yet if they fail to reflect the personalities of the people who live in them, the very essence of intimacy is missing, and this absence is disturbingly visible. Houses that we call too decorated lack the very ingredients that make a home come alive. Our private house should be a reflection of ourselves, our way of being in the world, what makes us distinctly different from one another. Taste is a matter of opinion and its nature is constantly seeking to define itself. So we are continually influenced by the people we meet, by what we read, and by what we see. Our opinions take shape, yet we are never fully formed, always becoming, incorporating experiences, continuously changing and refining our image of ourselves throughout our lives. This never-ending process of evolvement makes designing one's own home an extremely personal experience.
This book describes my experiences as a designer, an antiques dealer, and a creator of wallpapers, furniture, fabrics, and anything I can imagine that will add to the everyday luxury of living. As I have always had an aversion to the concepts of in style and out of style, and any doctrines that pertain to decoration, I most definitely do not presume to present you with any rules about design. Instead, the chapters that follow reveal, sometimes in the form of daily notes, the impressions that inform my judgment and taste. Again, only you can accurately express your uniquely individual identity. You may choose from those personal sources of inspiration that interest and inspire you, and ultimately those choices will be what combine to create your private house.
My Father's House
There have been times when I have lain in bed longing for the lost loves of my childhood, my father and our house, and the feeling of protection they gave me. They were the foundations of my world. So many of those memories continue to linger, sometimes in dreams so real that I wake up expecting to be in my father's house, a house that I have never stopped trying to replace. Everywhere I have ever lived since then has been a work in progress, for that particular private house is forever fixed in my heart.
My father bought his house without ever having seen it. He asked an agent to find him the largest property that was available on the ocean. The agent found exactly that, and my father purchased our family house for a price that would not buy a luxury car today.
It was white with a red tile roof and wide, luxurious porches. It sat far from the main road, up a very long and winding tree-lined private drive. A prominent limestone plaque over the front door read windrift 1903. The lawns in front of the property extended to Ocean Avenue. A carpet of smooth, flat grass behind the main house stretched out to
the Atlantic Ocean. To the side of the property, reflecting the design of the main residence, stood another building, whose ground floor was the garage; the gardeners' and staff quarters were situated above. Greenhouses, orchards, and kitchen gardens surrounded it, all separated from the main residence by a brilliant green lawn and tall formal hedges.
Clipped into huge, round shapes, these hedges were quite hollow inside so that we children could gather within for private club meetings. The potting sheds, greenhouses, and kitchen gardens were close to the garage area, and on the side of the main house were sunken rose gardens, surrounded by long, rambling, rose-covered stone walls. A stone and bronze sundial stood in the middle of the hedged-in flower beds, and inscribed on it was the familiar reminder: time and tide wait for no man. All four corners of the garden had symmetrical and identical carved stone seating arbors, entirely covered by pale-colored climbing roses. As teenagers we would meet in these secluded arbors and secretly puff on cigarettes, confident that we were out of sight. Beyond the rose garden were clay tennis courts that overlooked the ocean. Inside, I would sit by my bedroom window and stare for hours at that endless expanse of water, dreaming fantastic, fanciful dreams, some of which may even have come true.
Windrift had four floors of living space. The top two floors held twenty bedrooms, including guest rooms and playrooms. At the very top of the house, under the roof, was an artist's studio with a long, low, slanted window facing the ocean. One morning, my brother was playing there with a chemistry set and accidentally started a small fire. My sister ran all the way down to the ground floor to find my mother. By the time they rushed back up to the top floor, my brother had put out the fire and run off to hide, which he did quite easily in an immense Chinese cloisonnÃ© pot that, even when filled with palms, could conceal a child. When my mother came into the room, all she saw were Larry's shoes lying next to a heap of smoldering ashes on the floor. Thinking that he had been burned right down to his sneakers, she fainted. The next week a tiny elevator was installed.
Windrift was purchased completely furnished. Only a few architectural changes were made, and one of them was to enlarge the pantry by making the dining room smaller. The original kitchen occupied much of the ground floor. It was a vast working kitchen, clad in sparkling white tile, with tall, deep, walk-in steel refrigerators. Unused meat hooks hung from the walls. There were wood-topped preparation areas, and an old dumbwaiter, strictly out of bounds to children, that went up and down between the pantry and the floor above. Our new kitchen was a practical, modern kitchen with an adjoining children's dining room. The original kitchen was used only by the staff, for storage, and as a large-scale preparation area for entertaining.
