“Oh, yeah. There’s such a thing as bad taste,” said Kitty Hawks. “Ultimately, good taste has to do with a certain restraint.” The interior designer, who is the daughter of the late international hostess Slim Keith and film director Howard Hawks, was receiving visitors in the room she has decorated at this year’s Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club Decorator Showhouse. Located in a mini-mansion at 32 East 70th Street-which is for sale-the showhouse is open for viewing from May 5 to May 27.
A modern woman practically since childhood, Ms. Hawks, who opened her own decorating firm a decade ago, wore blue jeans, a blazer over a silk shirt and clogs. Her elegant hand, strong and unpainted, rested on an ancient, decorative Indonesian palmwood dog. At her foot was a copy of Alexander Liberman’s The Artist in His Studio: The Heroes of Modern Art , which she reads between visitors.
“I decided to make the room deliberately unelectronic,” she explained, sitting on a Swedish settee circa 1880 with pillows swathed in antique kimono fabric. “If the house was mine, I thought this room would be lovely, and peaceful, if it didn’t have the distractions or responsibilities of the other rooms. Actually, this originally was the laundry room for the house. I could have put it back to that, but it wouldn’t have been as romantic, or pleased the Kips Bay people as much,” Ms. Hawks laughed.
There’s a Frank Gehry stool, circa 1972, and a Danish desk and lamps from the 1950′s. An early 18th-century Spanish carpet layered with a 19th-century Turkish rug. Curtains are rubber-stamped with Japanese stencils. A Louis XVI mirror crowns one wall of the room. Ms. Hawks ingeniously has mixed styles and periods as if they were ingredients in a new cultural stew.
Left to someone else, the result could be heavy gravy. Catered by Ms. Hawks’ intelligent approach, the effects are weightless. Refreshing. Deliberate, not frivolous. For Ms. Hawks, decorating is about “knowing when to stop. It’s not so much appropriateness, because who knows what’s appropriate, as much as balance. It’s harmonious because there is balance.”
Thoughtfully considered rooms by a younger generation of decorators is the unofficial theme of the showhouse this year. The result: a sort of post-minimalist Regency, early-Prada feel with Zen overtones. (Frankly, if you want overwrought, there’s overwrought.) The theme is perfect for Wall Street’s new generation of young millionaires inclined toward re-creating the looks of the 1960′s and 1970′s they remember from their youth.
The Kips Bay Showhouse, where contributing decorators include David Kleinberg, Bunny Williams and Richard Keith Langham, among others, coincides with the advent of spring in New York, when local taste makers get all feverish about their houses and gardens here and in what they affectionately call “the country.” Do, and redo, is the current mantra as the desire blooms to spend some of those Wall Street dollars. People cannot say enough about the most interesting decorating projects around these days, including the very grown-up and sophisticated renovation and decoration under way at the town house that Pia and Christopher Getty have acquired in the East 70′s. People are talking about Rita and Ian Schrager’s spectacular rehaul of their oceanfront house and grounds in Southampton. In northwestern Connecticut, great praise is heaped upon literary agent Lynn Nesbit and her new country seat. Ms. Nesbit rented a nearby cottage from designer Carolyne Roehm during construction.
And who will acquire the extraordinary French Rococo silver Thyssen Meissonnier tureen for their dining room when it is auctioned at Sotheby’s on May 13? Estimate: $8 million to $12 million. Surely all tycoons worthy of their mounts on the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art will bid.
Besides the showhouse, there are plenty of charity parties with house and garden themes. On Wednesday, May 6, English financier Lord Rothschild was to be the honorary chairman of a dinner at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to benefit an organization called Botanic Garden Conservation International. The organization, especially dear to Lord Rothschild’s daughter, Beth Rothschild Tomassini, has as its primary task conserving the biodiversity of botanic gardens around the world so that plants needed for life-saving medicines do not become extinct. Co-chairing the fund-raiser were Miranda Brooks, Anna Wintour, Annette and Oscar de la Renta, and Jayne Wrightsman.
Then, on May 18, the Historic House Trust of New York City will honor interior decorator Mario Buatta on a benefit cruise aboard the good ship Henry Hudson . Leaving from a pier at Manhattan’s Carl Schurz Park just north of Gracie Mansion, Mr. Buatta and his guests will sail to their dinner at the 19th-century Bartow-Pell Mansion on the shore of Pelham Bay in the Bronx.
Back at the showhouse, the parade of snake-hipped decorators in trendy clothes, Crayola-blond ladies and their Norell perfume scent goes on. Photographer Eric Boman is shooting Bunny Williams’ parlor. In this decorative storm, Kitty Hawks is the calm. A beacon of very self-directed light. One is reminded of the many photographs included in Slim , the bittersweet autobiography her mother published in 1990.
Keith split from Howard Hawks in 1946 when Kitty wasn’t quite a year old. Her marriage to producer Leland Hayward, whom Kitty called “Pop,” ended when he left her for Pamela Churchill, later Pamela Harriman. Kitty, 13 at the time, was Slim’s salvation. Her determination “gave me the grit I needed to pull myself together,” Keith wrote. “It made me realize that no matter what happened, there was this creation-Kitty-and she was beautiful and strong and kind. If I could create that by myself, then surely I needn’t be terrified of being on my own. Thirty years later, Kitty is the same daughter as she was then.”
Ms. Hawks, a graduate of Smith College, studied architecture at the University of California at Los Angeles during an early marriage to a Hollywood executive. In the early 1980′s, she worked as the creative muse for fashion designer Perry Ellis. Ms. Hawks lives with Lawrence Lederman, a corporate lawyer; they share a New York apartment and Westchester County country house.
Ms. Hawks’ interest in interior design was the result of “years and years of looking and trying to integrate something that is as intellectual as it is emotional.
“I like to think, with me,” she said, a client gets somebody who “is home.” And, as Kitty Hawks’ room at the Kips Bay Showhouse proves, some interior decorators are more “home” than others.
“Fuck feng shui,” snaps a photographer’s assistant when a decorator suggests he move his equipment aside.
1. What happened 30 years ago this month in France?
a. Sonia Rykiel opened her first boutique to sell her “poor-boy” sweaters, perfect for the French student rebellion.
b. Yves Saint Laurent resolved never to speak again to Pierre Cardin and kept his word.
c. Diane Von Furstenberg threw a franc into the fountain outside the Ritz Hotel and made the wish that eventually came so true.
2. Turtleneck Productions is:
a. Isaac Mizrahi’s film company.
b. the name of Julian Schnabel’s corporation.
c. Damien Hirst’s record company.
3. Which New York artist has singer Sheryl Crow asked to paint her next album cover?
a. Tom Sachs.
b. Ahn Duong.
c. Ross Bleckner.