28 May 2009

The Empire Strikes Back - chateau de Compiègne

Part of my delving into le style Castaing is to better understand what inspired and influenced her. MC greatly admired the taste of Napoleon's consort Josephine, and so a closer look at the various residences of the Imperatrice is on my to-do list. This trip I visited the imperial palace of Compiègne, an easy 40 minute train ride outside of Paris, which conserves historic interiors from Louis XVI through Napoleon III.

Few traces remain of the ancien régime. Louis XV engaged the architect Gabriel (of the Petit Trianon) to enlarge the modest hunting lodge into a grand chateau. He died before his plans were realized, and it was under Louis XVI that it was completed.

A detail of the silk hangings and folding screen by the firm of Pernon in Marie-Antoinette's Game Room

When Marie Antoinette arrived in France for her marriage to Louis XVI, it was to Compiègne that she was delivered.

After Napoleon was crowned emperor in 1804 and all the royal palaces became his property, he decided to revamp Compiègne with the help of Berthaut, who had collaborated on Josephine's Malmaison and who had trained with Percier and Fontaine. Ultimately, Fontaine was called in to supervise.

When starting the tour, one ascends a grand staircase (top photo) which originally led to the Queen's (i.e. Marie Antoinette) apartment, which was transformed during the first Empire into one for visiting sovereigns. It was the most opulent of all the suites in the palace. At the top, a classical sculpture stands atop the most marvelous stove.

Napoleon and Josephine each had their own apartment which were renovated and furnished between 1807-1809. The Emperor's included this opulent bedroom

detail of star embroidered bed hangings

which became a trademark of the 1930s Vogue Regency as seen in the London sitting room of architect H.S. Goodhart-Rendel

and the library, perhaps the most important room to Napoleon, seen here in the early 20th century before it was restored

and today

But it's really Josephine's apartment where all the action is. Ironically, she never inhabitated it as she was already repudiated by Napoleon (for being barren) by the time of completion. However, she was an active participant in their design....

Her dining room with faux antique marble walls
to my mind proves that leopard was, is and always will be timeless. I wonder if Madeleine saw a period use of leopard-print carpet before using it herself:

The Flower Room, used as a salon for playing games, with the most delectable painted botanical panels of Liliaceae delivered by Etienne Dubois.

The boudoir-bathroom
whose blanc-de-blanc decor was a refreshing antidote to the sumptuous crimson hangings of her bedroom. Josephine had various shawls affixed to the cornice, which were removed before her successor arrived.

In 1809, Napoleon married the Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria who arrived at Compiègne in late July. The Petit Salon was fitted especially for her with blue moire upholstery as a reception room in 1812.

From 1812 to 1814, refurbishment slowed as the treasury was being drained for all the wars France was fighting. In 1815, Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Waterloo and spent the remainder of his life on the island of St Helena. Compiègne was used by the Bourbon kings of France and was eventually turned into a museum in the early 20th century. Click here to read more.

26 May 2009

on the rue des Saints Pères

Even before I saw the word "chocolat" on the marquee, I was struck dumb by the glamorous facade of Debauve et Gallais, appointed chocolatiers to the 19th century kings of France.

Well, it's no wonder - Percier and Fontaine, Napoleon's designers and the duo behind Malmaison, created the decor of the boutique in 1800.

Haute Couture for the Home: Jean Francois Lesage

Any lover of fashion will be familiar with the legendary petits mains of Lesage. Since the time of Napoleon, the house of Lesage has been the go-to for exquisite hand-beading and embroidery. And while a Lesage-embellished gown is not in my forseeable future, a pillow, with prices starting at 80€ - most certainly is.

detail of pillow from Projection collection

While in Paris last week, we stumbled upon the newly opened left bank shop of Jean-Francois Lesage. It is his first and only retail outpost and stocked with pillows, blankets, curtains and more. Each piece is distinguished not only by its exquisite manufacture but by the charm and wit of its design conceived by Lesage and his creative director Amelie Dilleman. The embroidery is carried out in Madras, India where Lesage lives full-time.

from the Chemistry collection - metal soft wire chain stitch and zigzag resemble drops of oil 420€ each

detail of curtain from "Ming" collection - metallic wire, double chain stitch

Ming curtain panel

And for my absolute favorite...

You can send Jean-Francois Lesage a painting by your child and they will replicate it into a piece of embroidery. 1960for the miniature Louis XVI style chair complete with embroidery

a prototype for the new Geometrical collection - think Sonia Delaunay and Russian Constructivists

beaded Playing Card pillows, 80€, each with Baroque frame with Constellation (knotted rope and French rope) overhead, 1470

Graphicale Louis available in beige, black, brown and white
headboard 890
bolster 660

Euro cushion 260

throw 1230

For more information:
Jean-Francois Lesage
7bis, rue des Saints Pères
Paris 75007
Tel: 01 58 62 41 36

21 May 2009

Paris Report: A Proustian Madeleine

O, the things I saw, the people I met, and the café crèmes I drank!

