Monday, August 31, 2015

The Theatre at Fontainebleau

The Imperial Theatre at Fontainebleau
Chateau as restored, May 2014.
Photo via Daily Mail.
Sometimes it is hard to believe that this is the fortieth anniversary of my summer spent as an architecture student at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts at Fontainebleau.  In addition to studying history and design, I had my first formal classes in historic preservation/adaptive use and garden design, two areas that would later figure prominently in my career.  With direct exposure to exemplary buildings, memorable landscape sites, and exquisite decorative arts, the whole Fontainebleau experience provided a formidable boost to my education.

The Courtyard of Honor, Fontainebleau.
Photo via Wikipedia.
Except for notable field trips, classes were held in a wing of the chateau that was historic but not part of the museum.  My class also benefited from other behind-the-scenes access, one of the best being able to see the preserved theatre, off-limits to the public at the time as it was considered a fire hazard.

A circa 1910 view of the Imperial Theatre, Fontainebleau.
Photo via Wikipedia.
The Imperial Theatre was designed by architect Hector Lefuel and built for Napoleon III from 1853 to 56.  It replaced the smaller Comédie Theatre and was built with a capacity for 400 within the existing shell of a wing.

The chateau during the era of Napoleon III, 1862.
The theatre is noted by the "T" towards the lower right.
Image from Private Collection.
The design was inspired by Marie Antoinette's theatre at Versailles which was admired by Empress Eugénie.  It was inaugurated in May 1857 and only saw fifteen performances during the reign of Napoleon III.
Exterior elevation drawings showing the courtyard and
garden sides of the wing, indicating the position of the theatre.
Image from
At the time of my visit in 1975, the theatre was a dusty jewel box, a time capsule cracked open to reveal a Louis XVI Revival interior that had been essentially untouched for 120 years.  There was not even electricity; with the windows shuttered, the only illumination that day came from a backstage skylight and a flashlight.

The lower level, or parterre prior to
Photo via

The unrestored first dress circle of the theatre.
Photo via
As the class gathered on the lower flat area in front of the stage, our eyes got accustomed to the dim light.  The furnishings were still in place, I noticed as I lifted the corner of a dust sheet covering the particularly long canapés that provided seating for the parterre.  The next level up was the first dress circle that included the imperial box with the second dress circle above that; these had individual fauteuils under the sheeting as did the boxes on the fourth level. 

A pre-restoration view of the Imperial Theatre,
Fontainebleau, showing one of the stage sets.
Photo via
But the most interesting artifacts were the painted stage flats, the scenery that could be raised and lowered by a wench in the attic.  It was all preserved as the theatre had not been used since the Nazi occupation.

The machinery in the attic to raise and lower
the scenery.
Photo via
The restoration was achieved through a campaign led by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Emir of Abu Dhabi.  The sheikh, the supporter behind the Louvre Abu Dhabi, runs the world's second-largest sovereign wealth fund (following that of the King of Thailand) with Forbes reporting assets of $773 billion. 

The patron of the theatre's restoration,
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, right.
Photo from Getty Images via Daily Mail.
The Imperial Theatre is accessible by guided tour only, available every afternoon except Tuesdays.  What a treat to know that this architectural treasure may now be visited by the public.

The Imperial Theatre, Fontainebleau.
Photo via Daily Mail.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Marie-Antoinette: Chic Chaises

A fauteuil en bergere made for
Marie-Antoinette's Salon du Rocher
in the garden of the Petit Trianon, Versailles.
Image: Christie's.
A single armchair sold last week for $2,714,250.  Yes, it was a very special chair, made especially for Marie-Antoinette as part of a suite to furnish the Belvedere Pavilion, her Salon du Rocher or teahouse, in the garden of the Petit Trianon.

