Sunday, September 20, 2009


In case you missed my interview with Martyn Lawrence-Bullard on Decorati:

If Che Guevara had a love child with Rupert Everett and that adorable baby became a top L.A. designer, his name would be Martyn Lawrence-Bullard.

You know how when you’re in high school, you get voted as “Most Likely to Succeed” or “Best Dancer”? If Martyn were in my class I would have voted him “Most Likely to Overthrow the Design Establishment.” But more on that later.

The meteoric rise of Martyn Lawrence-Bullard Design is immediately apparent when you walk into his luxe modern offices and notice the photos of both his interiors as well as his Hollywood royalty clients. The work is (and here’s where the Che Guevara genes kick in) revolutionary. One photo has a huge red “roundabout tête-à-tête”, like you would see in a grand hotel (see below), only it’s outside on a beautifully manicured lawn on a manicured rolling hill.

As for his client photos on the wall above his chair, let’s just say they put the glitter back into glitterati and include Cher, Elton John, Eva Mendez, Cheryl Tiegs, the Osbournes, Keenan Ivory Wayans, and a bunch of rock stars who do “hip hop” and other music styles I can’t even name.

And then there’s Martyn himself. If I didn’t know who he was, I’d think he was a scruffy actor or model with tremendous charm, a lovely British accent and yet also a real edginess in an uber-stylish sort of way.

His life reads like a novel. His father was an opera singer who traveled extensively with his family in tow. This exposed young Martyn to a variety of design “looks and styles” that he would later interpret in different ways in his interiors. At 12, he was prowling flea markets for antique finds, later attended the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and supplemented his income in his 20’s doing both runway modeling and acting.

Buzz: Describe your design style in ten words or less.

MLB: Sophisticated, comfortable, eclectic and in any and all periods.

Buzz:: Your interiors are so strikingly different and new. Where do you get your inspiration for them?

MLB: My travels inspire me always- new cultures, colors, food, music and smells of new and exotic places really make the major impact on me.

Buzz: Fill in the blank “I realized I was destined to be an interior designer….

MLB: At the age of 12 when I discovered the virtues of a few yards of fabric and a staple gun. In an hour, I transformed my boyhood bedroom into a tented fantasy fit for a Maharaja… well almost.

Buzz: Is there a particular building/room/location (like the Taj Mahal) that you visit again and again for new ideas?

MLB: I love to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London- their decorative arts exhibits are some of the best in the world. (This summer’s Baroque exhibit was breath- taking and highly educational).

Buzz: I can imagine you walking down a runway in Milan but were you really a working actor as well?

MLB: Yes, but my film and television work was a bit avant-garde, not unlike my design work. One film that illustrates my acting “career” was my role in the last movie done by cult filmmaker Ed Wood. It was titled; “I Woke up Early the Day I Died.”

Buzz: Was that a comedy, drama, or horror movie?

MLB: I have no idea and neither did Ed.

Buzz: So how did you transition from actor/model into interior designer?

MLB: The Producer for the movie loved my style and asked me to do his offices at the Hollywood Film Works. The day it was finished the President of Capitol Records saw it and a career was born.

Buzz: In the past few years, I seem to see your work everywhere. Is it my imagination or have your become the dimpled darling of shelter magazines and coffee table books?

MLB: Well, I’m not sure about the dimpled darling part, but I am featured in about 20 coffee table books and my work has been featured in most of the major shelter publications like Architectural Digest, Elle Décor, Vogue, W, House & Garden and almost every major international shelter publication.

Buzz: Did you ever get any formal training in interior design and do you feel this helped or hindered your creativity?

MLB: I am literally self-trained. I think you are either born with style or not and I have added to my gift by educating myself traveling the world and experiencing new cultures.

Buzz: Speaking of your creativity, how would you describe it?

MLB: I’d say that my creativity thrives on diversity and I’m still not sure where the boundaries are for my design ideas. In addition to doing numerous residential and commercial interiors which include the executive offices at Warner Brothers, Paramount Studios, The Colony Palms Hotel, various restaurants, corporate offices of Jimmy Choo and retail stores worldwide, I’ve also introduced my own line of textiles, furniture, rugs and scented candles.

