Several of our latest beauties will be debuting at What’s New What’s Next at the New York Design Center tomorrow, and we can’t wait to share them with you! I’m highlighting special designs that represent panache today.
During a sneak peek at the full spectrum of products at the Atlanta headquarters in early August, Cecil Adams was uncovering one gorgeous furnishing after another. It’s remarkable how historic design underpins all of the offerings—even the contemporary pieces have provenance in some form or fashion. What came to mind is the legacy of another pinnacle of classical design, our former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
If you plumb the depths of Jackie O’s dedication to classicism, you will find an intelligence and a dedication to the history of design at its core.
It’s no secret that Jackie was a style-setter in the truest sense of the word but one of the things we love about her is the fact her choices were grounded in her knowledge of history and her worldliness—classic tastes honed by parents who understood the past had a great deal to teach her and her sister, who would become the prominent socialite Lee Radziwill. Delving into her legacy, you’ll come across a wonderful slim coffee table book the sisters had written after a three-month mini grand tour of Europe they took, which included stops in Spain, London, Paris, Venice, Rome and Florence. Lee was 18 at the time and Jackie was 22.
They titled their cheeky illustrated journal One Special Summer and presented it to their parents as a thank you upon their return. Jackie rendered the delightful drawings, and wrote the poetry and a few of the descriptions of experiences. Lee penned the narratives about their capers as they traveled around the continent in a small car they bought in London solely for the trip.
Rizzoli published the journal in 1974, and I highly recommend it if you’d like to experience the playful personalities of these charming young women, who would both go on to become influencers in so many ways. The above image of the two sisters was taken when they returned to America, the text below it—“It’s All Over Now”—dated September 15th, 1951.
When Sotheby’s auctioned off her estate nearly 45 years later, in April 1996, the two-inch-thick catalog produced for the event notes that a number of copies of One Special Summer was on her shelves when she died. The bound Sotheby’s inventory, titled The Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, is more than an archive of domestic goods; it’s a narrative honoring a worldly and beautiful woman. Essays by her children and by her confidant Nancy Tuckerman, who attended Chapin School with Jackie when they were girls, open the sizable survey of her life. Tuckerman noted the future First Lady’s penchant for practical jokes that routinely sent her to the headmistress’s office and how smart she was. “Teachers loved Jackie for her intelligence and her inquisitive mind,” she explained. “Once when our homework included memorizing a number of Longfellow verses, Jackie came to class having memorized the entire poem.”
Her children, Caroline and John, Jr., wrote, “In deciding what to do with our mother’s possessions, we were guided first and foremost by her deep knowledge of and love of history.” Another symbol of Jackie’s fascination with the past was a design book she edited titled In the Russian Style. It is a look back at the great rulers of Russia through the monarch’s fashions, the things they treasured, and their design legacies. The Metropolitan Museum of Art collaborated on the coffee table book that includes pageantry ensembles, interiors of cloyingly ornate royal palaces and art owned by the kings and queens spanning from Peter I to Alexander III.
Thinking back to her entrée onto the scene, it was, of course, Jackie’s wardrobe that gave us the first indication she would be classicism’s tour-de-force—her ensembles for the inaugural festivities setting the tone for the three years she would be First Lady (who can forget that oversized pillbox hat?). But her devotion to timeless interior elements would be her most enduring legacy, showing itself early in her restoration of portions of the White House.
She proudly debuted the effort during her renowned televised tour, which aired on CBS in the spring of 1962 (above). Over 46-million viewers watched as she spoke demurely about what had been achieved and her desire to make each space special.
The Red Room and State Dining Room (above and below) are examples of the excellence she orchestrated with the help of a handful of talented advisors she had gathered around her, including Winterthur’s Henry Francis du Pont, whose influence considers significantly in many of Currey & Company’s products.
Later in life, it would be her advocacy in saving Grand Central Terminal (GCT) that added a gem to her preservationist legacy. Both efforts show her regard for historic design and her passion for our country’s architectural treasures, a drive that we believe earns her a debt of gratitude from those of us who leave, breathe, eat and sleep design.
The main entrance to GCT was dedicated as the “Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Foyer” last year, honoring her work in helping the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission save and restore the station. I took the time to stand in the graceful entryway recently and it is such a fitting a tribute to her, down to the video looping continuously on the west wall with snapshots of her life and her efforts.
As the Sotheby’s catalog illustrates, her attraction to tradition was not simply a public persona—she lived surrounded by special pieces in the classic style. Flipping through the book felt like being granted entrée to the life of a well-traveled sophisticate, elegant furnishings I describe in more detail on my blog post pairing Jackie O’s taste with Currey & Company’s furnishings. I eagerly combed the catalog to see what serious literature she had on her bookshelves, finding poetry by Edith Sitwell and Robert Lowell, an autographed copy of Truman Capote’s selected writings, a copy of Courtiers of Henry VIII signed by the author David Matthew, and three volumes of Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte by Richard Bentley. An avid interest in historic design and garden literature was also evident, perhaps a result of her involvement in restoring the White House.
During an interview with Hugh Sidey of Life magazine on September 1, 1961, she told him, “All these people come to see the White House and they see practically nothing that dates back before 1948. Every boy who comes here should see things that develop his sense of history. For the girls, the house should look beautiful and lived-in. They should see what a fire in the fireplace and pretty flowers can do for a house; the White House rooms should give them a sense of all that. Everything in the White House must have a reason for being there. It would be sacrilege merely to ‘redecorate’ it—a word I hate. It must be restored—and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship.”
To give you a hint of why Currey & Company’s new releases brought the former First Lady to mind, we’re sharing a few of our favorite pieces that we feel would resonate with a polished person on par with Jackie O furnishing a Fifth Avenue apartment today.
To accompany these beautiful products, I thought it would be fun to give you a peek behind the scenes so I asked Brownlee Currey, the company’s President; and Bob Ulrich, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, to share their thoughts about the creative vibrancy for which this company is known.
I asked Brownlee to address the historical aspects of their point of view, and he told me, “The company is deeply rooted in historical furnishings. In fact, our very first products were accurate reproductions of classic garden benches from the Winterthur estate. One might say that our very origins were looking at older things.
“My father [Robert Currey] is prone to say, ‘there is no new geometry,’ and while he is correct, I don’t quite think this gets the whole point across. Personally, I believe what he is saying is that form, scale and proportion never really change, though decorative styles certainly do. Therefore, history is our best guide to the future and an invaluable reference in our design work.
“Having spent the last several days looking at old things and old books of older things still, I am more convinced than ever that history should be our guide when working on new things. Someone else has been here before us and has been confronted with these same choices, after all.”
Since Bob’s point of view has been honed interacting with the company’s loyal buyers, I asked him to tell me how he believes the design team is able to continue to create notable furnishings that set the bar so high.
“Our effort to remain ‘distinctive’ is driven by the collective talents of our product development team,” he told me. “The depth of our collection can be directly attributed to the diversity of their perspective, the willingness/desire to try new concepts and a passion for creating beautiful things.”
Distinctive is certainly a word that resonates for me when I think of both Currey & Company’s products and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She knew the value of celebrating what had been, down to her declaration during an interview for Life magazine on November 29, 1963—a week after her husband had been assassinated. Using a historical reference, she told the journalist Theodore H. White that JFK’s presidency was “one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” It feels “one brief shining moment” is also an apt description of her graceful life, don’t you think?
We hope you enjoyed this look at one of history’s greatest design influencers who took the meaning of special to an entirely new level.