17 August 2009

Bunny love, An Affair with a Room

"A classic is classic not because it conforms to certain structural rules,
or fits certain definitions..
It is classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness."

Edith Wharton

Hands down, the BUNNY WILLIAMS KIPS BAY SHOW HOUSE LIVING ROOM has been THE most talked about room at the 2009 Kips Bay Charity Event-& likely for years past and years to come. From all the wonderful press I have read about Bunny Williams- I'm not sure if she would adhere to the old saying " I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right"- but she definitely is the talk of the world of design and style blogs. Months after the room IS no longer, the photographs are taken-
the words "talk" on.

I hope to one day live in one perfect room. If it's perfect I only need one. This one could be a contender- I just need to decide where to put the bed.


No doubt Bunny Williams is THE quintessential American Designer right now.

Yes, I admire her- in fact- in a blog story about Designer Dogs I said " I feel I know Bunny Williams." Maybe it is because of her own intense love for dogs and her perfectly designed interiors- custom built for style, comfort and intimacy-and for her client's eyes only. It doesn't matter that the entire design world wants to watch.

I love this little spot in Bunny's own home- it says everything I need to know-I already know about her love of dogs:

Books- Look at all those Books!
Beloved Art
Color- that inspires, Mellow Wood that gleams
Knowledge of the Legendary Designers

photograph from New York Social Diary

All of these ELEMENTS are repeated in the KIPS BAY ROOM

If I could sit down and chat with anyone about the Bunny Williams room other than the designer or her mentor- is my favorite writer at ELLE DECOR- Mitchell Owens. Luckily I could- Well practically. Lucky for everyone, Mitchell Owens writes a blog for the magazine (go here to read his take on Bunny Williams room.)
From my take on his views- I'd say He loved it.

Her Latest Book- POINT OF VIEW

Three Decades of Decorating Elegant and Comfortable Houses

(take a look at the color palate here- familiar?)

A book from Bunny Williams that I refer back to again and again.

I asked Heather Clawson of the blog Habitually Chic about the scale of the room. Unfortunately- I did not have the thrill of standing there and seeing it- and that can make all the difference. Heather said " I don't know the exact dimensions of the room but it was quite large." Heather wrote an enlightening post with details and photographs that are must reads. I went back and did it too- using some of her photographs in this post. The intimate shots of the room; notepads and pencils, flower presses, books, magazines, all- further show the room's scale, proportions, color and the light and shadow in the space.

photograph from NYSD

Judging from the photographs of Bunny Williams and Albert Hadley (above) that seems to be very much the case. In fact- though the two seem to me a bit larger than life- in proportion to the furniture-Not so. All the more extraordinary that the room feels down to earth!


photograph from Habitually Chic's Heather Clawson

Another wonderful photograph of Bunny Williams from a beautifully written article from NYSD. You will want to read it- great insights into Bunny Williams- really so down to earth.

from NYSD

What's great about this photograph in terms of the Kips Bay room, is the COLOR. Check out the BLUE, OLIVE, BROWNS, GOLDS. Though the colors do not appear in the same strengths or surfaces -they are SKY, EARTH, SUN.


another photograph from Habitually Chic

Sometimes when looking at published rooms- try one out- imagine your things in the room. Where would I put this OR How could I use this space? It might help you understand your own needs in a room and also help you begin understanding how the design of your favourite magazine room works.

I love- the Dining Area in the Bunny Williams room. I can see all of my design books spread about, laptop and an occasional pile of work on it and the tele tuned in to the cable news or an old movie running- sound down- but flashing inspiring visuals. For my use-I would consider this the Library. Though I don't have children- I could see them with studies on the table and laptops that could easily be monitored in the heart of a house.

& Yes- I think, importantly, the room is child friendly. A huge desire of many clients, " Kids" children, young adults, grandchildren are highly considered when it comes to practicality and performance in a room.

photograph from Habitually Chic

The large sofas, comfortable, and the JACOBSEN chair would be favourites of the young and the young at heart. In this case is not a CLIENT- but I am sure Ms. Williams would have learned a thing or two about what a room must be in order to be livable- and that RED chair- in a reality setting -could be THE thing the client insisted on- but more about that later!

photograph from House Beautiful

Voila! a perfect setting for dinner parties- an Indian sari draping the table.

photograph from HB

Now I know the room is one I could happily live in when Mitchell Owens sums up the room's "end result" as "fresh but a little funky, bohemian but well-bred." from his Elle Decor stylemonger blog.

another View of the Room-

Essentials, note pads, pencils, great lighting,
umbrella stand, drink table

photograph from Habitually Chic

One of the most wonderful things about this room is the thought that went in to it- A Bunny Williams signature? No- It is the mark of many great designers. Each client tells a different story, has a different set of requirements, wants something uniquely them. The art of "A Bunny Williams" is that her clients get the room they've imagined - with her unique brand -without stamping it ROOM BY BUNNY WILLIAMS. The SAME advice she generously shared with the readers of "bunny's beat" in the Elle Decor" November 2002 issue-"the greatest rooms" - are the same rules she applies to this Show House room or any room she creates.


from the Elle Decor article by Bunny Williams entitled "the greatest rooms"

"4 simple rules to remember when creating a great room of your own:
Play with scale.
Do not be timid.
Dramatic, oversize furnishings can amplify a room's exuberance.
Tall pieces visually expand a room whose ceiling height is less that ideal.
Create excitement. Combine different periods of furniture.
Mix unusual colors, textures, and moods.
Juxtapose grand and simple.
Cultivate a sense of place.
You should know where you are -
city address, urban attitude;
country house, bucolic decor.
Maintain and update your space.
A room must sparkle, shine,
and smell delicious
(subtle lighting helps,too.)

the RULES are written right from this room-it would appear- 7 years later.

