12 December 2010

DIY: Gaffer's Tape

Several months ago a meeting took me to visit a gentleman with whom I serve on a board of trustees. Mutual friends said he possessed an incredible library of books about architectural and design dating back to the eighteenth century, hundreds of volumes on subjects ranging from the houses of Vanbrugh to Southern plantations to New England saltboxes. Consequently I was looking forward to cozying up with those precious volumes, pen and paper in hand: perusing, jotting, scribbling, even, perhaps, borrowing, if that would be allowed. After I arrived, however, my camera got a workout too, because to my surprise, the books were housed in a 1970s three-car garage that had been converted into a black, grey, and white pleasure dome inside, straight from the pages of Percier and Fontaine. And the primary decorating medium was matte-grey gaffer’s tape.

Yes, gaffer’s tape, the kind that costs about $3 a roll.

The pedimented plaque, one of a pair, is actually a church hymnal board.

The gentleman in question modestly took none of the credit for this trompe l'oeil transformation. Instead, he explained, as we talked late into the night, glasses of red wine in hand, it is the work of a longtime friend, Asheton Langdon (née Jay Langdon Gaiser, 1928—2010), a Brooklyn-born, Harvard-educated decorator who specialized in interiors of astonishing grandeur. Langdon, a designer I had never heard of and about whom I long to know more, also could create extraordinary special effects with common burlap upholstery webbing too, though more on that skill another day.

My host’s multitude of books needed a proper home, and since the garage wasn’t being used to its full credit, a major decorating project was born. Masses of grey gaffer's tape in two widths were purchased, and sometimes mitered, most times not, were deftly deployed, creating simple panels on walls, ceilings, and doors. The success of this stage-set paneling is furthered by the addition of pilasters made of planks of wood fastened into place against the Sheetrock walls and painted black.

Over all this have been hung mirrors, etchings, paintings, watercolors, and busts on brackets, all the components of a country-house library. Antiques and vintage furnishings in a variety of styles — Victorian, Louis XVI, Moroccan, Empire, even a boldly flowered Bessarabian rug — give the effect of having been gathered together over generations.