May 7th, 2007

Scratching the Surface

Sgraffito is a decorative technique that involves layering contrasting colors of lime plaster. While still wet, the design is scratched into the top layer of the lighter colored plaster and then the negative spaces of the design are removed to reveal the darker layer underneath. You can imagine the time and skill involved in managing this type of artform, particularly as it was accomplished across the entire facade of a building. There are still buildings in Florence that bear this beautiful and intricate artform, dating as far back as the 15th century. It was at that time that many fanciful frescoed examples from ancient Rome were found, now buried in underground cavelike rooms (‘grottoes’) after thousands of years of development. The discovery of these stuccowork motifs of flora, fauna and monstrous figures inspired many decorative artists at the time, who began incorporating these motifs into their work on a large scale and referred to them as ‘grotesques”.


The 16th century artist who is credited with the invention of the grotesque compositions in black and white sgraffito is Andrea di Cosimo Feltrini, who directed a flourishing workshop that specialized in the decoration of furniture, textiles, coats of arms, interiors and was particularly renowned for its scraffito facade grotesques. I snapped the photo above on a street in Oltrarno, but there is a lovely book available on the subject, The Painted Facades of Florence, that is filled with the history and motifs of this classic Florentine artform.


I particularly enjoy the photo shown just above as you can clearly see where the artist either forgot or ran out of time or daylight to carve out the final small details of the egg and dart molding. We will be attempting to create a faux sgraffito finish in the bathrooms at Alison’s studio. By that I mean that we will create the look not by using a removal technique, but rather applying the plaster in layers using stencils and Modellos. The silvery-black and white coloration should look really handsome with the blue tile already on the walls!

It’s project time! I have been searching for a long while for some new bedroom furniture that would fit my decorating vision as well as my small space. Trips all over the web and to local furniture stores proved frustrating as they are making everything either really BIG or really modern these days and I want something that will go with the delicate and romantic Chinoiserie murals that I will be adding.


I finally settled on this Victoria Collection from the William Sonoma Home catalog. Unfortunately, all I can squeeze in is the bed and a couple of dressers, but I think (hope) it will be really pretty! 

Before that gets delivered there is a new unfinished maple floor going down next week. The wood is sitting behind me “adjusting to the environment” as I speak. It smells good. Now to design the finish! I want it to be formal but not uptight, classic, space expanding, decorative but not competitive.


I’ve been pouring over intricate patterns and through my library and found some great marquetry examples in two books that I think are “must haves” for any design library. The first is Molyneux, shown above and below/left.


The second is Roomscapes: The Decorative Architecture of Renzo Mongiardino, photo shown above right. His style was so over the top and so dead-on gorgeous, I will have to scan some more pages to show you here tomorrow! I, however, have decided to keep it more simple and safe and am playing with some classic octagon and dot patterns with ornament like the one shown above/left. I’ll be using a Modello pattern to make it fast and easy, along with water-based gel stains. Stay tuned! 

Sometimes when I come across a design mining resource that is really extraordinary I am tempted to hoard it selfishly for myself. Then my inner angel kicks in and I remember that I live by the law of abundance. You have to give abundantly to receive abundantly. So far, it has worked very well for me! Tessalations is an amazing UK website that basically catalogs some of the most abundantly beautiful historical tile designs I’ve ever seen in one place.


I would love to buy every single one of the 301 tiles they show and make one big, gorgeous floor out of them!

May 2nd, 2007

Pattern Appearing

I saw these wonderful back-to-back posts on the style files this past weekend. Anything that looks like stenciled pattern catches my eye especially when it is a unique application!


The first post was about Solid Poetry, a Design Academy project by Susanne Happle and Frederik Molenshot that explores the possibilities of “hidden” designs appearing as the environment changes. Here the pattern in the concrete appears as it becomes wet. I can just imagine a shower where vines grow up the wall as the water and steam rises.


The other one, Stenciling Your Garden would be easier for most of us to achieve: Killing off the grass, but in a decorative pattern by placing templates on the ground for a few days. This would be a great idea for a garden wedding!