Friday, January 29, 2010


Jardinières and cachepots are both meant to hold "posies" (e.g., flowers) but they differ slightly.

A jardinière (pronounced "zhar din NYAIR") is an ornamental stand or large container for plants and/or flowers.

Here's a 19th c. French stone jardinière:

A cachepot is a kind of tabletop version of a jardinière but with
a twist: it's pronounced "CASH poe" and is an ornamental
container used to conceal and hold a flower or plant pot.

So it's typically smaller than a jardinière and sits on a tabletop,
mantel, shelf, etc.

Here's a painted tole (pronounced "toll" and means painted
tinware) cachepot:

Here's an image of my favorite jardinière, this one an 18th
century Louis XV piece:

And here's a decorative wrought iron one:

Note how these jardinières are plant stands that sit on the floor.

Compare this with the cachepots shown below-they're smaller
and primarily meant to hide an unsightly flower pot on a surface
like a table.

Here's a pretty cachepot that's cloisonne (pronounced "CLOY
zun nay"and meaning enamel inlaid and fired between thin
metal strips):

This one is ceramic and in the Northern Italian taste:

And here's a pair of 19th century Imari cachepots:


My latest interview on Decorati:

I admit it. I’m jaded when it comes to fine antiques and the interiors that showcase them.

But that comes with the territory when you work at C. Mariani, better known as “The Louvre with price tags,” supplying antiques and custom pieces to the country’s top designers. And that’s what I do other than writing this blog and trying to raise my two dogs to be model canine citizens (a parent’s job is never done….).

But I digress.

Oddly enough, I hadn’t previously worked with Bill Eubanks and only first saw his work in person when I attended a dinner party in Palm Beach last year. This was just after the Madoff scandal, and I heard our hosts had lost gazillions. Nonetheless, they seemed completely unruffled and still quite comfortable serving up Krug Champagne to accompany their truffle-laced lobster risotto. Not only that, but their house was dripping in old masters, 18th century palazzo-scaled antiques, and priceless Oriental carpets and porcelain.

Our hostess dismissed their Madoff losses with a “que sera sera” shrug and asked me what I thought of their William R. Eubanks-designed home. I was momentarily speechless (a rare occurrence for someone voted “Yakkiest” in the Senior Class of ‘67 at Van Nuys High). The level of opulence of their home was truly incredible as was the exquisite taste that pulled all that opulence together.

And that was my introduction to William R. Eubanks design. So I was intrigued to interview him. Not to mention the rumor that one of his first clients was “the King” himself, Elvis Presley.

When I spoke with Bill for this interview, I was surprised at how down to earth and modest he was. Here’s how it went:

BUZZ: Now, Bill, may I be blunt with this first question?
WRE: Uh-oh, should I be nervous?

BUZZ: Well no, at least not about this interview….I was just curious if you really worked with Elvis Presley.
WRE: (Laughing) Yes, I really did. But that was many years ago and in a galaxy far, far away.

Buzz’s comment after-the-fact: So I guess it’s fair to say that Elvis may have left the building but his decorator is still very much alive and with us….

BUZZ: My observation is that many of the most revered interior designers have staffers who in their heart of hearts can’t stand them. Sad, but true. But I’ve spoken with your staff and they seem to genuinely love you. What’s that about?

WRE: I think it’s a couple of things. One is that I see myself as working with my team as opposed to having them work FOR me. The other is that this industry is my passion and to pursue this passion, you need great people. So I feel just as fortunate to have these people as they feel toward working with me.

BUZZ: Do you have a lot of long-term employees then?
WRE: Yes, many of my staff have been with me for more than 10 years.

BUZZ: You’re famous for your sumptuous classic interiors. But do you do modern as well?
WRE: Oh absolutely. I do both traditional and contemporary and frequently both in the same project.

BUZZ: But are you drawn to one look over the other, aesthetically speaking?
WRE: Well, I don’t see one as better than the other. I think the question is really how they’re executed. Good taste is good taste, be it modern or traditional. And of course, my classical sensitivities always come into play in making a modern interior timeless as opposed to kitsch.

BUZZ: But most of your portfolio is more traditional-did something change?
WRE: Well, I’d prefer to say that more of our work is classical rather than traditional. Traditional, at least to me, sounds more like lots of brown furniture and perhaps old-fashioned. And we don’t do that. And over the years, a couple of things have happened: one is that more of our clients have wanted a classical look. And over time, as I began traveling more and more in Europe, I began a growing love affair with classical interiors. It actually started with the English manor houses. But as I said, I still love doing modern projects as well.

