Monday, November 21, 2016

Newest Travels in India — Into the Pages of History and Myth: Chettinad Photo Portfolio. South India Style. Chettinad Chic.

This week, I’m taking you into remote Southern India. You will learn about the fascinating and eccentric architecture of this region with a South India portfolio of exclusive images by Paris-based photographer, Deidi von Schaewen who photographed there recently.

I’ve written about Chettinad in previous posts on The Style Saloniste, and friends have followed in my footsteps.

Recently I returned, and collaborated with Deidi von Schaewen on an exploration of the region’s architecture, and the neat-as-a-pin heritage style of The Bangala, and trips to local antique shops.

Deidi von Schaewen is acclaimed throughout Europe and India for her extraordinary exhibitions of tribal painted houses in India. Recently in India she has focused on creating a remarkable series of images of remote village shrines, sacred temples and holy trees hidden in forests, featuring terra cotta figures and spiritual animals. Thrilling.

Earlier she published ‘Inside Africa’ (Taschen) and ‘Indian Interiors’ (Taschen) and many books and films on mythical buildings, French gardens, and interiors in Egypt, India and Morocco and Paris.

This time, she turned her curious eye onto Chettinad and The Bangala.

Come with Deidi and me this week for an exclusive visit and exploration.

And imagine the silence of deserted mansions—and then the sibilant rustle of laughter and joy and then cooking pots clanging at The Bangala. Chettinad is, indeed, a marvelous discovery.

Chettinad is a wonderful mystery. The grand mansions of this distant region, full of Belgian and Czechoslovakian chandeliers and Bavarian mirrors, are a fable and a mystery.

Lavished with Birmingham steel columns and Victorian ornamentation and Burmese team columns, and stained glass windows and colonnades and banquet rooms, they stand deserted today. The owners and their families live in Silicon Valley, in Singapore, in London and New York, deeply involved in the financial world and the enterprises of their ancestors.

Hidden in a desert landscape far from the financial hubs and swirling population of Chennai and Mumbai and Delhi are more than one hundred Chettinad villages (all with dramatic temples) that seem to have been cut adrift.

I discovered Chettinad last year, and recently made a return visit to learn more.

I stayed once more at The Bangala, a private hotel run by a leading Chettiar family of the region. It’s in Karaikudi, a center of Chettinad culture.

These Tamil Nadu villages and their regal chandelier-filled mansions were founded five or six centuries ago by the Nattukottai Chettiars—a Hindu caste banished (or bestowed) to a hidden corner of India.

In the middle of nowhere, they became private bankers, traders, travelers, philanthropists, educators, pioneers and explorers.

Working closely with the East India Company, the Chettiars were intrinsic to the expansion of the British Empire throughout Africa and Sri Lanka and Burma and Malaysia and into Southeast Asia.

The Chettiars were even rumored to lend money to Napoleon and Spanish kings for early nineteenth-century skirmishes and battles in Europe.

The Bangala

I make The Bangala my home there because it is family owned, founded in the thirties, and now run superbly by the great matriarch and hotelier, Meenakshi Mayyappan.

With her fantastic staff—family chefs and majordomos of many decades—Mrs. Meyappan also rules the kitchen.

Families drive down from Chennai just to taste her legendary authentic spices and Chettiar recipes, inventive and colorful.

Running the front office are a charming group of women—cousins and family friends. Clad in traditional cotton saris that they wear with great style, are also expert guides and trip managers.

The Bangala—staying there is one of the great pleasures of southern India.

Mrs. Meyyappan has childrean grandchildren among the Chettiar diaspora—and they sometimes visit from the tech-y worlds of Silicon Valley, Manhattan, or London.

English is spoken and the welcome is warm.
Meenakshi Mayyappan and her ladies offer tips on the best jewelers in town, the favorite antique dealers. They deftly arrange access to private historic mansions.

First-time travelers in the region may wish to book a driving tour from Chennai or Madurai that takes in all the major temples. The blessing: you may be the only Western traveler entering temples and sacred sites, joining fervent pilgrims and families and schoolchildren. It’s a privilege and a rare insight.

At the end of an intense day, guests return to The Bangala for dinner alfresco and an evening cloaked in the velvet darkness of the area.

