Monday, April 18, 2011


In the antique trade, you often hear of "harlequin" pairs. But what exactly does that mean? No, it's not a sneaker, at least not to antiquarians:

I always thought a harlequin meant a clown and actually it does. Here's the harlequin clown as depicted by Picasso in 1918:

The term originally referenced the clown figure Arlecchino in the Italian traveling art troupe known as the Commedia dell' Arte (dating back to the 16th century). That figure is traditionally represented wearing diamond patterned multi-colored tights. Paul Cezannes' painting, Harlequin demonstrates this patterned motif and character:

But antiquarians use the term harlequin to mean a pair of items that are similar but not exactly matching. My guess is that this comes from the harlequin pattern where the diamonds match but the colors do not, hence they too are similar but not matching.

Here is a harlequin pair of 18th century Dutch brass candlesticks. Note how at first they appear identical but on closer inspection the triangular bases are of different sizes and the nozzle stems for the candles also differ in shape:

Another example would be this pair of late 18th century Louis XIV French Walnut Armchairs. Can you see how they differ?

The chair on the left has a shaped stretcher between the two front legs, unlike its harlequin twin on the right. And the shape of the arms differ in that the one on the left has more pronounced front portions curving down than does the one on the right.

Similar but not matching antiques like these are called "harlequin" pairs or sets.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I love it when those reality TV shows like "The Real Housewives of '
Fill in the Blank'" try to stretch their season by adding episodes called "From the BRAVO vaults: the Lost Footage."

Yeah, I know, there are no vaults at Bravo and this footage was never lost, but even so it's usually interesting stuff. And sometimes it's the most interesting stuff! Like when Tamra in "Orange County" went swimming in the lady pond (whatever that means) with her Brazilian girlfriend/trainer who's really cute but kinda mannish. The point is that I really like "lost footage" because it's just plain fun.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

So I was thinking, in my recent magazine article with Paul Wiseman, one of the deans of American interior design, the interview ran a bit long because we were having so much fun.

And because of the length, some parts just couldn't fit into the article. In other words, as they say in Hollywood they ended up on the "cutting room floor" (don't forget I was born in Hollywood-adjacent Van Nuys so I know these things).

Photographer: Matthew Millman

So from the vaults of The Buzz on Antiques, here's some NEVER BEFORE SEEN "lost footage" (OK, "lost verbiage") from my interview with Paul:

Q: Paul, how's the interior design industry changed since you started out?
A: When I started my business about 30 years ago, a lot of the really “big” decorators were crooks.

Q: Did you just say crooks?!
A: I certainly did and I meant it.

Buzz thinking to himself: OMG, this is SO great! Maybe I’ll get a Pulitzer for this interview-I mean it’s really more like hard-hitting investigative reporting. Or forget the Pulitzer, what about a Nobel Prize?! I could go to Sweden! Or is it Norway? A cruise to Scandinavia! I love cruises.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Q: Crooks. Ok, please go on.
A: It’s just that I could see that many of the “big” decorators back then weren’t dealing straight with their clients. They were being sneaky and dishonest.

Photographer: Tim Street-Porter

Q: How were they doing that?
A: In different ways. Like saying a carpet was custom woven in Crete by virgin mermaids and charging a ridiculous price when the rag really came from some shlocky furniture line in Grand Rapids.

Photographer: Tim Street-Porter

Q: So what did you do, call in the Feds?
A. [Smiling] No, nothing that dramatic. But I saw an opportunity not just to do the right thing but also a way to stand out from the crowd by building a business on not just my talent but also my integrity. And I think I’ve succeeded in that regard.

Photographer: Christopher Irion

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Q: And how did you go about doing that? Did you parade around the Design Center wearing a sandwich-board saying, “I’m the honest decorator!”?
A: [Laughing]. Not exactly. I started by hiring a lawyer named Naomi Ramsden who was tired of practicing law. She wanted to work with creative people and also knew about the sorry practices being used by the “big guys” back then.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Q: How did she help you?
A: She taught me about my bottom line—and that if you don’t understand it, then you can’t create a fee scale that’s fair and reasonable. She also taught me how to communicate to clients exactly what I would provide in terms of goods and services and that my goal was to make a fair and honest profit. Naomi taught me to be very clear with clients and vendors as to how I make my living. My clients see all of my invoices and backup documentation, whether they request it or not and they know that I always negotiate the best price I can from vendors. They understand that I charge a percentage on that negotiated price as my fee along with the time spent on their project. My clients also know that my mark-up percentage is the same for everyone–there are no exceptions.

Photographer: Tim Street-Porter

Q: Do you offer multiple fee arrangements to your clients, like “hours plus mark-up” or “comprehensive flat fee deals”?
A: No. I offer the same fee arrangement for everyone. There are no exceptions. I charge for hours plus a percentage. A set lump-sum fee arrangement is a disaster and it never works in the client’s favor. I’m amazed that some clients actually believe that a designer is going to quote them a flat fee that’s not going to cover all of his costs and include a nice profit. Every designer offering a flat rate knows that in decorating people always change their mind. They add on features and items as the process unfolds. And this inevitably adds to the costs. Flat fee designers build this contingency into their lump sum fee.

