Modern Style From Ancient Greece

Janet Brown and her husband recently returned from a trip to Crete. Janet draws inspiration from her travels, and she has shared some photos from her latest adventure on Pinterest. So many of the motifs that appear in design today were used by Greeks, Romans, and other ancient cultures more than two thousand years ago. The Greek key, which is a current favorite, appears on this water jug from the 5th century B.C.:


“Lady seated to right in a chair (klismos), wearing a chiton and himation with her hair tied with a ribbon, takes a fillet or sash from a box. A maid stands on either side. The one in front of her wears a peplos and holds a box of valuables. The one behind wears a chiton and himation and has her hair in a sakkos. A fillet hangs on the wall behind them.” Water jar (hydria). Greek, Classical Period, 440 – 430 B.C. Gift of Thomas Gold Appleton. Collection of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This water jar also features a piece of furniture that has been popular since the 5th century B.C. – the klismos chair. Its name stems from the Greek word “klinein,” which means “bend” or “lean.” According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, a klismos is a “light, elegant chair developed by the ancient Greeks. It had four curving, splayed legs and curved back rails with a narrow concave backrest between them. Often illustrated on Greek pottery, the design was resurrected in the French Directoire, English Regency, and American Empire styles. The uprights of the open chair back and the rear legs were often carved from single pieces of wood, forming graceful curves. The seat rail was generally lower than the tops of the legs, and a piece of fabric or animal skin was frequently used to upholster the seat.”

The klismos is a favorite style of designers such as Eric Cohler, David Easton and Alexa Hampton. Ms. Hampton created the Regan Klismos Chair for Hickory Chair, which is customizable and available through The Studio at Janet Brown Interiors:


One way to create a timeless interior is to mix furnishings from different periods. The photos below show the Greek klismos at home in a variety of settings:  midcentury spaces in Manhattan and Long Island, in an Italian Renaissance room, and in an abode in India decorated by a Parisian designer. The chair’s seats can be constructed of leather or velvet. Its body can be made of metal, wood or acrylic . . .


“A set of these with seat cushions would also be great around a dining table,” says designer Vincenzo Avanzato. Santorini Chair by Dragonette Ltd. Photography by Bjorn Wallander. “The Top 10 Lucite Pieces” by Laura Regensdorf. Elle Decor.


“The dining table and chairs are by [ Jean-Michel] Frank, and the 1930s rug is Swedish; custom-made pedestals of French limestone support Swedish cast-iron urns from the ’20s. Oak dining table surrounded by klismos chairs.” Design by Carlos Aparicio. Styled by Stephen Pappas. Photography by Richard Powers. “Miami International: Carlos Aparicio’s Florida Home” by Susan Zevon. Elle Decor.

Note the Greek key pattern in the rug in this room designed by Jean-Louis Deniot:


“Klismos chairs surround a custom-made table in the dining room, the Directoire-style chandelier was made in India, and Deniot designed the pattern for the hand-painted ceiling.” Interior design by Jean-Louis Deniot. Photography by Richard Powers. Text by Ian Phillips. “On a Grand Scale: A Home in India” produced by Anita Sarsidi. Elle Decor.


“In the husband’s study, a ‘witch ball’ (said to ward off evil spirits) hangs above a Louis XVI desk. The Directoire armchair is from Bakelita, and the klismos armchair is by Soane; Egan designed the wood paneling, the curtains are of vintage Brunschwig & Fils fabric, and the antique needlepoint rug was bought at Christie’s. ” interior design by Eric Egan. Photography by Ricardo Labougle. Text by James Martin. “House Tour: A 17th-Century Italian Farmhouse” produced by Anita Sarsidi. Elle Decor.

