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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book review: 'Fifth Avenue Style'

What if you could design your dream home? I don't mean just picking out furnishings from high-end mart showrooms but actually creating every chair's fabric, each doorknob, the light fixtures and their shades, all the way to the throw that keeps you cozy when you read your favorite book. A fantasy for most and a daunting one at that.

But for interior designer Howard Slatkin (above), a completely bespoke home was the dream driving him to purchase and furnish a 6000 square foot Manhattan apartment. The process, from its infancy in a 30-point realtor directive to its sumptuous completion, is the subject of Fifth Avenue Style.

In the gallery, 19th-century grisaille panels highlight a Louis XV regulateur flanked by a pair of narwhal tusks, while an 18th-century silver hand lantern rests above the custom chair rail. 
(I cannot tell you how much pleasure typing that sentence gave me.)

At first glance, one might be inclined to dismiss this as a vanity project, but the genius of this book is the thoughtful, straightforward way in which Slatkin approaches his subject. This no mere "Look how fabulous I am!", though after about six pages the fab is readily apparent. Rather this is a love poem to the creative process and a valentine to the craftspeople who made it happen.

 Partial illustration of the floor plan of Slatkin's home.

Slatkin starts with the floor plan of his home and walks the reader through room by room, sharing, in a charming mix of plain talk and decorator-ese, how each space came to be. This is a master class in the sort of rarefied decorating only the 1% of the 1% can afford. It is an Aladdin's cave of design riches, if Aladdin were the interior designer for the people who run our world. (No, seriously, his are clients whose names you've probably never heard outside of the occasional unsanctioned Vanity Fair profile.)

 A springtime lunch setting with 18th-century plates and ivory-handled flatware.

Along the way, Slatkin generously shares sources and resources, smart tips, earthy advice and the occasional bon mots gleaned from years of jet-set decorating:

The only road map I can give you to the rooms that give you joy is to do not what I do or like but what gives you pleasure. To hell with what anyone may say - life is too damn short to do otherwise.

If I have a philosophy of interior design, it is that your rooms should be deeply personal; make yourself comfortable in them, and others will be too.

[T]he only point of a room is to give you - and your family and guests - pleasure.
 The master bedroom with walls in custom fabrics embroidered by Jean-Francois Lesage.

This is a man who lives well and enjoys doing so.  His living room sofa is upholstered in cashmere, suede and mink (page 55), and his library rug is woven of silk threads that are wrapped in silver and gold (page 75). Curtain rings are made of jade and Porthault prints his bed linens, naturellement of his own design. But there is a lack of pretension and preciousness: The wood veneers may be natural in origin or delivered via the local Kinko's - the drawer fronts in the master dressing room are varnished photocopies of a 19th-century Russian parquetry design Slatkin discovered in an old book.

The sheer number of photos of family and friends as well as the repeated recognition of his world-class team of artisans lets you know this is one incredibly successful designer who hasn't let it all go to his head. Slatkin is as happy to share his (very few) mistakes as he is his successes.

During an e-chat a few months ago, I told Howard how excited I was for his book to be published. His guest room (above) is one of my favorite rooms ever (don't be surprised). I let him know I thought that's what Jesus' bedroom in heaven looks like because the J-man is an open-minded kinda guy and rolls like that. Howard wrote back: "Thanks to you there will be no talking to me today." Yep, he's just that fabulous.

All photos by Tria Giovan, courtesy The Vendome Press; except for 2. Simon Watson.

My thanks to Meghan Phillips of The Vendome Press for the review copy!


Linda {Calling it Home} said...

You meet the most amazing people. J-mans bedroom...funny. I am in love with that table setting. said...

I like him because he's single handedly resurrected the word 'sumptuous' from where it's been huddled in some minimalist corner for years. Sumptuous, sumptuous, SUMPtuous!

Kerry Steele- Design du Monde said...

Anyone who has narwhal tusks flanking something in his house gets an A+ from me.

Raina Cox said...

Kerry Steele- Design du Monde - Seriously.

DaniBP said...

I am DYING. I will be immediately be ordering this for myself and for my BFF Christopher. Then maybe we'll take a trip to NYC and stalk HS until we meet him. How fabulous? I know exactly the nightstand I need (J-Man's heaven guestroom nightstand obv) but the layering, the colour, the materials, he's a genius. How does he do this and he's so young too? Thanks Raina for the brilliant review.

jason said...

"...your rooms should be deeply personal; make yourself comfortable in them, and others will be too."

I could not agree more with this!
No matter what a room looks should be ones own. Not just "good taste".
I like that I can see and sense his own distinctive personality in his home.

Howard Slatkin said...

Thank you Raina for two incredible editorials, there will be no talking to my ALL YEAR ! Your blog is one I never ever miss as you are so brilliant, so be so honored by you is incredible. Thank you thank you,,
One of your legion of dumlplings.

Jane Kilpatrick Schott said...

Now how the hell do I follow that comment up?
Got the book on order and awaiting it to land on my doorstep.

David said...

Even before the quotes, seeing him in that room in jeans and a polo and sneakers tells me all I need to know. Rooms should make us happy.

Ordering my copy today.