Friday, February 20, 2009

Word of the Day: "CASSAPANCA"

Pronounced: "KAHS sah PON kah"

Detail from an exceptional 17th c. cassapanca (for more photos see below):
But what exactly is a cassapanca? That's a multiple choice question and here it is (good luck):

Cassapanca is defined as:

1. That great movie with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman ("Play it again Sam.") And for you movie afficionados out there, the song Bogie wanted played again and again was what? If you guessed "La Cucaracha", you're wrong but I love your answer.

2. "Cassaponca" is actually a lovely Mexican villa in Puerto Vallarta owned by Vicki Cristina Barcelona Ponca (You've all heard the warm tipico bienvenudo greeting: "Mi casaponca es su casaponca").

3. A cassapanca is a long carved wooden bench with a back and sometimes arms that was first created in the Italian Renaissance; with some cassepanche the seat lifts up to reveal a chest for storage. The finest cassepanche were often wedding gifts and would be embellished with intricate painted images. BTW, this is the correct answer. Duh.

Shown below is the most beautiful pair of cassepanche I ever saw (and sold). And to this day I'm thankful that the buyers are serious collectors who treasure them and will preserve them for future generations. Finding a good home for great antiques is important. If you think about it, it's the ultimate in recycling.

List price: These are currently in a private collection and unavailable for sale.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chandeliers Master Class

For those of you who'd like to know more about chandelier terminology (after all, you can only get so far talking about a bag), here's a brief glossary:
  • Arm ~ The light bearing part of a chandelier sometimes known as a branch.
  • Bag (there it is again) ~ A bag of crystal drops formed by strings hanging from a circular frame and looped back into the centre underneath, associated with Regency or Empire style crystal chandeliers.
  • Bead ~ A glass drop with a hole drilled right through.
  • Bobeche ~ A dish fitted just below the "candle" nozzle designed to catch drips of wax. Also known as a drip pan.
  • Candelabra ~ Not to be confused with chandeliers, candelabras are candlesticks, usually branched and designed to stand on tables, or if large, the floor.
  • Canopy ~ An inverted shallow dish at the top of a chandelier from which festoons of beads are often suspended, lending a flourish to the top of the fitting.
  • Cage ~ An arrangement where the central stem supporting arms and decorations is replaced by a metal structure leaving the centre clear for candles or other embellishments.
  • Corona ~ Another term for a crown-style chandelier.
  • Crown ~ A circular chandelier reminiscent of a crown, usually of gilded metal or brass and often with upstanding decorative parts.
  • Crystal ~ Glass with a lead content that gives it a special qualities of clarity. Also known as lead crystal.
  • Drip Pan ~ The dish fitted just under the "candle" nozzle. Also known as a bobeche.
  • Drop ~ A small piece of glass usually cut into one of many shapes and drilled at one end so that it can be hung from the chandelier with a brass pin. A chain drop is drilled at both ends so that a group can be hung together to form a string or festoon.
  • Dutch ~ Also known as Flemish. A style of brass chandelier with a bulbous baluster and arms curling down around a low hung ball.
  • Festoon ~ An arrangement of glass drops or beads draped and hung across or down a chandelier or sometimes a piece of solid glass shaped into a swag. Also known as a garland.
  • Finial ~ The final flourish at the very bottom of the stem. Some Venetian glass chandeliers have little finials hanging from glass rings on the arms.
  • Hoop ~ A circular metal support for arms, usually on a regency style or other chandelier with glass pieces. Also known as a ring, collar or gallery.
  • Neoclassical Style Chandelier ~ Glass chandelier featuring many delicate arms, spires and strings of beads.
  • Prism ~ A straight, many sided drop.
  • Regency Style Chandelier ~ A larger chandelier with a multitude of drops. Above a hoop rise strings of beads that diminish in size and attach at the top to form a canopy. A bag with concentric rings of pointed glass, forms a waterfall beneath. The stem is usually completely hidden.
  • Spire ~ A tall spike of glass, round in section or flat sided. To which arms and decorative elements may be attached, made from wood, metal or glass.
  • Tent ~ A tent shaped structure on the upper part of a chandelier where strings of drops attach to a canopy and at the bottom to a larger ring. 
  • Venetian ~ A chandelier typically from the island of Murano, Venice but also used to describe a chandelier in Venetian style.
  • Waterfall ~ Concentric rings of icicle drops suspended beneath the hoop or plate.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chandeliers 101

Chandeliers are not to be feared. They are our friends.

