Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Wild Romance of Sea Cliff

Michael Taylor, December 1977 Architectural Digest
In case you haven't noticed, I've become really obsessed with the late decorator and genius, Michael Taylor. Back in 2009, Diane Dorrans Saeks of The Style Saloniste, and also an acclaimed author and writer, posted about photographer Fred Lyon, whom she described as being the "Horst of California"  -  see the post here
which also gives a vivid and even hilarious account from Mr. Lyons' point of view, of what it was like to work with the master (Michael Taylor).  Once again, I'm all but sleeping with my copy of Michael Taylor Interior Design, by Stephen M. Salny (with excellent foreword by Rose Tarlow) and go over the text and images with a magnifying glass  (not kidding!)

AD December 1977
From learning more about MT, I found out that he was surprised that Paige Rense would want to feature his Sea Cliff house- he could be very charmingly self-effacing you see.  So, of course, not only did she publish it, she gave it the cover.  Interesting, it was not too long after he had moved in that it was shot for the iconic magazine.  Sea Cliff is an exclusive, older area of San Francisco, with large houses built near the Pacific ocean- the house MT bought was from the 1930's, and was located at 9 Twenty-Fifth Avenue North.  I assume it is still there.  Prior to this address, MT was living in a nice Gardner Dailey building on Telegraph Hill.  He couldn't really afford the price of the Sea Cliff house, but his offer was accepted, and so he moved in.  I found out through further internet research, that Whitney Warren, Jr. had also lived on Telegraph Hill- and I think it was also a Gardner Dailey building.  Whitney Warren Sr, was also an architect, and famous for designing Grand Central, in New York.  He had trained at the Ecole de Beaux Arts, in Paris. His son, Whitney Jr., was a playboy, and a darling of society, with friends such as the decorator Billy Baldwin.

Whitney Warren on Telegraph Hill
I have no doubt that MT probably knew Whitney Warren- perhaps it was even the same building they lived in.  But, from reading Billy Baldwins' account of Mr. Warren, he was a true bon vivant, and really knew how to throw a party.  He even entertained Audrey Hepburn.  Imagine!

The wildly romantic view from Sea Cliff
Perhaps this stunning view was what sold MT on the house.  With a view like that, one would be hard pressed to not at least make an offer!  MT did make some alterations- including installing a slate floor on the ground level, where he placed his office and design studio, with a staff of nine.  He also added a beautiful swimming pool, which was kept heated, and this was in spite of pools in San Francisco not being very popular due to the weather.  I once heard from a fellow member of the trade, that MT required his assistants (male) to wear a sort of uniform, a black polo over neatly pressed khakis.  How cool.  Also, he loved cars, and drove a black Porsche and a sable Rolls Royce hardtop coupe.  He was also a big clothes horse, and loved to shop at Wilkes Bashford.

Michael Taylor by Fred Lyon

Frances Elkins, the famous decorator, whose even more famous brother was the society architect, David Adler- was a huge influence on the young Michael Taylor.  And, Albert Hadley told Katharine Tweed to be sure and include MT in her book (which was the brainchild of Albert) THE FINEST ROOMS, by America's Great Decorators.  I think from what I've read, that MT was way ahead of his time in some regards, and also that he was great at controlling his clients, who hung on his every word. One clients' husband even asked his wife if "she had heard from God today" !  MT was 6'-4" and as you may have heard, tall people really do rule the world.

Frances Elkins
Frances Elkins would leave diagrams for her clients' maids showing them where to replace ashtrays and accessories after they had been moved for cleaning. I'll have to haul out my David Adler books and start gleaning them for more juicy tidbits on Frances.  She was a forerunner of the taste for Giacometti plaster lamps, and objects, and beautiful cerused oak finishes, with controlled colour palettes.  Mark Hampton has also written about her as well.  Stephen Salny has written a great book on Frances Elkins (see below).

Michael Taylor, by Russell MacMasters 1984
Dear Michael died on June 3, 1986.  AIDS once again took its toll.  Thank God for people like Deeda Blair, who is doing so much for AIDS research.  My previous post, featuring MT client and friend, Dede Wilsey, shows her sitting on her MT sofa, which was made less deep, and with extra pillows, especially for her petite frame.  Her late husband, Alfred, was the executor of MT's estate.  Suzanne Tucker and Timothy Marks took over the decorating business.  Paul Weaver took over Michael Taylor Designs.  I would love to hear from any of our readers if they have more information regarding MT and the romance of Sea Cliff.  Honis soi qui mal y pens (Shame on he who thinks evil of it)  DF *****

The inspiration behind the man!