Gold and Silver

The Mardi Gras season begins in earnest this weekend as the major parades begin rolling through our city. What follows is a look at Gold and Silver and how they are put to their best use in the very decorative traditions of Mardi Gras. With the season in full swing, there seems no better time than now for a look at these two glittering metals. Especially as they play out in the many design arenas of New Orleans! In her recent post on the subject, Things That Inspire poses the dilemma of choosing between the two metals, or compromising on something in between. Gold or Silver you ask! Yes, and lots of each.

This watercolor costume design, entitled "Good and Evil cast Lots for the Soul" was done by Cenelia Bower Alexander for the 1920 Rex pageant. I think it's a wonderful example of the inclusion of both metals within a design and how this adds to the shimmering fantasy feel of silver.

In honor of the season of pageantry, many people decorate their homes for Mardi Gras with the same ardor that people in the rest of the country decorate for Christmas. On one of the mantles in my house, I display my collection of gold crowns entwined with gold Mardi Gras beads. No silver in this display, it's all warm and majestic gold, gold, gold. Except for the antique silver of the mirror itself.

While I was compiling a collection of pictures to include in this post, I was struck by how strongly the traditional design elements of Carnival have influenced my work.

This crown worn by the Queen of Athenians in 1935 is uncharacteristically simple in its opulence. The pave' rhinestone effect screams silver, and this is balanced by an equally over-the-top golden hued plume. Simple elegance and decadence collide. The gold and silver each making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

This Madeleine Chandelier is custom finished in glazed silver leaf. This is the first time we've done this piece in silver, it's uncanny how much the top of this piece reminds me of the tiara in the picture above.

This invitation to the Mistick Krewe of Comus Ball in 1898 is a beautiful example of the theatricality and pageantry of Mardi Gras in the early days. Each object created for these ceremonious revels was a true work of art. This card depicts an actual cup used by the King of Comus to toast his court and other Carnival "dignitaries". The beautiful watercolor rendering depicts the gold cup as truly "golden" and the silvery rhinestones only put the icing on the royal cake.

The Glenda Sconce, finished in Glazed Gold Leaf with its round crystal baubles. The heaviness of the gilding is balanced by the icy clear round balls. A modern nod to the golden age of Carnival and to the fabulous Comus cup.

This is a jeweled bandeau worn by the Queen of The Mystic Club in 1928.

The brushed steel of this table base which we custom made to conform to the oval shape of this room recalls the shimmering solidity of the tightly woven rhinestones in the bandeau above. The glass table top reinforces its icy coolness. Notice how well it plays off the warm gold tones of the rug.

This jeweled sunburst was worn by Winnie Davis as Queen of Comus in 1892. Although it is more than 100 years old, it seems very contemporary, and I'm inspired to create something new in this vein. I've been kicking some starburst designs around for some time, and now I resolve to explore this further in the near future because I love it.

This is a detail of the scepter carried by Winnie Davis when she was Queen of Comus. It is an amazing piece of art. I am absolutely knocked over noticing that the sunburst is repeated, but now it is entwined in a spider's web and there is a golden spider climbing on it. An additonal detail is the plant form which creates the overall shape of the piece and supports the spider web piece. The red jewels in the center reinforce the fiery golden warmth of this piece.

We named this chandelier Queen of Hearts because it was originally made for a very sweet and wonderful person. (We usually name our pieces after the person who we originally make them for). Like the sunburst and scepter, this piece was made for a Queen and the colored crystals add to the warmth and regality of this fixture.

This icy shimmering rhinestone scepter was carried by the Queen of Proteus in 1929. I am wild about its silvery art deco feel.

The legs of this silver leaf table, with their star shape in the center easily recall the scepter above. The bronze stencilling, which repeats the star motif on the silver leafed top, and the brown glazed finish is another example of the friendly coexistence of the two metals.

I'm crazy about this ducal badge from 1889 because I'm a fool for red coral. The golden badge is further enhanced by silvery rhinestones. It is beautifully capped by a crown piece with green colored jewels at the top. I wish I had a picture of a trumeau we did with a coral motif, but alas I didn't get a picture of it.

New Orlenians are fools for anything with a crown on it. This mirror is so fun because it's so New Orleans and because the red underpainting makes the goldness of the crown in the center really resonate.

I'm also pretty nuts for anything with an acanthus form on it, and this crown, worn by Rex, the King of Carnival in 1915 doesn't disappoint. There's something absolutely classic and timeless about the acanthus form and I can't get enough of it...and rendered in gold inlaid with silvery rhinestones...who could resist?

