The ten year party (1920s-1930s interior design)

Our current nostalgia for the 1920s is ironic, considering that style moderne (later known as Art Deco) was all about abandoning the past. After the Great War, interior designers in Paris began to create a style that was modern and geometric. Europe wanted to forget the bloody occupation, years of rationing, and agonizing loss of life, and Paris did it with a bang. Why not throw a 10 year party?

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Bedroom set from the Great Gatsby, photo from Architectural Digest

Designer Catherine Martin’s vision of the 1920s in the Great Gatsby is nothing short of swoon-worthy. Imagine living in this house with its geometric patterns and lavish materials. Each morning I’d go up that serpentine staircase singing like a Disney cartoon character.

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The Carlyle Hotel in New York, photo from their site

The Carlyle is a New York landmark. Another irony of the decade is that what we associate most with the 1920s was mostly built in the 1930s. The Carlyle was built in the 1930s and has 188 Art Deco-styled rooms and suites. This enormous lobby with glossy black floor, striking orange couches, and glittering gold details must take a small army to keep clean.

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Buckhead House in Atlanta, photo by Emily Followill

This last photo isn’t quite historically accurate. This is a 1920s house in Atlanta that was modernized and redecorated in 2016. But look at those tall, elegant arched doorways with glass-doors that open onto a pale green room – that detail is just perfect to me.

I can find something to love about all eras of interior design, especially mid century modern, but Art Deco will forever hold a special place in my heart.

What’s your dream era?

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Blyth Grove – a house untouched for 90 years

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Built in 1905, this National Trust house is fascinating — it’s a time capsule unchanged since the head of household, Mr. Straw, died in 1932. In their grief, the family kept the house completely unchanged until the last Straw died in 1991.

What a rare glimpse of life between the wars, and a beautiful example of interior decoration from 1923. Even the food in the pantry is authentic, including Bovril, a thick, salty meat extract developed in the 1870s.

For more photos and a video tour, check out the Daily Mail article. It’s moments like these that I wish I lived in England, so I could hop on a train and see these amazing pieces of history.

Take Six Girls by Laura Thompson

Takesix.jpgIntriguing look at the Mitford sisters in the shadow of WWII

The Mitfords traced their heritage back to the Norman Conquest and it was only due to an accident with the eldest son that their father became a Baron. Six daughters and a son must have been incredibly worrying, a real-life Pride & Prejudice trying to get them all married off. The girls grew up in country houses, barely schooled and disciplined yet always under strict supervision.

The sisters emerge as complicated and immensely flawed humans. Take Six Girls is a great book for anyone wishing to learn more about them or the atmosphere of late 1920s through 1930s England. There are eerie shadows of current affairs; the schism of political leaders, the famous for fame scandals, the plague of racism.

As nonfiction, it pulls heavily from many sources and feels well researched. But the story itself is also enjoyable, as the Mitford sisters emerge one by one — unique, but all with a consistent strain of Mitfordism. You can argue, as the book does, that the Mitford girls are products of their time and rebelled against it in remarkable ways, again for their time. Though they are remarkable, I found them narrow minded and self-centered. (Although I can’t exactly argue with the beautiful writing of Love in a Cold Climate…)

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.

Giveaway: “The Darkness Knows” mystery!

I’m excited to share the first giveaway on the blog! This is for a copy of the delightful “The Darkness Knows“, which I originally read as an advance copy but liked so much that I bought it at my local bookstore.

A 1930s radio star is thrown together with a private eye when she’s next in line for murder. This is a very enjoyable historical mystery that isn’t too gritty while still keeping the stakes high. A lot of fun to read. And look at that gorgeous cover!

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To enter, simply comment on this post by 8/21/2016. US shipping addresses only.

I’ll contact you to share your address with the publisher – if I don’t hear back within 2 days, I’ll draw another name.

Good luck!

The Darkness Knows by Cheryl Honigford

thedarknessA 1930s radio star is thrown together with a private eye when she’s next in line for murder.

Starting out as a secretary, ambitious Vivian lands an high-profile role on the radio show The Darkness Knows. After a platonic date with her smoldering co-star Graham, she discovers the body of Marjorie, an established star that nobody liked. The only thing worse than finding the dead body is discovering she’s named by the killer.

She’s protected by a handsome dark horse, the private eye Charlie Haverman, like a classic if somewhat kinder Philip Marlowe. The two of them end up in compromising and dangerous situations (sometimes both at the same time) in their quest to uncover a killer. Everyone’s keeping something back about the murder, even the private eye. And Viv’s dealing with the ongoing threat of her jobs being yanked away, especially with the equally ambitious Frances fighting her for every role.

The setting of Chicago in the 1930s is well captured without overwhelming. Vivian’s got gumption and she’s determined to have a career in an era where women were expected to work only until they got married. She isn’t perfect, but her flaws only serve to make her more human.

The mystery angle was well done and there were plenty of red herrings. The murderer was not obvious but seemed to come a little out of nowhere, I thought there could’ve been a few more clues thrown in.

Definitely looking forward to the next book, I hope to see more of 1930s Chicago and slowly learn more about Vivian and Charlie.

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.

The Affair of the Mutilated Mink by James Anderson

AffairofminkA tongue in cheek version of a classic whodunnit, but also an excellently constructed mystery.

The 1930s house party at Lord and Lady Burford’s is a very clever parody of classic whodunnits. It owes as much to PG Wodehouse’s ‘jolly good’ style as it does to Agatha Christie’s brilliant plotting.

First there’s the charming Hollywood actor, the irritable screenwriter and the movie producer determined to film a movie at their estate. But then things start to go a little sideways when there appear a distant cousin, an uninvited actress and the two rival suitors for Lady Burford’s daughter.

When a murder occurs, the gentle Inspector Wilkins claims himself to be unlikely to solve the mystery and calls in Scotland Yard. The name dropping of Lord Peter Wimsey and Roderick Alleyn finally clued me in that this was a parody.

The inspector who is called in, Mr. Allgood, is a good poke at all the classics with his disdain of the local constabulary and his stubborn insistence on “only the facts”. This book is really like 3 or 4 plots at once, I am amazed at how the author managed to hang them together.

The ending is like the movie Clue – each denouement is proven believably correct and then shown to be wrong. After Allgood is left gaping and insisting it is all a big conspiracy in Oriental Express fashion, Wilkins produces the correct solution.

All in all a very enjoyable and amusing parody that still manages to bewilder you and keep you guessing, rather like an elaborate shell game.

Death Mask by Ellis Peters

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Amazing classic British mystery, elegant and well-written, engrossing characters. 

I opened this book yesterday afternoon intending to read a chapter but it was well past my bedtime when I put it down. The first sentence was a tad long but by the second paragraph I was hooked – the protagonist Evelyn has just run into Dorothy, a woman he hasn’t seen for sixteen years. Their last meeting was when she refused his marriage proposal.

But this is not a romantic story. It is a deeply intriguing look into the dark corners of a not fully formed human mind. What is driving Dorothy’s estranged son Crispin to get kicked out of every school and refuse every tutor? Is it something to do with the death of his father on a dig in Greece?

How Evelyn tries to win Crispin’s trust and figure that puzzle out both emotionally and logically makes for fascinating reading. But even more fascinating is how Ellis Peters captured the juxtaposition of little kid and remorseless adult in Crispin, who is spiraling ever closer to a very deadly climax…

30-day e-book loan courtesy of NetGalley.