The Belvedere Pavilion (and Grotto)
in the garden of the Petit Trianon.
Image:  World Monuments Fund.
The interior of the Belvedere Pavilion.
Image: World Monuments Fund.
The Belvedere Pavilion was built between 1778 and 1781 under the supervision of the queen's architect Richard Mique with interior decoration by Le Riche.  (A conservation effort was completed in 2012 supported by the World Monuments Fund).
The Belvedere Pavilion
in a modern watercolor by Andrew Zega from
The floor plan of the Belvedere Pavilion
showing the design of the marble floor
and the surrounding terrace as drawn by
Claude-Louis Châtelet in 1786.
Image: Bibliothèque de Modène.

The July 9, 2015 auction at Christie's, London, Sale 10670, was titled "Taste of the Royal Court: Important French Furniture and Works of Art from a Private Collection."  Far exceeding the estimate of $463,200 to $772,000, Lot 18 was described as a royal Louis XVI giltwood fauteuil en bergere

Side view of the fauteuil en bergere
from the suite made for the Belvedere Pavilion.
Image: Christie's.
A detail of the chair sold at auction last week
that had been made for Marie-Antioinette's
Belvedere Pavilion, Versailles.
Image: Christie's.
Another detail of the chair made for
Marie-Antoinette's Belvedere Pavilion.
Image: Christie's.
The auction notes listed Francois (II) Foliot as the maker, 1780-81, and attributed the design to Jacques Gondoin with the carving by either Mme. Pierre-Edme Babel or Toussaint Foliot.  A wax model by Gondoin showed an additional two legs at the front rail, suggesting that the existing rail might be a replacement from the end of the 18th or early 19th century.

The wax study model of the chair
attributed to Gille-François Martin, to the design
of Jacques Gondoin.  Paris, 1780. 1:7 scale.
Image: Musèe National des Châteaux des Versailles et de Trianon.
Originally, the suite was comprised of eight fauteuils en bergere (closed-arm chairs) and eight chaises (side chairs).  The carved beech was painted white, originally, with parcel-gilt detailing.  The major expense of the original suite, however, was the fabric, threads of gold and silver embroidered on silk.  Bills for payment for the chairs costing 20,000 livres, now in the Archives Nationale, were presented during the Revolution trial as evidence of Marie-Antoinette's lavish spending. (A gallon of wine at the time cost about one livre, a cow, 100 livres, and a horse, 250 livres).

A chaise from the suite, in the collection at Versailles.
The modern fabric is interpreted to be in keeping
with the original design concept.
Image: Syndicat National des Antiquaires.
The Getty Museum has four side chairs from this suite in their collection.  They were bought from the estate of Anna Thomson Dodge from Christie's in 1971.  The four chairs were one of the highlights of her impressive collection that furnished her Trumbauer-designed mansion, "Rose Terrace," in Grosse Point Farms, Michigan.

One of the four chaises in the Getty collection
now covered in modern fabric.
Who was the buyer?  That has not been revealed, but the price would indicate that there were at least two very interested parties.  There was a special European Union document that allowed its shipment to the auction in London; apparently it was not from a private collection in France or there would have been issues on exporting such a historically important antique.  My guess is that the Getty Museum was the high bidder, but hopefully we shall see this chic chaise on public exhibition in the future.

Claude-Louis Châtelet's 1781 painting
"Illumination du Pavillon du Belvédère, Petit Trianon."
Image: Collection of the Palace of Versailles.
Read more in this series "Chic Chaises" here, here, and here.  Visit the regular on-line version of The Devoted Classicist to leave a comment or search the archives of past posts.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Parish-Hadley Tree of Life

is a new book to be published October, 2015.
There is a new book in the works, PARISH-HADLEY TREE OF LIFE: AN INTIMATE HISTORY OF THE LEGENDARY DESIGN FIRM, being developed by Brian J. McCarthy and Bunny Williams that will focus not only on the firm, but will also feature thirty-one of the former employees who have gone on to successful careers on their own.  Because of the unique learning environment created by Sister Parish and Albert Hadley, the "graduates" of Parish-Hadley are known in the design profession as "alumnae" with their experience compared to an advance degree in design.  Each of the 31 alumni interviewed have a chapter in the book giving a personal reflection of the firm with illustrations of their work past and present.