Buzz: Who’s your favorite clothes, jewelry and shoe designer?

MLB: Well, I adore both Jimmy Choo (for shoes, handbags) and Loree Rodkin (for jewelry). They are both incredibly talented and also happen to be clients of mine. My favorite designer for menswear would be Hedi Slimaine (ex. Dior Homme) for fashion and Tom Ford for tailoring.

Buzz: What’s the most exotic location where you’ve done a project?

MLB: I’m currently working on a 12th century castle in Umbria…not really exotic, but a dream come true. Punta Mita in Jalisco, Mexico was pretty exotic… and very hot!

Buzz: What exotic look has a special place in your heart?

MLB: I love the mystery and drama of Moroccan or what some might call a Marrakech style and the magic of Ottoman interiors- but I also love that 70’s Courreges vibe too.

Buzz: What is the singular most beautiful room you’ve ever designed?

MLB: That’s a hard one because each new room that I finish becomes my favorite….currently Cher’s bedroom in Malibu.

Buzz: You mentioned to me that you’re doing an ultra-eco-friendly home in Malibu for Keenan Ivory Wayans. I think you said even the wiring is recycled! Tell us about this project and what earth-friendly techniques you are using.

MLB: I believe the use of natural fibers such as linen, cotton, and raw silk always lends itself to a tasteful interior. It’s also eco-friendly, which is of great importance to me now. My project with Keenan Wayans is a huge learning curve for me. It is imperative for the planet that we all start to think in an eco friendly and sustainable manor. Reclaimed materials, local products, energy saving appliances and solar panel heating are major elements in this movement…and of course the use of antiques is ultimately the greenest.

Buzz: As I sit here across from your desk I’m staring at a huge crystal skull that’s staring back at me. What’s the story on that?

MLB: It was a gift from Sir Elton John. It’s hand-carved rock crystal from Southern Brazil.

Buzz: And speaking of accessories, what are your favorite antique accessories? Are they tortoiseshell boxes, architectural elements, tapestries, ancient busts, rock crystal globes/ or obelisks, or what?

MLB: I love Vizagapatam pieces. And I also love so-called Milanese furniture, mostly 18th century. The juxtaposition of the white ivory inlay imbedded into the ebony is I believe a Turkish classic.

Buzz: When it comes to antiques, do you have a favorite period or style?

MLB: I love all styles and periods because there is always something beautiful from every period that can be incorporated to create a fresh new interior.

Buzz: How do you feel about mixing antique periods that starkly differ like Louis XIV against Biedermeier?

MLB: If the pieces work together, they work! All beautiful things belong to the same time.

Buzz: Is there a particular antique style or period that you really can’t stand?

MLB: I’m not crazy about Art Nouveau…funny, as a kid I loved it.

Buzz: At C. Mariani, we’re famous for the grandest antiques. In order to avoid a “museum look”, what factors or characteristics do you incorporate into your ultra-luxe rooms that counterbalance antiques?

MLB: It’s usual in design to play the juxtaposition game if you have an important Louis XV armoire, then make the soft furnishings more inviting. To create a more relaxed vibe around such pieces, always allow them to shine.

Buzz: What is the single most important antique you’ve ever purchased on behalf of a client and how did you use it in the client’s home?

MLB: A pair of rare 16th century olive wood mirrors for over a million dollars that I used in the client’s bedroom.

Buzz: What is the favorite antique you have in YOUR home and why do you love it the most?

MLB: A pair of 18th century carved Portuguese chairs made to celebrate the wedding of a Russian Prince and a Portuguese Duchess. Their crests are entwined on the back splats of the chairs creating the most wonderful quirky detail.

Buzz: Tell us about an antique that you repurposed for a use that it was never intended for?

MLB: I often use old chest of drawers and convert them into sink units. They add such character to a bathroom.

Buzz: When your client has a limited budget, do you ever choose singular focal pieces that are fine antiques or do you just go with mass-produced furniture and reproductions?

MLB: Always choose good pieces, even if it means less is more.

