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The Inside of a Genie’s Bottle

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posted by alias raaen99 on Sunday 10th of October 2021 05:58:22 AM

Cavendish Mews is a smart set of flats in Mayfair where flapper and modern woman, the Honourable Lettice Chetwynd has set up home after coming of age and gaining her allowance. To supplement her already generous allowance, and to break away from dependence upon her family, Lettice has established herself as a society interior designer, so her flat is decorated with a mixture of elegant antique Georgian pieces and modern Art Deco furnishings, using it as a showroom for what she can offer to her well heeled clients. Today however we are not in Lettice’s flat. Instead, we have followed Lettice south-west, through the neighbouring borough of Belgravia to the smart London suburb of Pimlico and its rows of cream and white painted Regency terraces. There, in a smart red brick Edwardian set of three storey flats on Rochester Row, is the residence of Lettice’s latest client, recently arrived American film actress Wanetta Ward. It is here that Lettice adds the remaining finishing touches to her redecoration of what was once a tired and dated interior. Knocking loudly on the front door of the flat, Gerald turns the knob and finds the door opens, just as Lettice said it would. “Lettice?” he calls. “Gerald, is that you?” comes Lettice’s voice from somewhere deep within the flat. Gerald gasps as he steps across the threshold into the central hallway of the Pimlico flat. He looks about in delight at the beautiful gilded Japanese inspired wallpaper, stylish oriental furniture and sparking chandeliers, all of which are reflected in several long, bevelled mirrors which trick the eye into thinking the vestibule is more spacious than it actually is. “I say, Lettuce Leaf,” he utters in a rapturous voice. “This is divine!” A soft thump against his thigh breaks his reverie. Looking down he finds the culprit: a long round white embossed satin bolster lies at his feet on the carpet. He stoops to pick it up. “Stop calling me that, Gerald!” Lettice stands in the doorway to his right, her arms stretched across the frame, arrayed in a smart pale yellow day dress with a lowered waist and handkerchief point hem of his own making. “You know I don’t like it.” “I know, but I just can’t help it darling! You always rise to the bait.” “You’re just lucky I only hit you with a bolster, Gerald!” She wags her lightly bejewelled finger at him in a mock warning as she smiles at her old childhood friend. “And you’re just lucky I didn’t drop the parcel you asked me to pick up from your flat.” He holds up a parcel wrapped up in brown paper, tied with string. “By the way, you look as divine as your interiors, darling.” “In your design, of course, Gerald.” “Of course! That’s why you look so divine, Lettice darling!” “Of course!” She saunters over, her louis heels sinking into the luxurious oriental rug that covers most of the vestibule floor. “May I have my parcel, please Gerald?” She holds out her hands towards the package. With a sigh of mock frustration, he hands it to her. “Anything else, milady?” He makes an exaggerated bow before her, like a toadying courtier or servant. “Yes, you can make yourself useful by picking up that errant bolster and follow me.” “You deserve this and a good deal more for bossing me about!” Gerald playfully picks up the bolster and thwacks it through the air before it lightly connects with Lettice’s lower back, making her squeal. “I come to your aid yet again, as you forget a vital finishing touch for your interior designs.” Lettice giggles as she turns back to her friend and kittenishly tugs on the bolster, which he tussles back. “I know Gerald! I can’t believe how scatterbrained I was to leave this,” She holds the parcel aloft, hanging from her elegant fingers by the bow of string on the top. “Behind at Cavendish Mews! There has just been so much to organise with this interior design. I’m so pleased that there was a telephone booth I could use on the corner. The telephone has arrived here but hasn’t been collected to the exchange yet.” “And isn’t it lucky that my fortunes seem to be changing with the orders from Mrs. Middle-of-the-Road-Middle-Class Hatchett and her friends paying for the installation of a telephone, finally, in my frock shop.” “All the more reason not to deride Mrs. Hatchett, or her friends.” “And,” Gerald speaks over his friend, determined not to be scolded again about his names for Mrs. Hatchett by her. “Wasn’t it lucky that I was in Grosvenor Street to take your urgent call.” “It was!” she enthuses in a joking way. “And the fact that I just happen to have the Morris*…” She cuts his sentence off by saying with a broad smile, “Is the icing on the cake, Gerald darling! You are such a brick! Now, be honest, you’ve been longing to see this interior. You’ve