Sharing a cocktail with Princess Stephanie, some time past, in the lounge of The Columbus, Monaco, we realised that, whilst we adore modern design (as referenced here last week), we’re also fans of ‘classic traditional’ decorating; a direction which sees at its very root the essence of European (but also American) relaxation. Vacationing at the boutique French bolt hole is an indulgent luxury we adore; invited on that first occasion at the behest of Ken McCulloch, founder of The Columbus, we’ve visited many times since and consider it one of the world’s chicest destinations.
Ken, a fellow Glaswegian, set up the hotel with Scottish racing supremo David Coulthard, and it boasts what can only be described a gorgeous interior. Chilling and spilling with Grace Kelly’s daughter (as you do!) we chatted design inspiration before conversation turned to a bizarre career diversion that saw our royal pal release a Euro disco single called ‘Irresistible’. In delightfully self deprecating manner, the pop princess purred that it might have been better to have named her track ‘Resistible’ (for its British release, certainly) being that the UK’s record buying public steadfastly refused to invest in her musical foray. That said, the song sold over two million copies worldwide and to this day remains in France’s top 100 best selling singles of all time. Not a bad piece of business, if you ask us.
Stephanie, like we are, is regularly drawn to the Columbus and in the relaxed environment she’s able to enjoy a relatively private world just like any other guest. In Monaco, to be perfectly fair, people wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow if Camilla and Charles popped by to take tea with our new girlfriend Madonna. Nor do they freak out when Hollywood’s jet set arrive (as they regularly do) in a wake of PA’s and Louis Vuitton travel trunks. That’s the essence of The Columbus; envisioned by Scottish interior guru Amanda Rosa, husband of Ken McCuloch, it’s a peaceful environment where classic furnishings reside in a white painted, timber detailed, world.
So. ‘Classic traditional’ style; what does it actually mean? Well, ‘classic’, in design terms, means quality and craftsmanship redolent of times gone by. Typified by well considered, low key forms, ‘traditional’ is all about enduring build quality and soft, gentle lines. Poorly conceived ‘quirky’ furniture may come and go, but traditional aesthetics will transcend time. Just as the Beatles ‘White’ album is lauded as their best work - and revered decades after its release - and the Rolls Royce admired across its various generational incarnations, ‘classic traditional’ is the preserve of those who appreciate long standing pedigree. It’s not about snap together furniture or Pop Art styling and it’s certainly not about shiny metal state of the art manufacture. Think 1930’s and 1940’s deluxe with touches of ivory painted wood, rich mahogany, dovetailed timber, marquetry and button tufted upholstery. Imagine the rich days of finance in 1940’s France, Mildred Pierce (during her wealthier period) and star studded California. Yes, the Hollywood Hills. But more of those presently.
To get into the spirit of things we stopped by studio b on Toronto’s King Street East, taking with us Aaron Harris, our trusty Star snapper. In store, we witnessed an inventory that perfectly captures the buzz and, as it did, it catapulted us back to the aforementioned Columbus in Monaco. Ensnaring modernised period drama, studio b boasts an illustrious catalogue that spans Baker, Barbary Barry, Baccarat and McGuire, all names, take it from us, which are synonymous with expert craftsmanship and hand tooled luxury. Streamlined and elegant, the collection evokes the mood of days gone by, but without any of the stuffiness often associated with antique or reproduction furniture. Why? Because this collation is neither antique nor reproduction; merchandise at studio b, in fact, is sumptuous recent manufacture expertly fashioned to capture historical ‘spirit’. And that it does perfectly.
Good design, in the classic traditional style, pertains to an understanding of how each piece can be used to compliment every other selection with everything showcased against an unfussy background; bear in mind there’s no need for flamboyantly decorated rooms with this look. Architects often discuss ‘shared language’ when referring to related aspects of work and, as designers, we’re similarly comfortable with the term. Building a ‘relationship’ across items is very important if you want your ‘classic traditional’ scheme to come alive. Wandering studio b, we noticed that the majority of inventory, while positioned by different designers, could all sit comfortably and David Beaton, the man behind the brand, explains why; “My team and I know what works and what doesn’t. When I’m adding to stock, I’ve always got one eye on existing inventory. Building ‘connectivity’ between my products is crucial to ensure good ongoing trade.”
