ROSE TARLOW: ON THE MOVE I’ve always admired Los Angeles designer Rose Tarlow—as a taste-setter, as an author, as a refined and obsessive antiques dealer, as a designer, and as a curious collector of objets and knowledge around the world. And I’ve had the privilege to interview her here and there, to write about her, publish her famous house (in my Rizzoli book, Hollywood Style), and to meet her by chance.
I was having lunch a few years ago with Axel and Boris Vervoordt at their ‘s-Graveweezel castle, just outside Antwerp…and who should arrive and join us but Rose Tarlow. She was full of tales of her house in Menerbes in Provence and her travels in Paris.
Rose Tarlow, always slightly mysterious, heads to Europe several times a year, always looking for the rare and the recherche.
It was midwinter when she turned up at the historic Kasteel von ‘s-Gravenwezel, northeast of Antwerp. A pale ivory sun hovers and barely glimmers, low in the sky. The air is still, giving the frozen moat and ice-etched rhododendrons and noble old oaks in the subdued landscape the look of a faded sixteenth-century oil painting or a delicate watercolor.
Axel Vervoordt walked briskly from his study to greet his longtime friend.
Tarlow has dropped in at the 12th-century castle to view and admire and perhaps acquire pieces from Vervoordt’s art and antiques collection.
“I am a person who loves beautiful things, and I try to be around beautiful objects and exciting art at all times,” said Tarlow, glancing at a dramatic Antonio Tapies painting in an upstairs salon in the castle (which is also Axel’s residence). She continues on toward a collection of rare Chinese porcelains, smiling, in a reverie. Her eye flicks across a Dutch armoire, a Japanese wooden bowl, a stack of old books.
“Beauty nourishes me, it fulfills me spiritually,” Tarlow told me in conversation. “That’s why I design beautiful furniture. I am always looking for objects that move me.”
Over the last thirty years, Rose Tarlow has turned her antiques and decorating company, Rose Tarlow Melrose House, into a multi-million dollar empire of handcrafted furniture, mirrors, lighting, luxurious leathers, fabrics, and her own textiles collection, all much admired (and specified) by top designers.
Tarlow introduced a line of wondrous-stenciled wallpapers with the look of faded antique textiles. The Melrose House furniture and lighting portfolio consists of more than 300 of her designs, and her lines are represented in 13 showrooms around the country.
“Rose Tarlow balances emotion and intellect as well as any designer now living … her rooms [combine] sensual pleasures with geometric rigor, and every one of them is simultaneously a lesson in design and a lesson in living.” — New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger
Tarlow has a particularly fine-tuned sensibility for chairs—the hardest furniture to design—and bestows even a modest dining chair with presence, originality, character, and a distinctive silhouette.
There’s the “Puccini” sidechair upholstered in Italian silk, a best-seller. Its carved front legs and boldly arched back give it an air of animation, as if it is about to spring forward. The “Verona” chair, with rich silk velvet upholstery , has gilded legs and arms as finely tapered and turned out as a prima ballerina’s.
“My designs tend to be bold,” noted Tarlow. “I don’t like timid, fussy things.”
Rose Tarlow, who was born in Shanghai, has never pigeonholed herself into one period or style. Her “Etoile” rush-seated sidechair suggests a French provincial inspiration. The “Cloverleaf” pedestal table, with rich lacquered ebony veneer, connotes her taste for Chinoiserie.
“Antiques I buy always have a quirky, sensuous quality,” she said. “I’m looking for the hand of the artist, signs of life and use. If an antique is provocative or intriguing, I fall in love with it. I have to have it.”
Now Rose Tarlow Melrose House has opened a new flagship showroom in a renovated landmark building on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood to showcase the collection’s elegantly designed furniture, textiles, lighting and accessories under one handsome roof.
The 9,000 square-foot space, designed to resemble a residential environment reflect Tarlow’s private-client installations. On display are the modern furniture collection, sumptuous rugs and fabrics, and a lighting and accessory gallery.
“I love change and always have. The new location—just blocks away from my old shop—is larger, more accessible, but thankfully still retains the old Melrose House magic” said Tarlow.
Architect Marc Appleton retained the charm of the original shop in the new setting. Each room contains special accessories from Tarlow’s original designs or items found from her global travels.
Rose Tarlow (who has always insisted she is not an interior designer (although she has designed noteworth residences) founded her company more than 30 years ago in what was then the out-of-the-way Melrose Place.
Now an internationally renowned furniture and fabric designer, interior designer, antiquarian and author, her creations have enchanted the design community.
Many of them, including her own Bel Air house, are detailed in her book, The Private House (Clarkson Potter).
“I wanted my house to look like early California architecture with European influences,” she says. To create that style, she imported antique architectural elements from Europe, such as hand-forged iron railings. She found rustic wood planks for the floors and hand-plastered the walls to create an unusual texture.
Potential clients are constantly clamoring for her to design their interiors, but she is skittish.
“I think of myself as an antiques dealer,” she commented. “I am not really a decorator. I don’t really like working with individual clients. I lose control of my creative time.”
Tarlow is at her most content when she is searching for and acquiring antiques, or working on her furniture collections--with only her own high standards to please.
“It’s too intense with private clients because I take each design decision so personally,” she said. “I am a solitary person. I like working alone and making my own design decisions. I have an obsession for buying lovely things, so I occasionally consult on building a collection of antiques and art. I buy and build houses so that I can gather up more antiques.”
Tarlow, considered by some a cult figure in the world of design, designed and built her own European-influenced house in Bel-Air.
In Tarlow’s more formal London flat in Belgrave Square, sunny, cozily luxurious rooms are filled with singular antiques from around the world: handsome Régence chairs upholstered in Gobelins tapestries, American Indian baskets artfully arranged on a Chinese lacquer table, a Kang Hsi Coromandel screen.
“Everything in a house, down to the linens and fabrics, must be right,” she says. “My eye always goes straight to pieces that have personality, fine craftsmanship, and patina. I look for the hand of the artist—for signs of life and use. Even a basket or old poker chip can have quality.”
Her inspirations, she said, include rare and beautiful old woods, old textiles, oil paintings of interiors, watercolors of interiors, the great American poets, as well as the English romantics like Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron.
“I admire beautiful, well-proportioned rooms,” said Tarlow. “And I can swoon over empty spaces.”