Dec 4, 2013
12:03 PMStyle & Design
Style Provocateur at Textiles House to Presidents, Ritz Paris, Tells Scalamandré Story in New Book
(page 1 of 2)
The pantheon of quotable wisdom about interior design contains many truths, the accumulated remnants of applied talent. Some are short and sweetly succinct: Good design is forever (Zelina Brunschwig, Brunschwig & Fils); some prescriptive, This work has to do with people … (Alexa Hampton, designer); some philosophical, Lately I have been thinking how comfort is perhaps the ultimate luxury (Billy Baldwin, designer); some metaphorical, A room should start a conversation before people actually start exchanging words (Barry Dixon, designer), and some poetically elliptical, Style is the mind skating circles round itself as it moves forward (Robert Stone).
But none are quite like those of designer and “all-around style provocateur” Steven Stolman, president of the formidable textiles house and design tastemaker Scalamandré, who has just published a book, Scalamandré: Haute Décor, that celebrates the purveyor of decorative fabrics, wallcoverings, trims, furnishings and accessories “as seen through the eyes of the international design elite while paying homage to the people, places and events that contributed to the nearly cinematic Scalamandré story.”
“Designers don’t come to us for putty chenille, but they sure do like our pink and black tiger velvet,” says Stolman, who was born in Boston, raised in West Hartford and featured on the cover of Connecticut Magazine in May 1984, when he was a rising fashion designer with his own line that found favor in havens like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman-Marcus and Bloomingdale's.
“There was so much neutrality in interior design for so long that color is now being celebrated,” he says, adding of Scalamandré, “We’ve always been about exuberant color. When we do make an edgy expression … it’s viewed as valid because we have the provenance to back it up.”
That provenance and Scalamandré’s long and regal 84-year history as decorative tastemaker is chronicled in the book—the founding of the company by Franco and Flora Scalamandré during the Jazz Age in New York, the early commission to reproduce a brocatelle for William Randolph Hearst’s estate, San Simeon, providing fabrics for the restoration of the JFK White House under the guidance of Jackie Kennedy, work for Monticello and Mount Vernon and the Gilded Age mansions of Newport, R.I., and the commission to provide fabrics for the renovation in progress of the legendary Ritz Hotel in Paris.
Now, Stolman is bringing his book and the Scalamandré ethos—including those “beloved, impressible, iconic zebras”—to Connecticut for a special event Dec. 12 at Cobble Court Interiors in New Canaan, the full service interior design venture of Robert Rizzo and Steven March that has done award-winning design projects in New York, the Caribbean, London and beyond.
The event, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Cobble Court’s 13 South Ave. location, will feature cocktails in honor of the publication of Scalamandré: Haute Décor and a “gift gathering” for Toys for Tots. The price of admission for the festivities is merely an unwrapped toy that will bring some holiday style to a young person from a family feeling the sting of need. Those planning to attend should RSVP by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The guys who own and operate Cobble Court Interiors are really terrific—and their business in New Canaan is much loved!” Stolman says of the go-to “source for elegant style in luxurious and inviting interiors,” where Rizzo (below) finds inspiration from his time spent in the United Kingdom, yielding a design philosophy that represents an “updated balance of traditional comfortable living with a clear modern sensibility resulting is amazing sophisticated and livable rooms.” March is the partner who makes the design train run well, on time and on budget.
Important as those considerations are, it’s safe to think the Dec. 12 event will be decorated less with logistical concerns than festooned with design camaraderie, talk of aesthetics and the future, and a loving look back at the history and heritage of the stars of the show, Scalamandré and Stolman.
The latter supernova of design wears his versatility well as employs his impeccable taste to guide Scalamandré into the future. ("I’m trying to make it relevant and accessible without sacrificing quality," Stolman says.)
And it’s design world kismet that it’s Stolman at the helm of a premier firm in an industry that has seen all the other storied giants toppled by a combination of bad economic cycles and the erosive effect of a design devolution experienced by a broad socio-demographic swath of the American public, a diminishment of taste and aspirational decor driven in part by the price points and rise of mass-scale retail.
His first brush with Scalamandré came when he was just a child—but not just any child, as he lived in a West Hartford home whose interior “was designed by a much-loved Hartford designer John LaFalce … sort of the Mark Hampton of Hartford.” And he lived here during a time when “people appreciated gracious living,” the kind purveyed by the iconic business of neighbor Beatrice Fox Auerbach (G. Fox & Co.) and by another neighbor, designer Jeanette Ward, “the Sister Parish of Hartford.”
In that West Hartford home was a touch of Scalamandré. “I loved that Scalamandré sofa,” Stolman says in press materials about the new book. “It was soft and cushy and smelled faintly of Norell perfume, lipstick and scotch.”
Later, as a fashion designer, Stolman would source fabrics from Scalamandré, and, in the serendipity that seals the kismet, he says, “I was shopping at Scalamandré when I learned the company had been bought by private investor and was going through a rebirth.”