Not so surprising that I'd come up with a chandelier that pays homage to this shape. When the decorator who ordered this one asked for it to be done with a gold band and silver acanthus shapes, I initially had my doubts, but in the end I think it came out beautifully. We've done a few pieces with this combination and it's pretty popular. I think that the brown glaze marries the two metals and makes for a really nice effect. The Artemis Chandelier.

This krewe favor, given by a masker to a lady after dancing is from the Proteus ball in 1892. I included it here to show another happy marriage of gold and silver tones used on the same piece.

These regal rulers from 1915 and their pages are the epitome of carnival opulence. The king sports a golden train while the queen's is silver trimmed in ermine. Silvery rhinestones adorn the white satin finery and white feathers complete the scene. The celebration of Mardi Gras is about not holding back. It is the opposite of "Less is More." It is royal and it is beautiful, but it is not subtle. Gold and Silver abound!

As I said before, in New Orleans we treasure our Mardi Gras traditions, and we love to decorate with things that remind us of this. This powder room is a celebration of New Orleans motifs. It is in a home that took on 8 feet of water following Hurricane Katrina. It has been beautifully restored and is a testament to the homeowners who chose to rebuild and to the spirit of our city. The mirror is decorated with an urn and acanthus shapes which might be found on a modern day Mardi Gras float. Reflected in the mirror is a custom Corona Chandelier hung with crystals. The Ella Sconces drip with crystals reminiscent of carnival finery. Not pictured, but below the wall mounted faucets is a metal vanity which is hung with golden garlands. This space vibrates with golden wonder and celebrates the "More is More" doctrine.

Given the choice between gold and silver, what does one do? Choose one or the other,OR choose some of both. What a majestic idea!
With the exception of the second to last photo, all Carnival pieces pictured were taken from Henri Schindler's wonderful Mardi Gras Treasures of the Golden Age series. The photo of the Mardi Gras royal court is from "If Ever I Cease To Love" by Charles L. Dufour and Leonard V. Huber.

An Interview with Rosemary James

While writing my recent post on the "Swamp Palazzo" style of decoration which I feel is the quintessential New Orleans look, I decided to ask Rosemary James, the inventor of this term for an interview. Although we have lived and worked in the same city for many years, I have never had the good fortune to meet her, but I hope to soon.
I am so glad I decided to call her, because she graciously agreed to answer some questions which provide a personal history of the multi-talented and accomplished woman who is a writer, designer, journalist, and cultural advocate for the city.
What follows is an excerpt from our interview:
Tell us about your book, "My New Orleans:Ballads to the Big Easy by her Sons, Daughters, and Lovers."
My New Orleans came out of the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society, a non-profit organization my husband and I co-founded after we purchased and renovated the house where William Faulkner wrote his first novel, 624 Pirate's Alley.

Faulkner House Bookstore on Pirate's Alley

The mission of the society is to help talented writers improve their work and get it published and to provide entertaining and enlightening programming for the general public. In helping writers over the years, I have been dealing with some of the best literary agents and editors in the country, one of whom is Michael Murphy, a native of Detroit who adores New Orleans...A few days after Katrina, Michael tracked me down in Charleston, SC (my home town and another Swamp Palazzo city), where my husband and I evacuated (we have a Swamp Palazzo flat I renovated and decorated there). Michael posed the idea of a book about New Orleans to benefit writers. If I would pull it together, he would sell it. I agreed to do the book and within days he had sold the book to Simon and Schuster/Touchstone.

A love song to our city, edited by Rosemary James.

Simon and Schuster agreed to give a portion of the proceeds to writers relief fund of PEN and the Faulkner Society benefited from my share of the proceeds. We all agreed that we did not want to do a "storm" book but, instead, a book about the things which make New Orleans special. The only hitch was that I had to get the book done in 30 days. The most difficult thing about it was tracking down people I wanted to include. As you know, people evacuated and finding out where was no easy matter. There were many people I wish I could have included in the book, such as Allan Toussaint, but I was unable to contact them within the time constraints. I think it turned out well, a sort of "thirty-day wonder."
How did you come up with the term "Swamp Palazzo?"
When the Faulkner House came on the market, we decided to buy it, as my husband, an attorney, wanted to operate a bookstore when he retired and we could think of no more appropriate place for a bookstore than in the building where Faulkner wrote his first novel, Soldiers' Pay.

Interior of Faulkner House Books

We won lots of awards for the renovation of the Faulkner House, begun in late 1988 and completed in 1990, and the house has been featured in numerous national magazines and design magazines. I started my design business in 1988 with Faulkner House as my first project. For some years I rented space at 632 Pirate's Alley (second and third floors) for the business, sharing space with other artisans. The second floor was decorated as an apartment, which we used to meet and entertain clients.