Nina Garcia, fashion director of Marie Claire and judge on the reality television show Project Runway, became a client of designer Carlos Aparicio because of a pair of klismos-style chairs. “On one of her Paris trips she spotted a set of Carl Malmsten klismos-style chairs that haunted her on the flight back to the States. A friend suggested she might find something similar at the SoHo decorative-arts gallery BAC, which is owned by Cuban-born designer Carlos Aparicio and known for fine midcentury works. ‘Amazingly, Carlos had the same chairs,’ Garcia recalls. ‘And that started the whole conversation.’ ”


“For the living room, Garcia selected furnishings from BAC, Aparicio’s decorative-arts gallery, including a leather-clad Fritz Henningsen armchair, a 1940s French daybed, and Carl Malmsten klismos-style chairs. On the pedestal stands a midcentury Kähler vase; the secretary is ’40s Danish, the table lamp is a ’20s piece by Svend Hammershøi for Kähler, and the ’40s side table is by Henningsen. A Ronald Albert Martin gouache-and-ink abstract is mounted above the sofa.” 1908 Manhattan apartment of Nina Garcia and her family. Interior design by Carlos Aparicio. Photography by Bjorn Wallander. Text by Rob Haskell. “Reality Check” produced by Carlos Mota. Architectural Digest (October 2012).


“In the living room of a Los Angeles home, designer Mary McDonald employed hints of color against a neutral backdrop for a quietly refined mood. “In monochrome rooms, texture is key,” says McDonald, who covered the custom-made chaise in Pierre Frey’s Ice linen, and Reagan Hayes’s Henry sofa in a Duralee cotton velvet, with pillows in Schumacher’s Chinon silk and Padova damask. McDonald designed English-style bookcases in taupe with back panels painted a pale blue. The Klismos chairs are from JF Chen.” Photography by Amy Neunsinger. “A California House in Soft Shades by Designer Mary McDonald” by David A. Keeps. House Beautiful (September 2013).

Designer Mary McDonald repeats the Greek key-klismos chair combination in this room in the Hollywood Hills:


“McDonald gives the restrained living room a jolt with unexpected trims and pillows made from graphic vintage necktie fabrics. Ebonized Greek key klismos chairs designed by McDonald are covered in Edelman’s Napoli leather in ebony. The curtains are Austyn gray cashmere by Ralph Lauren, with red undercurtains of striped silk from F&S Fabrics. On the mantel, a Piranesi print is propped against a mirror from Williams-Sonoma.” Home in the Hollywood Hills. Interior design by Mary McDonald. Photography by Robert Trachtenberg. “A Makeover With Details” by Mimi Read. House Beautiful (February 2008).


“A classical mantelscape in the living room: A Piranesi print in a gilded frame rests in front of a mirror from Williams Sonoma; 18th-century bronze candlesticks are from Ceylon et Cie, Dallas. Ebonized Greek key klismos chairs designed by McDonald are covered in Edelman’s Napoli leather in ebony. The curtains are Austyn gray cashmere by Ralph Lauren, with red undercurtains of striped silk from F&S Fabrics.” Home in the Hollywood Hills. Interior design by Mary McDonald. Photography by Robert Trachtenberg. “A Makeover With Details” by Mimi Read. House Beautiful (February 2008).


” ‘In the master bedroom we used carefully placed punches of blue,’ says Kleinberg. ‘Bursts of color have so much impact.’ The blue porcelain lamp by Paul Hanson is from the 1950s, and rests on a 1930s English oak table. Ocean views are framed by curtains in Julienne Taffeta Stripe from Brunschwig & Fils. Kleinberg designed the headboard and covered it in Montague in Sky from Rose Tarlow. An antique klismos chair is paired with a midcentury oak writing desk; ceramic lamp is from Madoura.” Interior design by David Kleinberg. Photography by Christopher Baker. “An American Classic in Long Island” by Lisa Cregan. House Beautiful (April 2008).

The Greek key motif appears as an inlaid wooden floor in this dining room by James and Phoebe Howard. The style of the chairs is a cross between klismos and Regency and, when paired with the modern table, they create a timeless room, Phoebe explained to House Beautiful.


” ‘It’s a square room, so I wanted a round dining table, which sort of nestles into the lighter center of the Tai Ping rug,’ Phoebe Howard says. Madeline Stuart’s Rebecca chairs, covered in Holland & Sherry’s Rive Gauche, are gathered around Julian Chichester’s Dakota dining table with a nickel-plate base. A vintage Art Deco mirror is the focal point of one of the zebrawood-panel walls and is flanked by a pair of Baker’s Perla lamps, set on a custom parchment sideboard. Palmer Hargrave sconces from Dessin Fournir. The curtains are of Pollack’s Flaxen Satin. More elegant details: The ceiling is covered in Phillip Jeffries’s Pewter Leaf, and the wood floor is inlaid with a Greek key motif, designed by James Howard.” Interior decoration by Phoebe Howard. Interior architecture by James Howard. Photography by Maura McEvoy. “A New York Apartment with Amazing Modern Art and Stunning Details” by Christine Pittel. House Beautiful (November 2013).


