Robert Denning

Robert Denning (March 13, 1927 – August 26, 2005) was an American interior designer whose lush interpretations of French Victorian decor became an emblem of corporate raider tastes in the 1980s. [ [ "Life In Legacy" - Week of August 26, 2005 ] retrieved June 29, 2006]

Early life

Born Robert Dennis Besser, Denning was born to Jean ("née" Rosen) and Jacob Besser and developed an early interest in his body and health, a characteristic instilled in him by his mother.

Teen years

When he was just fifteen he met Edgar de Evia ["AD Designers" "Architectural Digest's January 2002 Special Collector's Edition Announces The New "AD 100" Top Interior Designers and Architects reproduced on their webpage [ AD 100] ] who was the research assistant to Dr. Guy Beckley Stearns and would go on to become a noted photographer. He became a testing subject for this Homeopathic medical research and when his parents and younger brother moved to Florida he stayed in New York City living with de Evia and his mother Miirrha Alhambra. He would often say that he saw his first lampshade in this home, as he grew up with a bare bulb being adequate."The Sweet Smell of Excess" by Patricia Volk, October 8, 2006, New York Times [ online] retrieved October 4, 2007 ] His first effort with decorating was perhaps in imitation of Syrie Maugham when Edgar and he painted everything in Miirrha's room white and put her bed on a dais. Her only response was: "Did you have to paint even my Baccarat perfume bottles?" He never used white again.

Denning & Fourcade

From 1960 the firm of Denning & Fourcade would become known for colorful extravagance and over the top opulence. Clients beginning with Michel David-Weill ["Past Perfect in Paris–A Richly Detailed Apartment for a New York Designer" by Annette Tapert, "Architectural Digest," October 1995, v. 52 #10, pp. 168-173] "Vincent Fourcade, 58, Decorator Known for His Ornate Interiors" by Carol Vogel, December 25, 1992, New York Times [ online] retrieved October 17, 2007obituary] ; the Ogden Phipps family; Henry Kravis, whose home, and their decorating, was parodied in the 1990 movie "The Bonfire of the Vanities" with Tom Hanks; Charles and Jayne Wrightsman; Henry Kissinger; Diana Ross; Oscar de la Renta both in Manhattan ["House & Garden", December 1985] and Connecticut ["House & Garden" July 1986] ; Beatriz and Antenor Patiño, the Bolivian tin magnate and Jean Vanderbilt, to name only a few, began to roll in. Soon they were established and known for creating an established and 'old money' atmosphere anywhere. For thirty years they were courted on both sides of the Atlantic. [ [ "Robert Denning Dies at 78; Champion of Lavish Décor"] , by Mitchell Owens, September 4, 2005, New York Times obituary] Denning kept the fragrance Sous Le Vent in his automobiles to remind him of Lillian Bostwick Phipps who always wore the scent. Long time clients such as Spencer Hays ["Manhattan Grand Luxe — Richly Appointed Rooms For Collectors", by Aileen Mehle, "Architectural Digest," September 1994, v. 51 #9, pp. 126-176] , the Richard Merillats for whom he has designed homes in Naples, Florida ["Florida Renaissance — Italianate Splendors Enrich A Villa in Naples", by Suzanne Stephens, "Architectural Digest," October 2000, v. 57 #10, pp. 284-298] and Michigan, the Countess Rattazzi, for whom he did homes in Manhattan, South America and Italy (15 houses in all)"Editorial Statement — Brushing Up Jason Epstein's Downtown Loft", by Judith Thurman, "Architectural Digest," March 1995, v. 52 #3, pp. 186-200] looked forward to shopping sprees with him be it in the wholesale import markets in New York City or the Paris flea market. Denning's five story townhouse for Phyllis Cerf Wagner is described as: “It’s cozy and grand at the same time, but not elaborately fussy.” ["Wendy's Warren" by Max Abelson, "The New York Observer" February 12, 2007 [ online] retrieved September 27, 2007]

Eugenia Sheppard of the New York Herald Tribune dubbed their work “Le Style Rothschild.” It reeked de l’argent. “Outrageous luxury is what our clients want,” Denning & Fourcade said. This was the 1980’s, the era of instant wealth. They visually defined it, giving crisp money the appearance of provenance and what Denning called “a casual English attitude about grandeur.”

