Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Books I Love: Part Two of My Homage to Books Old and New, Ripped and Pristine — Plus Lots More Collection Books for Your Pleasure

Last December, I spontaneously (everyone was away) started taking iPad images of my books. That lead to a post in late December—and an overwhelming response from my gorgeous readers. You are all book lovers.

Hundreds of emails followed, and lots of delight. Many said you loved the Vreeland collections. A reader in Paris liked the French design books. A friend in London loved the ripped covers of the Beaton books. Others of you admired the helter-skelter stacks and piles.

One reader commented that I only had ‘one Proust’. Others went directly to Amazon or their local bookshops and started ordering books that had inspired. I hope you find lots of inspiration. Many new books have come since Last December..

I’m Crazy for Books. I Read Them, I Write Them. I Collect Them. I Can’t Live Without Them

Come with me for a Stroll and Perusal Around my Library, an Informal Tour of my Book Collection, my Reference Books, my Favorites.

Books Everywhere

I like my books to be piled up as they arrive…so that new ones are added on top of old ones, and then I find a shell or a picture and throw them in the mix.

Torn pages and all, I do not ‘arrange’ my books and I never ‘style’ them…they are collected and read and used for research. These are working books…not for ‘shelfies’. The gatherings are always changing as I read, buy, gather, fine, and edit.

Every so often I edit. I usually ask a friend to come and help, for moral support. I don’t like to part with a single book, but often ‘weeding’ reveals books I’d forgotten I have. (You’ll see that I often have two or three versions of the same books…because I see one at a flea market or used book shop, and buy it just in case.)

As you know, when I am in Jaipur, I stay at the Rambagh Palace hotel because I’ve always loved it, but also because MR. NAVEEN JAIN’S BOOKSHOP is there. I visit many times a day.

Above are some (a few) of the books on India I have had custom hand-bound and gilded and tooled from Mr. Jain’s shop. Highly recommend when you are in India.

I have lots of ‘fetish’ authors and topics and collections. Over the years, since high school or before, I’ve collected Dylan Thomas biographies and poetry collections and later I started collecting all the Patrick Leigh Fermor books, which lead to all the Devonshires/ Mitfords. And then Cecil Beaton books, books on Katherine Mansfield, and many other biographies. I shunt them together to keep each other company.

Books by Irving Penn are treasured, and so are all the Vogue collections, and books on the Maharajahs and Indian art. ‘Made for Maharajahs’ has collections of art and design made for the father of my friend, Richard Holkar.

Design books clump and clutter and gather and converse and move around constantly … these books work hard.

Notice that a few of my books are hidden here or there. I love them. And I usually focus on the one I’m currently writing and don’t look back.

I keep reference books on gardening, biographies, and odds and ends of interest. One thing leads to another. A line of research leads to many more books. I hope you’re inspired to go immediately to your local bookstore.

My Post from December 2013:

I’ve taken some pictures for you—images of books on my shelves, books I love. You might call them ‘shelfies’.

As we perambulate, I hope you discover books you’d like to add to your collection, information you’d love to glean.

My books are working books—for reference, inspiration, ideas and images.

Their words and ideas enrich my work and my life. 

The books on my shelves are ripped and foxed, chipped and torn and faded. They’re read and book-marked and stashed. They are stained with morning coffee and evening ink, and they’re bumped and sometimes falling apart.

They are not in collectible order. They’re not perfect. They work hard. They’re not trophies, on display. I like that. I don’t care that they are not pristine. I like signs of time passing.

They are endlessly inspiring company.

I hope you will discover new books and authors. Come with me and take a look.

My New Year’s wish for everyone: more books. 

As I sit here writing, I’m surrounded by William Dalrymple, Diana Vreeland and Bruce Chatwin (‘Chatty’), Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) , and the Duchess of Devonshire with Paddy Fermor, alongside Francoise Sagan (smoking, bien sur) and Colette.

Over there are Tom Wolfe and J.D. Salinger, and Jhumpa Lahiri and Jack Kerouac with Edith Wharton, unlikely friends, but essential reading.

