A Social Fabric
The Midwest is not a place traditionally known for its exclusivity, or worldly aesthetic contributions. Nestled between two extremes that yield their own specific tropes, aesthetics and vibes, the Midwest is primarily known for being “nice.” However, Chicago, where we are headquartered, has its own significance in regards to food and hospitality that is rivaled only by some of the best institutions on the coasts and abroad. Arts incubators, advertising and start-ups launch yearly here and have contributed to a new swarm of creatives buzzing around the city, injecting new life into old industry. As a result and a desire for community, new private membership clubs have sprung up and old standing artistic traditions have seen new support and patronage. Much like the British lads of the 19th century sought a place to relax and unwind, these well-travelled creative residents of the windy city seek refuge in their peers, posts and properties. While it is not home to a strictly traditional gentleman’s club, Chicago emulates the intimate experience in its hearths and homes.
Given their exclusive nature, it’s not common knowledge that traditional Gentlemen’s Club, have been tucked away in the streets of London for hundreds of years. In fact, they haven’t strayed far from their original historical locations all clustering around the West-end of London, specifically, St. James Street in Westminster. White’s, established in 1693, is revered to be the first club of it’s kind, laying the archetypal blueprint of future clubs to form. It began as a private members-only club who’s walls housed some of the most notable and upper-class gentlemen as a place to gather, relax and discuss after a long day’s work.
Clubs have come and gone over the years since their conception, however, more modern clubs such as Soho House are more inclusive in nature. Translation; it’s 2018 and most if not all clubs have transitioned from a men’s only enclave to include women, and choose to distinguish themselves from their competition in a variety of ways including their specialty of membership, the institutions they support and furthermore the designs they choose to dress their interiors — their identity.
Regardless of different tastes, all membership clubs share one similarity; all are outstandingly well-decorated. When one pictures this iconic club style scheme it typically follows a more classic design, which would typically mirror the 19th century clubs where much of the traditional style was finalized. Think vignettes of brass desk lamps dimly lighting broody scotch stained leather chairs, velvet drapes and tweed wool blankets folded near a fire.
Today, the shapes and construction of a club motif may vary given the fabrication, however, the fabrics and finishes are what give the effect. Some still uphold the traditional gentleman’s club style and feel and others yield a more modern, forward-thinking approach to their design. Soho house’s design concept was conceived by the inimitable Ilse Crawford. She chose a sensual, lived-in look to invite members to feel at home. The “house” can be experienced at the many international locations, including our very own Chicago.
Material + Form
The process of encapsulating the heritage and refined opulence of these historic clubs is all in the classic design details starting with accents of layered texture. Many of the pieces you see in the drawing rooms and throughout these grand buildings are traditionally clad in leather, wool, cashmere and velvet. Club chairs were one of the greatest contributions made by the formative designs of the gentleman’s clubs. Perhaps the most recognizable furnishing produced from the era is the ubiquitous Chesterfield Club Chair. Designed by private commission in the 1770’s England specifically for an admired politician and writer’s home, Chesterfields have long been a historical icon of class and affluence. They remain the cornerstone of English club design, the ultimate poster-child of the traditional club chair. Without hesitation, the Brits continue to make many valuable and high-level contributions to the design industry today with companies such as Farrow and Ball paint, Cox London furnishings and Frances Loom rugs.
MASTERS AT WORK
Victoria Miro Gallery
Female owned and operated, Victoria Miro Gallery stands tall in its seemingly industrial surrounds on Wharf Street in Mayfair. Its undone beauty is the perfect vessel for the contemporary artists she carefully seeks herself. Miro first opened her gallery in Cork Street, Mayfair in 1985. The gallery quickly earned acclaim for showing the work of established and emerging artists from around the world. The gallery is unique in London for having its own garden, a beautiful landscaped area overlooking a restored stretch of the Regent’s Canal at Wenlock Basin, which has been used to great effect for installations by gallery artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Alex Hartley (A Gentle Collapsing II, 2016, pictured). The gallery is credited as largely responsible for re-popularizing the work of Kusama and her spotted “Pumpkins” currently on tour and headed to Toronto. Given the private and intentional nature of the Gallerist herself, the gallery ethos remains consistent: “to promote great and innovative artists and to nurture the best talent from the new generation of artists around the world.”
LONDON + COtSWOLDS
Having traveled to England many times, I did not find myself loitering long within the clubs mentioned above but in the everyday life of the English. Their pastimes and pleasures taught me much about the application of the traditional clubs design, and how to tailor it to the individual. A place that captures the modern Brit is Liberty London. Walking through the cheery concept meets department store, you get the feeling that you really can “Keep Calm and Carry On,” as the old British aphorism goes. The top floor of the converted estate houses a stunning fabric selection, custom upholstery services and a rug emporium that rivals Morocco. Blocks away from Liberty is not only a classic bangers and mash destination, Mother Mash, but also Sketch London– an over the top high tea masterpiece. Sketch London looks like it was plucked out straight from an idyllic Baltic town in a Wes Anderson film and becomes an outright experience when partaking the customary British high tea ceremony. In contrast, my time in Cotswolds was like stepping into a time capsule and only having the best of the past preserved and a seamless integration with the present. The Cotswolds have long been fertile ground for fine dining. For the traditionalist, The Porch House, takes classic British plates and presents them in a way the palette doesn’t expect. For the nature lover, the Lords or the Manor will delight with a Michelin star-rated chef that renders and ethereal presentation.
A woman of refined elegance and stately design, Anouska Hempel has been designing for over 40 years after leaving her native New Zealand in 1969. After a short stint in acting as a Bond Girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Anouska is known for leaving the industry to pursue design saying “I knew I could make things look good.” I became aware of her work many years ago traveling through Amsterdam, I stumbled upon a hotel she had designed–Blakes. I was in awe of the mood created through using simple shapes and classic items in a fresh and dramatic manner. The classic, yet untraditional design speaks to me. Never overly layered, and remains rich with depth and style. Very sophisticated, while simultaneously approachable. Selfishly, I would love to see more of her work in the states. If more were able to experience her work, it’s my prediction that Anouska’s touch would elevate our current take on what is considered good design.
IN THE STUDIO
DEEP SATURATED HUES
Typically the spaces we aim to design have a deliciously light and lifted result, textured and traveled. However, a recent client’s office was the perfect outlet for my appreciation of British club style. Much like the men of the 19th century, our client is a man of varied intellectual interests. He is a Lawyer by day, poetry lover by night. He and his wife, also a Lawyer, share a home that caters to their desires to entertain but also to maintain a sense of refuge. In our initial meetings, it was clear that his office in particular needed to be a place of serenity but not flakiness, grounded but not dull. When our team proposed the ever-timeless club-room, rich in multilayered vintage rugs, chalk stripe linens and a worn leather chair we knew our client would find solace in his home–no membership necessary. The custom built-in bookshelves will house his classics and make room for more as the collection expands. Our use of deep saturated color throughout the entire home, including the office will serve as a unifying element that ties together all disparate styles and moods throughout. Overall, their home will be brimming with an aura of experimentation, traces of culture and tradition that can be found in the details.