BUZZ: Would you ever do a traditional interior in a modern home?

WRE: Definitely. Juxtapositioning of the classic/traditional and the modern is great. I love how the clean lines of modern furniture counterbalance the details of more classic period pieces.

BUZZ: You mentioned travel. How critical do you think traveling is to developing your business as well as your skills as a designer?
WRE: Travel is very important in becoming an accomplished designer. I’ve always travelled a lot, even as a youngster. And my penchant for travel continues to this day. Traveling is an education unto itself.
With each trip, I feel like I pick up a new mini-degree in design.

The more you’re exposed to different interiors, the more options you have to choose from and the more design choices you have at your disposal, the better the outcome. For designers, travel is as important as college degrees. It’s all about exposure to new ideas.

BUZZ: Having seen the exquisite antiques in your projects, I’m a monkey’s uncle if you’re not a passionate collector of antiques? Am I right or am I a monkey?
WRE: You’re right. I collect many things. But they vary depending on which of my homes they’re going in. My Memphis home is very English, my place in Palm Beach is Italianate and my apartment in NYC is more French. I have a weakness for 17th c. and 18th c. portraits, so they go in all three homes. And then I collect English porcelain and many other objets d’art-the list just goes on and on.

BUZZ: Now some “either/or” questions:
Tassels or no tassels? Tassels
Saturated colors or pastels? Saturated colors-I love color.
Armani or Gucci? Armani
Chanel or Dolce & Gabbana? Chanel
Wallpaper or paint? Paint
Form or function? Both
Elegant or casual? Elegantly casual

BUZZ: Did you have anyone mentor you in the early stages of your career?

WRE: In fact, I did: Kenneth Neame in London. He’s antique dealer with a shop now on Mount Street in London. He really turned me on to antiques. I walked into his shop in my early 20’s and he had a set of Regency chairs that belonged to Lady Astor. He convinced me that I had to buy them and I somehow found the money. And I treasure them to this day.

BUZZ: What single design style would you wish just dried up and blew away forever?

WRE: I’d have to say Victorian.

BUZZ: You’re famous for your elegant interiors but how do you define elegance? And how can someone incorporate elegance into their home, even if they have a limited budget?
WRE: I define elegance as good taste-it’s all about a space “working” with whatever pieces are in it. So you don’t need to spend a fortune but you do have to select wisely and in smart taste.
Think of how elegant a simple little black dress can be accented with a single strand of pearls. It’s just like that with interiors.

BUZZ: What would be your dream project?
WRE: A project with no budget where the sky’s the limit.

BUZZ: Where do you find your inspiration?
WRE: I get a lot of inspiration from my clients. Many clients are interested in a particular look or feel and it’s my job to translate that into reality. Some have specific visions while others need you to guide them more. But either way it’s fun as long as you come to that place that excites and speaks to the client.

BUZZ: What’s the most rewarding thing about your job?
WRE: Oh, that’s easy. It’s the moment when the client turns to me and says, “I not only love what you’ve done-it’s even better than I ever dreamed.” That’s the best feeling in the world.

BUZZ: What are your thoughts on genuine antiques versus reproductions?
WRE: Both have their place. And often the original antique costs the same as a new piece and yet the antiques increase in value over time. Most people don’t realize this.

BUZZ: What makes for a timeless interior?
WRE: Scale, scale and scale. When you have proper scale, you defy time. Look at Palladio: his perfect proportions are the reason he never looks dated. The same goes for contemporary interiors as well-if you get the scale right, they’ll never look dated.

BUZZ: How much do your client’s personalities drive the designs you create?
WRE: Quite a lot. Who the clients are and how they live are essential to understand before you do any design for them. People’s homes make a very personal statement about the owners. More than ever, people are seeing their homes as an extension of themselves. And most clients have existing pieces that speak to their sensibilities, so those are important to consider at the outset of a job.

BUZZ: You’ve had so much success in the interior design world. What has been the single most important factor in your success? Is it this interview?
WRE: Um, well, this interview will probably help. But I think my success is primarily a result of being able to create interiors that really reflect my clients and that really speak to them. The opposite of this is creating an interior in a vacuum-that’s a mistake some designers make early in the career and it really doesn’t work. You need to listen to each client to figure out what looks, fabrics, furniture and other design elements really resonate with them so that they say: “Yes! That’s me!” And to do that you have to be open to anything and listen carefully to each new client.

