For interior designers, the relationship with inspiration and creativity is akin to that of artist and muse.
Creativity is dependent on fleeting inspiration that ignites ideas. For the artist, the traditional source of this inspiration is their muse. For Kate Conrad, interior designer at Madison & Mayfair, the source was her bookshelf.
Stocked with three of the 20th centuries literary greats – Wilde, Waugh and Fitzgerald – the concise and elegant prose of these masters delivered to Kate more than just the pleasure of their narratives. They inspired the entire range of Madison & Mayfair’s homeware.
“I was struck by the exquisite writing of these authors that at once seems both luxuriant and yet accessible. The language is uncomplicated, welcoming to any type of reader,” she says. “Yet Wilde is able to provide astute insights into love. Fitzgerald and Waugh unveil the complexities of high-society with such pretty simplicity.”
Kate had been seeking inspiration for a luxury interior homeware brand that united the aesthetics of London’s Mayfair and New York’s Madison Avenue. Her rediscovery of the three authors summoned a flash of inspiration: what would the interior equivalent of this type of luxurious yet accessible writing look like?
The answer takes the form of three Madison & Mayfair collections; Contemporary Deco, Midnight Blush and Exquisite Lux.
Each of the collections reflects the spirt, style and era of one writer, who, in happy alignment with Kate’s original concept, are emblematic of New York (Fitzgerald) and London (Waugh, Wilde) and a certain type of luxury style.
Contemporary Deco collection recognises the allure retained by the Art Deco style, recasting its evocative spirit into modern homeware. Gold embellishments adorn exuberant mirrors and glass, and items are emboldened with flourishes of soft statement colours, dappled finishes, and sleek geometric designs.
The essence of the Art Deco era is captured in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby, one of the most elegantly written novels of the 20th century. Kate explained: “Who among us has not fantasied about receiving an invite to the lavish parties hosted by Gatsby, attended by characters resplendent with limitless wealth and intriguing gossip, in homes decorated with beautiful Art Deco furnishings?”
Kate selects the Dusky Pink Darcy Velvet Chair as the piece that most encompasses the era, the inspiration and the author, saying: “ I like to imagine Gatsby and the object of his love, Daisy Buchanan, raising a starry-eyed toast on a balcony overlooking the boundless grounds of the mansion, while sat contentedly on these chairs.”
After reading Oscar Wilde’s famed lecture, The House Beautiful, Kate came across a sentence that once read, she could not forget: “Have nothing in your house that is not beautiful and useful.”
This stylistic principal is echoed throughout the Exquisite Lux Collection, that draws from Wilde’s penchant for the exotic, intricate and romantic. The collection presents a harmonious meeting of contemporary and luxury home décor, where soft, muted colours meet orchids encased in glass, complemented by a range of silver accessories.
In fact, Wilde’s notions of decorative values are manifest in the Exquisite Luxe collection. And his words continued to inform not just the Midnight Luxe collection, but the entire homeware range: “In asking you to build and decorate your houses more beautifully, I do not ask you to spend large sums, as art does not depend in the slightest degree upon extravagance.”
Kate kept this quote in her notebook that was open at her desk, so that she would begin her design work each day with the reminder to keep pieces aligned with her favourite writers – lavish, yes, but accessible to all.
Asked to select an item that embodies both Wilde and the Midnight Luxe collection, Kate is unhesitant. “It is not difficult to imagine Oscar taking tea at his Chelsea townhouse, sipping from our teacup and saucer set, remarking on the grace of the heron and reeds that decorate them.”
For the Madison & Mayfair Midnight Blush Collection, Kate took a slightly different approach. Her love for Waugh’s writing and the novel Vile Bodies lead her to discover the photographer, Cecile Beaton.
Both artists captured the group of young aristocratic bohemians known as the Bright Young Things, who were the talk of gossip columns and high society in 1930s Britain. While Waugh did this with literary fiction, Beaton achieved this through his celebrated photographic portraits.
The Madison & Mayfair Midnight Blush collection distils the spirit of Cecile’s beguiling photography, instilling modern home decor with the playfully indulgent spirit of the Bright Young Things.
Luxurious gold-tone adornments add an enchanting allure to ornaments, and glass tables and mirrors are finished with elegant details and exuberant designs, all of which adhere to one of The Bright Young Things indispensable mantras: never be boring.
Kate found herself especially drawn to Tallulah Bankhead, the American Bright Young Thing who found success in the UK before making it on the stage and screen in the US, consistently attracting controversy for what was deemed ‘verbal moral turpitude’.
“The Green Kensington Velvet Chair was directly inspired by Tallulah,” says Kate “She spent many years in Kensington partying and causing a little mischief. Her endearingly solemn expression was seemingly forever fixed and I can see her petite frame slumped in our plush, exceedingly restful Green Velvet Armchair, endeavouring to yield not to the call of her bed.”
With her three literary-inspired collections, Kate captured her precious moment of inspiration. And in doing so, has given us a luxury collection that is affordable, luxurious and, like the works that informed the pieces, timeless.