Chettinad Antiquaire

I went antiquing in Karaikudi with Deidi von Schaewen, the photographer, and our friend Shirin Jacob, a medical specialist living in Singapore.

Chettinad, with its crumbling mansions and deserted villages, is a focus for many Indian and international dealers who trawl estate sales for teak columns, bronze statuary, carved teak doors, European enamel kitchenware, crystal, brass water jars, ceramic storage urns, and quirky decorative objects. The enamelware and pottery are particularly appealing.

Logistics and credits

The Bangala Hotel, in the heart of Chettinad
Chettinad can also be accessed from Madurai, the temple city in South India, a two hours’ drive away. It is essential to have a car and driver. Some guests drive down from Chennai, stopping to view temples on the way. Another approach is from Pondicherry, the delightful former French colony carved oak door

All mansions of Chettinad are private
Meenakshi Meyyappan, the delightful and hospitable owner (with her family) of The Bangala hotel, will also open some of her own family residences for guests of the hotel. These residences, built in the late 1900s and 1920s, are superbly maintained.

And the hotel offers cooking classes.

The hotel is located in the heart of Chettinad in Karaikudi. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served for guests.

To note: the hotel has excellent high-speed wifi throughout the property.

A series of new suites, discreetly sited among trees, were recently added, bringing the total to thirty. Calls from nearby temples, the whirr of crows, and songs and chants drifting in the air all intensify the feeling of being in deepest India.

The Bangala also boasts a professional laundry facility. My white linen blouses have never looked better.

The Mayyappan family has a strong social awareness and environmental policy with all water solar heated; all kitchen and garden wasted composted; all paper recycled; purely organic local vegetable gardening; and they employ only local staff.

Most of the great Chettinad mansions are within a twenty-minute drive from the hotel.

When to go there: From October through February/ March are the best months. Summer is intensely hot. Winter is sunny and fresh and extremely pleasant.

To get there: fly from New Delhi or Mumbai to Chennai or Madurai, and drive into Chettinad.

The Bengala, Chettinad Heritage Hotels Pvt. Ltd. 

Exciting New Books

‘The Mansions of Chettinad’
Photographer, Bharath Ramamrutham
Art Director, Fravishi Aga
Author, George Michel
With a foreword by Guy Trebay

The Bangala Table: Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad
by Sumeet Nair, Meenakshi Meyyappan and Jill Dosenfeld 
Photographer, Rohit Chawla 
Preface by Guy Trebay

Moments of The Bangala and Chettinad photographed by Diane Dorrans Saeks

Tourists (except for a few French and British groups who come and go) have not yet found Chettinad. Tamil Nadu is in the far south of the Indian sub-continent, and centuries away from the glamour and palaces of Rajasthan. 

The Bangala is the place to stay.

Here, nourished by fresh Chettinad cuisine by The Bangala’s highly trained chefs, guests may sunbathe all day,enjoy a massage, or head out into the villages nearby to discover the Mansions of Chettinad.

The Bangala arranges private guides and drivers—who gain entry to family mansions, historic temples. No-one is there but silent caretakers. Photography is permitted.

“I remember all the celebrations and family gatherings, weddings, parties and religious ceremonies with great pleasure,” noted Meenakshi Mayyappan. “For me the mansions are our heritage, reminders of a vanished way of life. The craftsmanship, the materials, and the architecture were magnificent. Our happiness lingers on.”

Note: special thanks to Shirin Jacob.

New and exclusive photography of the Mansions and The Bangala, and Chettinad Antiquaire by Deidi von Schaewen, based in Paris.

Photographer: Deidi von Schaewen

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Feast of New Books: Two Fascinating New Design Volumes from Rizzoli and Flammarion

‘Interior Design Master Class’ offers insight and ideas — ‘Empire Style’ presents a richly detailed view of classicism and grandeur.

This Fall 2016 design book season has been so inspiring.

I’ve told you about my picks of the best and now I’ve discovered two more ‘must collect’ books for designers, architects, and lovers of décor and ideas and beauty.

Come with me to learn more details about these exciting new books.


100 Lessons from America’s Finest Designers on the Art of Decoration
Edited by Carl Dellatore

For ‘Interior Design Master Class’ Carl Dellatore collected the insight, professional opinions, insider knowledge, expertise, beliefs and wit of 100 top interior designers working today.

