The Autumn issue of O at Home features an especially delightful apartment in Chicago. Bart Swindall, the curator of the Auditorium Theater, opens up his 547 sq. foot mansionette-ette.
His number one rule:
Don't confuse decorating with shopping.
Heavily influenced by the 1947 House & Garden's Complete Guide to Interior Decoration, Swindall packs a lot, and I mean a lot, of glamour into those rooms.
Interestingly enough, he'd entered his jewelbox flat in Apartment Therapy's Smallest, Coolest contest, where the MCM enthusiasts failed to appreciate the flat-black walls and dramatic low-wattage lighting.
Swindall's also a freelance decorator, but he's low-key about his talents. As one of the O team told him
You're not like our typical subject. In fact, we've never done a piece like this before.
You know those shelter mag types--it's all about the merch.
DG got him to spill all his secrets, and was thrilled to learn that he loves Dorothy Draper as much as I do.
DG: What are your design influences?
BS: Obviously, everything. History is everything before today, so there’s a lot of precedent for me to work from. And every period and every style has good features. These days, Dorothy Draper is back in style but in the Miami Vice 80s and the Barbara Barry all-beige 90s, a mention of her name made people--OK, designers--roll their eyes in horror. That’s if they even recognized her name in the first place. But I always liked DD’s style.
When I was in interior design school, we were asked what direction we thought design might take in the next few years. This was in 1992. I said “Vogue Regency will come back big time.” That was British version of Hollywood Regency, with Syrie Maugham instead of William Haines, and I about got laughed out of class because of it. But sure enough, Jonathan Adler & Kelly Wearstler brought that glittery, high-contrast look right back into the mainstream. Of course, things never last as long the second time around. I mean, Tony Duquette had a thirty-year career, faded out of the popular consciousness, and then, last winter, his style came roaring back—well, at least, in NYC--with the publication of his mongraph, and the installation of last season’s holiday windows in Midtown, but by February, blogs were already saying “If I see one more reference to Tony Duquette, I’m gonna scream!” All I can say is today, people have really short attention spans. That comes from TV, which I don’t watch. To me, if something is beautiful--and I don’t mean if it’s trendy—it will always be beautiful. To hell with trends.
In 1981 I went to the last day of a liquidation sale at a bankrupt Peoria hotel & found an entire bolt of a fabric that Frank Lloyd Wright had designed for Schumacher in the 1950s, sitting in a barrel of other fabric. How many hundreds of people had pawed through that bar rel & missed Wright’s little red square on the selvage? I spotted that mark from clear across the lobby. The whole bolt cost me 15 dollars. I gave it to the Art Institute of Chicago, which put it on display the next year and somewhere I have a picture of me standing in front of a ten-foot tall panel of it. But here’s the weird part: a few years later, I found another bolt of the same fabric--in a different colorway--at a Goodwill store right up the street. On one hand, I thought “What re the chances of that? “But then I realized they’re actually pretty good., because most people look without seeing, so stuff like that can sit there for a long time. Sit there waiting for me.
Best design advice someone gave you?
Nancy Lancaster: “Understatement is extremely important and crossing too many 't's' and dotting too many 'i's' make a room look overdone and tiresome. One should create something that fires the imagination without over emphasis.”
Ever tempted to change it all completely?
I already have my apartment’s next incarnation worked out in my head.
Inspirational book or movie or magazine recommendations?
Book: Chicago Interiors by David Garrard Lowe & Depression Modern by Martin Greif.
Magazine: The World of Interiors
Movies: Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, Alain Resnais’ Pas sur la Bouche & Ernest Lubitsch’s <em>Trouble in Paradise
How did you come to develop your own style/taste?
Reading every design book I could get my hands on since I was ten. Familiarity with good design makes it easy to resist buying junk, even if it’s inexpensive junk. Better to have nothing than something ugly.
Object of desire--money is no object--what do you covet?
The most achingly beautiful automobile ever designed, Gordon Buehrig’s 1937 Cord. If I can’t have that, I don’t want a car.