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Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Rose Cumming: Design Inspiration"


 "I have no time for boring furniture, boring fabrics or boring people." 
- Rose Cumming

In his new book Rose Cumming: Design Inspiration, released this week by Rizzoli, author Jeffrey Simpson delves into the sparkling high society world of one of the first great professional decorators. Rose Cumming was a woman of both outsized personality and taste with a style rich in fantasy and ornament. Cumming favored gilt surfaces, mirrored walls and opulent shimmering fabrics. Her rooms were populated by Venetian and Louix XV furnishings with Chinoiserie and Mooish motifs decorating every free surface. A minimalist she was not.

A pensive Cumming in her famed shop.

The book begins by setting Cumming's place in the pantheon of early 20th-century lady decorators and tastemakers - Elsie de Wolfe, Syrie Maugham and Edith Warton - and then takes us to turn of the century Australia. It is there Cumming was born and later made her society debut. Following her silent film star sister to America, Cumming took the classic immigrant story and turned it on its head.

In 1917, lunch with a man would would soon become the editor of a new magazine called Vanity Fair gave Cumming the idea to become a "decorator." She apprenticed with well-known society designer Mary Buel and went on to open her own shop in 1921. The store served as fertile training ground for the next generation of great decorators including Albert Hadley and Thomas Britt, both of whom are widely quoted throughout the book.

Cummings' own bedroom anchored by a Portuguese iron bed 
festooned with silver lamé.

This monograph is no mere coffee table book, though photographs of gorgeous spaces are plentiful. Through personal letters and business correspondence (photos of which are included), we learn about the day-to-day workings of an influential 20th-century decorating firm. (My personal favorite is the reproduction illustrated brochure of Cumming's work tucked into the book's pages, a precursor to today's design websites and blogs.) Her life, both personal and professional, is detailed while placing it within a historical context. Cumming was a woman of and ahead of her time.

A swatch page from a client's file, including a note for "glass curtains."

Filled with old photos of Cumming's projects, the book attempts to overcome the sepia monotony with colored swatches from client files. Given the decorator's preference for aubergines, peacock teals and rich blues, one is left to imagine the full glory of sumptuous interiors rendered rather mute with the black-and-white photography of the day. Lush color paintings of Cumming's interiors by Vogue illustrator Jeremiah Goodman and interior designer Mark Hampton supplement wonderfully.

Rose Cumming Design is still in business today and headed by Sarah Cumming Cecil, the designer's great niece who wrote the book's prologue.

Photos: 1. Cover, courtesy of Rizzoli. 2. Wilbur Pippin, Dessin Fournir Collections via The New York Times, 3. Courtesy of Sarah Cumming Cecil., 4. Jayson K.T. Schwaller, Dessin Fournir Collections.

Rose Cumming: Design Inspiration [Rizzoli]
Rose Cumming Design [official site]

My thanks to Jessica Napp of Rizzoli for providing my review copy.

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