Van Day Truex (1904-79) may be the most significant interior designer that you have never heard.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Scott Himmel to learn about the offerings in the launch of Truex American Style, a very exciting new line of furniture inspired by Van Day Truex, and his illustrious friends and colleagues including Billy Baldwin, and Francis Elkins, other important American designers of the period (and a few legendary taste-makers thrown in for good measure.)
It bears mentioning that philanthropist Brooke Astor (1902-2007) described Truex as “one of the most charming men I ever knew”, and Albert Hadley (1920-2012) said that “No one influenced American interior design more [than Van Day Truex]”.
“Good design is forever”
-Van Day Truex
The influence Van Day Truex had on American interior design has been profound: seen and been felt for decades, and into the present day. Truex is often credited with making the Parsons School of Design the most important school for interior design in America in the mid-20th century, and long-held the very influential position as Design Director of Tiffany & Co.
Adam Lewis crafted a great book titled “Van Day Truex: The Man who Defined Twentieth Century Taste and Style” which was published in 2001, but it may be only now that the Truex name and influential legacy on American interior design is really coming into a broader awareness.
Truex is closely associated with many luminaries of 20th century design and decoration; it is with this ‘community’ in mind that Chicago-based architect Scott Himmel approached the development of Truex American Style.
After extensive research and working tirelessly with skilled and committed craftsmen, Himmel developed the forms, finishes and details for the initial launch of 20 pieces of furniture created by or for 20th Century luminaries and legends. Himmel considers all of the items in the collection as “thoughtful interpretations” rather than reproductions: the means of fabrication are at the highest possible standards, befitting the collection. Of the items in the first collection, I have chosen to focus here on four pieces that originated with three style icons: Dominique de Menil, Francis Elkins and Pauline de Rothschild
Dominique de Menil
In 1951 Dominique and John de Menil commissioned Philip Johnson to design a modernist house in River Oaks – a tony suburb of Houston. For many years it housed the de Menil family’s extensive and legendary art collection now housed in the Menil Collection.
When the Menil’s severe modernist home went up in River Oaks it raised many an eyebrow in the area; and somewhat ironically, it has been said that the architect himself was not only disappointed he did not furnish the house but was mortified that the couturier Charles James was asked to design the interior of the house. Dominique was a friend and patron of the designer Charles James (the subject of a recent showstopping exhibition Charles James: Beyond Fashion at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute in New York City.)
While James is known best for his clothing designs, his vast reservoir of creativity did not end there, as evidenced by the quirky and distinctive approach he took decorating the modernist house: the combination of his approach and the remarkable art collection has become legendary. The ‘Dominique’ sofa and the ‘Heptagonal’ ottoman that James designed for the couple are part of the new collection.
Insiders certainly knew about Frances Elkins, but it wasn’t until Stephen M. Salny wrote a book entitled The Country Houses of David Adler on her brother David Adler, that included images of some of the collaborations done by the siblings, that their names were indelibly linked in design history. Salney then followed up with a monograph on Elkins titled Frances Elkins: Interior Design which highlighted the breadth of depth of their relationship, and her sophisticated and eclectic approach.
Elkins had a diverse range in her residential design practice, she was taken with the work of Jean Michel Frank in Paris along with Alberto Giacometti, who designed fixtures for Frank, and used their designs in some of her projects in the United States.
The “Loop Chair” is a form that Elkins used in a variety of guises. It is a complex form, that is difficult to fabricate and finish – ‘Truex American Style’ seems to have mastered the process as seen here.
Pauline de Rothschild
Pauline de Rothschild (1908-1976) was a great beauty, and a woman of incredible personal style. Married into a powerful French banking family, she was considered by many to be one of the Best Dressed Women of the 20th century. Her engagement in a rich and interesting life went way beyond clothes; she was a fashion designer, hostess, and author.
Rothschild was conscious and respectful of the long history, fine furnishings and artwork in the many family homes she inhabited with her husband; but in 1960 she found a space where she could create something truly her own – known now as the library at Chateau Mouton Rothschild. She covered the vast and distinctive seating in her now legendary library in a rich azure velvet. For his line of furniture, Himmel created a more domestically scaled version of the chic ‘endless chaise’.
There are many more offerings on the Truex American Furniture website, with additional pieces in the works for next year. You can follow the company on social media for updates by following these links;
Best of luck to Scott Himmel in this exciting new venture – I look forward to seeing the collection as it expands!