Buzz: What are the hot color trends for interiors right now?

MLB: Tones of orange are big again, very 70’s Halston. Black and white combos are hot now too!

Buzz: What are your favorite colors to paint walls and what do you think about all the walls being off-white?

MLB: I still love deep red for a dining room, classic David Hicks chocolate and Billy Haynes teal green. I do however think off-white interiors have timeless quality, especially for art collectors.

Buzz: What advice do you have for someone who wants a top designer like you but is operating with a limited budget?

MLB: Pick one favorite trade mark of that designer’s look that’s easy to achieve, ie: a paint color and then build your own look upon those bones.

Buzz: Are there certain elements of an interior design project should never be skimped on even if your budget is limited?

MLB: Good drapery is like a frame to a painting. It must be fine quality, simple yet stylish and is vital to a room’s overall look and balance.

Buzz: If you were doing this interview, what key question did I forget to ask you and how would you answer it?

MLB: “What do you most love about your job?”
It’s the freedom to be creative every day. To be lucky enough to do a job I adore, to interact with fascinating people on a daily basis and to shop the world for the most beautiful objects. Truly, I am so fulfilled and lucky that the universe has blessed me with the talent and is allowing me to live my dreams.


Yes, yes, I'm fully aware of what Liza Minelli sings: "Life is a cabaret!" But that's just plain Broadway musical baloney.

A cabaret (pronounced "ca buh RAY" just like in the song--at least she got that right) is actually a porcelain coffee or tea service that usually has a pot, cups, saucers and frequently, a creamer, sugar basin and even a tray.

Here's a cabaret set of VEB Porzellanmanufaktur of Plaue, Thuringia, Germany dating to c1890:

And here's a detail shot of one of the cups. Ok, the set's a bit too foofy for my taste but then if I had great taste I'd be a decorator and not an antique dealer:

Prefer tea? Here's a lovely English porcelain cabaret tea set:

How can you tell if it's a tea or coffee set? Factoid: the tea pots are "short and stout" and the coffee pots are "tall and skinny". So the German VEB set above is for coffee and tea and the English set above is just for tea. Simple dimple.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


One of the most famous names in furniture is Thomas Chippendale.

He was an 18th century English cabinet maker and designer (who created furniture like the chair shown above). Care should be taken not to confuse him with the equally famous pair of squirrels known as Chip-n-Dale (who created nothing but a lot of mediocre programming for The Cartoon Network).

You can tell them apart pretty easily since they look nothing alike. Here's Thomas Chippendale who lived in 18th c. England:
And here are Chip-n-Dale, a coupla squirrels who live in West Hollywood (Hollywood adjacent).
As you can see, Chip-n-Dale are gender neutral cartoon characters. Some fringe elements have made the claim that they are same-sex domestic partners and occasional cross-dressers. In other words, "closeted squirrels". The photo does indicate some ambiguity and I understand that inquiring minds do want to know.

But The Buzz says,"Who are we to judge?" Wouldn't it be better if we all just joined hands and sang "What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love" and leave it at that? My feeling is if they're not hurting any important antiques, why not just live and let live?

But I admit to being bi-curious as what these two rodents actually DO every day. It's hard to say. Most likely, they just eat nuts, race across streets (sometimes with disastrous results), and wonder if they should change their names to avoid confusion with the famous cabinetmaker.

That's a good segue back to Thomas Chippendale, one of the most important cabinet makers and furniture designers of all time. Here's a spectacular Chippendale mirror incorporating exotic chinoiserie elements:

Pieces of furniture actually created by Thomas Chippendale are extremely rare, come on the market infrequently, and are very costly. For us antiquarians, the most important thing to understand is that the Chippendale name has become generic for all furniture made in the Chippendale style.

Here are some chair backs in the Chippendale style:
And here's a set of Chippendale chairs (note the Chinese stretchers and classic back splats):

This set of chairs weren't really created by Chippendale himself but they can still be properly called generic "Chippendale". Conclusion to draw here: not all Chippendales are created equal.

