The Quest for Manly Design
Swatches from the editor by Louis Postel
Design Times February / March 1999
We were in a French bistro on Manhattan’s East Side when my friend, designer Nick Calder, suggested we do a feature on masculine design. We were the only men in the place, so I thought we probably shouldn’t be discussing this too loudly. All the same, it was a good idea.
I recalled that in the 18th century, masculine design was hardly a big deal. After all, wasn’t it predominantly men who ordered all those handsomely built furnishings that are priceless antiques today? Now, a few hundred years, men are once again getting involved in beautifying their homes. It really is a phenomenon (dare we say trend?) that offers a great deal to everybody: old and young, men and women.
After months of scouting interiors, my staff and I found wonderful rooms from across the country, gentlemanly places for solitude, fatherhood, and parties. Some of Nick’s interior weren’t ready to be photographed, and other spaces weren’t what we had in mind. I’d like to describe a few of these spaces so you can share in our hunt for what did make it to these pages.
One beautiful project we found, but didn’t use, was a penthouse bachelor pad overlooking a harbor. The owner’s yacht bobbed below with a helicopter waiting on a deck. His designer showed me around the apartment. The miles of custom moldings were masculine indeed –bold, clean, and no nonsense mahogany. The molding defined the interior architecture without hesitation or apology.
But the art was a letdown. It wasn’t art, but framed mementos from the bachelor’s line of business, “No. 1 Distributor in ‘96” awards and so on. I guess I expected a few Modiglianis, art that would complement the mahogany moldings.
Nevertheless, I have to admit this no-nonsense “art” illustrated a point about masculine design. For a guy, his space is as much what he does, as who he is. His business is often his life, and those framed “No. 1 Distributor” plaques are more precious to him than any Modigliani. They are hard-won, like battle flags or moose heads. When I was young, I too saw room as a reflection of my passions. It was a display case for my interests: microscopes, birds, ancient weapons, and thousands of brilliant postage stamps from Cameroon and New Guinea.
Our editorial team kept looking for masculine, but not macho spaces, steering clear of a master bath with naked Venus faucet handles in 18-karat gold, a basement den presided over by a glass-eyed buffalo, and a living room so grandiose there literally wasn’t room for a shrub on what was left on the grounds of the smallish property.
We found one place that could have been masculine, but wasn’t. The designer’s clients were a young couple, and the husband had just sold his travel business for something like a zillion bucks. We discovered that the house had a billiard room crammed with artifacts the husband had collected on his many journeys around the world. Instead of using this collection of sculptures, urns, headdresses and tribal masks to give the house character, these treasures had all been banished to a cramped second-floor room.
Placed imaginatively around the house, the pieces would have enhanced the home, creating a unique character that clearly would have been right for our masculine article. It would have suggested perilous and heroic adventure, and be very stylish at that. Perhaps this young couple wanted to turn a new page and stash away their prizes, necessarily leaving their redecorated home a bit undefined and impersonal. Perhaps, too, it will soon be the wife who will take her turn as the heroic adventurer, and she will then have all her trophies on display, not banished to a cramped second-floor room. Maybe there will even be something about a No. 1 Distributorship.
While putting together this issue, we learned that there isn’t one answer to “What is masculine design?” Whether a designer calls on wide stripes or red roses to create these spaces, the integration of the client’s personal loves and style comes first.
Louis Postel, Editor-in-Chief