Possessed : Utility and Looks, in Bed Together

July 20th, 2013

Gordon M. Grant for The New York Times

Lorraine Kirke at her home in East Hampton, N.Y.

The simplest fantasies are often the most complicated. That humble little cottage you saw in Elle Décor? It has a $ 2.4 million mortgage. That rambling Queen Anne on Corcoran.com? It’s a 3.5 hour drive — without traffic. And those people in glass houses? They need storage. And curtains.

The designer Lorraine Kirke is familiar with the two-faced sword of style. When she grew tired of summering amid the chaos of East Hampton, N.Y., she put her fully decorated house on the market but had no takers.

“Everyone said I had to strip it down,” she said. “So I took all my stuff out. Then Mariska Hargitay came along and said, ‘I saw pictures of it in a magazine. I’ll buy it if you redo it exactly the way it was.’ I said, ‘Well, you should’ve said that six months ago.’ ”

So, she said, she put it all back. And now Ms. Kirke has a nice house a quarter of the size a few miles north, in the quiet hamlet of Springs. Once she’s there, she considers herself more or less under house arrest, so loath is she to brave the Hamptons traffic. 

“I just don’t go out,” she said flatly. 

A more persistent issue is an aesthetic one. Ms. Kirke is the owner of Geminola, a sweet little dress shop in the West Village where she sells clothes made from the vintage textiles she has compulsively hunted for decades. (She is also the daughter of the British tycoon Jack Dellal; the wife of the Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke; the mother of the actress Jemima Kirke; the sister of the film director Gaby Dellal; and the aunt of the gallerist Alex Dellal, the model Alice Dellal and the shoe designer Charlotte Dellal. There’s more, but you get the idea.)

Though she loves the idea of every nook and cranny of her house being used — “You could lie down and read a book in 15 different places,” she said — she is somewhat ambivalent as to whether usefulness is really that useful.

“I may say I only like things that are used, but I still have to tell you I like things to look good,” she said. “You know, you’ll see something somewhere, and people say ‘Oh, this, yes, it’s really useful.’ Well, it’s not coming in my house. I don’t get things that are useful. I get things I fall in love with.”

And last year, at long last, she ran across something that managed to incorporate loveliness and usefulness in one elusive entity.

“They’re throw beds,” Ms. Kirke said. “My friend Beata in L.A. makes them. You can bundle them up and take them to the beach. They look like those French mattresses from the turn of the century with the stripes, except they’re really soft and you can put them in a backpack and then bike off.”

Her friend Beata Henrichs-Lieb started making the beds last summer. They are down and fiber with a removable cotton cover, weigh only 4.5 pounds and cost $ 350 each. (She sells them at her Web store Hedgehouse.) The moment Ms. Kirke heard about them, she saw the possibilities: pure summer simplicity.

“I went online and ordered 12,” she said. “I felt hellishly chic when I rolled mine out at a public beach and everyone else was rolling out their towels. And then after Sandy, my home was flooded, and I had to toss all the mattresses. But the throw beds were unharmed, and we could use them to sleep on. I also have them in the city. My husband uses them to lie on during his daily nap. Do people still nap? For the grandchildren they make great beds for sleepovers, castle building and hiding places. I have Jemima’s little baby here, so I just threw one on the floor, and he’s still lying on it. And since I go to many flea markets and buy many uncomfortable chairs, I use the half-size throw beds to toss on those chairs and cover up my mistakes.”

Utility and aesthetics may not always see eye to eye, but this bit of fluff suggests that, on a nice day at least, they can put their differences aside, lie back and relax, together.

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