Provence glows in my mind I have visited it whilst growing up with my family and now en ‘grand famille’ – including ‘chien’. We have our favourite spots, restaurants, shops, markets and memories, layered over time. During the past weeks southern heat has entered my bones and inertia lulled the brain, floatin’ along, leisurely lapping it all up. (Read: too hot to type)
Yesterday we went to Menerbes, Peter Mayle’s village, made so famous by his books that he had to flee the barbarians at the gate – literally. Nowadays Menerbes is tranquil once more, sadly a tad-twee, but that’s life, at least no coach park.
On our return I picked up a book I had brought: Van Day Truex, The Man Who Defined 20th Century Taste and Style. Glancing through – there it was ‘Menerbes’, I sat up, I sat down and read it all. Van day Truex was a Francophile par excellence (awarded Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur) he made his home here, not once – no – 3 times, refining his Provencal statement each time. His Provencal homes, reflect his philosophy: good design is forever.
Truex to the right in Provence (he reached the ‘International Hall of Fame’ in 1974 as one of the Best Dressed men in the world)
He is a design legend, NY Times described him ‘as the arbiter of American taste’, this ‘terroir’ extends to the Luberon, Provence.
Hubert de Givenchy (possibly the chicest French man ever) gave his unstinting approval: “I admired everything that Van had done. The house was, first of all, an honest house. Extremely modest, it had a monastic quality. The bare-bone details embodied style and sophistication. It was so remarkably pure that it made me want to go home and eliminate the unnecessary things from my own house. If I had to think of one word to describe Van’s taste I would say it was cashmere. The finest and rarest cashmere. Being in the fashion business, I offer this as my highest praise.”
Truex discovered Provence in 1930, little changed there between 1930 and 1960, despite a world war.
Van had though – from Parson’s School protegé in Paris to THE Creative Director who made Tiffany. The picture above is the very first and last sculptures he purchased. ( 1925, a working cast commissioned by Queen Victoria, 1979 Naexa-Alkyard by Dougles Abdel – if your interested) These perfectly reflect his aesthetic journey, an early dedication to the decorative arts (read: encylopeadic knowledge) tempered by 30’s modernism, particularly Jean Michel Frank, into his own distinct style.
His vision forged America’s signature modern-luxe: sophisticated, pared back and bold. Oh yes- him and Billy Baldwin ‘The Dean’ got on a treat, Billy advised not to go into interiors directly as the necessary compromises would kill him.
Truex sketching at Aix en Provence 1930
The first house Van bought in 1962 was an 18th C gem in Gordes, naive about the real costs of transforming this (in line with the French regulations for historic building works) meant he had sell it.
He re-located to a village outside the ‘regulation’ area Gargas, Chaumet restoring a deserted farmhouse, working to his own designs with local craftsmen. John Hill photographed Chaumet in 1969, he remembered:
‘The innate sense of style evident in every detail, Truex maintained in a modern renovation the inherent simplicity of a rustic 18th-Century farmhouse. Unadorned native stone in the basic construction, unglazed terracotta for all the floors.’
‘Decorating choices: simple bamboo furniture made in a neighbouring town, lamps converted from old wine bottles (aubergine -not green), paper shades and modest fabrics: cotton and linen all in monochromatic scheme, his (trademark) beige. A few decorative accessories were included, trompe l’oiel plates in the dining room from his Tiffany days, primitive African art and some ancient French farm implements in the living room. Outside an abundance of wild flowers.’ (I have mildly truncated/accentuated it)
The sitting room
Van maintained an apartment in New York during this time:
His artwork fills the walls you can see a Provencal village, top right. (Personal design right?)
similiar works above.
Truex believed in going back to the source: primary documents if you will, museums of the arts and natural history both delighted him, he abhorred the derivative and what he called ‘magazine sourcing’. When designing his maxim was: Control, distil, edit. But this doesn’t preclude playful – his Tiffany ‘bamboo flatware’ is still TOTALLY sought after, Truex studied nature’s design-sense. I also love his dinner service: Floral Amorial A heraldic crest featuring delicate flowers – his’n’hers: ‘For all the young couples who secretly wished they had an ancestral coat of arms, a lighthearted semblance of noble lienage.’
His tenure at Tiffanys included ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys’, where his interior has survived at the New York flagship. This includes Jean Michel Frank inspired chairs (below) and almost-beige mauve walls. Commercially he excelled at taking 18th C designs and re-working them. Personally he created award-winning designs that often pared back the object to its essential form e.g the carafe decanter.
The Tiffany table setting includes Wedgewood ‘drabware’, a Van ‘carafe’ decanter (he preferred it with a simple cork), bamboo flatware, fish candlesticks (and a scatter of olives). Which brings us back to Provence, I saw those fish in a village beside Menerbes, Bonnieux.
Provencal Inspiration? Maybe
Well finally, he built his own house, designing every detail. I long to see MORE: the architraves, hardware*, entrance – those details that define the user’s experience. I must be content with the central staircase:
The 1930’s inspiration
The Sitting Room
TRUEX STYLE RE-CAP:
‘The exterior and interior walls were finished in the same texture; the colour, if any, would be added to the plaster before application. Truex want no paint on any of the surfaces. The door and window lintels were to be cut from native stone with no superfluous detail. Floors natural-color glazed terracotta made by local potters. The teakwood trim left natural both internally and externally. All bathroom fittings and kitchen WHITE. Local furniture either bamboo or sturdy Provencal. 2 sets of dishes – one white, the other a bright safrron made from neighbouring Roussillon’s indigenous clay. Bedding – white, Table linens natural linen and brown. ‘ (Adam Lewis) The decorative accessories are as before – aubergine wine bottle lamps, african art etc. GOT IT?
Van respects the locale – local architectural vernacular and materials – combining them with his aesthetic sensibilities: Truex-Provence. You could apply his design rules NOW and have a great house. These days there’s alot of ‘Provencal-pretty’- rather less ‘True Provence’.
All images from Adam Lewis’s ‘Van Day Truex – The man who defined 20th Century Style and Taste.
Except Besteigui’s staircase from ‘Baroque, Baroque’ by Stephen Calloway.
*Hardware – yes he won an award for that too.