10 May 2010

the Business

much has been written about the new book MARK HAMPTON AN AMERICAN DECORATOR,  all well deserved and well done. I admire this decorator-&  in the book's title there are immediate clues as to why.Why?

Mark Hampton- was quintessentially  American- He was the BILL BLASS of decorating-Style, Grace, Insight-both men possessed, and their spot on eye produced some of the most memorable rooms and fashion loaded with that Style and Grace. More importantly Mark Hampton loved his work-He was a decorator and proudly so. That is the proper word for every good-make that great practitioner. Some scoff-at DECORATOR-and run from the word- preferring DESIGNER or Interior Designer. The title elevates? All well & good-just remember-Anyone can be One. That phrase from the famously beloved musical- you know it- " ME, A NAME, I CALL MYSELF."  It is a good feeling to be a designer-It is a great feeling to be a Decorator. The term HOLDS a wealth of meaning, I think of Elsie de Wolfe as she declared:

"I am going in now for interior decoration. By that I mean supplying objets d'art and giving advice regarding the decoration of their houses to wealthy persons who do not have the time, inclination, nor culture to do such work for themselves. "

It is a good thing, a Great thing. All the drafting, space planning, specifications galore- can not  Charm. Can not Make the Room.  Mark Hampton did a beautiful job- Making A Room. He said it best:

Dining room in a Napa Valley Tuscan-style villa decorated by Mark Hampton. 
Photo by Michael Mundy

"We all know that interior decoration is seen by many as a frivolous career, full of ruffles and flourishes and preposterous fashion statements. Yet to transform the bleak and barren into welcoming places where one can live seems to me an important and worthwhile goal in life. Sometimes this transformation can stun the ee, sometimes simply gladden it, but theses are not frivolous pursuits.

In an era when there is increasing despair over the inhumanity of the world, the concerns of decorating, rather than seeming vain and irrelevant, provide for me a wonderful refuge. The work has to do with people and beauty and the timeless activities of domestic life. At least our private worlds can reward us with peace and pleasure."

We all seek beauty- we may see it differently and find it different places. It may be a priceless work in oil on canvas encased in wood and gilt or a  pebble smoothed by hundreds of years on the ocean floor, slowly moving to shore.

Decorator. It is a noble profession-one that needs No gloss, No dross.
Being a Good designer is fine,
Being a Great decorator is divine.


  1. PGT- A reader question: Is this THE book on Mark Hampton, or is On Decorating THE book?

    About decorating: seems frivolous until you try your hand at it, and then it seems amazingly complex. Perhaps it is frivolous, which might be a good and necessary thing, in proportion.

  2. "We all seek beauty- we may see it differently and find it different places. It may be a priceless work in oil on canvas encased in wood and gilt or a pebble smoothed by hundreds of years on the ocean floor, slowly moving to shore." Brilliant, Gaye. Some see the beauty in both, like you.

  3. I have always liked Sister Parrish's work, but as I get older, I'm really getting into modern houses and furniture. I don't know where it's coming from. I like Wallace Cunningham's houses in San Diego.

  4. Balsam Fir- Hum? The newest Mark Hampton is excellent. He did some beautiful work at a time when blatant show was preferred. I think both of essential in a design library. Two very different books.

  5. Barbara- thank you. I think you find the same.

  6. Donna, I am all over the map-it is very difficult to stand firm about a specific look for me. Our taste evolves and our needs do. Lifestyle plays an important role in this too. I don't think our eye should toss out anything we are drawn to-there is a reason and finding attraction to a room or style that goes contrary to an established ideal is a good- No, a great thing. pgt

  7. A wonderful refuge indeed! And Elsie, and Hampton and the Sound of Music...yes, this is where I seek refuge for sure!

  8. Creating a beautiful space to live in for others is really, really rewarding and I don't care what anyone says, it makes a difference in how you live. So, frivolous or not, I'm proud to call this my profession. Love your post as always.

    Hope you are well.


  9. thank you for your kind words about the profession. i am a *decorator* and proud of it!