Dylan Thomas and Yeats are peering over at the quiet but mighty C. P. Cavafy. His poem 'Ithaca' is the best inspiration anyone could discover.

For fresh design insight I turn to Axel Vervoordt, Andrée Putman and Elsie de Wolfe. For images I have Cy Twombly, Lucian Freud, Brancusi. Irving Penn and Richard Avedon and Peter Beard .

And up there is Pablo Neruda jousting with Gerard Manley Hopkins and Rilke, perfect companions, and then dear Cecil Beaton in conversation with Evelyn Waugh.

To set dreams in motion, there are Lesley Blanch, Elizabeth David and Christopher Alexander.

And at the moment, I’m on Page 233 of ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton. Highly recommend. Set in New Zealand, where I grew up.

And let’s never forget Nancy Mitford, Giuseppe di Lampedusa and the Bronte sisters. 

Sometimes I group authors and concepts together. The Chatwin books are adjacent, and the Dylan Thomas are close, and old Salinger copies and Tom Wolfe are stacked together. But I see that Lucian Freud is all over the place, and Diana Vreeland is scattered. I admit that I have several copies of some books. When I see a great book, and I’m not quite sure where my copy is…I buy it to be sure I have the book on hand. 

Many books have ripped covers, others were acquired with plastic Brodart covers to stop them from falling apart.

I found some at Paris flea markets like the funky Place d'Aligre and the atmosphere old pavilion on rue Brancion, near Parc Georges Brassens.

I inherited books from designer friends and collectors. They’re personal, not especially valuable because they’re used, read, piled up, jammed on shelves, and dusted a bit aggressively by my housekeeper.

Yes, the stacks get topply. It's an opportunity to find old favorites—or to de-accession certain books no longer of passionate interest. I long ago de-accessioned almost all cookbooks—I don't cook—except a few early volumes by Alice Waters.

I de-accession books and donate them to Friends of the San Francisco Public Library or to San Francisco charities’ shops I support.

1. Chasing Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland, she of the fervent opinions and loopy directives, worked with top art directors and photographers and together they produced some of the most alluring books.

Allure’ and ‘The World in Vogue’ and an old tattered copy of ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, an early compilation, are vivid. Every year there are more Vreeland ‘Memos’ books (I have a portfolio of her printed memos) and collections. No other fashion editor has been so inspiring. 

2. The Lives of Others: Biographies I Love

Hermione Lee’s biography of Edith Wharton or the Mitford sisters’ memoirs and letters, or writing by Patrick Leigh Fermor or Willy Dalrymple are among my favorite books. I seldom read fiction, although sometimes I drift into detective novels like those by Colin Cotterill about Dr. Siri, the national coroner of seventies chaotic Laos. Highly recommend. 

3. India On My Mind 

I’ve been collecting books about India most of my life. Volumes on Indian jewelry, the Mughals, the Nizams, biographies of maharajahs and maharanis, Indian history, the Raj, on Ghandi-ji, on geography and travels and regions are all on hand. 

When I’m in India I’m looking for new research books—so I drop in to Mr. Jain’s bookshop at the Rambagh in Jaipur, or linger at the authoritative Bahrisons bookshop at the Khan Market in New Delhi.

In Paris, Gallignani on the rue de Rivoli always has rare books on Indian culture and architecture. 

4. Torn Pages: Some Favorites 

Many of my books are coming apart and I love that. I like worn pages, turning ivory. These books are the best company, with history and signs of life. 

I re-read my original school reference books on Gerard Manley Hopkins or Dylan Thomas. I'm reassured by favorite covers, scuffed and friendly, of books I've had since college. 

5. Design, Art and Fashion 

Design books are my essential references. I’ll always have Axel Vervoordt’s books on hand—as well as books on the great English country houses. Billy Baldwin always rates a special place on my shelves—and authoritative books on French décor, architecture and design have their own section. 

Fashion, yes, I collect designer monographs (Lanvin, Dior) and biographies. And lots of Chanel. 

Art: I’m always studying Lucian Freud perfectionism, and Cy Twombly makes a case for spontaneity. 

