The palace for the pianist who never left the stage
Nest magazine always sought out the wilder side of interior design. The brainchild of artist and designer Joe Holtzman, Nest was published from 1997 to 2004, and during its run, eschewed the conventionally beautiful luxury interiors of other magazines and instead featured non-traditional, exceptional, and unusual environments.
Our new book The Best of Nest, created by master bookmaker Todd Oldham, reproduces pages from the magazine, and features plenty of such settings, including Buckingham Palace, a traditional Syrian dwelling, and a pad in Harlem fashioned from old Coca-Cola crates. They’re all incredible interiors, though some are more engaging then others, as in some instances, we know the home owner so well.
This was certainly the case in the of issue 10, published in the autumn of 2000, when Nest ran Grant Mudford’s images of the pianist and performer Liberace’s house in Las Vegas.
“Sitting between the genres of still-life and self-portraiture, these photographs of Liberace’s home in Las Vegas prompt two intertwined responses: compositional analysis and character analysis,” wrote the scholar and critic Susan Yelavich in an accompanying essay, entitled Liberace’s taste. “These are rooms filled with objects growing with issues of design provenance, carefully chosen to mirror their subject wherever he turned.
“What can we construe from the evidence? We see an ice palace in the desert, as themed as Louis XIV’s Versailles or Steve Wynn’s Bellagio. A protocol of white – which, remember, is the presence of all colour – formed a retaining wall around the personality of its flamboyant celebrity resident. Just as insecure urbanites dress in black, Liberace chose a palette of white, with all its associations of class, confidence, heavenly purity and arctic death. This is the quintessential performance of interior as state set and now, death mask (Liberace’s Face is frozen into the celestial ceiling of the bathroom).
“The monochromatic palette and meticulous order mute the outrageousness of the mirrored piano in the living room, the giraffes in the solarium and the cartoonish version of the Sistine Chapel in the bedroom. His home is the apotheosis of decor as persona and persona as decor – impregnable to intrusions from the garish, mismatched world of his fans, but, of course, deeply vulnerable to their scrutiny.
“This is the man who built his act around a rococo candelabra that he personally placed on his piano throughout his career, from seedy bars to Vegas showrooms, to create a space of dignity. The reason these rooms work is that reason Liberace’s stagecraft worked. Classicism, even distorted, diluted or distilled, retains the language of authority.
“Traditionally, it is the style of choice for new political experiments wanting to proclaim their power, be they government of Robespierre, Jefferson or Mussolini. Liberace’s act was no less an experiment – Tchaikovsky for the masses – requiring a glittering façade to deflect early blows and reflect later glory.
“Ultimately, Liberace and his home represent the democratic idea of aristocracy – the do-it-yourself coronation of the people’s palace. Geographically and psychically distanced from European royal cousins, we feel free to play with the emblems and iconography, to construct a wholly other fantasy culture from Snow White’s Castel to The Venetian. For most of us ‘play’ is the operative word. We are content to inhabit those worlds for a day or a long weekend and go back to our apartments, split-levels and ranges. Liberace, however, was never out of character, on stage or at home.” For more sharp insight into a wide variety of interiors, order a copy of The Best of Nest.