To illustrate this point, if you're offered the Chippendale sofa shown below for less than $100,000 USD, then you know it's in the style of Chippendale but not actually an authentic Thomas Chippendale piece-and that's OK.
Here's some beautiful Chippendale leg detailing (note the ball and claw foot and cabriole leg):

But Chippendale didn't just create chairs. Here's a Chippendale bureau bookcase (note the Chinoiserie glazing bars):

Ok, so now we know that all furniture that incorporates Chippendale's unique design characteristics can be called "Chippendale". But where do you find those styles and design elements? You find them in his seminal book of designs: "The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director" by Thomas Chippendale.

Look here at how the Portuguese interpreted and incorporated Chippendale style in the late 18th and early 19th centuries:

Kind of wild and weird, don't you think? I love this pair. Call me if you want to buy them. 415 541 7868.

Designs introduced by Chippendale in English furniture include the cabriole leg (see the ball and claw foot image above); and for that matter he introduced the ball and claw foot itself; the straight, square, early Georgian leg (often called Marlborough--see the sofa above); the carved latticework Chinese leg; the pseudo-Chinese leg; the fretwork leg and Chinese fretwork rails/cornices; the rococo leg with the curled or hoofed foot; and the spade foot. See my articles on legs and feet for more images.

And here's a bit more Chippendale eye candy for your viewing pleasure:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


True factoid: Shagreen is just plain chic. It's one of those truths that are "self evident" (to quote our Founding Fathers who would have loved shagreen if they'd been decorators).

But honestly, I don't know one designer who doesn't swoon over shagreen. Here's a real swooner: an oval and brass shagreen mirror from C.MARIANI ANTIQUES:

And here's a close up of the shagreen:

Shagreen is pronounced "shuh GREEN" and is defined as an untanned animal skin that has a very granular surface, almost like pebbles. Remember Pebbles? She was Bam-Bam's playmate on The Flinstones. Here she is plopped down on the left with her family:

Wait, shagreen doesn't look like THAT Pebbles. Yes, she was cute as a button, but chic, I don't think so. Plus she has no pupils (she got Wilma's eyes) and I find that scary in a "Children of the Corn" sort of way. Don't you think?

But guess which Bedrock character in our photo ACTUALLY MIGHT just make a lovely shagreen clutch?

Is it Wilma? Nope. How about Fred? How about no again. The correct answer is DINO the purple dinosaur!

See, shagreen is untanned hides with granular indentations ("pebbles") that come from animals like donkeys, horses, sharks, sting rays, and, sadly, Dinos.

Isn't it amazing how this all ties together? Here's a detail shot of a green shagreen (I think that's called alliteration but I'm too lazy to fact check this) vintage cigarette case:

Now I know what you're thinking: "Hey Buzz, does shagreen only come in green? Is there shacream or shapeuce?" Actually, shagreen comes in any color but regardless of its color it's still just called shagreen. I have no idea why but there it is.

Here's shagreen in pink:

Est shagreen "Pretty in Pink?" Me think oui, but I don't speak French so I can't be sure.

Shagreen first became popular in the 1920's (reaching its height in the '30's) and was and is used in a variety of ways, not just on small luxury goods (like clocks, purses, etc.) but also as a surface for furniture.

At our C. MARIANI CUSTOM WORKSHOP, we're often asked to create Art Deco style and modern furniture laminated in shagreen. And it comes out great. But my preference is to use the faux shagreen (the thought of Dino as a handbag makes me mist right up). Anyhow, the faux shagreen available today is practically indistinguishable from the real thing so please use that.

Anyhow, how does shagreen relate to antiques? Not much really since most of it appears on pieces that are less than one hundred years old. But it was used in the 19th century on English tea caddies and also on book bindings.

Widespread use of shagreen really didn't happen until the 1920's and '30's. Here's an Art Deco floor lamp that marries shagreen with palmwood to create a very soigné (a really good word to know and pronounced "swan YAY" and meaning sleek) standard:


These two words have always stumped me. I'd either forget what they meant or I'd forget how to pronounce them. I bet a psychiatrist would tell me that I'm "suppressing" those terms because they're REALLY SCARY and I'm fundamentally a coward. But Im not shelling out $250/hr to find out.

