May 13, 2007

The Carleton Varney Project, Part I

Once again, I scored a coup at the Book Thing! My father's in hospital again, so on the way up to see him, and to give my mother her Mother's Day present (thanks to Petite Tresor), I stopped by the Book Thing. As with most of my treasure stores, I have a route that I always take. At BT, I go to the DIY/Home Decorating/Garden section first, then Baltimore books, humour, mysteries, travel & maps and then biographies.
Anyway, today's swoop through the BT unearthed Carleton Varney's 1971 Book of Decorating Ideas (BODI). Check out the hair and sideburns!! I glanced through the book, chucked it in my bag and danced a little jig. Of course, I kept looking and came up with another few books.

As soon as I got home, I zoomed through a little of BODI, and came up with an idea. The book is divided into about 125 sections, which sounds like a lot, until you see that they're about a page or two each. As I was scanning the titles, I picked out a couple to read immediately and wondered if the ideas that Mr. Varney had in 1971 would still hold up today.

Here's the plan: Once a week or so, I will post one of the 1971 BODI ideas and then see how it translates into 2007 design. About half of the stories are illustrated with black & white photos, so I will do a then and now comparison with a little bit of text from the book. Here goes:
The See-Through Look: "When you are looking for new tables, chairs, lamps, accessories - consider the see-through look for the look of today." The colours in this room are pretty incredible - citrus yellow shag-plus carpeting, sheer white draperies, shocking pink walls and white ceiling and trim. The upholstery on the chairs is also shocking pink.
One of the see-through designs that shows up a lot in 2007 is the Louis Ghost Chair by Phillipe Stark, introduced in 2002. There were some examples in the Kips Bay Show House in New York and you see this chair a lot in design magazines. Visually, it doesn't take up much room, so it works in many places. Stark also has the Victoria chair (charm without arms) and a bar stool.
So, I think that the see-though look has held up for more than 35 years. What do you think?


  1. Awesome! I love a good find especially when it's in the book category.

  2. First, I think this is a great idea, and fun too! This tip is applicable to 2007 too, I agree. You certainly wouldn't want to have all heavy, blocky furniture in your room, so transparency would certainly lighten things up.

  3. I love this idea - I'd love to see that room in all of it's technicolor glory. Definitely translates to today, but then what new ideas are out there, really? Not too, too many.

  4. This is a terrific post! What a tremendous idea, I can't wait to see the next 124 concepts :)

  5. Love the idea and I know CV (Carleton Varney) would too aka my boss. If you like this fun old book you should also check out "Decorating is Fun" a Dorthy Draper original from the 30s that was republished last month with a note from CV! Keep it up!

  6. Carleton Varney is my favorite decorator EVER, and his books are the best! Certain ideas are dated, yes, but overall his rooms, ideas, and incredible use of color ALWAYS hold up for me. What a fun project!


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