The White House is not open for tours this spring, but the style of the interior designer whom Barack and Michelle Obama engaged to redecorate before they moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is on view.
Michael S. Smith, the Los Angeles-based designer who describes his style as “updated traditional,” has written four books about his work. The latest, “Building Beauty: The Alchemy of Design” (Rizzoli), to be released next month, offers an in-depth look at how to create the perfect home.
For Michelle Obama, the move to the White House called for “creating a family-friendly feel to our new home,” a vision she said she shared with Smith, according to a release from the Obama transitional office in January 2009.
Their shared vision of blending vintage with contemporary resulted in such choices as a circa 1820 tall-post tiger maple bed for a White House bedroom and colorful contemporary paintings by artists like Ed Ruscha and Richard Diebenkorn for the walls of the living quarters. The antique bed, which was enlarged to king size, was purchased from Leonards New England in Seekonk, which specializes in antique and reproduction beds.
Smith, who was named “Designer of the Year” in 2003 by Elle Decor magazine and has been on Architectural Digest’s list of top designers three times, was appointed by President Obama in 2010 to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House.
In Smith’s makeover of the Oval Office, the decor changed from the yellow painted walls, damask sofas, and traditional mahogany coffee table of the Bush administration to muted earth tones, fawn-colored cotton sofas, a contemporary mica coffee table, and a rug woven with quotations from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and others.
Smith’s style of blending vintage with modern will go on public view in New York this month when Christie’s holds a two-day auction on April 23 and 24 of furnishings and art from a Palladian villa in California that he decorated.
The more than 500 lots of furniture and artworks
range from a 1939 painting “Dead Sea” ($700,000-$900,000) by Irish-born American abstract artist Sean Scully (1924 -) to a circa fifth-century BC Phoenician alabaster vase ($12,000-$18,000), from a circa 1740 George II giltwood mirror ($30,000-
$40,000) to an early-20th-century carved white marble bust of the Roman emperor Hadrian ($5,000-$8,000).
. . .
Two spectacular diamonds will go on the auction block in New York this week.
On Tuesday the Princie Diamond, one of the largest and finest pink diamonds in the world, will be offered at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels Auction, and on Wednesday the most important white diamond ever to appear at auction in the Americas will be offered at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale.
The historic 34.65-carat Princie fancy intense pink cushion-cut diamond, whose origin can be traced to the ancient mines of Golconda in southeast India, was first recorded in the holdings of the royal family of Hyderabad, rulers of one of the wealthiest provinces of the Mughal empire.
First offered at auction in 1960 as “property of a gentleman,” who was later revealed to be the Nizam of Hyderabad, the diamond was purchased by the London branch of Van Cleef & Arpels. The name “Princie” was bestowed at a party at the firm’s Paris store and was given in honor of the 14-year-old Prince of Baroda, who attended the party with his mother, the Maharani Sita Devi. The diamond is expected to bring about $30 million.
The nearly 75-carat diamond being sold by Sotheby’s is one of very few pear-shaped diamonds of D color over 50 carats to be offered at auction in many years. Expected to bring $9 million-$12 million, it was purchased by its owner in 2001 for $4.3 million.
. . .
A circa 1900 Japanese cloisonné enamel vase with the mark of Ando Jubei, a master craftsman during the golden era of Japanese cloisonné, is expected to be the top seller at Skinner’s Asian Works of Art Auction Saturday at 11 a.m. at its Boston gallery.
The 16⅝-inch vase decorated with plum blossoms on a deep teal ground has a $20,000-$30,000 estimate.
Other top offerings include a Chinese 20th-century 7-inch- long celadon green jade brush washer ($15,000-$20,000), a Japanese 19th-century 13-inch-high ivory okimono (miniature sculpture) of a man with roosters ($12,000-$15,000), and a 17th/18th-century rhinoceros horn depicting a hollowed out lily ($8,000- $12,000).
Among the oil paintings in the sale are works by Vu Cao Dam (1908-2000), one of the most important Vietnamese painters of the 20th century. He was born in Hanoi, but after studying in Paris in the 1930s, he made France his home. Being sold are “Le Printemps” (Spring) ($8,000-$10,000) and “Bavar-dages” (Gossips), depicting two women amid blossoms ($4,000-$5,000).
Textiles in the sale include three Japanese wall tapestries from the Meiji period (1868-1912), each with a $2,000-
$3,000 estimate, and nine Chinese robes ranging from a yellow kesi dragon robe ($6,000-$8,000) to a child’s dragon robe ($2,000-$3,000) to a Manchu wedding robe ($500-$700).
. . .
The global demand for prime examples of modernist photography was seen at Christie’s this month, when 54 lots from what the auction house called “the deLIGHTed eye: Modernist Masterworks From a Private Collection” brought $7.7 million, or more than $2 million over its high $5.2 million estimate, and set 10 world auction records.
Topping the collection of circa 1900-25 vintage prints formed by a South American-based collector was “Untitled Rayograph,” a 1922 gelatin silver photogram by Man Ray (1890-1976) that sold for $1.2 million, more than tripling the high of its $250,00-$350,000 estimate.
Virginia Bohlin can be reached at globe