6. A Few by DDS

You may be wondering if I keep copies of my own books. 

Some of them are on my shelves and many are archived and locked away.

I’ve written twenty-two books. 

When I glance at the covers—‘Santa Barbara Living’ or ‘Michael S. Smith Elements of Style’ or ‘Ann Getty Interior Style’ or ‘Seaside Interiors’ (translated into eight languages) and ‘Orlando Diaz-Azcuy’ (all designed by the great Paul McKevitt) I observe. And there is the California Design Library series that is still selling like mad at Kunokuniya in Tokyo. 

I admire the many talented people I have worked with, my fantastically great editors and Paul McKevitt, a superb art director.

I thank my genius publishers and all the designers and architects and photographers and publicists I work with. I'm incredibly fortunate to work with the best of the best. I appreciate them every day. That’s the thrill. The great people I work with and write about.

My eyes are usually focused on the book I’m writing now—but I am grateful for every book I’ve published. Always. 

A Great New Year!

I wish my friends and wonderful readers every happiness for 2014.

I wish everyone, everywhere, a year of delicious reading, fervent discoveries and fearless turning of pages. Happy Reading!

Please let me know some of your favorites—and some great books I may have missed.

All images here by DIANE DORRANS SAEKS. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Fabulous Robert Kuo: Bravo for a Lifetime of Creating Beauty and Reviving Ancient Crafts

Celebrating Over Thirty Glorious Years of Design, Style and Travel

Robert Kuo's biography and passions present a life and avocation that are immersed in the best of Chinese art and craft traditions.

He was born in Beijing, and his family moved to Taiwan in 1947. Kuo’s father, an art professor and Chinese watercolor painter, started a cloisonné atelier and Robert became his apprentice at age fifteen. With focus and intense work, practice and study, throughout his life, he gained technical expertise and learned about decorative traditions from hands on work. And he has continued—mastering lacquer and working closely with artists using materials such as rock crystal, stone, repoussé work, along with many other rare and arcane Chinese arts such as Peking glass.

“I would like to think that I am taking the best elements of both Eastern and Western cultures. My work reflects the great appreciation and respect I have for traditional Chinese crafts and techniques but it also reflects the inspiration that is derived from the freedom and individuality of the Western culture.” — Artist and designer Robert Kuo

Robert Kuo’s father was a patient instructor. As Robert mastered each of the steps involved in cloisonné from preparing copper bases to enameling and firing the kilns, he absorbed all basics he would use and over his lifetime of design.

A visit to the United States persuaded the young artist/entrepreneur that the American environment would benefit him, both personally and professionally.

In 1973, he immigrated to the United States and opened a studio for cloisonné in Beverly Hills. Kuo cultivated a clientele that appreciated the way he revealed Chinese tradition. Using influences of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, Kuo introduced new shapes, finishes, and objects to cloisonné. It was during this time that the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery acquired his 'Goldfish Bowl', with its lively naturalism.

In 1984, he designed the airy, contemporary building in Los Angeles that is still home to the studio of Robert Kuo. Located directly across from the Pacific Design Center at Melrose Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard, the Kuo Gallery became a favorite stop for designers.

In 1985, Kuo shifted his focus from working in cloisonné to repoussé, the art of hammering decorative relief onto metal. Instead of applying enamel to a copper base, the artist began to experiment with applying different finishes to the hammered base. Kuo looked to China for artisans experienced in ancient techniques. He trained craftsmen to adapt their skills to repoussé forms and objects. Today, he spends up to six months of the year in China to create new pieces, which are then finished in Los Angeles.

Robert Kuo offers a variety of decorative objects, from small tabletop decor to furniture and large landscaping decorative and ornament. 

A Chat with Robert Kuo

I recently sat down for a conversation with Robert Kuo. Join us, to find out more about his concepts, his inspirations, and his ongoing intention to keep Chinese arts and crafts alive.

