Authors' decor is an open book You can satisfy your curiosity about the way literary lions lived by reading 'Writers' Houses.'


July 28, 1996|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Most of us love to look at other people's houses.

Maybe it's really for design inspiration, as we sometimes claim, but usually, I suspect, it's simple curiosity about someone else's private life. That's clearly the motive behind all those tours of the homes of the rich and famous, which have grown increasingly popular in our celebrity-obsessed era.

Such outings are often billed as "art tours," it's true. But I wonder whether even the hungriest culture-vultures aren't just as eager to peer inside the dressers and closets as to scrutinize what's hanging on the walls.

Let's face it -- we love to snoop. How else can one account for the success of not only the house tours but also the many books and magazines that promise to take readers inside the mansions of Hollywood stars and the penthouses of Manhattan big-shots?

Typically, books of this sort tend to be picture-plentiful and text-bereft. Yes, I know a picture can be worth a thousand words. Photos alone, however, don't always tell a comprehensible story. In fact, an image unaccompanied by an explanation can be most frustrating for those who actually do want to understand how and why a particular design was created.

"Writers' Houses" by Francesca Premoli-Droulers is an exception that unsatisfying norm. While her book, published by Vendome Press, is an unmitigated delight for literary groupies, it also gives readers insights into the design tastes of immortal novelists such as William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf. Through words as well as pictures, the book illustrates the importance to creative individuals of their interior environments, the places where they live and work, or, as Woolf put it, "a room of one's own."

The accompanying photograph is taken from "Writers' Houses." It shows a portion of Karen Blixen's sitting room.

The author of "Out of Africa," who used the pen name Isak Dinesen, had a great love for the outdoors. It's suggested here in the reflected image of some of the flowers she kept in her home. To Blixen, flowers were one of "life's miracles."

To capture the short-lived sunlight in her native Denmark -- and perhaps to remind her of Kenya -- Blixen dressed her windows with very sheer lace that allowed her to enjoy the landscape as well as the light. This treatment also acts as a protective veil for the home's occupant.

Above all, this room is expressive of a unique individual who was clearly more concerned about fulfilling her own needs than about following any fashion. This is always an attitude to be admired, I think, and one that becomes consistently evident as we page our way through "Writers' Houses."

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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