Like shirts, they have collars. Like TV's "Dynasty", they have a Crystal. Like the people we work with, some are drips. Like our circuses, they have tents (this could also apply to those of us who throw on mumu's the minute we get home). And like our eyes, they have bags.

As you can see from the images below, a bag is the area below the main gallery and tent area-- bags create the vasiform (good word, huh?) shape of the piece. Here's a chandelier with a really nice bag:
Little known factoid: legendary soul singer James Brown's father was a huge fan of chandeliers with unusual bags.

James even wrote a song about it (which I think was a sensitive and touching tribute to his late father's decorating sense). Who could ever forget Poppa's got a Brand New Bag? 

Whenever I crank up my iPod and that song comes on, I don't think funk-I think of glittering chandeliers in grand European palaces. Such is the power of great music.  

But back to chandeliers. Here are two charts showing the basic terms used to describe chandelier parts:

And shown below are three of my favorite chandeliers.

A 19th c. Italian Empire Giltwood Eighteen Light Chandelier created for Palazzo Archinto (Milano):
List price: $325,000 USD

A Rare 18th c. Bronze Italian rock crystal and cut crystal chandelier from Palazzo Pio:
List price: $360,000 and now in a private collection

A Grandly Scaled Hand Blown Murano Shadows in Milk Glass Twelve-light chandelier:
List price: $128,000 USD

Monday, February 16, 2009

Seminar for The Napa Valley Museum

Periodically, I will do seminars and lectures on antiques for various philanthropic and design industry organizations. Yesterday, I had the honor of addressing the Benefactor Circle of the Napa Valley Museum.

Pictured below is The Buzz in the center, the Director of the Museum, Richard Deragon, second from the left, and one of Northern California's top designers, Thomas Bartlett on the right.
The topic for the Seminar was how the styles from the Renaissance to the early 19th c. impacted not only antiques but also other disciplines like painting and music. 

During the Renaissance and into the Baroque period, life still primarily focused on one thing: getting  into heaven and avoiding the hotter climes of hell and purgatory not to mention the suburbs like limbo. 

Earthly pleasures were a sin. Fun was out. Toil and holy behavior was in. As a result, the music of the early Renaissance was primarily composed for the church—polyphonic (made up of several simultaneous melodies) masses in Latin made up their Top 40. 

Likewise, the furniture was not designed for comfort--noooooo, a chair, for example, was designed to be used for two things: 1. To sit (with no regard for comfort) and 2. To communicate the status of the person who's rear-end was in the chair.

So seating in the Renaissance was not about kicking back and feelin' groovy. Comfort was for sinners. Suffering was a good thing. And so the chairs of the day had straight backs and very little in the way of cushions. Look at this late 17th c. Savanarola folding chair:

But how could a chair convey status in 1500? Well, you were lucky if you even got a chair. Because unless you were a person of means or a royal of some sort, you sat on the floor or, if you were "a favorite" of the person in power, you got a bench.

Another good example of a Renaissance/early Baroque chair is the caquetoire (pronounce "KAK-twar") shown here:
Comfy looking, huh? 

In the Rococo, the focus turned more to having some fun while still on earth. And so what was serious and structured in the Renaissance and, to a lesser degree, the Baroque, became whimsical, curvy, and sensual. Think of the curves that pervade Louis XV furniture. Shown below: An 18th c. Louis XV Italian arbalette commode that could only be described as exuberant:
It's practically dancing, right?!...

And in music, listen to Jean=Philippe Rameau or some of the early works of Mozart. Music was now less formal and grandiose in structure and more graceful than profound. 

Sidenote: Although music contemporary with the various antique periods do in fact REFLECT (sound like/convey) those styles, they are not categorized using the same jargon as we do in antiques. For example, Rameau falls into the musical period called Baroque, Mozart is mainly in the Baroque music period also but transitions to the Classical, and Beethoven (see below) is at the close of the Classical period. To illustrate the point, there is technically no formal Rococo period in music; music of that time is called Baroque; music during the Neoclassical antique period is called Classical.