Photographer: Tim Street-Porter

Q: How has the onslaught of decorating websites affected the world of design and you personally?
A: Online sites like 1st Dibs are great for preliminary shopping. Of course, we never buy something, certainly not an antique or vintage piece, without seeing it first. Photos of antiques you see online are often better than the objects themselves. Unique objects have to reveal their soul. And they can’t do that through only photographs. But for viewing furniture lines as we do on Decorati and seeing what other designers are doing, online media is very useful and wonderful.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Q: What are some well-known public spaces, like buildings or restaurants, that you’ve designed?
A: Almost all my work is private residential and so by definition it’s not “well known.” Of course, many of my clients’ homes have been featured in Architectural Digest, Veranda, Traditional Home and other shelter publications. The only somewhat public space I ever did is Nanea, the very private golf club on the Kona Coast of Hawaii. And it was also published in Architectural Digest.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Q: OK, then let’s talk lead times and deadlines. Are clients requesting quicker deadlines and how do you handle those requests?
A: Yes and it’s a problem. Especially with younger new money clients who want “instant” results. I try to educate them that we aren’t selling a product but rather a process. If they want just product, they can go to any retail store and see the quality and style available instantly. Once they see what’s out there, they usually back off.

Photographer: Tim Street-Porter

Q: What will be different about the interior design industry in 15 years?
A: I think the line between retail and wholesale will go away. There won’t really be a wholesale market and everyone will just pay retail.

Q: Ok, that’s kinda scary since C. Mariani is a wholesaler. You think I should start job hunting?
A: [Laughing]. No Buzz, I think that Claudio and you will be around for a long time to come. But look how most of your wholesale competitors have gone out of business in this recession.

Q: Guess that's true. Anyhow, it's now time to play our “lightning round!” Name your favorite…

Q: Actress?
A: Meryl Streep

Buzz aside: If I ever become Head of Casting at a big Hollywood studio, I’m going to make “Little Bo Peep-The Movie” just so I can scream: “ I want Streep for Peep!”

Q: Movie?
A: “I am Love”

Q: I don’t believe it! That’s my all-time favorite too!

Buzz’s off-the-record confession: Never heard of it.

Q: TV show?
A: I don’t watch television.

Q: [Shocked] Not even The Real Housewives?! Ok, I can understand not watching “New York”-Alex and her husband were borderline creepy. But “Beverly Hills” is so great. Plus “Atlanta”-that one’s getting really good again-did you see that Nene and Cynthia are warring with Candy and Sheree!? What a tragedy and ...[Paul interrupts]
A: Excuse me? I really haven’t watched TV for 25 years.

Q: Oh, OK. Yeah, me neither except the occasional Masterpiece Theatre.

Buzz comment: You didn’t really expect me to confess that I’m a reality TV junkie, did you? Paul’s an important client and I have an image to uphold.

Q: Singer?
A: Judy Collins

Q: Judy Collins?. Is folk music making a comeback?
A: [Silence]

Q: Never mind. What’s your favorite book?
A: That would be tie between “War and Peace” and “Red and the Black.”

Q: Favorite food?
A: Boy that’s a tough one. [He pauses]. I’d have to say Jean Georges’ Seared Foie Gras with mango and orange juice reduction.

Q: I'd have to say "Does the Safeway carry that?
A: I doubt it.

Q: Broadway play or musical? Wait! Don’t tell me! I’m guessing “Annie!”. Am I right?
A: [Laughing] No, but you’re close: “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?”

Q: I’m not sure. Who is Sylvia?
A: That’s the name of the play.

Q: But which of those plays is your favorite, “The Goat” or “ Who is Sylvia”?
A: [Looking up, shaking his head and mumbling something like "Why me?"]. Buzz, it’s getting late-just say “Annie” and you can correct that later in editing.

Q: OK. Favorite soprano (opera coloratura not the HBO show)
A: Joan Sutherland

Q: She looks like a football player.
A: Is that a question?

Q: Um, what's your favorite football team?
A: Why would you ask me that?

Q: Because of Joan Sutherland.
A: OK then, next question.

Q: Favorite NASCAR driver?
A: What’s NASCAR?

Q: I’m not sure. Maybe a football team.
A: [Laughing]. Great! Put NASCAR down for my favorite football team.

Q: Who’s your favorite Louie? Quatorze, Quinze, Seize or Armstrong?
A: None of those. My favorite Louie would have to be “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen.

Q: As in “Uh Louie Loo-ay, Oh no, said we gotta go…da-da…yeah yeah yeah yeah”?
A: Yeah.

Q: [Laughing] That was funny!
A: [Smiling] I thought you’d appreciate that.

Q: What movie set would you most like to live in?
A: “Forbidden Planet,” with Walter Pigeon and Anne Francis

Forbidden Planet Set

Q: Forbidden Planet? The sci-fi movie? What about “Barry Lyndon?”
A: What about him? I’d want to live on Forbidden Planet and that’s my final answer.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Another Satisfied Wiseman client?

Q: OK-What’s your biggest gripe with most interior designers today?
A: Their lack of historical knowledge of periods and pieces.

Q: If you could ask any two people to join you for dinner (they can be past or present) who would they be?
A: The Roman Emperor Hadrian and Bette Davis

Photographer: Matthew Millman