Within my apartment building, which has always reminded me of an immense grey battleship, is a honeycomb of inhabitants, each with their own decorative world.
I first met my neighbors Judy and Julio while I sat smoking one morning on the ledge outside the front door. From their kitchen window they saw me, and in a neighborly gesture as charming as it was unexpected, passed me a cup of cafe con leche, deliciously perfumed with nutmeg, through their winter curtains, printed with poinsettias. We forged a cafe con leche tradition, and I began to consider their window my own private cafe, and became curious about the interior beyond their curtains.
I was not disappointed. Judy, who mixes her paints herself, has created a place of intense, variegated color: Pompeiian red, saffron yellow and sea green. I thought of spices as much as of pigments. Her interior reminded me of an observation I wish to make--hoping it isn’t politically incorrect--that the houses of people of Hispanic descent are often marked by a very formal, almost rigid arrangement of furniture and ornaments which is, in turn, tempered by the use of lively, sometimes wild color. Think of the magnificent photographs Robert Polidori shot--before the political thaw-- of Cuban rooms of vivid, rather peeling grandeur
Broadway above 145th Street includes a Dominican community that becomes ever denser as one approaches Washington Heights. At Broadway and 155th Street is the wonderful museum of the Hispanic Society, a monument of early 20th century decoration sheathed in sculpted terracotta tiles, mercifully untouched by renovation. It stands as an exemplar of the harmony of deep color and meticulously deliberate arrangement I find in Latin style.
In cultivating one’s own style in decoration, it is important to be a locavore, a seeker who unearths in his or her immediate environs unsuspected enclaves of beauty. I am sure there are many Judys and Julios in my improbably immense building, which I will gradually find and reveal in the pages of BOOK AND ROOM.