The joy and sensuality of the Rococo applied to paintings of that time as well. Take a look at the painting "The Swing" by Fragonard-it's unadulterated rococo style:
Fifty years later, Napoleon was the emperor of France and his Empire style of drama, dignified militarism, and pomp were in favor. Listen to Beethovan (in Germany no less!) and you can actually HEAR the style in his music. And here is an antique that also echoes the  "style" of the period: A parcel gilt and poychrome 19th c. console table:List price: $64,250 USD

I just hope my seminar wasn't as boring as this post (I just fell asleep proofing it). Hmmmm.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An In-depth and Personal Interview with Beverly Hills Designer James Swan

Jim Swan heads up James Swan & Co., a successful interior design firm based in Beverly Hills. His interiors have been featured in most high end national shelter publications and many I'm proud to say have included both custom and antique pieces from MOI.

Shown below: A James Swan interior:

When I first met Jim he was exclusively doing only ultra high-end jobs. But recently he's launched a line of products, some in partnership with Ballard Designs, for clients who want high style but don't necessarily have multi-million dollar budgets. This is an interesting and emerging trend in the design business and so I thought I'd get up close and personal with him to see what makes him tick.

What amazed me is that Jim answered every one of my totally inappropriate questions. This is a guy who's quite the cool cucumber and talented to boot:

Q: Jim, I'm a serious journalist so let's get real here: Do you think I’m the most stylish antique dealer in the country?
A: Um, absolutely, especially given that photo you sent me.
Note to readers: here's the photo I sent Jim:
Q: What is the biggest mistake designers typically make other than being interviewed for my blog?
A: The biggest mistake designers make is taking themselves too seriously. The second biggest mistake is interviewing for your blog.
Q: What’s your favorite color and do you come here a lot? Oops, wrong blog. So let me ask you something else equally embarrassing: You’re ageless. Having said that, how old are you? And don't give me dog years.
A: I'm 47.
Buzz's comment: I can't believe we're the same age!
Jim's comment: Neither can I.
Last ridiculous Q: Many people comment on how cute you are. Is that a blessing or a curse?
A: Unfortunately I've missed those comments. Please get them on tape the next time you hear one.
Q: Ok, but all kidding aside, who is Jim Swan then?
A. He's a kid from Sacramento who's spent most of his life trying to fit in somewhere.
Buzz's comment: You gotta love this guy, right?
Q: How did you get into interior design?
A: I was enrolled in the Architecture Program at ASU but didn't enjoy it much. So I took a few design classes and found exactly where I belonged.
Q: Pick one word to describe your interiors.
A: Comfortable.
Q: What is your design philosophy?
A: Appropriate, appropriate, appropriate. Good design considers the architecture, the client (including their needs, dreams, requirements) and location of the structure. If each decision in these three areas is "appropriate", then the world (and the project) will be a more beautiful place.
Q: Tell me about your partnership with Ballard Designs.
A: My relationship with them is a new adventure for both of us. Ballard has helped open my eyes to a huge portion of the market place that is very design conscious and have very focused economic boundaries. i believe that gracious living is not limited to the wealthy. I’m enjoying developing responses to design challenges that bring more beauty and function to peoples lives.

And here's a photo of my friend and good sport, Jim Swan:
Thanks, Jim.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Word of the Day: "LACCA POVERA"

Pronounced: "LOCK ah POE ver ah"

Lacca povera is a decorative finishing technique, often used on furniture in the 18th c., that is essentially an Italian interpretation and perfection of French decoupage. 

Shown below: An 18th c. Italian Lacca Povera Armoire

List price: $249,350 USD

Lacca povera is known by many other names such as arte poveralacca contrafatta and, in England, "decalcomania". But regardless of its name the technique was the same: it was the art of decorating a furniture surface (or it could be a vase, a screen or even a carriage interior) with paper prints that were cut out and adhered (with fish glue) to a prepared  and painted surface and then varnished 8-10 times over. The many layers of applied varnish made it difficult to distinguish between a lacquered surface and a lacca povera technique.

Lacca povera was probably first practiced toward the end of the 17th century and became especially popular during the 1720's in Italy and other European countries, where it was used continuously throughout the 18th century. It reached its zenith and was especially popular in Venice during the Rococo period with its fondness for Chinoiserie and its expertise in whimsically interpreting the mysterious "Orient."

