In my many years of designing homes, I have noted a shared affinity for particular items among the design community. Some of them expected, some far from normal, and some are, in my opinion, life necessities. If you were hoping for some bizarre shopping spree inspiration today, look no further than this list of my holy grail pieces.
1. Slim Aarons’ book A Wonderful Time
This infamous collection of photographs by Slim Aarons has been floating from room to room in my home for decades. The photographer spent much of the 1970s traveling on holiday with the elite, compiling his impressions and experiences into one incredible photo book.
Rumor has it that American designer Ralph Lauren handed his marketing team a copy of this book and requested that they build the brand’s ethos based on Aarons’ aspirational images.
My design mind loves A Wonderful Time for its portrayals of extravagant architecture, interiors, and fashion. It’s tough to get your hands on a copy, but worth a bit of digging around.
2. Hermès Throw Blanket
Sometimes, the AC is blasting and you need something to warm you up–fast. Why not look impossibly chic while slubbing around the house? Since its debut in 1988, the wool-cashmere piece that’s branded with the iconic Hermès “H” shot to fame after a cameo in the 2008 Sex and the City movie. The rest is history!
The buttery soft accessory measures just over four by five feet, and is no delicate cashmere throw. With horse-stitch edges and a lofty hand-feel, it hearkens back to Hermès’ equestrian heritage. Elle decor names the Avalon blanket the “Birkin for the Home” in this 2014 article. After this many years of raging popularity, it seems the holy grail piece is here to stay.
3. I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson
This classic memoir tells of the heart-stopping adventures of early 20th-century explorers and photographers Osa and Martin Johnson. The romance and freedom of lifestyle in this book is unmatched. I love I Married Adventure for its contents as well as its cover–a pop of Zebra is always welcome on my shelf.
4. Albrizzi Ice Bucket
It doesn’t matter what it is–you need something from Albrizzi! Venetian born Alessandro Albrizzi opened his first shop in 1968 in London. The mid century artist’s holy grail pieces were made in a variety of styles; Classical, Baroque and Bauhaus, among others. He is well known for socializing and designing for the fashionable elites of the 1960s.
The heavy lucite ice bucket pictured above is a treasure in my vintage collection. Cocktail hour becomes incredibly cool when I pull this out of the wet bar cabinet!
5. Pieces from Fornasetti
Italian interior decorator, painter, and craftsman Piero Fornasetti worked most of his life in Milan. He is infamous among designers for his room accessories, plates, fabric, and wallpaper. If you know his style, you’ll recognize the collectible work when you see it.
I had the good fortune to visit the Fornasetti flagship store in Milan during Salone de Mobile a few years ago. Each room, floor to ceiling, is saturated with great design. Walking through the colorful galleries and hallways of the historical space was an experience I’ll never forget.
I love the graphic pop Fornasetti brings to a room, and have used many pieces in my home and my clients’ spaces. The lush patterns and quality materials are unmistakably Italian and sophisticated.
6. A Grand Tortoise Shell
When you think of accessorizing with tortoise shell, it’s likely those cute acetate glasses you bought last month. But in 17th century France, the real thing was highly prized as inlay in small luxury objects. Today, the use of real tortoise shells has been outlawed to protect the creatures who grow them.
Once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, you will happen upon a grand tortoise shell at an antique fair or an art auction. Any designer in their right mind will scoop it right up–for themselves or a client–as they make an incredible conversation piece and bring a rich pop of earthy brown to any room.
7. Cabinet of Natural Curiosities by Gordon Grice
The New York Times says You are What you Stack…and this book is an integral part of my favorite pile of books. It’s nothing less than a brief cultural history of the miraculous, showcasing drawings of Dutch pharmacist Albertus Seba’s renowned collection of animals, plants and insects from all around the world.
Designers love this book for its appreciation of aesthetic natural wonders–color, texture, materials, and everything in between. Cabinet of Natural Curiosities is one of the most prized natural history books of all time. It’s a holy grail piece on my bookshelf for life!
8. A Cire Trudon Candle
Looks good, smells great. It’s hard to beat the opulence I feel when lighting one of these candles. It’s an instant vibe elevation, and throws beautiful fragrance through even the largest of spaces.
I love Diptyque and Nest as much as the next person, but try one of Cire Trudon’s candles on your next buy–you’ll appreciate the unusual smell and bright glint of gold on your tabletop.
9. Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree
Have you ever shopped in a luxury clothing boutique? Watched HGTV? Spent more than 20 minutes on Instagram? You likely knew this was coming. Fiddle Leaf Fig trees became wildly popular over the last several years with the rise of social media, but they have been widely used by designers for much longer.
The trees’ lithe trunks and big, lush leaves lend to a striking, sculptural appearance. They can be trimmed and trained into endless unique growth patterns–keeping things fresh in spite of the fiddle leaf’s seemingly constant reappearances. This tree is the perfect solution for a barren corner or awkwardly shaped area.
10. Display Pedestals
Pedestals: For displaying sculpture, botanical arrangements, or standing on their own. Their origin dates back to ancient Rome, where Greeks used marble pedestals to display statues of their gods. Fast forward to 2022, with the rise of Bridgerton and its newly dubbed “Regency Core” aesthetic, designers are using pedestals now more than ever.
I find pedestals are highly effective in elevating the architecture of a room. Offered in chrome, plaster, stone, cast iron, and lucite (the list goes on!), I can inevitably find a dozen pedestal options for any style space. They are extremely versatile; easy to move around when you get bored, receive a fresh bouquet of flowers, or buy a new piece of art.
My holy grail pieces may look a bit different from yours, and I want to hear about them! Drop a comment below with your favorite decorative staples or literary inspirations. Have a gorgeous, invigorating spring.