A view of the library in Rosemary James's house showing her love for french antiques. The chaise longue covered in an animal print, maybe influenced by her admiration for Madeleine Castaing

I first came up with the concept of "Swamp Palazzo" in the design of both Pirate's Alley establishments. I did furniture, lighting, accessories along that theme in concert with other artisans. The concept first appeared in print in a story for Southern Accents, in which I described the style as one in which layers of patina are all important.

From the Southern Accents article, the Swamp Palazzo style embraces patinaed walls, luxurious draperies simply designed, and extensive use of French antiquities.

In a New York Times Magazine story by Julie Iovine, I was asked how I would describe my style. That story appeared in 1996 and opens with the line: "Thirty years after moving from staid Charleston, Rosemary James still revels in the city's mildewed grandeur."

This is a house I was working on at the time I first read about "Swamp Palazzo" style and I purposely left the distressed stucco,even enhancing its aged look a bit, only adding to it with Pompeii inspired stencilling, reinforcing the "mildewed grandeur" of the architecture.

The story goes on to say that the formalities typical of the South (swags at the windows and parlors full of Chippendale furniture) are "distorted in a town where masquerade confronts the tropical swelter...Faux finishes, saturated color and elaborate ornamentation are the essence of New Orleans style, to which James, an interior designer, has brought her own sense of exaggerated elegance, for a look she calls Swamp Palazzo."

From Southern Accents, the caption reads," A mirror in the foyer allows actors in the living theater that is New Orleans to assess themselves before making entrances. Neutral colors and contemporary accessories are designer Gerrie Bremermann's trademarks."

The story ends with the line: "Fortunately, Swamp Palazzo is a very forgiving style, indifferent to the effects of sun and age on moire draperies and taffeta slipcovers. Time only renders it all the more splendid."

In Susan Sully's New Orleans Style, Rosemary's airy dining room, which overlooks the courtyard. The antique mirrored doors conceal storage for linens and tableware.

I would still describe my style as Swamp Palazzo: a combination of both vivid and understated colors for both walls and textiles, natural patina where possible or with the help of a good decorative painter, antique Continental lighting or original new lighting compatible with Continental antiques, good Continental antiques where possible mixed with some quirky contemporary touches, silk curtains sans swags and tails.

In Southern Accents, designers Alix Rico and Patricia Brinson hang voluptuous bronze silk drapes which puddle onto a handpainted floor. The silver leaf chair by Mario Villa is a lighthearted nod to the classical. A contemporary religious article atop antique books is so very New Orleans.

None of the floral chintzes beloved by the English, which go so well with English furniture. Patterns limited mostly to stripes and Fortuny style, along with some toiles in bedrooms or breakfast rooms. At least one dynamite accessory, such as an antique folding screen or a painting or a fabulous antique mirror in every room, along with hand-knotted antique rugs.
What is your most treasured possession?
Generally speaking I do not get too attached to things, as I like change. If a client admires a piece of mine, for instance, I usually have no hesitation in selling it to the client. However, there are certain accessories which I love, including most especially a late 18th century large trumeau mirror with a hand-carved figure depicting "The Rape of Europa", now in my Charleston flat; a 19th century iron fireback also depicting the "Rape of Europa", which I have mounted permanently in the brick wall of my tiny courtyard at 624 Pirate's Alley. If and when we give up this house, I plan to have a plaster artist make a casting from it and render it in plaster for me. Other prized possessions are an 18th century French boiserie overdoor ornament of classical figures executed in plaster; a period French Empire mirror; and my collection of furnishings with putto elements. These include a 19th century English screen (yes, English, a bit too large for my French furnishings and the tiny rooms of my house but I loved it for the putti motifs);

Rosemary's Salon, with the tooled leather screen with frolicking putti, one of the designer's treasured possessions. And for Cote de Texas, a skirted table and french daybed. Check out the leopard upholstered bench.

a 19th century handcarved wooden chandelier with a putto riding each arm of the chandelier (this piece inspired several lighting fixtures of my own design for a special project);

Rosemary's early 19th century Italian carved wood Renaissance-revival chandelier, another of her prized possessions, shown in The Chandelier through the Centuries.

a 19th century oil of frolicking putti; a 19th century silver repousse cannister with putti motifs; a similar 19th century silver water pitcher;

The bar, which sits just outside the dining room at Faulkner House.

a small, French bouillot lamp with a tole shade painted in putti motifs; a pair of 19th century French vases with putti motifs; an early 19th century trumeau mirror with a handcarved figure of a devilish putto holding a French noble's head. You get the drift! All of these pieces are great elements for the Swamp Palazzo style!
What originally brought you to New Orleans and how did you fall in love with this place?
I came to New Orleans and went to work for the New Orleans States-Item on New Year's Day, 1964. I had travelled to New Orleans in late November to visit friends in graduate school here. My flight to the city was two days after the Kennedy Assassination and as the plane circled for landing people were talking about the President's murder and the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald had lived in New Orleans. I had the passing thought that "This was a place where things happen, dramatic things."
I was preoccupied with the birds eye view of the landscape, however. It is only when you are high above the city that you realized that its location is precarious, a tiny toehold in a big swamp, surrounded by water.