The vivid and opinionated and lively 100 essays by America’s include fact-filled texts from established legends to members of the avant-garde and designers and architects working in many styles, in many regions.

Included in the book are topics such as Perspective, Integrity, Quality, Layering, Fantasy, Integration, Nuance, Humor, Pattern, Comfort (by Bunny Williams), Trends, Juxtaposition, Respect and Transgression, History, Proportion, Teachers (Vicente Wolf) and Silhouette, Glamour (by Kelly Wearstler, of course) along with Light (Victoria Hagan).

Designers who have contributed their inspirations include Stephen Stills, Miles Redd, Thad Hayes, Jane Schwab, Windsor Smith, Suzanne Tucker, Barbara Barry, Campion Platt, Katie Eastridge (Negative Space), and Kathryn Ireland (Textiles), and Laura Bohn (Gray), and Celeste Cooper (Problem Solving. Robert Couturier (Fashion) and Eve Robinson (Family) add to the richly layered and texture information.

Details include the process of design from fundamentals to accessories, paint and finishing touches.

Grouped by theme, the subjects range from practical considerations and details, to inspiration and style. Each contribution is paired with images of the designer’s work to illustrate the principles

In 352 pages, each with photography, are practical tips and thought-provoking design, traditional approaches and new ideas.

About the Author

Carl Dellatore began his career as a textile designer, and has worked with magazines, including House & Garden and House Beautiful. He is the author of The Fabric Style Book. He is currently working on a new design book.
“I went directly to the finest practitioners of the decorative arts in America — asking each to ‘teach’ me about a particular subject. What I discovered was the intellectual and sometimes philosophical roots of design — perhaps more in depth and revelatory than the practical application typically taught in a design school setting.” — Carl Dellatore

Exclusively for readers of THE STYLE SALONISTE, I asked the book’s editor, Carl Dellatore, to select ten quotes by leading designers from his book, ‘Interior Design Master Class’

David Easton — on ‘Evolution’
“Designers who do not heed society’s evolutionary changes will go the way of the dodo. In design, as in life, there is survival of the fittest; designers who can respond to contemporary clients’ demands are most likely to succeed.”

Matthew White and Frank Webb— on ‘Juxtaposition’

“...Electricity is exactly what successful juxtapositions produce. Whether furnishings are complementary or contrasting, their pairing generates a palpable current that evokes a desired feeling or ambience. In the same vein, rooms are called lifeless when poor juxtaposition either fails to generate a pulse or electrocutes with over enthusiasm.”

Matthew White and Frank Webb by Antoine Bootz.

Alan Wanzenberg — on ‘Modernity’

“Modernity and its manifestations in the physical world—what is considered “modern”— can be easily misunderstood. Modernity is not about minimalism or everything being white and reductive. When this happens—and the pendulum often swings in that direction— modernity falls into a style or, worse, a cult. It then has the potential to become tyrannical and intolerant, unaware of all the potent and fascinating forces in design that brought the modern world, as we think of it, into being.”

Alan Wanzenberg by Michelle Rose

Alexa Hampton — on ‘Tradition’
“American design has always appealed to me especially, American that I am. It easily demonstrates its democratic openness to picking and choosing from among the many traditions available in the pursuit of a style, whether genetically connected to our past or not. Its very eclecticism illustrates our melting pot identity, just like everything else in America does, from our religions to our cuisines.”

Tom Scheerer — on ‘Luxury’
“Luxury properly starts with a fantasy. My own notion is clearly fixed in my mind; it doesn’t waver. It starts with a house high on a bluff in a car-free village looking westward over the sea. There are white walls, a stone terrace shaded by vines, and fruit trees. There’s a kitchen with a hearth for cooking over wood. In the bedroom, I sleep facing windows open to the salt air.

Now, truth be told, none of my clients would want a house that stark or primitive. But it helps to know my fantasy, because it informs all of the more finished or elaborate design solutions that I come up with for other people.”

Madeline Stuart — on ‘Trends
It’s only through the study of history, art, and the decorative arts that we can develop an understanding of how and why certain trends emerge and which ones will last. Interior design is a relatively new discipline, but there are numerous precedents that inform what constitutes timeless yet distinctive design.”

