Wednesday, August 24, 2011

John Dickinson's Closet

Rago 20th/21st Century Design Auction  |  June 12, 2011
I was surfing the Internet recently and stopped short when I came upon this image. I recognized it immediately as the mirrored doors that were part of the dressing room of the great interior designer John Dickinson. In fact, for almost 40 years, I've held on to the image of that dressing room in my own files.

House & Garden, 1972
This cityscape, with mirrors for windows, served as five doors to John Dickinson's closet. They went up for auction earlier this summer, and while I don't know what they sold for, the opening bid was $12,000. I hope they went to a good home.

John Dickinson was a colorful San Francisco character, and an excitingly innovative and creative interior designer, remembered as one of the greatest of the last century. He was also a furniture designer whose works are today highly collectible, in part because they are classic designs, and in part because they are witty and ironic. Here are two examples:

Robert Massello Antiques
John Dickinson was famous for creating unusual tables — faux orange crates, faux name-a-material-and-he'd-do-it, and tables with all sorts of animal legs. This is one of my favorites.

chairsandbuildings.blogspot.com
This table with swagged cloth is actually galvanized metal. John Dickinson fabricated many wonderful designs and perhaps my favorite example is the living room stove in his own home:


House & Garden, 1972
Dickinson had the stove made of steel and brass (it took a year to make), and the stove's molding was designed to mirror the profile and exact height of the dadoes. The small tri-footed table and lamp in this photograph are also Dickinson designs.

House & Garden, 1972
John Dickinson had a knack for bringing style to every function. His cat ate from plates that were placed on hinged brass chargers. When mealtime was over, plates were whisked away, and the brass chargers flipped up against the wall.

House & Garden, June, 1967
"On one side of the sitting-dining room, a collection of old ironstone platters, each subtly different in its whiteness, hanging like plaques on an even whiter wall over a two-legged pine console of his own design." House & Garden, June, 1967

House & Garden, June, 1967
In the living room, a trompe l'oeil armoire painted to resemble Dickinson's own house. Note the Dickinson lamp in the second-floor window.

John Dickinson continues to inspire.

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22 comments:

  1. Hello Mark:
    It is not really very seemly to drool, but that is exactly what we are doing over all of these pieces. They are, to our minds, as close to perfection as it is possible to be in the way of modern interior design items. And if one were forced to choose, then....!

    Alas, our own cats when alive never ate in such style.

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  2. Wow, wow and wow. Unfortunatley I was not the lucky bidder and how I wish i had been. I learn so much from your blog Mark. I must admit when I first glanced at the heading for this post I thought i had read Janice Dickinson, how I was so wrong! Now John Dickinson is much better as I am sure his closet is.

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  3. Hello Jane and Lance - One can certainly see, looking at Dickinson's work, that he had a very fertile mind, and that he was into details but also the greater context. I look at his pieces and drool too!

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  4. Hi, David - This closet has always stayed in my mind, and I have imagined hallways and rooms within rooms in the same style. I'm glad it's a "Wow" for you, too!

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  5. Hello,

    I learn also so much from your blog. Always the most beautiful history. This interior is just perfect an verry "class".

    Greetings
    Jérôme

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  6. Merci beaucoup, Jerome, it's good to have you back.

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  7. In John Dickinson's work always clears the cobwebs from the interior design frenzies seen around the 'nets' Truly one of the innovators and sustainers of the times. I have never seen the cats dining facilities-truly miraculous! pgt

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  8. Mark, you must have an incredible photographic memory to immediately recognise the John Dickinson dressing room doors after 40 years. However, I believe that is an essential quality for anyone to be successful at art.
    John Dickinson is new to me, but I really like the work that you have shown on this post, especially those brass cat flaps. I would be very happy to own that trompe l'oeil armoire.

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  9. Those doors are a tour de force, a very different and innovative modern design that is attractive without being freakish. I like them equally as an independent sculpture and as functioning doors.

    The stool with the four front-facing legs is Egyptian in feeling, perhaps a bit more zoological.

    Dickinson is another fertile designer that you have put on my radar.

    Thanks, Road to Parnassus

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  10. I was just an impressionable young pup when this apartment was first published, and it was like an arrow through the heart. Just brilliant, and how well it holds up 30 odd yrs. later. (Raina Cox of As The Lamp Shade Fits posted a picture a few days ago of the apartment's current incarnation as the home of Danielle Steele's former husband, John Traina)

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  11. When I look at the mid '60s design of this work, I feel that there was enough distance from the war and old fashioned things, that people, especially young people, could appreciate antique, Victorian, and neo Romantic things.

    The simplicity, understatement, and elegance of the custom metal stove with detailing related to the dado is the type of thing that is almost too sophisticated for designers today. Forty+ years later it is still excellent, crisp, logical design.

    Did you ever notice how 95% of interior and fashion designers have plain white or off white sofas? The neutral/ natural colour schemes remind me of Van Day Truex and Billy Baldwin...great minds think alike.

    I am happy to learn about John Dickinson.

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  12. Hi, Gaye - I think that one of the reasons that Dickinson's designs endure is that he edited his pieces to a very basic look, and yet presented them from new perspectives. Dickinson also incorporated lots of natural materials in new ways, and at a time when earth tones were especially popular. Can earth tones ever really go out of fashion?

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  13. Hi, Rosemary - I've looked at that armoire many times and considered painting a cabinet or dresser in the same manner (but I have a long list of other projects, too!). Incidentally, I believe that John Dickinson actually did that paint job.

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  14. Hi, Parnassus - I thought Egyptian also when I saw that table. It would fit quite nicely into a NeoClassic room. It reminds me that I've always wanted to design a footstool in the form of a turtle!

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  15. Hi, Down East - House & Garden featured Dickinson's house at least twice, in 1967 and in 1972. I, like you, was so struck by his vison that I saved both articles all these years.

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  16. Hi, Terry - The interesting thing about John Dickinson and white furniture is that, where he was concerned, it was often edged some way in black. Dickinson would also often upholster older outdoor furniture and bring it inside. I thin the settees above started out as Victorian ship's deck chairs.

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  17. Wow, those doors resembling Victorian buildings are amazing!

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  18. And you are just the talented person to create something similar.

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  19. I love everything about this post, Mark. Love Dickinson's creations. Those doors are worthy of serious swooning. My goodness.

    Love the fanciful cat dishes, too.

    "Have nothing in your home which you do not believe to be useful or beautiful." A paraphrase of a good quote from, I think, William Morris.

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  20. Hi, Yvette - I've read that saying by William Morris and believe it's a useful and beautiful motto by which to live. It's all in the details.

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  21. Hello Mark,
    I'm not familiar with the famous names of the world of interior design, but I can see that he must have been a leader. Still very fresh and still imitated. Historical and traditional subjects or material executed in a fresh and clean contemporary way - simply brilliant.
    Thank you.
    Anyes
    XX

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  22. Hi, Anyes - I'm glad you enjoyed Dickinson, and I think you nailed it on the head with that last sentence. His rooms are very contemporary 40 years later.

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