Robert Couturier, a decorator and architect with an appropriately custom-made surname, is known for orchestrating glamorous houses. Voyeurs, therefore, will appreciate the fact that many of the images in "Robert Couturier, Versatility in Design: Architectural Drawings and Renderings" live up to their plutocratic promise.
The exhibition is at the Chinese Porcelain Co., 473 Park Ave. (58th Street), through May 21. The drawings are also for sale, with prices from $500 for a watercolor of a Manhattan living room to $2,500 for a similar view of a French salon. Proceeds will be donated to the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.Couturier, 40, uses his facile brush to transform a simple rendering into a slice of paradise. An arsenal of atmospheric extras helps: strutting peacocks, barley-twist columns with the urgency of tornados, bobbing gondolas.
"Sheer fantasy, just an exercise to get the client's mind engaged," Couturier said of his plan for a blush-pink, Spanish Colonial-style palace that was intended to crown an artificial island sitting beside a real but inactive Mexican volcano.
Perched along the palace's roof line are green-glazed ceramic pineapples, which recall the triumphant swagger embraced by Couturier's stylistic idols, the 1940s French client-and-decorator team of Charles de Beistegui and Emilio Terry. Unlike Beistegui, however, who littered the park of Groussay, his chateau near Paris, with Terry's imperial follies, Couturier's client - mind engaged but not conquered - chose to build something quite a bit smaller.
Fanciful, too, are a series of pen-and-ink drawings that Cou-turier executed during his college years in France. "We were taught to draw a particular insect correctly and then told to incorporate it into a fantasy setting," he said.
It was an order right up his royalist alley. In one scene, ant infants live in a nursery where social distinctions are rigidly observed (royal babies nap in commodious cradles; worker babies are stuffed into honeycomb cells). And in a tableau right out of the fevered imagination of Aubrey Beardsley, insect ambassadors present their credentials to the ant queen.
But one set of charcoal drawings is particularly dear to Couturier's heart. They depict now-vanished interiors in a neo-Empire house for a client in San Francisco.
"Right after it was completed, someone broke in and stole everything, including the curtains," Couturier said. "It was so depressing." Then he paused and smiled, sifting a bit of gold from the ashes. "And sort of an honor, no?"