The lower floor of the house also had a staff dining room with a window seat that looked out to the service courtyard. In addition, on that lower level was a wine cellar with several rooms, a repair shop, a laundry room, an ironing room, and an oil burner that was the size of a baby blimp but never really performed its heating job properly.
One of the difficulties of living on the ocean was the dampness of the northern winter months. The paint on the walls was forever peeling, inside and out, and the rooms either had to be heated all winter long to prevent this or repainted every spring. My father decided it was far more sensible to have the walls continually repainted than to try to keep that temperamental old oil burner working, so it was possible to choose a new bedroom paint color practically every year. I was the only one in a family of five children who had any interest in doing this. I was so much more comfortable when my bedroom was just right-even the seashells on my mantel were constantly being shuffled about. Not satisfied with stopping there, I would go about the whole house, moving and rearranging things.
My mother was well aware of my discriminating nature and encouraged me. She would often ask me to check the appearance of the house before a party. I would look carefully through the rooms that the guests would be entertained in, adding and rearranging as I went along.
On the first floor of the house was an enormous entry hall with rows of French doors that led out to the terrace. Centered in front of the doorways was a big carved walnut hall table. In winter, the chairs and sofas on either side of the room were covered with a heavy, flame-stitched velvet fabric, and in summer they were slipcovered in a solid, bone-colored linen. The coffered wood ceiling had once had a design on it, but I can barely remember the pattern, for it was painted over when I was too young to have paid attention.
To the left of the entry hall was the dining room, made smaller because of the enlargement of the pantry-kitchen, but still very sizable by today's standards. It was thought to have been improved with the addition of a large picture window that opened to a view of the lawn stretching down to the ocean. Though I could not have explained it, I instinctively knew that this window was out of keeping with the architecture of the house, but the magnificent view of the ocean it offered had the power to take my breath away. A long, formal dining table seated at least twenty of us every day, for the houseguests who came to visit with their children and children's governesses often stayed the entire summer.
In the evening, tables for card parties were set for the adults in the living room, which was situated on the right side of the entry hall. The room had not very attractive marble busts sitting on the heavy marquetry and ormolu stands that had come with the house. My memory of the original fabric on the upholstered furniture has faded, but somewhere in its history the room was painted white, and all the upholstered pieces were covered in a pale steel-blue damask. From the living room one could enter the glassed-in sunporch, with its large bar and masses of sofas, tables, and chairs, all made of 1920s vintage bamboo; as teenagers, we had our summer parties there.
When we first moved to Windrift it was our family's main residence, but eventually we used it only as a summer house, for we children went off to boarding school and my parents spent the winters in Manhattan and Florida. After the loss of my father, Windrift became an enormous responsibility for my mother to handle alone. Such grand old houses had become white elephants by then, because it was no longer reasonable to retain the large staffs they required.
Slowly the house began losing its perfectly pristine and cared for beauty. Its rooms were repainted every few years instead of every spring. Small areas of paint would peel and would have to be scraped away; then the scraped places would have to wait for months, till it was time for the whole house to receive its new coat. A man seated on a tractor mowed the lawn, instead of the gardeners who always had carefully manicured it in the past. Cracks in the clay tennis courts sprouted tiny weeds, which would have once been rolled away with a large iron roller. The sunken flower and rose gardens were still maintained, but the berry orchard and the kitchen gardens were greatly diminished.
One of the last scenes of Windrift in my memory is of that marvelous outdoor porch facing the ocean. I can still see the two large English baby prams covered with fine, white netting, one containing my baby son Glen and the other holding my niece Jacqueline. My husband is occupied, skillfully hitting old golf balls into the ocean, and from the distance I can hear the laughter and chatter of other family members playing tennis.
