8 Mar 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

Designers will often talk about patina and ‘pleasant decay’ (the later being a catchphrase of the late John Fowler).  It is difficult at times to get clients to understand the importance of imperfection.  Certainly Diana Vreeland talked about it incessantly, as did Rose Cummings, Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler.  Sometimes nature takes its course, although I don’t think any of us would go to the extreme of Nancy Lancaster who had her new sofa’s placed in the garden until their newness was sun-beaten out of them.  That idea of faded grandeur was naturally imprinted in her psyche. I am somewhere in between. I have a North American eye for the new, the chic, the polished and yet a romantic need for grit and ruin. Learn to love your flaws darling!

A/W 2010

I wear and adore JC de Castelbajac, and although I missed this ensemble somehow last year, I certainly would wear it!

Wang Shu’s Ningbo museum really made me think about the dichotomy of new and old, and their aesthetic interdependence.  He is a purveyor of Japans traditional building technique called ‘wa pan’, which was developed by local farmers to cope with frequent natural disasters.  I mean we just call it ‘salvage’, but this is taking the commitment to a whole new level. The results are so poetically beautiful and so modern.  It’s so rare to see the old and new juxtaposed this successfully isn’t it?  It’s a masterpiece.

Years ago I visited Ricardo Bofill at his Taller de Architectura, his enormous, courageous, reworking of an abandoned cement factory.  It is another example of sensory architectural expression having everything to do with scale, layers, and emotion.  It’s gritty, modern, romantic – completely genius.

Don’t think for a minute this ruinous splendor is obvious…it’s incredibly hard to ‘fake’. I feel like Ruinenberg castle should be wonderful and yet it’s contrived, I’m not convinced and think it’s dull.


Artistically though, decay and ruin can be terribly alluring. Ferdinand Marcos’s bust would have been of little (artistic) interest to me in its pristine state, but now it’s a fascinating collage of texture shape and colour.


I am not entirely sure, but I think this is a doctored photo of one of the old German bunkers – or a photographic effect.  Either way, the point is ruins in gold look utterly divine!

Now I have been watching this abandoned job site in Barbados for 4 years now, thinking that there was a certain attraction in the steel lattice over ivory exterior.  Now, as ivy takes it over, it’s getting prettier than ever and I know you’re thinking I am completely mad, but surely you see how it reminds me a bit of my most favorite of all buildings – the Desert de Retz.??!! 

Perhaps I have lost the plot a bit, but then I look at Steven Meisel’s editorials for Italian Vogue and I am reassured, ruination can be painstakingly beautiful…

6 Responses to “RUINATION NATION”

  1. avatar quintessence says:

    Really fabulous post!! So very well articulated and illustrated. And totally agree about Ruinenberg castle. I’m like you – somewhere in between but in the end always side with well loved imperfection to the brazen shiny new.

  2. avatar mary says:

    I am in complete agreement. Everything we use or see needs time to acquire a soul, Perfection is simply an illusion.

  3. I agree as well. I think this is a hard to understand concept for many Americans because as a nation, we like new, new, new!

  4. I so agree with you on this. Adore the new mixed with old-for me that is a new twist! Grand Post. xx peggybraswelldesign.com

  5. avatar Linda Miller says:

    Your NH-Design “venetian blind” dress is hotter than JC’s architectural ensemble. But neither would be suitable for old ladies, no matter how grandly faded we might be. Always wondered why some otherwise beautiful carpets didn’t look quite right amid antiques till I read Nancy Lancaster’s bio and was inspired to drag anything too, too new into the sunlight. xxx

  6. avatar Colette says:

    Thanks LM! I bet you are grand indeed.x

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