In fact it’s this awareness that provides David his stock in trade; “Clients revisit all the time to build their ‘portfolios”. It’s an aspect of business about which he’s particularly proud. “I’m aware we’re not the cheapest store in Toronto but we represent tremendous value for money in the long run because our product doesn’t date. Clients remain safe in the knowledge that what they’ve already bought will work well along side new items that capture their imagination.” David explains that a typical customer will craft their home slowly but counters that it’s not unusual for a client to “drop a hundred or even two hundred thousand bucks in one session”. He won’t be drawn as to which celebrities and sports stars are tucked in his files, save to say that; “If you’ve watched them on TV or seen them on the pitch then they’ve probably been in here at some point.” We admire the privacy which David affords his paymasters. In today’s celebrity driven world it would be all to easy to trade on profile but, even after circuitous prodding, he won’t be drawn. Respect.
Our time at studio b concluded, we head off to Elte, another retail Mecca we’ve long since admired. Launched in Paris in 1919, its founding family eventually moved to Canada during World War 2 and, following the store’s 1944 re launch, the brand has continued to grow. Since its Canadian rebirth on Bay Street, some sixty seven years past, Elte has outgrown various addresses but can now be found in a smart 200,000 square feet showroom on the corner of Castlefield and Ronald. An important ‘go to’ destination for many of Toronto’s leading designers and shoppers, Elte is also the preserve of Canada‘s media contingent. Scan the pages of prestigious titles such as ‘Style at Home’ and ‘Canadian House and Home’ and you’ll find frequent editorials bulging with Elte merchandise. And the same applies to most Canadian lifestyle TV shows; switch on and you’ll find room sets, manicured to perfection, courtesy of Elte.
Media issues aside, what should you expect to find when you call by? Well, the buying team has an unstinting ability to produce the goods and from ’smalls’ such as crockery, ornamentation and linens (which are displayed front of house) to the stellar collection of sofas, case good and rugs, it’s hard not to fall in love as you walk the aisles. ‘Classic traditional’ high spots? Oh that’s easy; take their ‘Fluted Front’ console, a walnut gem with stainless steel feet and matching pulls, it’d look gorgeous dressed either side with matching lamps and propped with a bowl of white lilies, the favoured flower of 40’s film siren Bette Davies. And then there’s the ‘Biedermeir’ wooden stool; with its yielding upholstered seat, you could just imagine Ava Gardner perched elegantly, cocktail in hand, as she prepares for her next scene. Blimey; excuse us if we’re a little film heavy in our references; we’re still basking, post TIFF, in a City TV induced red carpet haze. And it could be some time before we come back down from our joyous celebrity cloud…
In essence, the magic of ‘classic traditional’ home style - and purest Hollywood nostalgia - are perfectly captured by studio b and Elte and, for that matter, all other destinations contained in our post script store guide. Imagine Cary Grant pulling open a mahogany drinks cabinet and pouring himself a dirty martini. Sorry, we’re at it again; film star referencing. Oh, what the hell; think raven haired Vivien Leigh, seductively draped across a button tufted chaise, champagne in one hand and film script in the other. Okay, so you mightn’t actually meet these stars as you embark upon your shopping trip, but, courtesy of our preferred retailers (and hotels like The Columbus) their spirit lives on, eternally. Which reminds us; we’re making a note to tell Princess Stephanie that she should check out our store guide when she’s next in town. We’re certain, musical pedigree aside, that she’ll find our suggestions utterly ‘Irresistible’.
studio b -
Angus & Company -
Restoration Hardware -
The Art Shoppe -
Ethan Allen -
South Hill Home -
-‘The New Traditional: Reinvent - Define - Balance Your Home’, by Darryll Carter published by Clarkson