The house burned down in an electrical storm before I turned twenty. It happened during the winter, when we were away. The top two floors were completely destroyed; the main floor survived, though many of its furnishings were charred and soaked. Looters stole the carpets from the entry hall and the living room, but because of their great size they were found a week later at a carpet-cleaning facility in the next state. The surviving furniture was dispersed among the family; we still have some cherished pieces, but many personal mementos were lost forever. Perhaps the house could have survived, but it was far too large, and we were all young and eager to move on to more modern lifestyles. It is difficult to think about that time of my life without a deep, bittersweet sadness.
The years spent at Windrift provided the groundwork for my life and my work. I have carried my memories, my fragments of that house, like a child's soft blanket, into my adult life.
A private house: The house I live in now has also come to mean a great deal to me, perhaps because it is the first house I actually built for myself. Toward the end of the 1980s, I was involved in the design of a particularly large project for a client. When this house was finally completed, I felt in need of a new creative adventure. My shop kept me busy, and for that reason I did not want to embark on another professional design project. I had found a hillside property filled with trees, and so began the most exciting endeavor I have ever experienced-a house built for me. For the first time, I had no one to answer to, not a partner, not a client, and not an architect. And this project slipped in just under the wire, for a few months after completing it, I began a personal relationship with the architect, Richard Meier. Had we met earlier, it is certain I would have missed the solitary design experience.
With only myself as designer and client, my imagination and budget were my only constraints. I tore down the structure that had been on the property and began planning my house. An engineer signed the technical plans required, but I did the design and supervision myself. In fourteen months the entire project was completed. Had anyone else been involved, it would have taken years longer.
In designing the house, I studied the California houses built by Wallace Neff, with their dark beams and high ceilings. They seemed to fit perfectly in the lush landscape, and this type of architecture would suit me quite well-old California, with a very strong European influence.
It was important to me not to have a poorly contrived old feeling in a new house, so I found and imported almost everything I needed, primarily antique salvage materials. As an antiques dealer I knew exactly where to look. My first purchase was from England: six long, heavy oak beams that had originally been used in an eleventh-century church in Kent. They pointed the house in the direction it was to take. I found smaller beams in Europe to create other ceilings. (They lay around the property before being installed, looking not unlike an order of Chinese spareribs.) Old wood is highly valued in Europe for repairing and making furniture and is thus hard to find.
Early in the development stages of the house, four pairs of eighteenth-century French oak doors were incorporated into the design for the living room. Then came the discovery of a wonderful arched door and casement, as well as all the other antique doors and old hardware needed for the house. With the exception of the exterior doors and windows, most of the materials were brought over from Europe and refitted in Los Angeles, including part of an eighteenth-century pine room that had been practically abandoned in a warehouse in the French countryside. This meant that my bedroom and bathroom could be paneled and finished in a rich, deep-honey color, which I preferred over bleaching wood to a light pine color, as would have been the conventional solution. The boiserie was not quite enough to fill the bedroom or to continue into the other areas, so my dressing room was built using additional antique pine that was designed to join and blend into the bedroom (see page 070). The floors of my studio upstairs are seventeenth-century slate, and the dining room and kitchen have very old stone floors in shades of gray and sand.
I visited the construction site twice a day to inspect, approve, redesign, and muse-it was a thrilling time. The house was soon over budget, but part of the pleasure of building a project should be walking onto the construction site and changing a space or adding a window. Being restricted to a firm blueprint is like taking the chisel out of the sculptor's hands in the middle of a work in progress. We should expect changes when designing or building a house. It may be a once-in-a-lifetime pleasure, and one that should be savored with all its magical possibilities.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Rose Tarlow's very beautifully illustrated book THE PRIVATE HOUSE will disappoint decorators, would-be decorators, and possibly students. This is not a textbook meant to offer 'how to' steps to force-feed the recipes for private spaces. Instead, this book is a gentle read of how the highly respected Tarlow has created beautiful rooms and homes with elements of furniture, art, antiquities, and memorabilia with choices in fabrics and wall and furniture treatments that make one's home a castle. She deftly demonstrates how to make use of available light, making hallways, niches, windows and rooms focal points for praising light as an art entity. The writing is simple and readable. The photography is elegant and descriptive and offers the eye many moods and examples of ideas of how each of us can make our own space uniquely ours. And that is a lot for a book on home enhancement to do! Grady Harp