been dropping hints like briquettes for the last week!” Gerald ignores her good-natured dig at his nosiness. “Of course! I’m always interested in what my dearest friend is doing to build up her business.” Looking around again, a feeling of concern clouds his face. “I just hope this one pays, unlike some duchesses I could mention. This looks rather luxurious and therefore, costly I suspect.” “Don’t worry Gerald, this nouveau riche parvenu is far more forthcoming with regular cheques to cover the costs, and never a quibble over price.” “That’s a mercy! I suppose there is that reliability about the middle-classes. Mr. Hatchett always settles my account without complaint, or procrastination. Indeed, all her friends’ husbands do.” He looks again at the brown paper parcel in Lettice’s hand. “I see that comes from Ada May Wong. What’s inside.” “Come with me, darling Gerald, on the beginning of your tour of Miss Ward’s flat,” she beckons to her friend with a seductive, curling finger and a smile. “And all will be revealed.” Gerald follows Lettice through a boudoir, which true to her designs was a fantasy of oriental brocade and gilded black japanned furniture, and into a smaller anti-room off it. “Miss Wanetta Ward’s dressing room.” Lettice announces, depositing the box on a small rosewood side table and spreading her arms expansively. “Oh darling!” Gerald enthuses breathlessly as she looks about the small room. Beautiful gold wallpaper embossed with large flowers and leaves entwining cover the walls, whilst a thick Chinese rug covers the parquetry floor. Around the room are furnishings of different eras and cultures, which in the wrong arrangement might jar, but under Lettice’s deft hand fit elegantly together. Chinese Screens and oriental furniture sit alongside select black japanned French chinoiserie pieces from the Eighteenth Century. White French brocade that matches the bolster Gerald holds are draped across a Japanese chaise lounge. Satsuma and cloisonné vases stand atop early Nineteenth Century papier-mâché tables and stands. “So, you like it then?” Lettice asks her friend. “It’s like being in some sort of divine genie’s bottle!” Gerald exclaims as he places the bolster on the daybed where it obviously belongs and clasps his hands in ecstasies, his eyes illuminated by exhilaration at the sight. “This is wonderful!” “And not too gauche or showy?” Gerald walks up to the chinoiserie dressing table and runs his hands along its slightly raised pie crust edge, admiring the fine painting of oriental scenes beneath the crystal perfume bottles and the gold dressing table set. “You know, when you suggested using gold wallpaper, I must confess I did cringe a little inside. It sounds rather gauche, but I also thought that might suit an up-and-coming film actress.” “I remember you telling me so.” Lettice acknowledges. “However, I must now admit that this is not at all what I was expecting. It’s decadent yes, but not showy. It’s elegant and ever so luxurious.” He traces a pattern of a large daisy’s petal in the raised embossing of the wallpaper. “This must have cost a fortune, Lettice!” “There is a reason why this is the only room decorated with this paper, Gerald.” “So, what’s in the box that is the finishing touch for in here?” Gerald asks, looking around. “As far as I can tell, there isn’t anything lacking.” He looks at the silvered statue of a Chinese woman holding a child on the right-hand back corner of the dressing table, her face and the child’s head nuzzled into his mother’s neck reflected in the black and gilt looking glass. “It seems you’re even providing Miss Ward with dressing table accessories.” “Ah, yes,” Lettice remarks as she takes a pair of scissors and cuts the string on the parcel. “Well, that was Miss Ward’s request, not mine. She wanted a dressing table set to match the dressing room. She says that she will keep her existing set in her dressing room at Islington Studios**. The bottles of perfume she had sent over the other day. Which brings me to what’s in the parcel!” Lettice removed the brown paper wrapping, the paper tearing noisily. Opening the box inside, she rummages through layers of soft whispering tissue paper and withdraws a large, lidded bowl with an exotic bird on the lid and a pattern of flowers around the bowl. “It’s Cantonese Famille Rose,” she explains to her friend. “And it will serve as Miss Ward’s new container for her trademark bead and pearl necklaces.” She walks across the small space to the dressing table and places it on the back left-hand corner. Standing back, she sighs with satisfaction, pleased with her placement of it. “Now, let me give you a tour of the rest of the flat, Gerald.” Lettice says happily. “Oh!” her companion remarks suddenly, a hand rising to his mouth anxiously. “I almost forgot!” “Forgot what, Gerald?” “This.” Gerald reaches into the pocket of his black coat and withdraws a small buff coloured envelope