I am so glad I archived this article- below is the photograph that accompanied the piece about memorable rooms. All with" the perfect alchemy of scale, color, comfort, individuality. (BW)


Nancy Lancaster's Drawing Room-London

Bunny recalls in the article having tea with Nancy Lancaster in the room in her 20's.
She said of the room- "Everything was big.
The color, considered shocking in England in the 1950's, was a bold lemon yellow.
Most notable was the room's soul-elegant and warm, feminine yet strong willed." (BW)

Elle Decor photograph accompanying the Bunny Williams article
and an Elle Decor cover below of Albert Hadley's home.

Bunny Williams room has echos of the Hadley room above. All of THE RULES apply. Williams studied with Hadley- master of fusion with modern furniture, antiques and interior design. The wall color- shades of BUNNY? or HADLEY?

Speaking to this idea of good bones in a room: This from "Toby Worthington", a favourite with blog writers- bringing his adroit comments to the world of design and style blogs.
"There is an extensive interview with Bunny Williams in an issue of The Classicist where she discusses her work for Peter and Leni May. (see Point of View frontispiece, etc) That was in 1995 and I recall being bowled over by the depth of her comments, the intelligence and the plain good sense, the careful thought that went into her designs and her innate feeling for the mood of a place."


A gorgeous Sofa

(from The BeeLine facebook page-become a fan!)

about the sofa...
"Based on one of my favorites...I enhanced the depth of the seat to accommodate a pair of decorative throw pillows. The apron boasts a whimsical curve and is trimmed in French nailheads."- description from the BeeLine Home website (here)

A Leather Ottoman with inset tray-in production for BeeLine Home
(according to the BeeLine Home facebook page
advance orders are being taken (this posted July 15)

Sisal Rug with painted details

Mitchell Owens said " I want to copy the sisal carpet, which Williams had painted with a boldly graphic border of white squares enclosing a field of dark brown stars."


Though there is no great photograph of the curtains in the room, they are made from Indian bedspreads. I always like bringing "found textiles" into a room. Their presence gives a less studied, over thought, over wrought appearance. I adore this wonderful "hand embroidered and knotted Indian-style throw on pale, Dupioni Silk ground with olive ribbon technique encasing ottoman silk appliqué reserves and openwork."
It is a limited edition item from Williams BEELINE HOME Collection. The painted chairs in the room had their backs covered in a vintage silk Ikat. I will never tire of Textiles in rooms, be they suzani- as this one is reminiscent of- or the Indian Sari (see the dining table in the room). I will always want to live with them and they are no passing fad. Think about the wonderful Renzo Mongiardino rooms that are swathed in textiles and a recent Elle Decor feature story about designer Lisa Fine's rooms in Paris.

These pillows are from the line too.
"the designs derive from Italian, Indian and French inspiration"

(quote and photograph from the BeeLine Home site)

One of the pieces in the line that I would love to have is the "Naughty Miss Bunny" throw made of French Tissavel faux rabbit fur with choice of "decorative crimson or black grosgrain box pleated trim border." The box pleated border detail one rarely gets in pieces made on the market today. Leave it to "Miss Bunny" not to compromise on the touches that make an accessory standout. The throw appears on the red Jacobsen chair by the fireplace.

The Walls

A Garden Panel
60 x 60

"Hand-carved Javanese mango wood, applied in a little village outside of Semarang, near the Java Sea. This bas relief mural depicts a stylized garden reminiscent of the plaster work of the 1930’s. Available in an antique white chalky finish over gesso ground." (description from the BeeLine Home website (here)

A favorite photograph in my Bunny Williams archives:

( photograph from the BW office space from the pages of HG.)

I immediately noticed this same mirror over the mantel in the Kips Bay room and I'm hoping the mirror is to be a part of the BeeLine Home Collection-though it is not on the Home website yet. Will have to wait and see.

to Albert,
from Bunny

This year's Kips Bay Show House was a tribute to Albert Hadley. Bunny Williams worked with and learned from Hadley and the late Sister Parish.

Albert Hadley

(from NYSD)

Bunny Williams imparted subtle yet suitable touches that pay " homage" to her mentor Albert Hadley in the room. Again, Toby Worthington said " Bunny's room was the only one that honored the theme to any great extent. The stars in the carpet, the note de rouge of the egg chair, etc, were subtle quotes from Albert Hadley's repertoire." Heather Clawson," habitually chic" blogger, said the red Egg Chair eludes to Hadley's beloved red signatures in many rooms and is also a part of his own personal fashion sense. "The chair is also an unexpected design element in the room that his interiors are known for. He has a modern red zigzag table in his own apartment that is also unexpected. The design on the area rug are stars that are the same that he has used in his wallpaper designs."

