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The woman who helped usher the interior design industry into full flower in the United States was prolific in putting out ideas that will help freshen up today's interior design business. Look at our latest Designer Monthly, Interior Design: Look Forward by Looking Back to Dorothy Draper.

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Elegant Design on the Silver Screen

Evening Poster

Last week I went to a preview showing of a new movie, Susan Minot’s “Evening.” She’s the author whose name I was struggling to remember when talking to my sister recently. All I could come up with was that she’s part of that family of writers who all write different send ups of families—some that speak to each other and others that don’t, some that are successful and others that aren’t. And this Minot, Susan, is also known for writing a novel that entirely takes place during a particular sex act—a novel that doesn’t quite work, but sure is ambitious.


Anyway, I went to the film in part because I was so happy to have remembered the author’s name and partly because afterward there was a talk by Minot and Michael Cunningham, who wrote the screenplay adaptation. And I thought, great, this is why I live in NYC.

The movie, “Evening,” was fabulous. It features a dying mother and her flashbacks to being something of a bohemian artist amongst the WASPS in the early ‘50s. It was all a little too much the story of my own mother, and I pretty much wept through the whole thing, trying to sop up the tears with the one fragile little paper napkin I had in my bag. 


It was beautifully done, and terribly accurate. And by the way, everybody’s in it: Vanessa Redgrave, and Claire Danes, and Meryl Streep, and Toni Collette. You know. All those actors you love to watch.

So, what does this have to do with design? The house in the flashbacks of the movie was in Newport, Rhode Island—the Newport that is the summering spot of people who are richer than God. People who spend the summers reading fat novels, and having lawn parties to which they wear white dresses without worrying about grass stains, and who do a lot of, you know, sailing.

Thanks to the generosity of the Cushing family—that’s the Newport Cushing family—the movie producers were able use The Ledges, the Cushing’s “cottage” on the sea—it’s been in the Cushing family for the past 10,000 years, as Cunningham said. Built in the 1850s and perched on a cliff overlooking the blue Atlantic, it’s one of those picture-perfect houses that nobody can even buy. It’s that fabulous.

Cushing House

There’s a sweeping driveway that ends in a turn-around, a wide porch overlooking the ocean, a glassed-in porch between the outer porch and the living room, and then just one huge, polished, gracious room after another. Note in particular the colors of the rooms; they’re rich, thoughtful colors, evocative of the place and time of the movie. If you want to make your humbler abode appear richer, try painting the rooms in colors like these. 

And those paintings on the walls? Yep, they’re genuine reproductions of genuine John Singer Sargeants.

The movie, in other words, is worth the price of admission just to spend a few vicarious moments in those rooms. 

John Singer Sargent

The whole movie was great—everything from the setting on. If you’ve ever seen someone die, or heard of someone who died, or who worried about death, you’ll be in tears for the good part of an hour an a half. 

Natasha Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave

So then, after mopping up the seat around me, I looked up to watch Cunningham and Minot (pronounced like “minnow”) come in…and waited…and waited… Finally they rushed down the aisle to the stage, breathless and giggly. “Sorry,” Minot tossed off. “We thought you might need some time to collect yourselves.” She laughed a golden laugh. There was, as Fitzgerald would have said, money in it.  

They told the story of the collaboration, which began, Minot said, at a wedding in Nairobi, when Jeff (Jack? Jason? Oh, I guess she means producer Jeff Sharpe) said to her, I loved your book “Evening,” has anything been done with it?” And she said, “Oh, ho ho—no, and now here we sit watching the movie, la-de-da.”

Cunningham was particularly full of himself. Kind of lounging back in his chair, tossing out bits of wisdom and trying to make funny little anecdotes at which nobody laughed. But then again, he is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist (for “The Hours,” also made into a movie) so maybe he’s allowed a boatload of arrogance.

The thing is, I did need time to collect myself, because it was such a searing and beautiful movie. And how could such unmitigated jerks have created such great art?

Reader Comments (93)

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