The Test of Time


When I received an email from a gallery owner in Manhattan, inviting me to a show featuring the work of Regina Bogat, I jumped at the chance to get reacquainted with the work of this brilliant American artist. My more personal connection with Regina was my work on the interior design of her home a number of years ago (both Regina and I don’t feel the need to mention exactly how many years ago). After visiting the show, which was a knockout, I realized it might be fun to have lunch with Regina, catch up a bit, and also see how her home has withstood the test of time. The answer is that like good wine (or, for that matter, great art like Regina’s), her home is a classic.

Regina and her equally brilliant artist husband Al Jensen, moved to the Montclair area of New Jersey in 1971, to a house designed by Conrad Rossi-Diehl. It has a north-facing skylight in a generously sized third floor studio that reminded Jensen of Parisian studios he’d worked in many years before. I met Regina after Al died and she was interested in remaking the space to fit the needs of her and her two children.

While the character of the home made the project interesting, what was truly fascinating was integrating Regina’s brilliant abstract art into the scheme. Merging traditional interior design themes with modern abstract art can be as effective as it is unintuitive. Regina’s mesmerizing canvasses make an intriguing counterpoint to the classic elements in the furniture and furnishings. Abstract art and classic interior design elevate each other.

We had a lovely lunch, and Regina explained how well her work is being received, the shows she’s had around the world, and how satisfying it is to have achieved her level of acclaim as an artist. For me, walking through her home also gives me a satisfying feeling, seeing how well my work, and Regina’s art, have stood the test of time.

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In the living and dining rooms the neutral wall colors were chosen to highlight both the light-toned wooden architectural elements and the vivid artwork. The classic chandelier in the dining room shimmers against the primary colors of the paintings in Regina’s star series, while accessories like the group of Chinese ink brushes and ornate metal box, add an exotic edge to the comfortable, classical sofas, chairs and tables.

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Built in bookcases, a super comfortable chaise covered in a Clarence House fabric to match the window treatment, and an Al Jensen painting combine to create a room book lovers luxuriate in. If anything, time has improved this space as the fabrics have developed a lovely slightly faded patina.

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The little girl who wanted a very feminine, charming room of her own is now an adult, but the room remains her adolescent dream.  The English paper and fabrics on the wall and windows anchor the space, allied with a Colefax antique bed with hand painted details, and a delicate antique dressing table and screen covered in the same fabric as the bedcover. The skirted table features lace over a plain fabric, and the overall effect is like looking through a camera lens with a soft, glowing filter, glimpsing an impossibly innocent time.

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This hallway is a mini exhibit of several of Regina’s enigmatic canvasses, one wall matte black and the other neutral against the light-toned woodwork, providing a perfect context to view the work.

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Regina’s entrancing creation with a vertical string-like structure forms the basis of this guest bedroom. The traditional window treatment lends an interesting dynamic, a play on art and design. The chair fabric color and the wood work all jives with the art.

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A corner detail in the living room features one of Regina’s star themed images, stark, unframed and demanding attention, next to an Asian piece we call a reliquaire in French—a place to store holy relics—with a Hindu/Buddhist theme. Old and new, classic and modern, combining to create a timeless appeal.

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This upstairs sitting room reminds me of a classic European spa, with Japanese prints, painted Zumsteg paper that I still adore, Asian sculpture on the desk and delicate McGuire chairs.

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Here is where the magic happens. The airy third floor studio provided a strong motivation for the two artists to purchase this property in the first place, and it remains the nerve center of Regina’s work. Her office and bedroom are adjacent to the studio, so she’d never very far from the action.

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The Rooftops of Paris

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Paris is one of the most photographed cities in the world, so I was intrigued when I found these images, offering a view of the city that I’ve never seen. When he went up on to the roofs of Paris, photographer Michael Wolf realized that “it’s a perspective most people don’t see. If you see Paris from the foot perspective, it’s all polished and perfect, and there’s nothing improvised or broken or damaged. The rooftops are totally different. The people who work up there say, ‘Oh, no one’s going to see this anyway,’ and they dump something, or the chimney is broken. In that sense, it was a Paris that I found very sympathetic.”

For me the images not only offer a rarely seen glimpse of Paris, but they also reveal that even the most functional architectural elements retain a sense of the grace and beauty of the city.

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Dreaming of a Vercors Hideaway

Stone House in French Country

I’ve mentioned that the French Resistance used the Vercors region as a hideout from the Nazis in WWII. Well, this stone house we discovered on our trip would be my perfect summer hideaway. I’d ditch the satellite dish just visible on the roof, which is the only change I’d make to the outside. On the inside I’d create a haven full of French country design cues—rich, textured fabrics, thought provoking, weathered antiques and abundant art work. Our children say that if we spent time in the Vercors they’d move heaven and earth to visit us. And why not. The Vercors is heaven on earth.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

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That’s me in the lower right of the top photo, sitting on the terrace of my sister’s country home in Beaufort-sur-Gervanne, in southeastern France. The terrain is rugged—dramatic mesa’s offer breathtaking views from impossibly narrow roads. The pristine rivers rush forcefully through the scenery, feeding powerful falls gushing from great heights into gleaming pools. The area was home to the Maquis, hardy resistance fighters who hid in terrain inhospitable to the Nazis in WWII. It was extraordinarily hospitable to us.