BUZZ: What’s the trick to making a period-inspired interior not look like a museum?
WRE: Comfort. When a room is comfortable, it’s inviting. In fact, it’s the opposite of a museum where the policy is “hands off”/”look but don’t touch.”

BUZZ: Ok, now for a hypothetical question: Bill, you’ve just found out that your Fairy Godmother (yes, you DO have one in this hypothetical) has granted you the following wish: You can have a dinner party with any four people, real or fictional. Who would those people be other than myself?
WRE: That’s a tough one, but I want to invite 6 people; so I will say Oscar Wilde, John F. Kennedy, Whoopi Goldberg, Pablo Picasso, Princess Diana, and Hillary Clinton
That sounds like a fun time.

BUZZ: Many designers ascribe to the idea of “less is more” while others love a more busy design scheme. Which camp are you in?
WRE: Definitely NOT less is more.

BUZZ: What is the most challenging space you’ve work on and why?
WRE: My most challenging project was one I did for Harry and Linda Bloodworth Thomason who presented me with the challenge of converting a Queen Anne -style cottage into a late 17th-century English manor house to accommodate the Claudia Foundation, Linda’s institution that educates young ladies from childhood through college.

BUZZ: Do you see William R. Eubanks, Inc. as more of a lifestyle brand or more as a decorating services firm?
WRE: We’re both. We really don’t fit into a box. Each job differs and has varying parameters. Some clients want you to do it all from the design architecture to the linens and silver. Others just want you to update their existing interiors.

BUZZ: Your design firm has offices in Memphis, Palm Beach New York-that’s an unusual business model for an interior design firm. What’s the story on that?

WRE: Well, it’s just how I operate. I travel constantly for my work between our offices and having three locations allows me to better serve our clients in each region. Plus our Palm Beach office includes a retail store.

BUZZ: So did your original business plan call for branch offices?

WRE: It’s just worked out that way. I started the business in Memphis and that’s where my family home is. Plus it’s very centrally located for shipping and receiving-that’s why it’s the hub for Fed Ex. In addition, my original staff is still there. Our presence in Palm Beach and New York evolved over time and I love living in both places as well. Perhaps it’s a bit unorthodox but it all works.

BUZZ: What incredibly important question did I forget to ask you other than “Is it cocktails yet?”
WRE: That would actually be THE question.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Although I failed t0 make the cut when I tried out for my high school band, I believe the term "fluting" is a musical one that means playing a weird stick-like instrument that no one can figure out why any kid would want to play.

I'd call it a silver PVC pipe with holes to blow in. Luckily, my extensive research indicates that fluting poses no danger to either the floutist or anyone in the audience (presuming anyone shows).

Reeding, on the other hand, is the remarkable human ability to decipher the printed or written word (you're reeding right now!), except this skill is properly spelled READING.

I can't decide if that was funny or just plain stupid. Or maybe both. Hey, it's Sunday and I'm waiting for Mad Men to come on so I have idle time on my hands.

Actually, reeding and fluting are decorative carvings or moldings. Reeding is linear convex moldings (meaning it sticks out and proud from of the surface) with narrow channels separating each "reed". This decorative technique can be carved, cast or be applied molding.

Fluting is the exact opposite: it is linear concave (meaning inward curving) channels with narrow upcurved channels separating each fluted section. Here you can compare the two (in case you didn't catch the difference in the last picture):

Ok, Mad Men is starting...gotta go.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


My most popular post on Decorati was the one on "How Many People Can Sit at a Dining Table?". Go figure.

Just as surprising was the number of people who contacted me about how high a dining table should be and asked me to post that info as well. So here you go....

A dining table should be no more than 30" high but a lot of really tall people argue for 31" and that's fine if all your friends are glamazons married to pro basketball players. But, for somone like me who's 5'6" tall on a good day, that's just too dang high.

With a 31" tabletop, I feel like a toddler who needs a kiddy-booster seat. So for the vertically challenged (like moi) and most other people, the perfect height for a dining table is between 29" and 30".

Luckily, most dining tables are 30" high or less. I've even seen some as low as 28".

The problem with going that low is the issue of leg clearance. This is a BIG DEAL that many people forget about when buying a table. And it's especially tricky if you have moderate to chubby thighs like yours truly. Ugh.

The thing to look at to determine leg clearance is the apron below the table top. If the apron doesn't give you at least 25 3/4" clearance for your legs, you may be dining on tatami mats.