“Grasscloth adds texture to a hallway. The vintage walnut and leather klismos chair is by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings.” Interior design by Jeffrey Bilhuber. Photography by William Abranowicz. “A Pennsylvania House in Gorgeous Grays” by Mimi Read. House Beautiful.


“On the opposite wall of the family room, the low backs of klismos chairs allow those on the sofa a view of the cozy fire. Wall covering and sage green upholstery is Peter Fasano’s Laundered Linen in grass.” Pennsylvania farmhouse. Interior design by Jeffrey Bilhuber. Photography by Julian Wass. “Is an Intense Color Palette Right for You?” by Carol Prisant. House Beautiful.


“Sliding panels separate the kitchen and dining room; the lacy fretwork is reminiscent of Indian jalis. Klismos chairs—Michael Taylor’s Garden chairs—surround a custom Parnassus dining table in white oak from Therien & Co. Ziyi chandeliers from Aero Studios.” Interior design by Thomas Hamel. Photography by William Abranowicz. “A Florida Home Goes Globetrotting” by Christine Pittel. House Beautiful (December 2010).

 Note the pattern in the rug in the next room:


“Metal étagères. Han dynasty figurines. Macassar ebony klismos-style chair by Hinson & Company. Antique English fireplace grate. Verellen sofa, far right, in linen. Beauvais Carpets rug.” New York designer Eric Cohler’s home in Charleston, South Carolina. Interior design by Eric Cohler. Photography by Jeff McNamara. “Well-Lived: Historic Charleston Home” by Elizabeth Gaynor. Veranda (February 2008).


“Two steps down from the living room proper, the dining room’s limestone floors, faux-limestone-block walls, and chairs that are fine reproductions of ancient klismos make for a place where Claudius, or even Hadrian, would have felt at home. A circa 1740 painting of classical ruins by the studio of Pannini runs the whole length of a wall.” Duplex in 1891 Manhattan mansion designed by McKim, Mead and White – home of Matthew White and Thomas Schumacher. Interior design by Matthew White. Photography by Durston Saylor. “Matthew White” text by Steven M. L. Aronson. Architectural Digest (September 2003).


“Hardwoods, including satinwood and cherry, and a bubinga floor, add sheen to the gallery on the lower level. The spiral staircase leads to the main deck. The Italian seashell collage is antique. Patterson, Flynn & Martin stair carpet. Klismos chair fabric, Cowtan & Tout.” Redesign for a Benetti yacht. Interior design by Desjardins Design Group. Photography by Dan Forer. “Nautical Splendor” text by Jeff Turrentine. Architectural Digest (August 2008).


“The dining room. Scalamandré velvet on chair cushions. Beauvais carpet. In these rooms, each of which opens onto a long terrace offering postcard-ready views of the downtown Dallas skyline, Summers wanted to strike a balance between warm traditionalism and cool modernity. A collection of Robsjohn-Gibbings Klismos dining chairs was thus a perfect fit. They surround a pair of tables that have been pushed together to form one long table . . . A stabilelike chandelier, re-created from a French design, adds a lighthearted touch to the room. ” Interior design by Emily Summers Design Associates. Photography by Scott Frances. Text by Jeff Turerentine. “The Sky is the Limit.” Architectural Digest (March 2008).


“Julian Chichester’s Brancusi-esque table is sheathed in chocolate faux-shagreen and mirrored on top. It’s paired with another strong geometric form—the klismos-style Ceres chair from Ironies. Nailheads frame the fabric on the wall and outline the circular rug, trimmed in the same coral fabric that’s on two pillows.” Interior design by Barry Dixon. Photography by Jonny Valiant. “A Charming Victorian Row House on Capitol Hill” by Christine Pittel. House Beautiful (September 2011).

 When you travel, bring something back. – Home furnishing and antique collector John Rosselli to Elle Decor.

Post by Kathleen Sams Flippen for Janet Brown Interiors.

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