Elle Décor (USA)
S WE PLANNED THIS ISSUE, THE FIRST I’VE OVERSEEN IN
Aits entirety since taking the reins at ELLE DECOR last September, our conversations frequently returned to art: The museums and galleries we miss. The theaters and concert halls shuttered since last spring. The art-filled interiors we swoon over as they come across our desks, making us covetous—and hungrier than ever to travel.
And swoon and covet we do: This month, we stop in on a Washington, D.C., couple with an art collection spanning blue-chip and avant-garde works, and visit a curator’s home in Connecticut, where the spirits of onetime guests like Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Alexander Calder have left a lasting impression. We knock on the doors of a young family living flat-out alongside a top-tier collection in Los Angeles; peer into a creative couple’s Tel Aviv, Israel, loft; and profile a South African multimedia artist who calls his house a “meta-sculpture.” We also admire the feat of a well-designed powder room, and celebrate painterly textiles that elevate the everyday into the realm of the collectible.
This far into the pandemic, our limited access to experiencing culture face-to-face hasn’t just meant the absence of the delight and surprise of seeing something new. Essays in this issue explore the ways art has helped us to process and understand the strangeness of this moment, and to reexamine spaces we thought we knew—even our homes.
This issue’s exclusive cover, by Detroit illustrator Rachelle Baker, is an example of the power of art to help us see and re-see. We asked Baker to turn her eye on the Yellow Room, the 1958 London salon created by expat-American socialite and decorator Nancy Lancaster. When I first saw the room about a decade ago, on the cover of a well-known magazine, I was romanced by its sunny walls. And then I noticed two small tables on the right with bases depicting crouching Black figures, each one supporting a fringed plinth with his contorted body: a sickeningly common representation of bondage in Western decorative art. For ELLE DECOR, Baker replaced those tables with an imagined Black sitter, a figure who makes eye contact with the audience. Her assured presence, a remix only art can provide, offers a “tasteful” interior some dignity.
The room, which was inspired in large part by Lancaster’s well-documented nostalgia for antebellum Virginia, has for years influenced high-profile designers on both sides of the Atlantic, though it no longer exists in its 1950s form. The salon has also been a touchstone for me in thinking about decorating: Notions of taste and beauty can’t be separated from culture and politics. And parsing it all—the ugly histories, the eye-popping patterns, the seductive textures—is what makes celebrating design so compelling today. Join us, won’t you?