Alcuzcuz: a lifestyle by Jaime Parladé
These are some of my favourite quotes from the iconic Spanish decorator Jaime Parladé, Marques de Apezteguia, who sadly left us in January this year.
“What I have is a good eye; about good taste…I do not like to use that expression because good taste is something so relative and so difficult to define”.
“More than good taste what one must posses is a good eye to see things. In other words: the capacity to enter a place and see something that you are interested in and that you like. To tell you the truth in my particular case, what I see and what catches my attention has more to do with eccentricity than with the quality of a piece of furniture or an object. At the end of the day I must say that I am quite crappy (cutre ), I like poor art, I cannot stand shine…… all I do is scrub and scrub to remove the shine”.
These are some of my favourite quotes from the iconic Spanish decorator Jaime Parladé, Marques de Apezteguia, who sadly left us in January this year. Dubbed “the doyen of Spanish designers” by Architectural Digest magazine, Jaime and his English wife Janetta, were dear friends of my mother Mary Melián. They met in 1962 when we moved to Andalucía while my father Alfredo (Freddy) Melian Zobel was beginning the groundwork and search for what was to become the gated community of Sotogrande.
Just 2 days ago I was archiving some of my mother’s boxes of correspondence and found many receipt from 1965 and 1966 from Jaime’s legendary shop La Tartana. Receipts for azulejos, a table, some chairs, some lebrillos (flat wide and large earthenware bowls), wrought irons, two big white rugs from La Alpujareña factory in Granada… Jaime’s shop was exquisite and specialized in local antiques, andalusian earthenware, oriental rugs and fabrics and unpretentious furniture.
Few and well chosen pieces that were more about local arts and crafts and tradition than bling. La Tartana opened in 1958 in the heart of the old Marbella, as Jaime began his interior design career and soon his shop, run or rather reigned by the larger than life Menchu Escobar, became the social heart of the town. Subsequently Jaime decorated Menchu’s Bar which also became one of the pillars of the swinging Marbella and then La Fonda Hotel, another 60’s success. Some of the guests at La Fonda Hotel included Brigitte Bardot, Kim Novak, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Omar Sharif and many royals such as the Duque of Windsor, The king and queen of Belgium and Don Juan, Count of Barcelona and father of Juan Carlos of Spain.
A beautiful book of his work was published last year by Ediciones El Viso. Thoroughly researched and written by the respected interiors journalist Ana Dominguez Siemens and photographed by Ricardo Labougle and Derry Moore, the book covers most of Jaime’s work and also gives you a glimpse into the pioneer days of Marbella in the 50’s and 60’s and the unique group of people and places that turned it into the glamorous Spanish Riviera and was also the backdrop to many of Slim Aarons’s photographs. Jaime was very low key and humble, and subsequently not very well known abroad. Hopefully this book will be translated and sold internationally since he deserves to be up there and recognized amongst the best.
Jaime decorated the homes of the Rothschilds, Von Bismarcks, Julio Iglesias, Diana Ross, Duchess Of Alba and the Abelló and March families, travelling around the world and its markets, always curious, always alive and open to new ideas. His taste and choices were “poor” but his clients were grand. The Jaime Parladé style was in fact a mixture of styles : luxurious, classic, poor and modern were combined to create a lived-in atmosphere or what is now called shabby chic. I guess he was the pioneer of that look.
Josef Frank (1885) the Austrian-Swedish architect-designer said: «There’s nothing wrong with mixing old and new, with combining different furniture styles, colors and patterns. Anything that is in your taste will automatically fuse to form an entire, relaxing environment. A home does not need to be planned down to the smallest detail or contrived; it should be an amalgamation of the things that its owner loves and feels at home with”. Frank was a modernist at heart and belonged to the same generation as the pioneers of modernist design : Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier. In a way the lifestyle philosophies of Josef Frank and Jaime Parladé remind me of Eugenia Errazuriz, the pioneer of the “poor” style, but interpreted in its most minimal way.
About my mother, Ana Domínguez writes: One day the couple Freddie Melián and Mary Melián Randolph appeared at la Tartana, nearly fifty years ago. This would be the origin of another important stage in the life of Jaime Parladé as a decorator. Jaime said: «They came with the idea of whether I could collaborate on the Sotogrande project. Freddie was a great motorcyclist and had been commissioned by Colonel McMicking to comb the Spanish coast looking for the ideal terrains for his project.
Freddie hesitated between some lands in Almeria and some in Cadiz which were considered military zone. Mary was an American with a total lack of pretensions and with all the good taste, good eye, or whatever it is that one had to have. We became friends and I would frequently accompany Freddie in a Land Rover around the dunes of Sotogrande. They commissioned the ten bungalows by the new golf club and after that commissioned other residences”.
Yesterday I was very lucky to be able to visit the cortijo La Dehesa del Alcuzcuz, Jaime and Janetta’s paradisiac home in the mountains on the road to Ronda and a 20 minute drive from Marbella. I remember when my mother would go to visit the Parlade’s and would return with fascinating stories and pictures of the stunning grounds and main house, as well as laden with flowers, vegetables and fruit from their garden. Janetta was a wonderful gardener and water-colour artist and part of the Bloomsbury group. To me Alcuzcuz was exotic, somewhat eccentric and made me dream of the garden of Eden filled with rock’n roll people.
The house was built originally in 1884, Jaime and Janetta re modelled it in 1984 when they made it their main home. Sitting on 10 acres of land the property is composed of a large vegetable and fruit garden, two huge albercas (water reservoirs) for watering the plants, a hidden swimming pool which looks and feels like an alberca because it blends in so naturally and has views to the sea. This reminds me of my mother’s favorite criteria for planning a pool: set it as far away as you can from the main house: “Who wants to look at people in bikinis all day?”.
