Peacocks, the quintessential Art Nouveau bird, re-emerge as familiar motif in home design.
Birds, like colors and shoe shapes, fall in and out of style. Flamingos were hot in the Depression and they came back in the Miami Vice era. Wood-&-copper mallard ducks flew across family room walls in the 1950s and a few years ago, we had a short, meaningless fling with owls (what was that all about?) but still, the list of birds used in decoration is pretty short. When was the last time you saw, say, a flock of crows used as a decorative motif? It’s been a long time.
Let’s face it, certain birds are simply more popular than others. I mean, its hard to think decoratively about birds that wreck crops or carry away cute baby bunnies for their midnight snacks! With that in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise that, this season, peacocks, the quintessential Art Nouveau bird, are having yet another one of their many moments, the same way they did in 1966, at the beginning of the Psychedelic era. Like the poet says “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”.
I spotted the beautiful mounted specimens above while treasure hunting for antiques in Paris last summer.
And when I got back to the studio, I found an addition (one of many!) to our recently renovated conference area: this incredible PEACOCK DARK rug by English fashion designer Matthew Williamson, whose brand is known for incredible prints. It was gifted to BID from our good friends at The Rug Company!
And for those who might hesitate to put such such a gorgeous piece of art on their floors, I have good news! Matthew Williamson’s new Autumn 2013 collection of fabrics and wallpapers for Osborne & Little also features one of his signature peacock designs: “The Eden Collection is as heavenly as its name suggests: a riot of colours and patterns reflecting the British fashion designer’s diverse influences, from exotic birds to 1970s-style animal prints” - ELLE Decoration. This richly colored jewel toned collection (filled with lots of deep emerald, cobalt blue, plum, and gold tones) will be sure to inspire you as we enter into late Fall. It definitely inspires me!
How insane is this wallpaper? And I love how the polished chrome of the furniture echoes the metallic sheen of the paper! For years, there was a silly prejudice about combining certain colors. ”Blue and green must never be seen” used to be a common saying. Didn’t those folks ever see a bed of iris? Or blue hydrangeas against bright green grass? Or–hello!–a peacock? For people not so hemmed-in by arbitrary decorating rules, peacocks have served as the direct inspiration for a lot of to-die-for rooms.
The Peacock Room, now at the Smithsonian in Washington, has been all over the place, but it started out in London, as an 1870s collaboration between shipping tycoon Frederick Leyland, the English architect Thomas Jekyll (who designed the room’s walnut paneling and shelving to display Leyland’s collection of Oriental porcelain and panels of antique Spanish leather) and the American artist James Whistler (yes, that Whistler) who proceeded to gild Jekyll’s wood and completely paint over Leyland’s treasured antique leather panels. The big reveal must have been like the Victorian version of Trading Spaces–OMG!–and not in the good way, either.
Yes, the finished room was stunningly gorgeous–it is in a museum, after all!–but it wasn’t at all the what client asked for and the whole thing ended up in a nasty lawsuit. Quelle hot mess! So this room contains two important lessons for designers, one good and one bad: 1) Blue & green DO go together, but 2) Ignore the client’s wishes at your own risk.
Fortunately, that kind of disaster doesn’t happen very often. In fact, here’s another interior of the same period and with the same kind of richly glowing colors (this time, in glazed tile, not painted leather) and this time, the client loved the results! The room is in the Driehaus Museum in Chicago–just off Michigan Avenue.
We have the little piece below in the BID Studio. With a coat of Tiffany Blue lacquer on your walls and a few feathers in a tall nickel-plated cylinder, you can create your very own Peacock Room! And if you do, send us a picture!
Last stop: a rendering of a Peacock Room (painted for the Crane Company of Chicago) that doesn’t contain a single peacock reference, only the colors of its plumage. This subliminal approach is often the most interesting, because instead of stating a theme explicitly, it lets the room’s occupants discover it on their own. Sometimes, less is more, although, considering the level of finish in this room, “less” isn’t quite the word. Either way, it’s a knockout!
The takeaway lesson is simple: inspiration is everywhere. How you use it is up to you.