I recently received Michael Taylor's new book, Michael Taylor Interior Design. As most of you who read my Blog know, I was greatly influenced my Michael in my formative years in Design School. Not much has been published on his work outside of a few articles in Architectural Digest, so this has been a highly awaited book for me. Michael Taylor was dubbed the "James Dean of Interior Design" by Diana Vreeland and "the best decorator in the United States " by society and fashion photographer Cecil Beaton. Michael Taylor revolutionized interior design in the 1970's and 1980's with the "California Look". Taylor brought the outdoors inside with neutral palettes, natural light, large-scale furniture, and organic elements, especially stone, slate, wicker, and plants. His interiors expressed his love and appreciation of California and the outdoors. They were casual, comfortable, uncomplicated, and free of clutter. So much of what he created, we now take for granted, but he started it all.
Taylor believed that nature was man's best friend. His first shop was located in San Francisco and a notable neighbour on the same 500 block of Sutter Street was Williams-Sonoma (circa 1956). Taylor was particularly taken with the imported oyster baskets that were originally used to transport oysters from the coast of France to Paris. Their heavy natural weave appealed to Taylor. They had a profound effect on him. He began to use them as vessels for towering plants and trees - fishtail palms, ficus, and Zimmer linden - creating a look that became fundamental to his interiors. He believed that plants prevent "a room from feeling over-decorated", "soften the light" and "help a room breathe and feel alive" and thus initiated "the plant in a basket craze" with these baskets that he purchased from his neighbour - Williams-Sonoma back in 1956.
Above: The San Francisco penthouse Taylor designed for Al Wilsey and Pat Montondon, circa early 1980s. Michael Taylor Designs archives
Taylor was a proponent of white walls and ceilings. His interiors glowed with a specially formulated "Michael Taylor White". (Never pure white "Michael Taylor White" was a mixture of warm colors with a beige tone.) Although Taylor's rooms were known for their neutral palette, he always "advocated a strong secondary color and repetitive use of printed fabrics for a 'certain purity' and bold unified effect." He also clarified that "There is a tremendous amount of color in my rooms, but there are not many colors." In his formative years of his career he came to idolize the renowned decorator Francis Elkins (1888-1953), who has been quoted as being "one of the guiding forces in the whole development of what is the American style today". Taylor saw himself as Elkin's greatest disciple, and he believed completely in her genius. Michael Taylor died at the young age of 59 at the prime of his career. His work and the "California Look" that he invented continue to influence interior design today. The forward in this book is written by his good friend Rose Tarlow, herself a Design Icon in her own lifetime.
Michael Taylor was known for his extravagant shopping marathons which are legendary. When Taylor entered a shop, he always paused at its threshold and scanned the entire showroom. He had the reputation of being able to home in quickly and precisely on the finest pieces of inventory. He "never forgot beautiful things. He constantly absorbed everything he saw and banked it as a source of reference." He imparted his depth of sensitivity to his clients, and made them aware that "it's got to sing and talk back to you, and be A plus, plus if it crosses the threshold" of your house. At Taylor's death in 1987 he had amassed an enormous trove of beautiful objects. Their was an auction of 1355 lots, including his clothes, books and orchids. The following is the official auction catalogue with several color photographs of the furniture and objects in their rooms and in place in the garden with a nice foreword by Paige Rense, Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Digest. I got my copy from the Bill Hall at High Valley Books.
Interesting Statistic: House and Garden magazine devoted a record eighteen covers and more than one hundred articles to his work over a period of thirty years.
Patricia Gray writes about 'WHAT'S HOT 'in the world of Interior Design, new and emerging trends, modern design,
architecture, and travel, as well as how your surroundings can influence the world around you.
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