Without a doubt, the absolute highlight of my Castaing fact-finding trip to Paris was visiting MC's former apartment at the intersection of the rues Jacob and Bonaparte. The current owner purchased a few select items from the estate, including the stove in the above photo which remains in its original position.* A wild bit of information I picked up - apparently furniture designer Eileen Gray lived in the apartment right next to MC's with their front doors just inches apart - can you imagine?!

MC's shop was located directly beneath the apartment and is now the premises of the venerable tea room Laduree. It was decorated by Roxana Rodriguez as an homage to MC...

and as you can see in this photo I surreptitiously snapped of the upper floor, some elements were preserved, such as these biscuit plaques

which were mounted by MC when she had this space installed as a bedroom.

If you've read anything about MC, you know that she loved to read Balzac and Proust and that she intentionally created a romantic atmosphere that recalled the poetic settings both writers so lyrically described. This made a visit to the Maison de Balzac museum, located in the tony if quiet 16th arrondisement, a must.

Balzac only lived here for a short period to escape his creditors and overall it was a bit disappointing. However, I did come across this stove which sparked all sorts of connections....

It seems l'esprit Castaing is truly in the air. While walking down the rue d'Assas, we espied these window vignettes installed by a young designer.

Codimat, the premiere carpet manufacturers who have the exclusive rights to the Castaing designs, will soon be launching new document MC patterns which will knock your socks off.

If there's one thing I learned on this trip, it's that there are many layers to the Castaing myth to peel back and that one visit is but a start. How very lucky am I.

* You may remember that the divine Patricia van Essche suggested I track down a pair of sizzling red gloves like the pair MC is wearing in her photo by the stove. I found my pair chez Alexandra Sojfer on the boulevard Saint-Germain. Although more tourists than Parisians patronize Sojfer's boutique, it is definitely worth a visit. Her family purchased Madeleine Gely, Paris' oldest umbrella shop, and Sojfer takes great care in preserving the high level of artisanry.

She is also constantly changing the interior and windows of the shop. This visit it was all fuschia and hunter green and reminded us of the eye-popping sets of the 1964 cinematic feast The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

20 May 2009

THE AMERICAN WING AT THE MET: Setting trends yesterday and today

By Christa Pirl Cook

The newly renovated Hewlett Room, 1740-60.

This Monday marked the highly anticipated unveiling of the newly renovated and reordered period rooms at the Metropolitan Museum’s American Wing. Originally opened on November 11, 1924, the rooms showcase twenty original period spaces complete with moldings, mantles, and furniture. These rooms display some of the most superb examples of American cabinetmaking and joinery in the world.

The Hewlett Room in 1924.

While many in the antiques and decorating field are indeed taking note of this historic re-opening, today it is hard to fully comprehend the great impact of the Wing in 1924. At the time, English and French styles reigned supreme, and few thought to furnish their homes with Americana. However, it did not take long for Americans to embrace what they found at the Metropolitan’s new addition. In an age of isolationism and unprecedented prosperity the country was hungry for a national style and in the period rooms found national icons.

By 1929, the majority of American homes had embraced the American colonial style, with Federal-inspired dining rooms, Queen Anne bedroom suites, or Pilgrim-style breakfast tables. Design schools sent students to sketch rooms, furniture manufacturers sent designers to glean new inspiration, and housewives flooded the Wing to learn to create the perfect Puritan living room. The founder of the American Wing and President of the Museum, Robert de Forest, aptly noted the Wing had become an “aesthetic shrine”.

It was the opening of these American period rooms at the Metropolitan which established the American Colonial as the most popular and enduring style of interiors in the United States, as it remains to this day.

Typical colonial-inspired room, published in The Upholsterer and Interior Decorator, December 1925.

Within months of the 1924 opening, references to the rooms peppered design magazines and the popular press. Leading furniture manufacturers such as Danersk drew flattering comparisons between their products and the fine pieces at the American Wing, while others blatantly produced direct copies. Prominent decorators Nancy McClelland and Ethel Davis Seal penned books about the new Wing and its newly popular style.Trade journal editors extolled the greatness of the Wing, and published decorating projects heavily influenced by the Wing.

Even the once vastly popular Renaissance displays at the Metropolitan were dismissed, with one journalist noting his annoyance at having to pass the “tawdry…pomposity” of “Italian gimcracks which J P Morgan assembled” in order to reach the “coolness and serenity of the [American Wing], a somehow real thing, so truly brave of spirit, so truly actual of concept, so truly beautiful of form.”

Marshall Field & Co. advertisement, June 1926.

Excerpt from an article in The Upholsterer and Interior Decorator, January, 1926.

While the American Wing is still one of the most popular at the Metropolitan, visitors will likely never experience the same awe and inspiration as those of the 1920s. As a staunch Americana-lover and interior designer, I can only hope the re-opening of the Wing creates some of the same enthusiasm in the field today. Any designer who looks to original Phyfe pier tables or Revere silver will only gain respect and reverence for our early cabinetmakers and designers, and may learn a thing or two about proportion, form, and design perfection.

To read more about the re-opening of the American Wing, click here.

Many thanks to Christa for this very timely look back at the history of the American Wing which was instrumental to fueling the Colonial Revival craze. Click here to read about a previous post on Beauport, another Colonial Revival inspiration.