The Parish-Hadley story is an very unique one; no other interior design firm - ever- has produced so many designers who left to establish their own studio.  Brian had the idea for the book about eight years ago.  He developed an outline and discussed it with Mr. Hadley (who passed in 2012 following Mrs. Parish's death in 1994) who was very excited about the project.  But Brian's own book, LUMINOUS INTERIORS: THE HOUSES OF BRIAN McCARTHY, came first.  When Brian told Bunny about his idea when they were both at the Nashville Garden & Antiques Show, she was very enthusiastic and promised her full support.  The next week, Bunny was in a meeting at Abrams and happened to mention the idea; the publishers jumped on it, giving the book an immediate green light for Stewart, Tabori and Chang, using the same book agent Jill Cohen, art director Doug Turshen and creative team that both Bunny and Brian had used before on their own books. In addition to the very readable text, the book also promises to be visually interesting.  Advances in digital imagery will avoid the muddy results of historic black & white photos that have plagued design books in the past.  Plus there are many new color never-before-published images.

The image used for the book jacket (and that may change) is one of my favorites of the Parish-Hadley projects, the Living Room of Nancy Pyne in Peapack, New Jersey.  Both partners had a hand in the design and the result is quintessential Parish-Hadley -- comfortable yet refined and with an architectural sensibility in the furnishings without being too rigid.

The title of the book expresses Albert Hadley's appreciation of the traditional motif, the Tree of Life.  The mythology of the sacred tree dates back to a number of ancient civilizations including the cultures of pre-Islamic Persia and ancient Egypt as well as other Asian, European, and Native American beliefs.  The motif gained wide-spread exposure as a popular design on 17th century printed cotton bedcoverings from India, the palampores which often featured a Tree of Life as a central figure.  The Tree of Life motif was also developed in Persia and China in the 18th century with adaptations for the European market where various goods were marketed.  Crewel embroidery was also used to represent the motif in England, often a natural color wool yarn on a colored background;  a wallpaper representation of this was an Albert Hadley favorite.

And not insignificantly, there will be a short chapter on John J. Tackett that Devoted Readers will not want to miss.  Plans are for an October 13, 2015, release with Hearst Publications -- Elle Décor, Veranda, and House Beautiful -- hosting a gala launch on that date.  So there will be plenty more about the book in the magazines in the coming months.  But for those who cannot wait to see the book on store shelves, pre-ordering at a discount price is available here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Another Storey

John Tackett Design.
A Proposed Addition and Improvements
to a New House Under Construction.
Image: The Devoted Classicist blog
A colleague has interior design clients building a very large house custom designed by a local architect.  In addition to a substantial main block, there are extensions in both directions with almost endless passages to room after room on the Ground Floor.  So it was a surprise to be contacted about a possible expansion while the house was just starting construction.

There was interest in having parents occupy the planned Master Suite on the Ground Floor, requiring the homeowners to relocate to the Second Floor and push the guest rooms to a new Third Floor.  The interior designer wisely advised against expansion of the Ground Floor, already a maze many time larger than the main block.  The program for John Tackett Design was to suggest an upward expansion of the main block without increasing the overall roof height, and propose some detailing to give more architectural interest.  The foundation was complete and framing underway but the structural engineer gave approval for the proposed added storey.  My quick sketch over a reduced-size print of the original construction drawing is shown.

A very deep porch is replaced with an entrance terrace (already in place) with a rusticated limestone first floor giving a visual base for applied limestone pilasters and a limestone pediment.  Instead of the over-sized brown brick with white mortar originally planned, I suggested a traditional-sized brick in a buff ochre color with matching mortar to compliment the proposed buff Minnesota limestone.  The windows were already on order, but I did suggest changing the Upstairs Center Hall window over the front door, and the window of the two-story Secondary Stair Hall seen on the front of the house.  Also, my design changes the front door to a narrow pair and alters the sidelights, transom and limestone surround.