We spent the vacation with our children and their significant others, hiking, biking, exploring ancient villages, eating and drinking well (the local rose wine was a welcome companion at every meal), and simply taking in the natural beauty of a land that radiates an Eden-like bliss. The weather is dry and without humidity and the windows are without screens because mosquitoes are persona non grata (see view from window in lower photo). I spent two weeks without turning on my phone, going online, or looking at a TV screen. I’ll be posting more highlights of the trip soon.

 

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How to Spend a Painless Day at the Airport

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Our trip to and from France this summer involved layovers in London of 8 hours in both directions. I found the perfect way to make a day at the airport as painless as possible: Yotel. This high-tech hotel is located in Terminal 4 at Heathrow. You arrive at an unassuming entrance to what might be an ordinary airport lounge. Inside, you enter what could double as a sci-fi interstellar transport module. The bed lowers from sofa to very comfortable king size, the complete bath features a powerful shower, there’s a flat screen TV and, most important, it is completely soundproofed. After our 8 hour womb-like retreat, we were refreshed and renewed as we braved the noisy crowds on the way to our gate. And at a little over $100, the price was very reasonable.

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Grand Illusion in Lyon

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Trompe l'oeil Lyon

Here we are on a street in Lyon, marveling once again at the French mania for trompe l’oeil. Construction sites (here) and ugly blank walls simply must be covered in elegant and amusing art that fools the eye. In this case a nondescript sliver of a building is completely covered with architectural details, windows, terraces, storefronts, and all manner of people, from the famous to the infamous to the completely unknown. There must be something in the French DNA that compels them to transform urban eyesores into clever optical illusions. I’m not sure what the Impressionists would think, but there’s no doubt you walk away from your experience with a smile on your face.

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Clothes Make the Opera

Costumes de légendes - 15.04 au 21.09.2014

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We spent a few days in the vibrant city of Lyon, and a highlight was a costume exhibit from the Lyon Opera. I was blown away by both the magnificent costumes and the inventiveness of how they were displayed. One dramatic room with rows of manikins reaching to the 20 foot ceiling showed how three different productions of The Magic Flute were interpreted over the past twenty years. The exhibit also included displays featuring all the disciplines involved in costume design and creation—pattern makers, seamstresses, tailors, embroiderers, boot makers, milliners, hat makers, wig makers, hairdressers and makeup artists. I know something about fabric and how it’s used, and the detail and boldness of these designs were impressive. Even my husband, not a great opera fan, was forced to agree that the exhibit was remarkable.

 

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Reborn Village

Renovated Medieval Village

We visited a medieval French town that’s been rebuilt from a handful of ruined buildings into a brand new 14th century village. Subtle updates include modern conveniences of plumbing and electrical, but walking the cobbled lanes is something of a time machine. You are clearly in an ancient village, and yet everything is pristine. My sister tells me one of the homes has just come on the market. Maybe I’ll put in an offer!!

 

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A Historic Home for a Historic Client

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Fifteen years ago I designed a home in Maplewood for a charming couple in the process of becoming surgeons. Out of the blue they showed up at the shop a month ago, having tracked me down to our current studio in Short Hills. I was out at the time and, since the only well-dressed visitors we tend to get without appointments are salespeople, my husband asked which firm they represented. To his embarrassment they explained that they were both surgeons who had traveled from their home in Galveston Texas to a medical conference in Rutgers, and hoped to see me. They had enjoyed our project in Maplewood fifteen years ago, and hoped to talk to me about helping them in their 110-year-old historic home in Galveston.

Fast-forward to this week, and I’ve just returned from a trip to Galveston, energized by the project we’re embarking on. The home is captivating, built by one of Galveston’s leading families, when the city was one of the busiest ports in the country. I’m busy researching Galveston’s rich historical and cultural history.

The style of the home is eclectic, with elements of Mission and Art Deco. Zuber hand painted panels were commissioned specially for the dining room, there are glittering French crystal chandeliers, massive arched sliding doors, and stained glass panels are featured in several rooms. The house has tremendous character, full of fascinating detail, with a wonderful floor plan. My clients have eclectic tastes, including an impressive collection of 1940s American abstract art. The result will be anything but conventional.

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Stone Barn Fusion

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One day I’m going to buy an old barn and convert it into a beautiful country home. Irish architects McGarry-Moon have done just that, preserving part of the original stone structure while using modern architectural techniques to create a fascinating hybrid of old and new. They inserted a stainless steel frame within the stone walls, keeping the old door and window openings on the lower level and adding contemporary fittings above. The result is a totally unified structure fusing traditional and contemporary style. The bedroom is cantilevered off the stone base to provide more floor space and allow for floor to ceiling glass, offering the homeowners panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

This outstanding stone barn renovation has given me plenty of inspiration. I’d better start looking for the right old barn!

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