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Magazine    November 2002


David Adler may not be a household name to many, but he was an American architect who built a significant number of important homes and estates during the period known as that of The Great American House. Although he was based in Illinois, his commissions extended from coast to coast, and the eponymous compilation of his work, published by the Art Institute of Chicago, shows the breadth of his architecture between 1911 and 1949. With archival photos as well as new pictures taken by the well-known Chicago architectural photography firm Hedrich Blessing, this engaging volume presents a thorough history of one of America's most important pre-war architects, with snapshots of residences that served to inspire the architect, who trained at Princeton University and the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Working with his sister, the interior designer Frances Elkins, and the most well-known Parisian designer of the early 20th century, Jean-Michel Frank, Adler created a contemporary French Art Deco masterpiece, with marble halls (book cover, left), mirrored rooms and leather-covered library walls, in Lake Forest, Illinois, for Mrs. Kersey Coates Reed. Despite his French training, Adler also was influenced by the preeminent English country house architect of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sir Edwin Lutyens. The steeply gabled back facade of the Hillsborough, California, house of Mrs. Celia Tobin Clark, was markedly similar to the Tudor style of Little Thakeham in England, and Adler used a lot of English elements throughout the house, such as a Grinling Gibbons carving over the mantel in the pine-paneled library and a two-story stair hall with a heavy stucco cornice bearing shields and busts of George III.

If one can manage to shift the eyes from the fascinating pictures in Design Alchemy and read the text, which unfortunately is too small, one will discover a wealth of very practical information that authors Ashley and Allegra Hicks have provided on the subject of creating a beautiful home with the finest of details. Ashley, whose father, David Hicks, was the avant-garde interior designer of the 1960s, proves that talent is hereditary in his presentation of the unique, heavily patterned rooms that he and Allegra have created. (Allegra will tell you that Ashley wrote the book.) He not only addresses issues of scale and other subjects that have to do with the architecture of houses, but he provides a very useful tutorial in the dos and don'ts of building the interiors of a house and offers idea after idea that anyone can try.

From ultramodern and contemporary houses and lofts of designers, architects, musicians, art dealers and other creative types to the Art Nouveau Askanischer Hof hotel, where rock stars and European personalities have stayed, from pensions, houseboats and garden houses to a bordello, Berlin Interiors offers one riveting picture after another of dwellings that for years were cloaked by a political curtain. Now open, the country has become a curiosity, particularly for how its residents live, and this book certainly pulls open the curtain and gives the reader a detailed look.

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David Adler, Architect edited by Martha Thorne
Yale University Press, $60.00

Design Alchemy by Ashley and Allegra Hicks
Conran Octopus, $35.00

Berlin Interiors by Ingeborg Wiensowski, with photos by Eric Laignel
Taschen, $40.00
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