Monday, December 13, 2010

Maison Jansen: The Most Influential Decorators of the 20th Century

One of the many great things about the holiday season is the launch of wonderful new books.  There are a number of new titles in decorative arts by friends and acquaintances, but they have not yet made it to book store shelves in Middle America;  I hope to blog about them soon, though.  First, I will present a 2006 gem, JANSEN by James Archer Abbott from Acanthus Press' 20th Century Decorator Series with Mitchell Owens, Series Editor.  All the images shown here are taken from this book.  The photo above shows the Library of the Madrid home of the March banking family, overseen by then-head of the firm, Pierre Delbee.
In full disclosure, James Abbott is a valued friend of almost twenty years, since we were classmates in the Attingham Summer School in England.  In addition to authoring several exceptional books, he has been the curator/director of a number of great house museums, and he is a talented artist as well as all-around Good Guy.  I was an excited youngster when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy gave a televised tour of the sophisticated improvements to the White House, many with the input of Stephane Boudin of Jansen, we were later to learn.  I became familiar with Maison Jansen as a teen, seeing their work credited in library books featuring European architecture and interior design.  I really became a fan, however, after seeing their designs published in 1971 for the four day celebration of the 2,500th Anniversary of the Empire at the ruins of Persepolis, Iran, as shown in the model above.  Jansen designs have often be inspirations for my own projects and my fascination with the Kennedy White House decoration has been enriched with conversations with James over the years with my knowledge of Sister Parish's valuable contributions.  I was not disappointed when JANSEN was published.
I am writing about Maison Jansen because there are still many design professionals and enthusiasts that are unfamiliar with the noted inteior design firm.  In James A. Abbott's JANSEN, he states that Maison Jansen was the most famous and influential interior decorating company of the 20th century.  I resisted accepting that claim at first, but I fully embraced it after reading the book.  The Jansen client list was a very diverse international group;  most of them powerful and all were rich.  With headquarters in Paris, there were eventually offices or boutiques in Buenos Aires, London, Cairo, Alexandria, Havana, New York, Prague, Sao Paulo, Rome, Milan, and Geneva.
Jayne (Mrs. Charles B.) Wrightsman, is shown above, in 1959, in the Library of her house in Palm Beach, Florida, as refurbished by Stephane Boudin of Maison Jansen.  The original 1917 house known as Blythedunes was designed by H. Hastings Mundy for Robert Dun Douglas whose family founded Dun & Bradstreet.  In 1930, it was sold to Harrison Williams, a utilities magnate who was once considered one of the world's richest men, and his wife Mona, a renown beauty, who hired architect Maurice Fatio and decorator Syrie Maugham to restyle the house into one of the most stylish of its time.  Financial reverses led to the sale to multimillionaire oilman Charles Wrightsman and his second wife Jayne who had become a serious student of decorative arts, especially those associated with 18th century France.  To make the house her own and satify her own interests, Mrs Wrightsman hired Jansen who paneled three rooms in period 18th century woodwork, altered and augmented as necessary in their own workshops, and floored four rooms in parquet of royal provenance.  The dazzling 18th century handpainted Chinese wallpaper installed by Syrie Maugham remained in the Drawing Room, but a Louis XV marble chimneypiece, set against a floor-to-ceiling framed mirror, replaced a larger baronial English fireplace.  Museum quality antique furniture was supplemented by handmade new furniture, also from the Jansen workshops, and the decor complimented the Wrightsmans' collection of Impressionist paintings.  After Boudin's death in 1967, other designers were called upon for maintenance and updating, notably Vincent Fourcade. 

When the house was sold in 1984 to Leslie Wexner of The Limited and Victoria's Secret, some of the antiques and art were divided between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Wrightsmans' Manhattan apartment.  So-called lesser pieces were sold at a celebrated auction by Sotheby's New York, an eye-opening event I experienced first hand with "decorative" and "second hand" furnishings selling for record prices.  Wexner demolished the famed house on six acress at 513 North County Road with 600 ft of ocean frontage, causing such an uproar from locals, that he abandoned plans to build a new house (designed by my former employer BeyerBlinderBelle) and decided against having a vacation house in Palm Beach after all.  Jayne Wrightsman, b. 1920, who introduced Boudin to Jackie Kennedy, still lives in a palatial, full-floor, art and antiques-filled apartment at 820 Fifth Avenue, one of New York City's most desirable addresses.

And the Wrightsmans are just one of the many clients and projects profiled in the book!  There is also a sequel of sorts, Jansen Furniture, to be reviewed in a future post.  Both are highly recommended for anyone interested in interior design.

Both Jansen books by James Archer Abbott are available at discount pricing with the option of free shipping through The Devoted Classicist Library in affiliation with Amazon here.


  1. So beautiful! Is this book available online? I know someone who would LOOOVVEEEE it! (um, me!)

  2. Blayne, the Acanthus Press titles can be purchased on-line at their own site:

  3. Ah, at last! You've discovered that comments weren't enabled for the general public! I'm glad, for I've been anxious to welcome you to our little corner of the blogosphere, and tell you how much I enjoy--and will clearly continue to enjoy---your blog.

  4. Thanks, D.E.D. I am a HUGE fan of your blog and hope mine can be at least a fraction as interesting. My computer proficiency has must to be desired, however, so please be patient as I get up to speed.

  5. Followed you back from a comment you left at AAL's and was rewarded with your posts. I have added you to my bookmarks and look forward to reading you posts.

    ps Here in Kansas, I built a folly that I call my prairie temple. While I love classic architecture in my simple home that would have looked silly. So I stole the temple and clad it with horizontal cedar...vaguely a tip to log cabins. Still am intrigued by the shadows made by the lattice roof on the back of the sliding barn door!

  6. hehe! lucky enough to call Jim Abbott a friend!

  7. Why should my prejudice against a firm like Victoria's Secret coalesce with my horror at Waxman demolishing such a distinguished house, I wonder?
    This fabulous image of Jane Wrightsman's room reminds me of Lady Baillie's bedroom at Leeds Castle in Kent, also the work of Stephane Boudin. I wonder if it features in the Jansen book?

  8. Rose: Wexner. But yes, Leeds Castle, the largely 12th century home of the Hon. Lady Baille, is featured with its own chapter. Lady Baillie's bedroom was given panelling with a distressed blue painted finish that has become famous in the history of interior design. (The finish was later repeated in the dining room of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's home in the Bois de Boulonge and others). In addition, Lady Baillie's home in the Bahamas, Harbourside, also is given a chapter.

  9. Boudin must have been the first decorator I was ever aware of, apart from my grandfather who restored buildings and interiors. I remember visiting Leeds Castle when aged 13. That blue room just made an ENORMOUS impression on me and it has been engraved on my memory ever since !Not until much later did I learn about how famous it was. I would love to have worked with him Boudin ! Everything that Jansen made was of such exquisite taste and quality, I guess they employed craftsmen who really knew their stuff and had learned the craft in the 19th century.


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