The interior designer who had apparently expressed concerns throughout the original design process was thrilled with my proposal.  And the homeowners were ecstatic.  But the parents, who were not part of the discussion, balked at the thought of moving in with their adult offspring.  "Never!" was their reported comment.  So this has been one last view before going into the Unbuilt category in the files.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

More Valerian Rybar for Claudette and Murray Candib

The Candib's Living Room in Miami Beach
decorated by Valerian Rybar.
Image: Architectural Digest.
Another office neighbor's purging of reference files has yielded more images of the Miami Beach house that Valerian Rybar decorated for Claudette and Murray Candib.  Looking like a neo-classical villa on the Riviera, the project with partner Jean-Francois Daigre was featured in the April 1987 issue of Architectural Digest.  The stylish chairs in the handsome lattice-paneled Dining Room were featured on a previous post of The Devoted Classicist.

The Candib Dining Room.
Image: Architectural Digest.
Clearly, Rybar was not big on choosing furnishings from a catalog;  he mixed carefully selected antiques with his own custom-designed cabinetry and upholstery.  In the Living Room, a central bourne was fabricated with a scagliola top that accommodated table lamps to supplement the light from a pair of crystal and bronze doré chandeliers.

The Loggia in the Candib home.
Image:  Architectural Digest.
The Loggia benefits from classic Florida architecture, walls in blocks of coquina stone and a paneled, white-washed wood ceiling (which appears to be cedar or cypress).  The modular seating in Ottoman form has stylized paisley upholstery fabric in gray and burgundy, an effect later to be diluted with less-expensive versions but this was not as familiar at the time.  The same goes for the pleated shades.  And it was not long before knock-off Coromandel screens diminished the value of the antique lacquer panels.  But at the time, this room with pots of huge orchids was chic.

"I told Valerian I wanted something very different," Claudette Candib was quoted to say about the Powder Room.  Although animal prints are commonplace today, wall panels of jaguar velvet framed with ebonized wood certainly had to be unexpected in Florida.  An ebony Empire coiffeuse paired with a sculptural chair of the same period with a black horsehair-covered seat added glamor to the space as well.

The Candib's Library designed by Rybar.
Image: Architectural Digest.
In some terms, the Library was one of the more conventional rooms in the house. Handsomely paneled, an animal-print carpet furthers the black and gold scheme for comfortable upholstered seating, a Louis writing desk, and a lacquered low table probably designed by Rybar. 

The Candib Master Bedroom by Valerian Rybar.
Image: Architectural Digest.
There was no lack of drama for the decoration of the Master Bedroom, however. Rybar designed a canopy in a variation of a lit à la polonaise with supports as stylized palm trunks.  An Ottoman style bench at the end of the bed undoubtedly concealed a pop-up television.

Self-described as "the world's most expensive decorator,"  Rybar's published projects were not universally praised although the firm never suffered from a lack of potential clients with the means to have a gasp-inducing interior.  The most interesting lesson today, however, might be the design professional's ability to carry through with a theme and leave no aspect of decoration without consideration.  The idea of Total Design for interiors has lost appreciation in these past years, but there seems to be interest growing again, no?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Mario Buatta, Curtain Master

Curtains in the Dillon Room of Blair House
decorated by Mario Buatta. 1988.
Photo from Southern Accents.
Granted, there are many other examples that would better prove Mario Buatta's skill in curtain design, but this one illustrates several valuable lessons.  While it is admirable that the form of the curtains acknowledges the form of the window (or doorway), it is not critical that the form be absolutely followed.  Windows with a rounded head do not necessarily require rounded head curtains.  (As with any rule, there are exceptions and I will contradict myself in a future post, but let's stay with this for the moment).