Often perceived as "...the Odd Couple. Boyish, down-to-earth Denning is the hardest worker, while Fourcade sniffs the client air to gauge if it's socially registered before he goes beyond the fringe." ["Inside the Decorating Establishment — The Ant and the Grasshopper" by Rosemary Kent, "New York", April 28, 1975] Jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane developed a passion for art pieces from the Middle East that the firm were early to introduce and he has also used some of their lighting treatments. ["Home Design 2002: Jewels in the Town" by Bob Morris, April 8, 2002, "New York" [ online] retrieved June 29, 2006 ] Denning designed Jason Epstein's SoHo home from scratch in the shell of the building that housed the first consolidated New York police department. This was an entirely new effort for the designer who is known by many to specialize in a period "we'd call early-fringed-lampshade, but chic". ["Scull-Duggery: The Split Goes Public" by Joan Kron, "New York", January 20, 1975, p. 52]

They would also amass a large collection of artwork and bronzes. They would commission original works of art and collect many of the same artists that they would recommend to their clients. [ [ Collections including the artist Andrew Zega ] retrieved June 29, 2006 ]

After Fourcade

Denning 'reinvented' himself to use his own word, after Vincent Fourcade's death from AIDS in 1992. Taking a lighter approach with more emphasis on effect and comfort than signed pieces of furniture, he used to laugh at how he would coach his early clients with decorating their children and grandchildren's homes.Fact|date=February 2007 He was listed in the AD100, top hundred decorators by Architectural Digest for a number of years and once said: "I'll accept commissions from anyone who isn't frightened by my proposals." ["The AD 100" "Architectural Digest January 2000, v. 57 #1, p. 48] Also listed in "New York" "The Top 100 Architects & Decorators"::Technology permitting, Robert Denning would happily return to the nineteenth century. Since he can't, he devotes himself to re-creating — with international mixes of opulent furniture -- the sumptuous interiors of his favorite era, using damask, silks, and taffetas. ["The Top 100 Architects & Decorators" October 14, 2002, "New York" [ online] retrieved June 29, 2006 ]

His jobs have appeared not only in AD's pages, but those of every major magazine with home interiors. He has always participated in charity benefits such as the auction to benefit Friends in Deed, a counseling organization for people with AIDS and cancer ["Buttons, bows and Damask: Designer Chairs at Auction" by Elaine Louie, December 12, 1996, New York Times [ online] retrieved June 29, 2006 ] to decorating the main foyer of the von Stade mansion to benefit Southampton's Rogers Memorial Library. [" Southampton Show House to Open Doors" by Suzanne Slesin, June 30, 1983, New York Times [ online] retrieved June 29, 2006 ] "A sense of humor overlaying a deep commitment to style and a consuming passion for detail characterize all of Denning's work." ["The More the Merrier — Robert Denning's Extravagance of Color and Pattern", by Cynthia Zarin, "," April 2002, v. 59 #4, pp. 146-152]

During the last decade of his life he tired of Paris, giving up his home that he had shared with Vincent in the 17th arrondissment. He was content in the familiar surroundings of his home and offices in the Lombardy Hotel in New York City, where both the lobby and restaurant were of his design.

He died in his apartment in New York City in 2005.


External links

* [ Robert Denning and Vincent Fourcade's Official Homepage]
* [ Robert Denning's biographic sketch] at Find A Grave
* [ Edgar de Evia's Official Homepage]
* [ Melvin Sokolsky's comments on meeting Bob at the gym and then meeting Edgar de Evia.]
* [ ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST 100 top designers]
* [ Results and background of the estate sale of Robert Denning at Doyle New York.]

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