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Saturday, November 26, 2011

James Mont

Born in Istanbul, Turkey, as Demetrios Pecintoglu, the designer known as James Mont (1904-1978) has been called the "Godfather of Exotic Modernism." From the 1930s through the 1960s, he was one of the most prominent decorators on the East Coast. His friends and clients included the likes of Bob Hope, Lana Turner and Irving Berlin, as well as crime bosses such as Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano.

The flamboyant, mustachioed Mont had a penchant for cocktail lounges, flashy cars and chorus girls, and he also had such a violent temper that it led to a five-year incarceration at Sing Sing prison for brutally assaulting a woman who rejected his sexual advances.

He immigrated with his family to the United States in the early 1920s and got his start as a decorator in the mid-1920s. He was running a small electrical supply shop in Brooklyn, where he also sold lamps of his own design. A member of a local crime family stopped by his shop and was so impressed with the lamps that he asked Mont to decorate his home. He soon became the decorator of choice to mobsters. His Prohibition Era designs included collapsible bars, as well as desks and tables with hidden compartments that were perfect for stashing guns and cash.

Bankrolled by the mob, Mont opened a store on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue in 1932. However, that was only the first of many locations, including three other Manhattan locations, Long Island, Miami Beach and Athens, because the gambler and womanizer Mont was always one step ahead of creditors, tax collectors and sometimes the law.

According to vintage dealer Todd Merrill, who has studied Mont, his style appealed to people who had no interest in machine age or severe modernism. His designs were often Asian-inspired and always showy and opulent. His furniture has been described as "muscularly scaled" with lavish hardware and time-intensive finishes which often incorporated gold and silver leaf or 14 coats of lacquer, each sanded and polished by hand. Before applying metal leafing, he would paint the piece jade green or imperial yellow and then have workmen rub the leaf almost to transparency in some areas so a hint of the color could be seen.

In 1952 Mont's inventory and personal collection of Asian art was auctioned off to satisfy his creditors. However, he rebounded and continued to receive large commissions into the early 1960s. Changing tastes and his own personal problems eventually drove him into obscurity.

From themagazineantique.com and nytimes.com

X base coffee table
1stdibs.com

Black lacquer cabinet
1stdibs.com

Dining chairs
1stdibs.com

Silver leaf dining table
1stdibs.com

Table lamps
1stdibs.com

Sofa with wrap-around console
1stdibs.com

Metallic leather chairs
1stdibs.com

Oak and leather chest
1stdibs.com

Dolphin chairs
1stdibs.com

15 comments:

  1. If ever there was a designer bankrolled by the mod, that guy looks it! No wonder his designs are killer (ba-dum-bum)

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  2. @DearHelenHartman: Yeah, the guy looks like he could make you a sofa you couldn't refuse.

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  3. Beautiful pieces! I used to pore over Mafia books and stories, and it's fun to find a connection between this world and the world of collectible furniture.

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  4. @Angelica: After Joe told us about him last night, I went home and had to find out more!

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  5. Great read! To think that he was only 28 years old when he was bankrolled by the Mob for his first store in Manhattan. I think you have discovered a new era Dana - "Mob Mod" by Don Mont!

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  6. @Just Modern: Or a new twist on Mad Men...Mob Men. :) One of the articles I read called his style "brass knuckle chic."

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  7. his works are so dreamy ...so much of the persian influence on his designs make them classy and unique

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  8. Great Post!!! I've been waiting on this one. :)

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  9. @Sudha: I thought you might like this post. :)

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  10. @joeegg007: Interesting guy, for sure!

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  11. @I dream lo-tech: They are gorgeous, aren't they?

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  12. He has a rather menacing look in that picture...if he had a storefront, I'd be scared to leave the store without buying. Not that I wouldn't mind leaving with one of those beauties!

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  13. @Angelica: From what I read, he was very volatile. He reportedly refused to sell something to a woman because he didn't like her shoes, and he would pull out a knife and rip upholstery to shreds if he didn't think it had been done perfectly. I read that he beat his nephew for forgetting to have his shoes shined...and then there was the wife who committed suicide and the woman he beat so savagely that he went to prison. He must have been a scary guy...so why were Bob Hope, Lana Turner and Irving Berlin his friends? I guess there was a charismatic side to him too.

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