  10. I really like his watercolours of interiors - the way he painted shows you how he looked and thought.

  11. At the age of 60, frivolous takes on a different meaning. Too me, frivolous is anything that wastes my time...knowing that I may not not much of that left. Creating a space that nurtures our souls, gives us comfort, protects and holds us in time and space is necessary. So agree about honoring what catches the eye and heart. There is something inside our brain that holds deep memories that seems to spill out on a need-to-know basis. Whether it is primordial or what, I do not know. But I do think it is real.

  12. To me it says a lot about the person. If you need to be called an interior designer to feel good about your profession, you must be a very unsure cookie indeed. I think of myself as a person of good taste but don't ask me to decorate a room. I know what I like and don't like once it's finished but I have no idea how to get there myself. That is an art and wether you are a decorator or designer who cares! People who have a hangup about titles are usually "wee" people (as my Scottish boss would say) and if Mark Hampton was a decorator instead of a designer that is still who I would want if I had the means or he were alive today. To me he was the epitomy of good taste in everything he did, including the way he dressed!

    Oh, and will somebody please tell me what is the logic behind actresses now calling themselves actors?

  13. hi zhush, always welcome and in good company .
    Gwen, thanks, I feel the same way.I have always been struck by those that can not spend much (sometimes any) and seek beauty. A pot of flowers on a metal table, a window box, It gives us Hope.

  14. Emile, I agree, his watercolours are priceless looks into that bygone era. I so wish I could paint . We are lucky he had such a talent there as well. pgt

  15. Home, All I can say is so true, We think much the same. pgt

  16. Lindaraxa, So right. When I started doing design work- I wanted to be an interior designer-that was important at the age of 23. I understood as I began to get my bearings,experience-How important the results were- that success made me comfortable with doing what I did and still do best- color, furniture, appropriate accessories, having the eye to get the results- to decorate. Mark Hampton was both and all.

  17. The decorator is a noble profession. I believe it and a very good point to make LA in a world of blogging designers. These are strange times for the profession.

  18. To follow up on Anonymous, yes, these are strange but wonderful times - is it me? I love all these designer blogs - how great would a Mark Hampton sketch blog have been.

  19. Anon, Yes strange, very.
    Swedish, I enjoy substantive ones for certain, I have trouble with the no so good ones, and the posting pictures from the last House Beautiful or elle decor, or domino (i think the content there is exhausted) ,Gaye

  20. I'm on my way to my bookstore to pick up the MH book later today. From everything I've seen online, it looks really good.

    I think part of the reason that decorating--as opposed to designing--gets so little respect these days is that there are few schools that bother teaching what, seventy-five years ago, was considered to be the core curriculum. I moonlighted as a decorating coach for friends for years, while I worked at Ma Bell, but when Illinois passed a title certification act, I figured I'd better get official, so I quit my job & came to Chicago to get a degree from what was then the only FIDER-accredited interior design school in Illinois.

    In three years, we had one exactly one class in the design history--which ended just as it started to get interesting with Robert Adam (and which course I could have taught myself)--but aside from that, it was all technical stuff. It went without saying that we were expected to design in the then-current version of contemporary, which, of course, means that my project boards all bear the unmistakable stamp of 1994, while the traditional rooms I worked on about that time still look good. But I never showed those rooms to my classmates. I certainly never referred to myself as a decorator. That would have been asking for it, since that crowd, with their fringes & throw pillows & poly-silk florals, were beneath our notice. One time, when I mentioned Ruby Ross Wood's name in one of my presentations, there wasn't a spark of recognition on anyone's face, incuding that of the instructor.

    But that was then. These days, with the recent abundance of handsomely-produced books on traditional decorating & decorators, that's beginning to change, but not very quickly, meaning that if you want a career as a decorator today, you'll still either need to teach yourself, or you need to get hired by an established decorator who has the skills they don't teach in the schools. I just wish I had had that opportunity. DIY education ( like most DIY projects) has its limitations.

    Either way, calling yourself a decorator still elicits cocked eybrows from rude people & polite smiles from others. Then again, who would want to work for those people, anyway?



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