Monday, July 27, 2009

A Beautiful Tablescape

Recently, while in the Washington DC area to visit family, I was invited over to the beautiful Northern Virginia home of nationally acclaimed designer Jim Hawes Beebe, of the firm Caldwell-Beebe. I wish I could have taken pictures, but it seemed a bit rude as Jim's house is going to be published in two major magazines over the next year. Suffice it to say that his home is absolutely exquisite. One of my favorite rooms was the guest bedroom, a lovely space filled with beautiful fabrics and antiques. I immediately noticed the side table in the guest room, and Jim noted that it is an antique that served as the model for one of my favorite pieces by Niermann Weeks, the 'Lucien' table. In fact, the name for the table was inspired by Jim's beloved departed King Charles Cavelier "Lucius'. I should stop writing about Jim's home, it is not fair to go on and on given that I do not have many photos!

I asked Jim whether I could take a photo of the tablescape in his lovely entry hall. Jim is a big believer in beautiful entries, as they welcome visitors in and set the tone for the rest of the home. Jim's entry is always changing based on his recent acquisitions, and he is constantly rotating his selection of treasures on display. The foundation for Jim's entry is the beautiful architectural space of Jim's elegant townhouse, the richly colored marble on the floor, and the Niermann Weeks Baldwin console in rift oak with a light whitewash applied to the finish. The mirror is an antique, 1820s American, with its original glass.

The 'urns' on pedestals are called 'Tazzas' or 'Tazza en suite colonne' - it's a classical form that dates back to the Etruscans. They are in three separate pieces - the base, column, and urn - and are made of carved stone. Jim found them at David Bell Antiques in Georgetown; they are circa 1800 and they came from a Bellevue Avenue 'cottage' in Newport, Rhode Island.

My favorite part of the entry was the collection of shagreen items and Meiji and Edo period Japanese sterling silver and articulated models, collected over decades of travel and focused searches. This is truly a one of a kind tablescape! The articulated items are a mix of insects (dragon fly, scarab beetle, praying mantis) and crustacea (crabs, lobsters), made of copper, bronze, or sterling silver. They range in age from 80 to 300 years old, and are predominantly Japanese (a few of the pieces are Russian). Legend has it that the Samurai armor and sword makers made them to demonstrate their meticulous metalworking craftsmanship (every part moves naturally, and the anatomical details are perfect). Jim particularly treasures his collection as they are quite rare and hard to come by as so many bronze and copper Japanese items did not survive World War II.

The boxes and obelisks are shagreen, from the 1920s and 1930s. Shagreen is the finely granulated skin of sharks and rayfish, ground flat so that the pearl like structures make a granulated pattern. It has been used since the 17th century for covering small boxes, tea caddies, and such. It is called 'galuchat' in France, and was a favorite material for mirrors and decorative furniture by the great French designer Jean-Michel Frank (who died in 1941). Jim's collection of shagreen items includes cigarette cases, card cases, compacts, obelisks, and clocks. Jim often uses the boxes as bases for displaying smaller objects, like the articulates and a starfish.

The tablescape also has a mixture of natural items such as a spiny sea urchin, a hand made (by Jim) tree lichen ball. The 'X' bronze on the stand is a piece of African currency, and the letter holder is vintage Hermes.

I asked Jim how his collections begin, and whether he has an approach to expanding the collections. For the articulates collection, Jim recalls that he kind of grew into it. He saw one 'bug' articulate at an antique show and was intrigued with it, and that was the start of the collection. Next came the fixation on shagreen; he loves the soft colors, the form and the use in display. He also loves things that are of the sea, and the fact that the collection feels so 'French'. All of the items that are seen in the tablescape came from a variety of sources: private dealers, a private collector or tow, antique stores/markets, and even ebay auctions!

Jim notes that he is a serial collector. He usually concentrates on four things at a time, and likes to acquire great pieces as he comes across them, knowing that they are one of a kind and once they are gone, he will never find them again. He always looks for things that resonate with him personally, and often they are items that are wonderfully crafted, and are usually an art that is no longer crafted in today's world. He does not go for new glitz, but for things that evoke nature, craft, and craftsmanship. To Jim, a big part of interior decoration are the accessories - it is the intensely personal part - and for him, they are the 'soul' of the home.

Although difficult to convey in this picture, the color on the wall was really beautiful. It is one of Jim's favorite colors - DK16 by Donald Kaufman paint. As is characteristic of Donald Kaufman paint, it appears to be a different color based on the light. Jim uses this paint throughout his home.

Please make sure to look at the updated website for Jim's design firm, Caldwell-Beebe. There are some new project photos, and of particular note are the new sections - 'buzz', which features Caldwell-Beebe in the news and the blogs (including a link to yours truly), and 'our favorite things', which includes Jim's favorite paint colors among other things!