Tale of Two Cows

The original Cow-Cow Boogie. Paunat, France.
The original Cow-Cow Boogie. Paunat, France.

As opposed to the tale of one cow which is what you’ll hear if you dine at the French Laundry in Yountville. Apparently Thomas Keller will only serve butter from one particular bovine hidden somewhere in the depths of Vermont. The man just won’t quit.

Actually this is the tale of two cow groupings. When I was in Barcelona five years ago I happened upon these mirthful prancers in a home design shop on La Rambla. It was one of those great stores whose merchandise reflected the curatorial eye of an inspired buyer and not a computer algorithm back at corporate headquarters. The cows were just so frivolous and useless. I had to have them. I had no idea what I was going to do with them.

I left Barcelona for France to visit Peter and Barbara on the Foie Gras Trail. One afternoon we were talking about my odd-ball purchases in Spain. It was easier to get the cows out of the suitcase than to try to describe them. They loved them. We started placing them around the rooms in their early 19th Century village home.

They looked perfect wherever they were: on the cartouche above the kitchen hearth; in the deep-set window sill over the sink; and in the upstairs hallway on a bombe chest. It was obvious the quartet had found a home.

My hosts insisted on reimbursing me for the piece but I wouldn’t hear of it. Money is meaningless at times like this. (It might explain why I’m always broke.) To me it was just a matter of finding a one of a kind object and keeping it in my world. I was happy to leave it with friends. My work in Paunat was done.

One of a kind my ass. Two months ago I was perusing the Charles Townsend Close-Out Sale in Rancho Mirage when an audible gasp was heard throughout the store. I’d turned the corner to find the same cows used as a lamp base. I thought I’d left them behind in the Dordogne never to be seen again. It was a sign, I had to buy the lamp.

This time I’m keeping the cows. They’re in my studio apartment as a symbol of friendship between the sister cities of Paunat and Palm Springs. I did make some alterations to the taupe linen shade, however. It was too predictably tasteful and it was too low. If you placed the lamp below eye level you could see the bulb. So I increased the shade height by about 3 inches and covered it in a mint faux croc.

Lamp purists will object that the shade’s opaqueness does not provide enough illumination. But this is an accent piece not a task light. For that I have those special flood panels set up so the Burmese children, with their tiny hands, can do my bead work.

What it doesn't emit in light it exudes in style.
What it doesn’t emit in light it exudes in style.

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The Last Temptation of Me

Dunbar’s Last Stand

Dunbar in the Desert
Dunbar in the Desert

In the early 80’s my Mother befriended an artist in Fort Wayne who had a store across the river from her apartment. He had a pointillist style of painting but the medium he chose was fabric not oil. Thousands of tiny fragments were used to compose his works. The shop was a combination studio and antiques emporium for him.

Besides the painting technique, his store’s other unique quality was the simple, modern lines of much of the furniture. Indiana is rock red Republican conservative so you don’t see too much of that communist inspired mid-century stuff. As we got to know him better he educated us on Dunbar furniture which was manufactured just 30 miles south in Berne, IN. That’s where most of his furniture came from.

Berne is a small farming town comprised largely of Swiss Amish who still trade on the ancient arts of yodeling and cheese curdling to pull in the tourist bucks. But not all Swiss emigres were Amish and many were skilled furniture makers who Dunbar recruited to work in their factory.

From its inception around 1910 Dunbar made buggies and horse drawn carriages for the gentry class. With the advent of the automobile they transitioned into furniture with well constructed, play-it-safe bourgeois designs: mahogany curlicues, non-challenging Queen Anne redux, and ye oldie English Regency knockoffs. In the 30’s and 40’s, however, the younger artisans coming over wanted to try their hand at the art deco and moderne styles they’d been exposed to in Europe between the wars. They were allowed to experiment as kind of an after hours, extra credit type of assignment. What started as a sideline turned into a major production when Edward Wormley became Creative Director.

Under Wormley Dunbar was one of the leaders in mid-century design. Their biggest claim to fame was the Johnny Carson conical, swivel chair on The Tonight Show. He’s had so many chairs through the years, though, I’ve never been exactly sure which one was Dunbar. Johnny’s endorsement has more recently been eclipsed by Betty Draper Francis’.

The kings of camp product placement, Mad Men, officially anointed Dunbar in Season 3, Episode 7’s “Seven Twenty Three.” At approximately 2:23 Betty’s decorator shows Don the orange  “Dunbar Japanese-influenced sofa.” In her tone-deaf, clueless but determined way Betty later adds the Victorian Fainting Couch where she she-bops thinking of her next husband. The Exquisite Taste Lady is horrified.

In my foray into antique sales this year, kitsch, camp and quality smaller items all have done well. Furniture, on the other hand, has done nothing. As one dealer explained, the local market will only buy furnishings at rock bottom prices. Which baffles me because on Palm Canyon’s modern design strip items like mine are going for up to five times what I’m charging. And compared to the prices Dunbar pieces fetch on websites like 1stdibs, mine are going for a song. But no one is singing.

Still I continue to display my collection at Victoria’s Attic in Rancho Mirage (at The Atrium, 69930 Highway 111). I’m also hawking it on Chairish and Craig’s List. My hope is that someone will just write me a check for the whole collection so I can be done with it.

Birdie? Where are you?

 

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The Last Temptation of Me

Learning Curve

Notes once played by Chopin succumb to the desert heat
Notes once played by Chopin succumb to the desert heat

On my recent two-week trip to San Francisco I forgot to leave the air conditioner on. Its kind of mandatory this time of year to avoid damage to things.

After a week of 110+ temperatures my studio was quite warm when I returned. It took 15 hours to cool it back down. I had a package waiting from Amazon containing Vanilla and Almond Extract. When I unwrapped them the bottles were almost too hot to touch.

What I failed to notice for a couple of days were the candles in my gold candlesticks. They were from Point a la Ligne in Paris and had musical notes circling up the sides. One gave up, started to melt and fell to the floor. But the other one put up a fight. It stayed attached at the base and drooped into a lovely swan dive.

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The Last Temptation of Me