The terraced gardens of Alcuzcuz are full of exotic species and the wild parts are covered in olive, carob and arbutus trees. There are many rose gardens and monochromatic flower beds and trellises. Winding paths take you through never ending mixed borders and layouts that are at times sensual and delicate and at times masculine, bold and daring. What is surprising is the care and perfection wherever you look, and being the daughter of an outstanding gardener myself, I know what that means : never-ending work and dedication.
It moves me to think how much they must have enjoyed walking daily through their garden and sitting at the many benches and lookouts which are spread throughout the property, making mental notes of what needed to be pruned, deadheaded, watered or planted.
My sister Sylvia Melián says: “Like in the house, you feel that air of multi-culture through the combination of plants and flowers. Every rose bush is special. The delicate Pierre De Ronsard roses from France in white chalky pots line a dark red wall or climb a palm tree from which they cascade over row after row of Iceberg roses from England. An explosion of white Banksia roses jutting out from the walls, reminding me of the Parque De Maria Luisa in Seville and the many beautiful Andalusian farms which stand out for their simplicity and elegance”.
Sylvia says “There are also Italian irises with big blossoms, kitch carnations with tall stalks and big red blooms as if taken out of an 18 th century painting, in the style of Spanish costumbrismo, herbs in planters and low lebrillos outside the kitchen where the couscous is being prepared. Bright yellow and orange capucines tumble down the embankments of the vegetable gardens, poor and colorful.
Wild plants from the Serrania de Ronda like the pink sistus and the lentisco blend with the most exquisit plants brought from far away places. Blue glicinias, red thumbergia and many fragrant flowers which assault your senses, a visual and olfactory orgy. Jasmine in bloom, huge masses of fragrant sweet peas in pinks and purples, stephanotis, rows of citrus trees laden with fruits, avocados, nisperos, artichokes, tomatoes, chard…..I have never seen such exquisit refinement. A garden with a thousand hidden corners, surprises and mystery. Areas where color flows from blue to white to grey and silver to yellow and then brown”.
As you walk into Alcuzcuz crossing the wide esplanade of bright yellow albero earth and palm trees you think that you are in an Andalucian cortijo with its black and white pebbled floors from Cordoba, a water fountain, geraniums of every colour of white, pink and mauve, a tall datura tree full of fragrant blooms, a low wooden bench with a simple linen mattress, and a marble and iron table full of small pots of agapanthus. Crawling up the wall a tangled mass of night blooming cirus, like a giant alien creature.
The house is a pure reflection of Jaime’s unique style. Elements of the villas of southern Spain, the comfort of the English and the andalucian humor, grace and delicacy as well as the Moroccon influence of a childhood spent growing up in Northern Africa.
Jaime said: “I always liked objects that were excentric, Irish pieces for example, they are always so strange, and everything English. On the other hand, I am not crazy for the french (objects), even though there are some pieces which I cannot but admire; I am horrified by its richness, its ostentatiousness, it represents everything that I do not want. A house with a comode full of decorative elements makes me ill”.
My sister Victoria Melián remembers: “The most beautiful kitchen in the world. You never wanted to leave the table. The chimney was lit, there were cut flowers everywhere, wonderful food cooked with vegetables from the garden, the conversation was cultivated and witty”.
Alcuzcuz is a unique place, a lifestyle lesson, an experience. Jaime’s nephew Andrés Parlade and his cousin Jaime inherited it and are taking great pains to sustain it. Andrés tells Fashionsphinx : “Now it is our responsibility to maintain it, we are the sixth generation to manage it since it belonged to the familly, and even if we are slightly scared because of the expense of caring for it, we are very thrilled. Our idea is to do short term rentals so as to have the income to keep it in a perfect state and to be able to enjoy it when it is free”. I take my hat off to that and to Andrés and his wife Rocio who are working so hard to save an important Spanish landmark.
For information on renting Alcuzcuz you can click here.
Returning to having the eye, Jaime said that my mother had the eye, and yes she did! big time.
I reflect on everything I saw yesterday and think that most decors and houses in the magazines and blogs now look the same. As I step out of my popular and still authentic barrio to the hipper or richer areas of Madrid I see beautiful old shops, restaurants and bars that have been torn down and made over in what is the prevalent and uniform style of this city: Brooklyn hipster, distressed and artisan or industrial and urban.
This gives me eye ache and brain ache. Neither Jaime Parladé nor my mother had the internet, they did not have easy access to information, there were no contemporary art shows or fairs to go to in Andalucia, lets say that access to a certain type of culture was non-existant. In the case of my mother, in the 60’s and 70’s, she was subscribed to four magazines: Town and Country, Vogue USA, Southern Living and National Geographic.
All her ideas and inspirations came from being outside visiting the local villages, antique or junk shops and surrounding herself with the arts and crafts of Spain. With this information, and that of many reference books on architecture and gardens around the world as well as her conversations with the artist friends she frequented, she created something unique, and like Jaime she was a visionary ahead of her time.
Too much information kills the information. There is too much use of the internet, too many people writing or blogging about the same things : copy, paste, copy, paste. Few people are creating or discovering new things, everyone is following, sitting in front of their computers, lazy assed. Taste has become homogenized.
Through fashion and interior design we have two great tools to express ourselves and reaffirm our identity and our independence, and yet we have perverted both and we copy one another.
You don’t get an eye, you are born with it, but if you don’t have it at least you can you can train it. How? By looking in the most unexpected places at the most simple things. I always say that the first place that one should visit when arriving in a city is its market and its arts and crafts museum. When was the last time that you went to a library?. Beauty is everywhere, you just have to go out and look for it beyond your computer.
For more pictures click here.