which he hands over to Lettice. “Edith gave it to me to give to you since I was coming over here. She thought it might be important.” Lettice looks quizzically at the envelope. “A telegram?” “Apparently, it arrived a quarter of an hour after you left this morning.” Lettice uses the sharp blade of the scissors to slice the thin paper of the envelope. Her face changes first to concentration as she reads the message inside, and then a look of concern clouds her pretty features as she digests what it says. “Not bad news, I trust.” “It’s from the Pater.” Lettice replies simply as she holds it out for Gerald to read. “Lettice,” Gerald reads. “Come to Glynes*** without delay. Prepare to stay overnight. Do not procrastinate. Father…” “I wonder what he wants?” Lettice ponders, gnawing on her painted thumbnail as she accepts the telegram back with her free hand. “Only your father would use a word like procrastinate in a telegram. It must be important if he wants you to go down without delay.” Gerald ruminates. “And we were going to the Café Royal**** for dinner tonight!” Lettice whines. “I’m the one who should be complaining, darling. After all you are my meal ticket there! Don’t worry, the Café Royal will still be here when you get back from Wiltshire, whatever happens down there. I’ll be waiting here too. I’d offer to drive you down tomorrow, but I have several dress fittings booked for tomorrow, including one for Margot’s wedding dress.” “Oh, it doesn’t matter,” Lettice flaps Gerald’s offer away with her hand. “I’ll take the train and have Harris pick me up from the railway station in the village.” She folds the telegram back up again and slips it back into the envelope before depositing it into one of the discreet pockets Gerald had designed on the front of her dress. “Come, let’s not let this spoil the occasion.” She smiles bravely at her friend, although he can still see the concern clouding her eyes. “Let me give you a guided tour of the rest of the flat.” “Lead the way!” Gerald replies, adding extra joviality to his statement, even though he knows that it sounds false. The pair leave Miss Ward’s dressing room as Lettice begins to show Gerald around the other rooms. *Morris Motors Limited was a privately owned British motor vehicle manufacturing company established in 1919. With a reputation for producing high-quality cars and a policy of cutting prices, Morris's business continued to grow and increase its share of the British market. By 1926 its production represented forty-two per cent of British car manufacturing. Amongst their more popular range was the Morris Cowley which included a four-seat tourer which was first released in 1920. **Islington Studios, often known as Gainsborough Studios, were a British film studio located on the south bank of the Regent's Canal, in Poole Street, Hoxton in Shoreditch, London which began operation in 1919. By 1920 they had a two stage studio. It is here that Alfred Hitchcock made his entrée into films. ***Glynes is the grand Georgian family seat of the Chetwynds in Wiltshire, and the home of Lettice’s parents, the presiding Viscount and Countess of Wrexham and the heir, their eldest son Leslie. ****The Café Royal in Regent Street, Piccadilly was originally conceived and set up in 1865 by Daniel Nicholas Thévenon, who was a French wine merchant. He had to flee France due to bankruptcy, arriving in Britain in 1863 with his wife, Célestine, and just five pounds in cash. He changed his name to Daniel Nicols and under his management - and later that of his wife - the Café Royal flourished and was considered at one point to have the greatest wine cellar in the world. By the 1890s the Café Royal had become the place to see and be seen at. It remained as such into the Twenty-First Century when it finally closed its doors in 2008. Renovated over the subsequent four years, the Café Royal reopened as a luxury five star hotel. Luxurious it may be, but this upper-class interior is not all that it seems, for it is made up entirely of items from my 1:12 miniatures collection. Some of the pieces I have had since I was a child, whilst others I have acquired in the subsequent years from specialist doll house stockists and online artisans and retailers. Fun things to look for in this tableau include: The beautiful black japanned and gilded chinoiserie dressing table which is hand decorated with on its surface with an oriental scene, was made by the high-end miniature furniture maker, Bespaq. On the dressing table’s surface there is a gilt pewter dressing table set consisting of comb, hairbrushes and hand mirror, the latter featuring a real piece of mirror set into it. This set was given to me as a gift one Christmas when I was around seven years old. These small pieces have survived the tests of time and survived without being lost, even though they are tiny. There is a selection of sparkling perfume bottles on Wanetta’s dressing table