Pirl Cook is the principal of Christa Pirl Interiors,
http://www.christapirlinteriors.com/ and is a recent graduate of the American Fine and Decorative Arts Masters program at Sotheby's Institute.

07 May 2009

In Search of Madeleine Castaing's Past

I must say farewell for a few weeks as I am off to Paris to plumb the depths of le style Castaing!

(And yes, I will have the opportunity to see this stove in situ in person!)

A bientot, mes amis!

06 May 2009

Lamp Shades: A lesson in proportion

Lamp shades have always perplexed me and seldom do I get it right. Enter Toby Worthington, everybody's favorite blogosphere commentator, who kindly shared some rules of thumb.

Years ago while visiting Colefax & Fowler at 39 Brook Street, Mr. Worthington was granted permission to take measurements of their lamps and shades, which always struck him as perfectly proportioned.

Two things were apparent: the shape was always a gentle slope (not overly slanted or coolie tapered) and, even on the most refined porcelains, the material of the shade was plain off-white parchment.

You can find examples of this in Roger Banks-Pye's sublime Interior Inspirations as seen in the top photo.

Above, a reasonably priced, silk-lined shade from Restoration Hardware in the English Barrel shape used on two different lamps, in Mr. Worthington's own living room, below. Cost: 60 dollars! However, he just alerted me that they are currently on sale. Click here to stock up...

Scale depends, as a rule, on the distance between bottom of lamp and the point where it meets the socket~a good proportion is to have the shade's base diameter equivalent to the distance between the lower part of the socket and the base of the lamp itself. Note that the Colefax shades tend to be less tall than their American counterparts.

Another Roger Banks-Pye room with a shade very similar to Restoration Hardware's, although you can rest assured their client paid a lot more than 60 bucks.

Example: Shade with base diameter of 18 inches would have a sloped height of around 11 or 12 inches.

Mr. Worthington sagely reminds us that the formula changes a bit when fitting shades on to candlestick or columnar lamps - obviously a tall slender lamp would be overwhelmed by anything too large...
I have a pair of these adjustable candlestick floor lamps by Bill Blass for Visual Comfort flanking my sofa. Luckily they came with these parchment shades, or else they'd probably still be naked. Click here to see the entire Bill Blass Visual Comfort line which is quite handsome.

And finally Mr. Worthington shares this illustration of how to proportion the shade on a columnar lamp: Vaughan, Pembroke shape, cream card. It replaced an "old lady" shade of bell-shaped silk. Much smarter now.

05 May 2009

The de Wolfe - Barrett Townhouse

By now, you've been inundated with pictures of this year's Kips Bay showhouse, and what a stand-out year it was. (House Beautiful and Habitually Chic both have excellent coverage if you can't get enough.)

However - for me - the highlight of the preview evening was a private cocktail party at the townhouse of the late decorator David Barrett at 131 East 71st Street currently being offered by Corcoran realtors for $8.5 million.

Before Barrett bought the house in the mid 60s, it was once owned by Elsie de Wolfe who, with the help of architect Ogden Codman, transformed the house in the early 'teens from a depressing Victorian hodge-podge to the embodiment of her vision of "A House in Good Taste". The house has its own chapter in Penny Sparke's monograph Elsie de Wolfe, edited by the brilliant Mitchell Owens.

Codman and de Wolfe first got rid of the stoop and moved the entrance down to the ground floor. They also centered it, giving the facade a pleasing symmetry uncommon to most New York townhouses.

One entered into this generously-sized foyer, which was made possible by moving the staircase to the center of the house. Just before the stairs is the most delicious mirrored powder room painted with chinoiserie scenes. Alas, I had not thought to bring my camera.

Ascending the stairs (which are now painted with a surrealist mural of trees inspired by Geoffrey Beene) to the second floor brings one to the drawing room at the front of the townhouse. Above is as decorated by de Wolfe (note the many panels of mirror) and below by Barrett.

Barrett's pelmets are trompe l'oeil confections made out of wood. Love. In the corner to the left of the fireplace is a mirrored closet elaborately fitted as a bar - those were the days!

At the back of the second floor is the dining room. Barrett decorated the house between 1969-1971 and it has been unchanged ever since.

The print reminds me a bit of the fabric Billy Baldwin used for the Paley's sitting room in the St. Regis hotel. Stainless steel tiles ordered from France were laid into the floor.

Up to the third floor....

de Wolfe configured both the front and back rooms as bed-sitting rooms. Here are two views of the front bedroom....

Barrett used it as a guest bedroom as seen here.

The back room was Barrett's own bedroom which must be seen to be believed. If my memory serves me right, it is paneled in stainless steel, with a bronze statue of a life-sized ram and a mirrored ceiling.

The top two floors are currently configured as a separate apartment. I also didn't see the garden and greenhouse which I like to think looks like this room Barrett did for Kip's Bay in 2008 - perhaps one of the last projects of this talented designer. The green-painted trellis an undoubted homage to Ms. de Wolfe.

Hopefully the next owner of 131 will continue the tradition of exquisite taste.