Also, if you want to have enough clearance to CROSS your legs under the table, you'll need a full 30" of clearance. Antique tables rarely give you that much room. In fact, to get that much clearance you really need to have no apron at all. In antiques, the only tables that regularly feature no apron are English George III Sheraton pedestal tables like this one:

But even with this design, to have 30" of clearance the table's got to be at least 31" high (which as I said is a bit high for my tastes).

At the end of the day, a 30" table with a reasonably short apron should work best for 99% of people, so that would be my recommendation.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Dark and Stormy History of English Tortoise Shell Tea Caddies

The history of antique English tortoise shell tea caddies is a tale of intrigue, drugs, prestige and power. Just like MTV's The Real World Brooklyn only classier.

Tea caddies in the 18th and 19th centuries were the ultimate status symbols because tea was prohibitively expensive and stylish, as detailed below. In fact, it was so valuable that the upper crust gave their used tea (called "slop") as a gift to their appreciative servants. And once the servants had re-used the tea, they would cut it with cow manure and resell it to the peasants who wanted to taste the high life too.

Shown below: A Rare 18th Century Green Tortoise Shell Tea Caddy.
List price: $56,450 USD.

Green tortoise shell is the rarest color, followed by blond, then red and then sable. There is no such thing as a green tortoise. The color is imparted by a painted green bole layer under the translucent shell.

Although there aren't any green turtles, there are in fact blonde ones. They live mainly in L.A.

But back to our tale: Throughout history, the Kings and Queens of England rarely set style trends for their subjects (unlike European Royals like the Bourbon Kings of France). But beginning in the late 17th c., Charles II (who grew up in tea-drinking Holland) and Queen Catherine of Braganza were aggressively promoted as cool, cutting edge tea drinkers. And the same was said for later royals, like Queen Anne around 1710, who preferred tea over ale as her favorite breakfast beverage.

But why promote tea at all? The reason was surprisingly sinister: The Crown was generating huge revenues from its high taxes on imported tea. So the more tea sold meant the more revenue generated for the Crown. In fact, these high taxes caused the price of tea to skyrocket and for some years made it on par in value with gold. As such, the English were able to fund their Empire-building on the on the mania that was "tea time".

Shown below: An Octagonal 1820 Sable, Silver and Ivory Tea Caddy. The inlaid dots of sterling silver around the medallion are called pique cloute (pronounced "pee-KAY clue-TAY").
List: $29,000 USD

The astronomical price of tea made it a tremendous status symbol and hence it was displayed prominently in caddies for all to see (but not touch as the caddies were kept securely locked against pilferage). And to preserve the freshness of the precious tea, the interior compartments were lined in lead. This created marvelously fresh tea but sadly dead tea drinkers (who died blissfully unaware that lead is toxic).

An interesting aside is that this same high price of tea is what led to the 1773 Boston Tea Party in America, where the colonists protested the astronomical taxes on the commodity.

Shown below: A Pristine English Regency Tea Caddy with "leopard spot" sable patterning
List price: $25,000 USD

But the story gets even more sinister: the English Monarchy was not only building its empire on tea taxes, it was also buying the tea at pennies on the dollar (er, pound). How? By paying the Chinese (China was the source for virtually all tea at that time) for the tea not in sterling but rather in exchange for England's cheap cash crop from colonial India: opium.

So the English knowingly introduced widespread opium use to China in order to support and grow its tea trade. Shocking but true.

By the 1830's, opium addiction had reached epidemic proportions in China--opium dens were springing up like weeds (poppy weeds to be exact). Around that time, even the Emperor's son died of an overdose and the importation of opium for tea was outlawed.

This importation ban infuriated the English and led to a declaration of war against China to keep the trade lines open. That conflict became known as the Opium Wars of 1839-1842. England ultimately won (the Chinese were too loaded to fight back) and the English got Hong Kong as the booty (that's a big booty). But by then tea was being harvested from many countries and so the price of tea gradually collapsed in spite of the victory.

Interestingly from an antique perspective, as tea prices declined, people were able to buy more tea than ever before- and that led to the tea caddies getting bigger and bigger. Take a look at this jumbo one from 1868 measuring a full 14" wide, 8 1/2" high, and 8" deep-that's a LOT of tortoise and lists for $71,500 USD:

This specimen is so large that it has a crystal sugar bowl between the tea compartments (one compartment was for black tea and the other for green):