too, which are handmade by an English artisan for the Little Green Workshop. Made of cut coloured crystals set in a gilt metal frames or using vintage cut glass beads they look so elegant and terribly luxurious. The Cantonese Famille Rose export ware lidded jar I have had since I was a teenager. I bought it from a high street dolls house specialty shop. It has been hand painted and decorated, although I am not sure as to whom the artist is that created it. Famille rose, (French: “rose family”) group of Chinese porcelain wares characterized by decoration painted in opaque overglaze rose colours, chiefly shades of pink and carmine. These colours were known to the Chinese as yangcai (“foreign colours”) because they were first introduced from Europe (about 1685). The stylised silvered statue of a Chinese woman carrying her child is an unusual 1:12 artisan figurine, which I acquired along with a range of other metal statues from Kathleen Knight’s Dollhouse Shop in the United Kingdom. The looking glass hanging on the wall, whilst appearing to be joined to the Bespaq chinoiserie table, is another piece from my childhood. It is actually a small pink plastic framed looking glass. The handle broke off long ago, and I painted in black and gilded it to give it a Regency look. I think it matches the table very nicely, as I’m sure Lettice would have thought too! The blue and gold vase featuring lilac coloured wisteria on the far left of the photo is really a small Satsuma export ware vase from the late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century. It is four centimetres in height and was the first piece of Satsuma ware I ever owned. I have had it since I was eight. Satsuma ware (薩摩焼, Satsuma-yaki) is a type of Japanese pottery originally from Satsuma Province, southern Kyūshū. Today, it can be divided into two distinct categories: the original plain dark clay early Satsuma (古薩摩, Ko-Satsuma) made in Satsuma from around 1600, and the elaborately decorated export Satsuma (京薩摩, Kyō-Satsuma) ivory-bodied pieces which began to be produced in the nineteenth century in various Japanese cities. By adapting their gilded polychromatic enamel overglaze designs to appeal to the tastes of western consumers, manufacturers of the latter made Satsuma ware one of the most recognized and profitable export products of the Meiji period. The oxblood cloisonné vase with floral panels to the left of the dressing table I bought, along with its pair, from the Camberwell Market in Melbourne many years ago. The elderly woman who sold them to me said that her father had bought them in Peking before he left there in the 1920s. She believed they were containers for opium. The stoppers with tiny, long spoons which she said she remembered as a child had long since gone missing. Cloisonné is an ancient technique for decorating metalwork objects. In recent centuries, vitreous enamel has been used, and inlays of cut gemstones, glass and other materials were also used during older periods. The resulting objects can also be called cloisonné. The decoration is formed by first adding compartments (cloisons in French) to the metal object by soldering or affixing silver or gold wires or thin strips placed on their edges. These remain visible in the finished piece, separating the different compartments of the enamel or inlays, which are often of several colours. Cloisonné enamel objects are worked on with enamel powder made into a paste, which then needs to be fired in a kiln. The Japanese produced large quantities from the mid Nineteenth Century, of very high technical quality cloisonné. In Japan cloisonné enamels are known as shippō-yaki (七宝焼). Early centres of cloisonné were Nagoya during the Owari Domain. Companies of renown were the Ando Cloisonné Company. Later centres of renown were Edo and Kyoto. In Kyoto Namikawa became one of the leading companies of Japanese cloisonné. The Chinese folding screen to the left of the photo I bought at an antiques and junk market when I was about ten. I was with my grandparents and a friend of the family and their three children, who were around my age. They all bought toys to bring home and play with, and I bought a Chinese folding screen to add to my miniatures collection in my curio cabinet at home! It shows you what a unique child I was. Reflected in the mirror is a matching screen with different patterns on it, in this case vases of stylised Japanese flowers, which I recently acquired through a seller on E-Bay. Also reflected in the mirror is a wooden Chinese dragon chair. It is one of a pair, which together with their matching low table I found in a little shop in Singapore whilst I was holiday there. They are beautifully carved from cherrywood. The gold embossed wallpaper is beautiful hand impressed paper given to me by a friend who encouraged me to use it as wallpaper for my 1:12 miniature tableaux.

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