NO RULES: "When it comes to decorating, anything goes as long as you love it," David says. He uses a pair of stacked painted-leather Chinese bridal trunks as a living room side table, topping them with a white and gilt 19th-century French opaline lamp and Old Paris porcelain vases. "The Men in the Cities" lithograph by Robert Longo is a striking backdrop to the arrangement.

Continental Cottage
Decorating Editor David Feld’s Highland Park house has the centuries-old appeal and rich colors of a Roman apartment.

CONTINENTAL COLOR: A massive pair of camel leather sofas designed by Joe D’Urso for Knoll flank the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona coffee table in the living room. The pair of 19th-century blue and gilt trumeau came from a Parisian music room. David loves the way the bright blue pops against the chocolate walls.
Step into David Feld’s West Highland Park brick-and-clapboard cottage, designed in 1936 by Charles Dilbeck,and you could be inside an apartment carved from a Roman palazzo. (Nevermind the fact that the architect modeled it after a 12th-century French farmhouse, complete with turreted staircase.) This glamorous, continental effect comes from the assured way David has combined many different styles and eras of furniture. Mixing it all up may be a European’s birthright, but for a sixth-generation American who’s passionate about interior decoration, it’s a rite of passage. "You have to age into antiques," he says. "It’s like learning to drink single malt Scotch."

WORKING FOR SUCH PUBLICATIONS AS HOUSE & GARDEN and Southern Accents, David has made his house a visual scrapbook of his career, a larger-than-life picture book of every decorating movement that managed to pass muster over the decades and make its way inside. "It’s the curse of being a decorating editor," he jokes. "It’s like a psychiatric disorder. Editor Accumulation Syndrome. There ought to be a treatment center for it."

OPPOSITES ATTRACT: In the upstairs hall, a pair of vintage Edward Curtis photographs hang above a 19th-century American giltwood bench made for the Vanderbilt mansion in Hyde Park, New York. "I bought the bench for about $100," David recalls. "It’s a really vulgar Robber Baron-era piece, and I love the way it contrasts with the dignity of the Curtis portraits of Native Americans."
David’s obsession with furniture design started in New York when he began collecting good modernist pieces by Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Adolf Loos. "Almost everyone is a modernist when they’re young, especially in the decorating field," he says. As his tastes evolved over the years, David kept the modern things he loved and gradually brought in older ones. A set of four ’40s-era Paul T. Frankl plunging neckline dining chairs, discovered for cheap at a garage sale, are now used with an octagonal, high-gloss mahogany Regency breakfast table, purchased several years ago in New Orleans.

Such layering and combining of design styles, centuries, and memories is not just the bane of a decorating editor; it’s also the way most Europeans live: steeped in time. "THE ITALIANS, PARTICULARLY THE ROMANS, are known for their bold color combinations," David remarks. "I love the idea of strong colors on the walls," he says. "But I prefer them in the more public rooms of my house." So he painted the downstairs in rich Donald Kaufman colors—bittersweet chocolate in the living room and a vibrant persimmon in the dining room. To get the exact colors he wanted, David sent the master New York colorist a bar of Lindt Excellence dark chocolate and a fresh persimmon surreptitiously plucked from a neighbor’s tree. The rooms in David’s house may be small, but the wall colors make them burst with drama.

David’s house was designed in 1936 by Charles Dilbeck.
While the downstairs is decorated for entertaining, upstairs is private. The bedroom and study, set up among the 50-year-old pecans and live oaks like a treehouse, are his retreat. "I bought this house for the upstairs," he says. "I live up here." He painted the bedroom in Donald Kaufman’s silvered Russian olive and the study the color of wet stone. Both are soothing colors cued from nature. Says David: "Downstairs is for friends and family. Upstairs is all about me and my three pugs."

 

COLOR CUES: A crimson cashmere throw from Hermès adds a jolt of color to David’s bedroom. "The silvery olive of the walls almost pleads for a hit of red," he says. An 18th-century Italian silver leaf carved architectural fragment replaces a conventional headboard. Two 19th-century plaster architectural models hang above an 18th-century English mahogany bow-front chest of drawers.  

COTTAGE CHIC: The desk in David’s study is actually a rare art deco dining table by Austrian architect Adolf Loos. Wedgwood silver luster pitchers and creamers hold pens, pencils, and flowers. An 18th-century French dressing table holds photographs of friends and family. The painted Louis XVI-style chair is from the 1940s. Bookcases hold decorating books and auction catalogs. The chandelier came from a demolished Dilbeck house. 

David Feld’s Decorating Secrets

1. If you have fine antiques and furniture, mix in some rustic objects to keep it all from becoming too precious. My 18th-century chest of drawers holds two pairs of French urns, four rustic Soong dynasty bowls full of change, and a $2 Pier 1 wicker basket that holds my eyeglasses. 2. Keep your window coverings uniform. I have wooden Venetian blinds throughout my house, and the consistency is pleasing.

3. Europeans mix their china, silver, and crystal patterns. Only in this country do we buy everything new and keep it all the same.

4. Group a collection together, rather than spreading it throughout rooms, for more impact. And use what you collect. I use my collection of Old Paris tureens all the time.

5. Never paint your bedroom red—you’ll wake up in Hell. Choose soothing colors, greens and blues.

6. Europeans use all of the rooms in their houses, and so should you. Nothing should be off-limits or saved for guests.

7. Your biggest expense—and best investment—should be your upholstered pieces. Good upholstery should last at least three generations.

8. Paint small rooms with dark colors. The corners will disappear, and they’ll look bigger.