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NEW YORK — Even sketchy statistics put the American divorce rate at 40 percent or higher, based on factors such as money, adultery and religion. But what about design?
A new book put together by a husband-and-wife team, photographer Erica Lennard and architect Denis Colomb, examines how several couples have managed to build a happy coexistence through their environments, even if they start from diametrically opposing viewpoints.
“Environment plays a very important part of how couples will get along,” said Lennard, who was introduced to Colomb while researching interiors for a project and instantly fell in love. Until she saw his Paris apartment, that is. While she shopped flea markets around the world for neoclassical and baroque furniture and textiles, he preferred a more masculine, minimal style focused on modernist furniture, such as Warren Platner chairs and Eero Saarinen tables.
“I was terrified when I saw his house,” Lennard said. “Everything in the bathroom was built-in and the furniture was either uncomfortably low or way too high up. I was scared that I would fall out of love with this person, but in the end, while we were still living between apartments, I wanted to spend more time in his, and he wanted to live in mine.”
Through their travels, and by designing homes together in New York, Los Angeles and Aix-en-Provence, the couple discovered a happy medium that Colomb described as moving from her “romantic, feminine” style and his “sleek and contemporary” one to something that is “a natural evolution.”
“When I was a bachelor, maybe I had desires that I did not know how to express, but when you become two, there is much more exploration and discussion about textures and fabrics,” he said.
“Living Together: How Couples Create Design Harmony at Home,” published this month by Stewart Tabori & Chang ($32.50), looks at the environments of 15 couples from various economic and artistic backgrounds — many of them fashion types — and the practical solutions they have created by trial and error, with accompanying essays by Julia Szabo.
Allegra and Ashley Hicks, for instance, are both well known in social circles for their interiors and furniture design, but instead of fueling rivalries at home, their individual tastes coexist with such compromises as a living room that features his-and-her coffee tables. Lisa Lovatt-Smith (a design writer) and Anthony Allen (an artist), decorated their home outside Barcelona with an overwhelming mix of bright, saturated colors and ethnic textiles, but with a simple challenge that required a team effort to meet: Nothing in their home cost more than $50.
Another couple built their home in Provence out of an abandoned quarry, leaving the original stone walls intact in the guest bedroom, while the pair behind Manhattan’s Zezé Flowers designed their Chelsea garden apartment with hundreds of images of flowers to incorporate their love of the outdoors on the inside. Los Angeles designer Rick Owens showed how the home he shares with Michele Lamy — who runs Les Deux Cafés across the street — includes intertwined spaces to accommodate his creative work.
Some participants in the project found that their tastes meshed quite naturally. The artists Eric Fischl and April Gornik, who attended a launch party for the book this month, said they even once attempted to buy the same photograph at a New York gallery as a present for the other, only hours apart.
“The one thing she would not allow was a TV in the kitchen,” Fischl said. “For her, it was too suburban, even though we eat in front of a TV every night.”
“Living Together” presents many ideal worlds for couples, although less-creative people might find that replicating such fantastic worlds is a trying endeavor for their relationships. Whereas general problems could be addressed by a marriage counselor, Lennard similarly advises couples to consult a professional decorator for conflicts at home.
“Because my husband is an interior designer, I always defer to the professional,” she said. “And you should never be thinking these decisions are going to mean something for the rest of your life, anyway.”
For the easily overwhelmed, the book concludes with “10 simple steps to harmonious living,” and here’s just a sample: “Consider moving as a means to a fresh start.”