Aerial view of New Orleans

I was attracted to the voluptuous quality of the city: it's weather extremes, for instance. When I landed in New Orleans, the temperature was 82 degrees; I checked in at the Hotel Monteleone and walked down the street to Brennan's to have lunch with my friends.

From their website, the dramatically glamorous facade of the Hotel Montleone where Rosemary stayed after arriving in New Orleans in 1964.

During the three-hour luncheon, a blue norther moved in, with the kind of sound and light show that only Zeus can create, accompanied by a rainfall that had to be at least five inches in the space of an hour. The temperature dropped 40 degrees while I was having lunch.

from the dpc prints website, Rainswept Royal Street - New Orleans by Sia Yambasu

Walking down Royal Street, I was enchanted by the incredible array of antique jewelry on display in the fine antiquarian establishments. I remember saying to a companion, "There must have been a lot of money among the Creoles of New Orleans." My friend replied, "Yes, and a lot of love for their women."

Opulent jewelry from Keil's Antiques on Royal Street. The Creole tradition of over-the-top elegance and decoration is reflected in these pieces.

I had been accustomed to the fine antique shops of Charleston and their windows and windows of good English and American Federal furniture. My association with Continental furnishings had been limited at that time to one short trip to France. My love affair with French furnishings began on that first stroll down Royal Street.

Louis XVI chairs, which New Orleanians are so fond of from French Antique Shop on Royal Street

It was on Royal Street that Rosemary first fell in love with the look of French Antiques, a look which became a signature component of her decorating style

Antiquing on Royal Street in the French Style.

The architecture had instant appeal to me as well. I spent most of my childhood in Panama and New Orleans in the early 60s had the look of old Panama City, another important Creole city of ethnic and architectural diversity. I felt at home immediately.
Who are your greatest design influences?
My biggest design influence? Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI, whose design style was a return to the classic lines of the important classical cultures of Greece and Italy and because of their personal appeal, their redecorating resulted in a design revolution in Europe, including Russia; and Napoleon Buonaparte. No other person in history has had such an important impact on the design industry.

The library at Faulkner House with a Directoire desk with inlay and bronze ormulu decoration. The iron chair with neoclassic crossed arrow motif.

He realized its value to the French economy and was continually exploring new design ideas, as a result of his travels in the lands he conquered, and having these new influences executed in furnishings and textiles, as he realized that he and Josephine would inspire others to redecorate as well. Although I also like the frivolity of the Louis XV period, especially for bedrooms and family/breakfast rooms, clean classical lines appeal to me most.
I am particularly enamoured with the lines and colors of Pompeian furnishings and the similar lines of ancient Italian cultures. I don't hesitate to mix periods as long as the scale is compatible. The problem with mixing new major pieces with antiques is that often the scale is not compatible. Locally, the designers I most admire are Gerri Bremerman,

Gerrie Bremermann's signature style: French chairs upholstered in checks, trumeau mirror, dramatic carved gilt sconce, fabulous crystal chandelier, pillows made from antique textiles,putti lamp, antique books, ivory colored walls,and simply gorgeous silk drapes.

and Ann Dupuy

Another Southern Accents article by Rosemary James entitled "Deep South Sexy" showing the work of Ann Holden and Ann Dupuy. I have always been crazy about these curtains, and yet again, Peak of Chic notice the animal print on the french chairs!

nationally, Peter Marino.

The simple elegance of a bedroom by Peter Marino.

Designers from the past: Madeleine Castaing, France.

In this room by Madeleine Castaing, one can easily see her influence in Rosemary James's work. I especially love the aqua walls, the cameo medallion and the acanthus frieze.

Many thanks to Rosemary James for this inspiration and for taking the time to so eloquently address the questions I had for you.

I am the owner of Julie Neill Designs in New Orleans where we create beautiful custom lighting. This blog is my love letter to the unique people, places and happenings which make New Orleans the amazing place it is.

Please visit my website to learn more about my lighting and our fabulous shop on Magazine Street.

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