Shown below: An extraordinary 18th c. Venetian Lacca Povera mirror (note the pagoda shaped design and the Chinese lacca povera figures reflecting the Orientalia craze of the period):

List price: $96,450 USD

With the mania that was Chinoiserie, lacca povera was intended to imitate the look of the more expensive lacquered Coromandel (Chinese screens exported through the Indian port of Coromandel) techniques. But today and somewhat ironically, lacca povera antiques are now comparable in value if not more valuable than many Chinoiserie pieces). But because it was originally done to create less costly pieces than Chinese lacquered, it was called "the poor (povera) man's lacquer (lacca)".

Thursday, February 5, 2009


In the world of spuds, some say poTAYto and some say poTAHto. And in the world of antiques, some say chiffonier and some say chiffonniere. But what's true in potatoes is rarely true in antiques, as I'll explain below.

But speaking of potatoes, I feel the need to declare my love here for baked potatoes. But not just any baked number...I'm only attracted to the ones in those cute little tin foil jackets. Maybe it's a uniform thing. In any event, jacketed taters are both debonair and tasty. And who can resist that combination? Plus they look like tiny spacemen in their smart foil outfits. Think Captain Kirk in silver lamé:
But let's get back to our vocabulary lesson. As I said, every potayto is indeed a potahto but no chiffonier is ever a chiffonniere, so let's learn how they differ and how to pronounce them.

Chiffonier is from the French, pronounced "SHIFF uh NEAR", and is a tallish narrow chest of drawers or a cabinet sometimes with a mirror attached. A semainier, which I talked about in an earlier post, is a type of chiffonier with seven drawers (see below).

And here's a 19th c. Regency chiffonier:

List price: $38,950 USD

Compare that with a Chiffonniere which is also from the French but pronounced "SHIFF uh NYAIR". A chiffonniere is a small worktable generally used by ladies and typically with three drawers. So it's quite different from Chiffoniers, not to mention Chiffonades, which are smart vegetable garnishes I learned about on Top Chef. The following illustrations demonstrate this point:

Here's a French Empire chiffonniere:
List price: $39,285 USD

And here's a lovely Top Chef chiffonade:
List price: 45 cents USD

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon AND the First Lady of France

The world is a very small place. And it gets smaller with each donut I eat.
But what does The Buzz and his antiques have to do with Krispy Kreme treats? Actually nothing. But I do have antiques that are six degrees of separation from movie stars, supermodels and potentates.

For example, we just acquired a couple of chandeliers connected to the all-to-fabulous wife of French President Nicholas Sarkozy: the former supermodel Carla Bruni.

Carla is not just some gorgeous street urchin plucked from obscurity by Tyra on America's Next Top Model. Far from it. She's the daughter of Alberto Bruni Tedeschi, the late Italian industrialist. So you don't have to hate her just because she's beautiful. You can also hate her because she's rich.

But do you really think she's happy?? Actually, yes, she's probably delirious. But I also know that her whirlwind life of jet-setting to "the shows" in Paris and Milan do take their toll. It's all quite exhausting. In fact, poor Carla has been known to collapse in a heap and take a snooze right in the middle of State functions. Here's a photo of her at a music recital she recently attended (the poor thing):

So where am I going with all this?? I'd like to say that I actually know, but I don't.

Yes I do, we're talking about Carla Bruni and how I'm six degrees of separation from her. To be honest, I'm probably more like 360 degrees of separation from her since I never even heard of her until last Thursday. HOWEVER, last week we did buy a couple of antiques from the castle where she grew up (Castello di Castagneto Po near Turin). Ok, it's a tenuous connection but so what.

Here is one of the pieces we purchased from her father's estate: a rock and cut crystal 18th Century Italian chandelier of exceptional quality:

List price $350,000 USD.

And what can we learn from this story? We learn that antiques with a provenance like this one command a higher value in the marketplace. The word provenance just means the origin or history of a piece. Unfortunately, provenance on most antiques have long since been lost and that's sad because the history of a piece makes it so much more interesting.

Now let's turn to Kevin Bacon. My "six degrees" to him is that I really enjoy bacon and still dance around my apartment to the soundtrack from Flashdance.