I Like My Neutral Well-Done

Feeding my growing fascination with texture, white on white and beige color palettes, and weirdly fantastical design elements, I stumbled upon the work of John Dickinson (1920-82), a San Francisco based designer who was popular in the 60s and 70s. Funny how work from this era is so prone to looking dated, yet this work looks just as fresh now as it must have then.

Every month, there's a certain subset of design mags that inevitably run stories on neutral color schemes. You know the drill: "Neutrals are anything but boring!" "Neutrals are the new trend!" "Neutrals you can live with!" Etc. etc. etc.

I love neutrals as much as the next person but there's such an abundance of really generic, uninspired design in this arena that it's easy to forget how great a room can look when someone who really understands color and tactility puts it together. And this is precisely why I was captivated by his work!

His own residence in San Francisco is hitting all the right notes for me right now. Apparently, it was one of the most heavily photographed interiors in its day. Textured walls, subtle play of warm creams and ochres, complete with the density and dryness of his plaster heads and furnishings contrasting against the shiny surfaces... it's heavenly. Now THIS is a neutral well done:

As you might know, I've been feeling (this is an extreme understatement) white on white vignettes as of late. I've been contemplating doing my own involving ostrich eggs for some time. Seeing this image on the left has confirmed that desire. Can you tell that Dickinson worked in window display before becoming a decorator? And that building facade on the right ? Oh, that's a carved wood closet. Is your jaw dropping yet?

Above images from The New York Times Book of Interior Design and Decoration by Norma Skurka, 1976.

Finally, two of Dickinson's plaster tables. The dense chalky plaster and mottled slightly warm color make all the difference when pulling off a design that's more, uh, "out there.," like say, for instance, a hoofed table. I remember reading a quote somewhere that it's much easier to pull off avant-garde shapes and proportions when color is kept to a minimum. Of course, it was in reference to clothing, but you know, I think the same holds true for interiors.

or those interested, there are a few of Dickinson's pieces up on 1st Dibs at the moment, including one of his famous footed plaster tables (asking price is $35,000.00). Anyone interested in buying me an early birthday gift? Ahh, if only.

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