Madeline Stuart by Max Kim-Bee.

Victoria Hagan — on ‘Light’
“I have been quite lucky in my career to work with extraordinarily talented architects, and I’m sure they would all attest, much as I do, that light is neither traditional nor modern. It defies design categorization, yet it is transformative to every interior moment and transcends time and space. I see light as the only truly timeless element of design.”

Kathryn Scott — on ‘Patina’

“The expectation that indestructible materials are better, and therefore practical, has caused some to surround themselves with lifeless materials. This is a typical fear that seems quite ingrained in our society, one that has caused many to hesitate to use marble for a kitchen counter to avoid stains and scratches. I respond that only when the counter becomes worn and scratched will it truly be beautiful, as that home will then reflect that it is well loved and well lived in.”

Kathryn Scott by Ellen McDermott.

Darryl Carter — on ‘White’

“I am very prone to bold gestures, huge canvases, large overscaled antique pieces placed singularly on a wall, as the white space surrounding makes all of these objects far more outstanding. The punctuation of a burled-walnut or ebonized antique set against a white backdrop creates a natural landing spot for one’s eye at the end of a hallway for instance. These punctuation marks appear, when thoughtfully adapted to a space, much like the punctuation within the body of a sentence.”

Darryl Carter by Max Kim-Bee.

Matthew Patrick Smyth — on ‘Travel’

“When I create rooms and houses, I sometimes know precisely where the spark comes from for a particular detail. Other times, though, I don’t, although it feels right. That’s the essence of design. What I am aware of, however, is that my choices come from a collective memory of things I’ve seen and places I’ve experienced in person. Whether at home or overseas, travel is my ultimate source of inspiration.”

Matthew Patrick Smyth by John Gruen.

“In the 2 ½ years it took to complete the book, I was exposed to the finest minds in design, an experience like none other in my life to date. What began as a humble quest for personal re-invention turned out to be an exemplary design education unlike any other. Interior decoration is an intellectual process, far greater than fabric shopping and specifying furnishings. I have a newfound respect for the design industry, and finally understand the value of great design. I am forever grateful to everyone who supported my efforts.”— Carl Dellatore

‘Empire Style: The Hôtel de Beauharnais in Paris’

By Ulrich Leben and Jörg Ebeling

Photography by Francis Hammond

‘Empire Style: The Hôtel de Beauharnais in Paris
 — newly published by Flammarion — is one of the most beautifully printed and produced books this year. At 358 pages, it covers the restoration and refurbishment of one of the architectural treasures of Paris. 

It’s not open to the public except by special arrangement…a museum group or architectural study tour, for example.

The photography by Francis Hammond is exquisite. Each detail of the restoration of this historic building reveals a masterwork.

It’s the official residence of the German ambassador to France, and located on the Left Bank near the Musée d’Orsay on rue de Lille. It was built in 1713.

The façade of the Hotel de Beauharnais (note that it is not a hotel, a French word used to denote a large residence) has a grand portal and ornate stonework, but it hardly reveals the grandeur and opulence of the rooms inside.

Come with me for a visit. 

Constructed in 1713, the Hôtel de Beauharnais has occupied a central place in European art and design history. It was built by architect Germain Boffrand during the first wave of urbanization on Paris’s Left Bank.

In 1803, Josephine Bonaparte acquired the property for her son, Eugène de Beauharnais, and had the building extensively renovated.

At the fall of the Napoleonic Empire, the building was sold to the King of Prussia, becoming an embassy during the nineteenth century. Since then, the building’s unique Consulate and Empire décor has made it a spectacular example of Parisian interior architecture from the period.

‘Empire Style: The Hôtel de Beauharnais in Paris recounts three centuries of European political history. Detailed are distinctive features, from prized bronzes to the decorative paintings and verdant gardens. 

Edited by Ulrich Leben, a renowned art historian and the chief consultant for the restoration of the interiors and furnishings of the Beauharnais residence, and Jörn Ebeling, the Centre’s director of research, this meticulously researched book takes readers on a virtual tour through the Hotel’s opulent rooms, all vividly captured by Francis Hammond’s photography, commissioned specifically for this project.


Interior Design Master Class images published with express permission of Rizzoli, the publisher.

Empire Style images published with express permission of Flammarion, the publisher.