The Dillon Room at Blair House
as decorated by Mario Buatta, 1988.
Photo from Southern Accents.
Identifying the gilded, pierced element of the valance (or pelmet) as the curtain cornice, note how that feature gives grace to the large opening.  The curtain cornice allows the striped silk taffeta fabric of the valance and panels to just simply hang; the volume of the fabric along with lining and interlining as well as the correct dimensions keep the ensemble from looking limp.  Although the center of the curtain cornice rises to a height above the cornice (or crown molding) of the room, note that the attachment of this treatment is made to the wall.  Curtains should never be attached to the face of the cornice of the room.  (And that is one rule for which I can think of no exceptions).

Another view of the Dillon Room, Blair House.
Photo from Architectural Digest.
While many might know that Blair House is the official guest house of the President for visiting foreign dignitaries and their entourages, some may not realize that it is actually four houses; two face Pennsylvania Avenue and two face Jackson Square adding up to over 100 rooms.  The 1984 to 1988 renovation dealt with architects John Mesick and John Waite restructuring the interconnection of the interior spaces and other functional issues with an $8.6 million grant from Congress.  But an additional $5 million was raised by private donations for the décor by the Blair House Restoration Fund headed by Selwa "Lucky" Roosevelt (Chief of Protocol from 1982 to 1989 and wife of Theodore Roosevelt's grandson) and Clement Conger (who was the force behind the White House decoration of public rooms from Pat Nixon until Nancy Reagan).  Half of those funds was used for decoration and half was reserved for an on-going acquisition and maintenance fund.  The responsibilities for the interior design were divided between Mario Buatta and Mark Hampton, each among the top "name' decorators of the time.

The Queen's Bedroom at Blair House
as decorated by Mario Buatta in 1988.
Bunny Williams redecorated the room in 2011.
Photo via The Washington Post.
In 2011, Bunny Williams, one of the top talents today, was brought in to redecorate three bedrooms, two by Mario Buatta and one by Mark Hampton, which had discontinued fabrics that made it not feasible to reproduce the original scheme. The curtains, however, were still in a condition suitable for re-use and sent to be auctioned in September, 2011 by the Potomac Company in Alexandria with proceeds to benefit the restoration fund.  The  headboards and associated hangings along with the curtains, all in a discontinued Lee Jofa chintz, were given a pre-auction estimate of $400 to $800; the results are not known.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

John Saladino, Curtain Master

John Saladino's Kips Bay Showhouse room.
Image from HOUSE BEAUTIFUL, October 1988.
Designer of furnishings and interiors, John Saladino is known for his Signature Look that mixes continental antiques with seating, tables and lighting of his own design, usually within a handsome architectural setting.  But Saladino is not necessarily known for his curtains.  Here is an example, however, where Saladino realized that the room absolutely needed some softness at the tall south and west-facing windows of this room and addressed the issue in a simple, classic way.

A corner of Saladino's Kips Bay Showhouse room.
Image from HOUSE BEAUTIFUL, October 1988.
This room was in a Park Avenue townhouse that was used as a decorator showhouse several times to benefit the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club providing after-school and enrichment programs for New York City children; I think this particular event dates from 1988. Patrons at the gala opening are allowed to walk into the rooms, but the typical visitor only sees the room from one angle, at the doorway (unless it is a walk-through room) so the space is often furnished to be seen from just one vantage point.  But the room has to work during both day and evening opening hours. The existing paneling in this case could not be altered, making any special construction at the windows impossible.  Part of the solution here was a bottom-up linen shade that could be adjusted to diffuse the light as well as the view of traffic just below.  This allowed the curtain panels of unlined fabric to be fixed, pulled up to one side in the manner of the classical Mediterranean villas that still inspire Saladino.  The panels were silk, if I am remembering correctly, with inverted pleats giving a more tailored look, hanging from braided cords of the same color.

Saladino's Kips Bay Showhouse Room.
The Art of the Room
Can you imagine the room without the curtains?  It would not be nearly as successful without this relatively simple element.  Read more about this room in a post of The Art of the Room.  This is the third post in the not-necessarily-consecutive series on curtains with the others being able to be seen by clicking on "curtains" under LABELS in the right-hand margin of the regular web version of The Devoted Classicist.