CHIMERA is pronounced "kye MEER uh" and it's defined as a frightening monster made up of bizarre combinations of different animals.

You'll see chimera frequently defined as a fire-breathing she-monster with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail. Sounds like my prom date. But I think that definition is sexist so I just say chimera to connote a gender-neutral monster. Here's one that fits the bill (notice the goat head emerging from the body):

MASCARON is often mispronounced "mack UH roon" but that's a yummy cookie that Jewish people eat on Passover (they're really delicious, especially the coconut ones). Wrong pronunciation but still a great treat and highly recommended.

This is a coconut macaroon:

MASCARON is properly pronounced "MASK kah rohn" and is a grotesque mask (facial) motif, like the one shown below on a 19th c. majolica urn:

List price: $46,500 USD

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


In case you missed my article on DECORATI about how antiques are a great way to recycle and do your bit for the planet, here it is:

I know what you're thinking: if Buzz thinks "going green" means buying this green pair of 19th century Russian malachite urns, he ain't the brightest bulb in the chandelier. By a long shot.

He probably also thinks that buying this antique malachite ecritoire (pronounced "ay cree TWAHR" and meaning an ink stand) is another way to "go green". Is the man clueless or what?

Well, actually you're right. Not about me being clueless but I do believe that buying these antiques is good for the environment and a great way to "go green". But not because they're green in color. It's because purchasing these or any other antique is an excellent form of recycling. Antiques were and are the original eco-chic.

Think about it.

As one of the largest wholesalers of high end antiques, every time we make a sale, we're doing our part to protect the environment. There's zero pollution when you buy, use and/or resell this 18th c. French Regence bureau plat:

In fact, I like to think of C. MARIANI ANTIQUES, RESTORATION & CUSTOM as the world's fanciest recycling bin.

After all, each of our 250 year old antiques has served no less than six generations of families who have used them, abused them, moved them, heaved on them, restored them and stored them. And yet since they were created they haven't used any more fossil fuel or otherwise harmed the planet one bit. If that isn't eco-friendly I don't know what is.

Here's a pair of 18th century "recycled" antique appliqués. The detail on them is amazing plus you don't cut down one tree or mine one more ounce of gold if you buy them:

So collecting antiques is the perfect way to furnish your home without doing an iota of harm to Mother Earth. Ok, so now we know that one way to Save the Planet, is to buy lots and lots of antiques like this $400,000 18th century silvered and walnut secretaire:

But what if you're a bit short on cash this month and don't have $400k to spend, even in the name of eco-chic? Not a problem.

If you can't afford an antique, then the next best thing is to have a custom shop like C. Mariani make you a reproduction antique using renewable materials like plyboo or else old growth repurposed wood that doesn't endanger our environment.

Our workshop turns out hundreds of hand-made custom pieces every year and we always try to be as ecologically responsible as we can. One way we do this is by using old growth and previously used 200 year old European walnut. This wood is not harvested-it's collected from collapsed churches, raised buildings, and from blow downs (these are old growth trees that have been blown down in storms). Here, a C. Mariani custom workshop reproduction side table in reused old growth walnut:

We actually have a "spotter" in Europe who identifies these toppled trees the moment they're "down". And then we buy the wood and ship it here for our furniture reproductions and restorations. C. Mariani has one of the largest inventories of old growth hardwoods in the country and we trade it like a commodity. And it's a commodity that doesn't harm the environment.

Custom pieces can also be eco-friendly if they are made of new but sustainable materials (i.e., wood or wood-like materials that can be regrown quickly). There are many stylish products on the market. Take plyboo for example (bamboo veneered onto bamboo-composite plywood). It looks very similar to precious macassar (pronounced "muh KASS er") ebony which is both prohibitively expensive and not eco-friendly.

It's beautiful, right? And yet it's very earth-friendly. This bamboo replenishes itself every 6 years, so it's a sustainable and responsible building material for custom furniture.

The moral to this story is that antiques and even custom furniture (using sustainable products) are stylish ways to beautify your interiors while at the same time being ecologically responsible.