Hadley Home

(Photograph from Habitually Chic)

& DV talks about red:

"I can't imagine becoming bored with RED-
It would be like becoming bored with the person you love."

Peaking out of the corner is the revved up red ARNE JACOBSEN EGG CHAIR.

(Habitually Chic photograph)

Hadley and his trademark RED, He's gotta love this Room!

the first photograph of the Arne Jacobsen chair is from Design Within Reach here


  1. LA: I think you have worked very hard to frame a rebuttal to the flapdoodle going round and round about the Bunny Williams room. I'll be upfront, this room gives me the heeby-jeebies. For me to spend any time in this room would require the steady use of tranquilizers in an IV drip.

    However, you have done a masterful job in discussing the issues. I do so appreciate the ties to Albert Hadley. I had scoured my library and found little to link this room to his work. You have solved some of the mysteries and I do appreciate knowing there are tips and codes to be explored. I appreciate your scholarly review here.

    I also appreciate your sense of fairness. Most of the comments I have read have been like "love bunny's work; this one, not so much."

    "An Affair of the House," is one of my all-time favorite books. I like the perfect imperfection of it all. I, like you, like the collected art she explains that doesn't have to be great, it just has to speak to her heart. I just didn't feel the love in this particular room.

    It gives me comfort that the educated and experienced voices I trust such as you, AAL, TW, Magnaverde and EEE, all saw wonder in this room. It also gives me reassurance that I have my own sense of self to say, I don't agree.

    I applaud your good work here on Bunny Williams' behalf. More than great design, I appreciate fairness and passionate convictions. In that department, your post gets an A+ from me.

  2. Gaye, Interesting dissection of The Room. The additional photos help me like it a little more, and I do love the sofa in the separate picture. Yours and Toby's point about the quotations of Hadley is well made. Was the Miles Redd blue room a similar quote do you

    Of course I still would never pick the room, but that's not important. Anyway, very educational post.

    But by making a strong statement in a showhouse , don't you think BW's inviting comment or discussion? I think its a bit different when it's someone's home, and the clients taste as well as the designer's is involved. In any case, everytime one of us hates something, you can be sure someone else loves it equally well.

  3. Howdy. Thanks for the visit. Love so much here. The "Bunny Post" picture of Nancy Lancaster's Haseley Court yellow salon has a portrait (left side back) that now hangs in Oscar de la Renta's New York home...and he's emulated her yellow walls. I have a snipped of the room, including said portrait ("Golden Yellow 7/22)...if by chance you haven't seen it.

  4. Your links to Mitchell's blog are broken.

    Very interesting article - it is amazing how much discussion this one room has garnered which is a testament to Ms. Williams - though I do think if it wasn't on the cover last month, there wouldn't be quite as much. I have such a different take on the room than you do. Although, of course, the red chair was said to be in Hadley's honor - Williams when interviewed didn't say mention that at all - perhaps the homage is something people are reading into it? Not sure. I felt the room was a advertisement for Beeline Home with every item from the line put into the room along with the art work which drove the turq. color being an artist Williams represents in her shop. In Edith Wharton's house, Williams designed a similar rug, though without stars, but it's hard for me to see the rug as another nod to Hadley. Perhaps. I go back to this in my mind: imagine the blue and white damask pattern made up as pillows and put on the olive sofa. Well, I can't imagine that actually - which is my point. If you can't place those fabrics on top of each other, how can they be next to one another? Lancaster's room is the height of sophistication - one of the prettiest and most discussed rooms designed in modern times. To see it next to this only heightens the feeling that Williams room was merely a large advertisment for her wares, and a manipulation of the paying audience. The only thing I read in this room is an attempt to marry disparate product. Esteemed blogger AALament commented on my blog that he had stood in the space and found it wonderful. I usually agree with his opinions - so perhaps not actually standing in the space puts me at a disadvantage. I'll never know. Thanks for a very well written, well thought out article and for allowing the frank discussion.

  5. Great post - so much information! I like the room much more after seeing the additional photos. (I especially love that painted sisal rug!) The room has a great mix of styles and the space feels comfortable. I think it could have been elevated with fewer of the beeline home products and better art.


  6. Ah.The beat goes on.Must one continue to drum the same idea,if pillows don't "go",it won't do?

    As to the touches of Mr. Hadley, stating the obvious is not necessary for most, for some it must be stated over and over and over, oh yes,and it must match. Mr.Mr.

  7. I realize a lot of people were rather taken aback by this room. Which, by the way, I think is fabulous. It's wonderful when a room design encourages people in the attempt to articulate their own style.
    For myself, I found that the room fairly crackles with creativity and, upon seeing it for the first time, I could see quite clearly the interesting person who perhaps lived there, and had just stepped out for a stroll in the garden.

  8. I love 'The Room' - even more so viewing the additional pictures. Amazing the layers of personality and interest - almost more of a set design as it tells a story of who might inhabit this space. Brilliant!!



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