Cultured Magazine

Summer 2013

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PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHERINE E BOYD brothers, especially Alberto. Much of the design items she is famous for—sconces, table lamps, ceiling fixtures—were cast in plaster out of Giacometti molds, and are highly prized at auction today. Elkins had a brief marriage to Felton Broomall Elkins, a member of the San Francisco "smart set" who listed his occupation as "playwright," but spent most of his time playing polo, traveling and painting. The New York Times estimated in 1911 that Felton had inherited $2 million from his Philadelphia family, the equivalent of $47 million today. The Elkins bought an 80-year-old adobe house in Monterey, California, called Casa Amesti for $5,000 in 1918, where after their divorce, she raised their daughter, Katherine Elkins Boyd. Casa Amesti, now a men's club, still stands at 516 Polk Street; early on, when Frances took her society friends around to see it, they declared, according to Salny, "You overpaid by $5,000." Salny recounts, "She said, 'When my brother and I finish this house, it will be the showplace of Southern California.'" And it was. Casa Amesti was decorated in grand style but with shockingly modern touches. Her architect brother supplied the dentil molding and Georgian woodwork; she kept the wood plank ceiling and adobe walls, then filled rooms with French and English antiques, American area rugs, Chinoiserie and loads of flowers. In 2010, the New York interior designer Thomas Jayne's book "The Finest Rooms in America" listed Casa Amesti as one of 50. The Monterey house enchanted those sneering society friends, who enlisted Elkins to "do" their homes. Elkins designed many of the homes in nearby Pebble Beach, as well as the Cypress Point Club. Elkins was known to instruct her clients on how to dress, what flowers to use (pink and rose-colored carnations), how to give dinner parties, and whom to invite. Her rooms were balanced and opulent, often in whites, yellows and blues, but there were always surprises. She invented eclecticism, installing a Frank sofa and coffee table in the library of the Kersey Coates Reed house in Lake Forest, Illinois, with walls covered in goatskin. "She was a master in pairing period and modern neoclassical," says Jason Stein, associate director of 20th century decorative arts at Bonhams, which auctioned Frances Elkins pieces last year, an estate sale from her daughter's house in Hillsborough, designed by Elkins and Adler. "We see some designers doing this today, that kind of irreverent free thinking," he says. "But back then it was a very progressive move." One of her signature motifs was the mirrored room, which she did for the Zellerbach house in San Francisco, where every surface of a dressing room was either mirrored or covered with matte silver paper. The designer Miles Redd bought a salvaged Elkins mirrored bathroom from a Chicago warehouse around 2002 and installed it in his home. Other interior designers Elkins influenced include Michael Taylor (subject of another book by Salny, in 2009), Tony Duquette, who worked for Elkins, Billy Baldwin and Albert Hadley. Perhaps the best example of her lasting influence is the Elkins' Loop chair, which she copied from an 18th century English design in the 1930s, making eight of the chairs in wood: four for the Wheelers in Chicago and four for Mrs. Marshall Field's house on Long Island. Sotheby's sold the four Wheeler Loop chairs in 2009 for around $8,000 a pair. But the Elkins Loop chair has spawned an entire forest of chairs. "The revival of interest in Elkins has been ongoing for the last decade," says New York dealer Todd Merrill. "Especially the Loop. It's signature Elkins, whimsical and refreshing. It's one of those wonderful bridge items that will never go out of style." Salny has a tip for anyone looking for the four missing Elkins originals, delicate, with eight loops on the back, instead of the six usually seen. The real ones have a little depression in the front of the seat. He says, "If the seat is a straight line, it's not Elkins." Frances Elkins at her desk; a ceiling fixture cast in plaster from a Giacometti mold. "She was definitely bold. There were no shades of gray with Frances." —Stephen M. Salny CULTURED 107

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