Teacher turned Tiffany designer inspired 'poor chic' styling

December 04, 2008|By ROSE BENNETT GILBERT/Creators Syndicate

Q: I recently came across the name Van Day Truex in connection with the Tiffany firm in New York. I thought he was a teacher at the Parsons School of Design back in its heyday in Paris. Is this the same man, a teacher designing for such a famous jewelry company?

A: Why not? Good taste is good taste, whether you're talking about the Parsons table or a set of silver flat service. Van Day Truex, who taught in Paris and worked in New York during the mid-20th century, had been present at the creation of the famed Parsons, or T-square table - it was he who encouraged its designer, Jean-Michel Frank, to become a lecturer at the Parsons School in Paris in the first place.

Later when he became design director for Tiffany, Truex created the famous Bamboo silver pattern and all-purpose wine glasses that are still on the store's bestseller list.


A Midwesterner from Kansas, he was called an "avant-garde traditionalist," who believed in what he called "poor chic." Wearing jeans and seersucker, he turned humble everyday objects like berry baskets and wine bottles into silver and Baccarat crystal.

My personal favorite "poor chic" idea: Truex believed in plain old mattress ticking - and used yards of it to dress his own New York apartment. It's said that he was inspired by design doyenne Elsie de Wolfe, who famously decorated her Villa Trianon at Versailles in black-and-white stripes. But in Truex's hand, the stripes were downhome American and totally charming.

Ditto for the inviting pictured sitting room, designed by Mrs. John Pierrepont - for John Loring's "The New Tiffany Table Settings" and featured in the new "Tiffany Style" (also written by Loring and published by Abrams). Look closely at the tea tray and you may recognize the Truex-designed bamboo flat service. The ink wash drawing is created by the multitalented Turex, who, if you ask me, is about due for a rediscovery by 21st century design groupies.

Q: Can I shop in a design center? I've been told no, since they are wholesale resources and open only to professional interior designers.

A: The answer is no and yes. U.S. design centers - nearly every big city has one or more - were originally organized to serve the professional designer trade. Unless accompanied by a hired interior designer, individual consumers weren't allowed into the centers.

That's pretty much all changed. Between the Internet and the recent economy, there's almost no such thing as limiting consumers' access to any goods. Therefore, formerly to-the-trade-only design centers have followed the lead of the New York Design Center; they set up special design centers inside their own buildings, which serve walk-ins and individuals who aren't already working with a bespoke designer.

You can thank New York designer Michael Love. A veteran designer, former president of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and creative businesswoman, Love organized the first design center office at the New York Design Center more than a decade ago ( Now Love and her colleagues are on the spot to help with anything from buying one piece of furniture to designing and furnishing an entire house.

Love's sage advice to would-be clients who drop in at any design center across the country: "Just be sure to bring photos of styles and things you like."

Visit to find the nearest design center.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas.

Copyright 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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