DDS: When did you first go back to China to research and revive ancient arts?
I first went back to China in 1981 when I received US citizenship. My family immigrated to Taiwan during the Chinese Revolution and I went back to Mainland China to find relatives. It was still a very delicate time for Mainland China and Taiwan relations and there were so many misconceptions on both sides. I visited studios and wanted to see the old, traditional workshops and the refined crafts that were being done in Mainland China at that time. It wasn’t until 1982 that I started gradually working with the studios and the craftsmen in Beijing.

DDS: What are your favorite pieces?
My favorites are always the newest ones that I am working on and developing. Those are the challenges. Those are the favorite pieces because I’m still perfecting them.

DDS: What craft do you especially admire?
RK: My favorite technique is lacquer. I went to visit the National Palace Museum in Taipei and the director graciously allowed me to see any piece of my choosing from their permanent collection that was not on display. I asked the director (who was also a lacquer scholar) to choose something lacquer. Not only is lacquer the most labor intensive of the different techniques that I work with, but I am also taking this craft to a completely different level than its historical context. I consider lacquer the most unique craft because it can be applied and combined with other techniques such as repoussé. 

DDS: Many of your more modern pieces stray away from the traditional Chinese touches to incorporate contemporary styles like art deco and nouveau.
RK: I think this period is very important to design in general. Actually a lot of Western European Deco period was very inspired by Chinese design. My designs are not purposefully trying to be either Chinese traditional or Western contemporary.I think that is a combination of both cultures because I have both perspectives. I design what inspires me. The excitement of creating new pieces is invigorating. I just finished designing a collection of textiles with S. Harris.

DDS: What do you collect?
I’m a passionate collector. Avid. I collect everything. I do not collect based on the material/technique. I am more interested in the design of the piece. Pieces that appeal to me demonstrate excellent design, rare or exquisite shapes, and art and craft and quality. One of my most extensive collections is a series of antique gold jewelry. Some are in gold filigree, inlay, and repoussé craftsmanship. This collection has never been shown and it has never been photographed.

DDS: Where can we find your newest pieces?
We are represented by Yi’s Furniture in Taiwan; Gump’s in San Francisco; Cavit & Co. in New Zealand and Australia, as well as Saffron Interior Arts in the UK, and McHugh Gallery in Aspen. We make exclusive collections for McGuire Furniture San Francisco, Ann Sacks, and Kallista. Robert Kuo textile collections are available from S. Harris Showrooms.

“Changes and evolution are natural and I work in many different styles and crafts now. The base of cloisonné is repoussé copper. I was able to work in repoussé because of my eaerly experience with cloisonné. And since I am a great admirer of Chinese lacquer, I started working with lacquer. Certain designs translate better in different techniques. I could never achieve the look that I wanted for the cream lacquer sheep unless I was able to do the base in repoussé.”Robert Kuo

Kuo’s designs and artistic work can be seen internationally, in National History Museum in Taipei and in hotels like the Singapore Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco's Hotel Palomar, Las Vegas MGM Grand Villas, and New York Four Seasons. 

Robert Kuo is inspired by organic forms found in nature, as well as the timeless motifs of the Chinese Han and Ming dynasties — often combining them with Deco and Nouveau influences.

While most of his recent work has been in repoussé, he has designed
a new collection of cloisonné lighting for McGuire. 

"Robert Kuo is the contemporary representation of the imperial artisan." — Clarence Shangraw, chief curator emeritus, for the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Tsui Museum of Art, and The Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art


Don Freeman is an American artist, filmmaker and photographer. His work has appeared in Vogue, The World of Interiors, Elle Décor and Architectural Digest, international galleries and private collections, and four books, 

Artists' Handmade Houses (Abrams 2011); The Hotel Book: Great Escapes North America, (Taschen 2006) and Ted Muehling; a portrait by Don Freeman (Rizzoli 2008). My Familiar Dream (1991) is in the permanent collections of the Getty and Victorian Albert Museum in London.

His film work includes Art House (2015), Tires, Velvet Paws (2015) , videos for Sherwin-Williams, Garo Sparo atelier, and Tomoyo Harada.


Robert Kuo
8686 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Robert Kuo
5400 Jefferson Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90016

Robert Kuo
303 Spring Street
New York NY 10013