Friday, July 19, 2019

A visit to Winterthur

As I mentioned in my previous post, Costuming the Crown, a few weeks ago I went to visit Winterthur, the renowned museum founded by Henry Francis duPont.  The house had been his family home which over decades he slowly transformed into an enormous museum housing his world class collection of early American furniture and decorative arts.
Now as one can imagine this method of enlarging any building can result in a building that is at best cacophonous and some might say a hot mess. I know calling beloved Winterthur a hot mess may not be the most popular opinion to hold, but architecturally speaking can anyone suggest otherwise?  The collection is world class, the interiors are superb with the best quality of lighting I have ever seen, but the building itself is not so good.
Two photos above you see the original front entry which had been abandoned from that use and now acts as the conservatory door.
This isn't a pretty house museum and no one is visiting for the architecture; See the elevations above which I found on Winterthur's blog to prove my point. This house is all about the interior.  As Frank Lloyd Wright suggested "A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines" and that seems to be the approach taken here: one cannot fully see the house due to the lush trees and planting.
However the interiors are strikingly lovely and really that is why one visits. Above is the Chinese Parlor, obviously named after the 19th century wallpaper, which is one of the favorite rooms in the house. My favorite part of any tour are the stories about how the family lived. I love that they keep fresh flowers in the rooms and show faux martinis and hors d'oeurvres (period appropriate to the early 20th century of course!) which make the house feel alive.
Watch a great tour of the room with Bob Villa on youtube HERE.  As I visited in summer the famous green damask upholstery was seasonably covered in yellow slipcovers. The duPonts had cocktails before meals in this room.
The family moved out of the house in the 50s so it could be totally converted to museum use, and many of the other spaces don't show their original purpose as they have become more institutional. The small anteroom below is seen on the plan above just north of the 'empire parlor'. Another example is all of the guest baths have been gutted to show more of the collections as well.
The Baltimore drinking room, named after the suite of furniture, features another 19th century scenic wallpaper, 'Paysages Italien' by Desfosse & Karth.
The China Hall features beautiful built-ins showcasing the porcelain collection. The china in the cupboards below belonged to Martha Washington and is a larger collection than the one at Mt Vernon. 
The immense scale of the building creates some strikingly lovely enfilades.  Notice the subtle lighting creating warm pools of light - #goals.
The stairhall features another beautiful scenic wallpaper.
This lovely green space is the candlestick room but would make an excellent butler's pantry!
As I mentioned previously Winterthur takes great pains to recreate life as it was in the early 20th century for the duPonts.
The number of rooms and fireplaces are staggering. Although very different, this collection of period paneling and architectural pieces does bring to mind another early 20th century collector, William Randolph Hearst (of Hearst Castle fame).  Winterthur does not like that comparison -haha. I however love Hearst Castle (see my myriad posts on that house in the search box in my sidebar).
The 'Empire Parlor' (seen on the plan above) is charmingly set for the duPont daughter's childhood birthday party.
The rather stiff Marlboro Room is set for afternoon tea with an impressive display of silver.
One of the masterpieces at Winterthur is the Montmorenci staircase which was taken from an early 19th century North Carolina mansion and rebuilt at Winterthur, described as the largest freestanding spiral staircase in the United States.
The stair is really quite the thing!
As you can see from the swimming pool in the photo below, the house is kept well hidden behind lush trees.
I do love this figural pool filler!
My favorite part of the grounds however would have to be the teahouse in the backyard (note the classroom and library space beyond).
The view of the teahouse from the lower garden feels like part of a fortress.
Inspiration is everywhere - the floors to the changing room in the poolhouse were the most lovely combination of brick and slate.
Winterthur is open most days of the week and I highly recommend a visit!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Costuming THE CROWN at Winterthur

Last month I went to Winterthur (for the first time no less, can you believe it?) and while Winterthur is of course worth many trips of its own, the reason for the visit was to see "Costuming THE CROWN"(open until January 5, 2020).
I'm a huge fan of the Netflix series so was really excited to see the costumes from this ground breaking 'tv' show.  I must have watched the first 2 seasons at least 3 times through.
I have to comment on the magic of tv.  The show looks so lush and luxe on the small screen (literally, as I often watch on my phone!) but in person everything looked fake and flat! However the details and thought put into the costumes were really incredible.
The exhibit walks one through the process of creating costumes for such well -known real life characters (some of whom are still living), where they documented exact costumes and where they had more freedom to create in the vein of the time period (50s-60s London).
I especially loved seeing the concept sketches with the actual final costumes, such as this one created for the Duchess of Windsor.
The notes on the side of the sketches give real incite into the characters- "NOT pearls" for Princess Margaret - costume design is so fascinating!
Emmy award winning Season 2, episode 2, of when the Kennedys visit London was probably the most fun for the costume designer. The elegant Parisian dress designed for Jackie vs. the rather dumpy gown of the queen says so much about their characters.
 No detail was overlooked, medals, orders, they're all there!
I don't have a picture but the padded bodysuit made for John Lithgow's amazing transformation into Winston Churchill was the highlight of the exhibit!
Queen Mary loved her jewels and her costumes were bedecked with paste which glitters so convincingly on screen yet is so flat and dull in person.
The wedding dresses of both Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were mostly faithful reproductions (adjustments to fit the actresses proportions as well as to make them more palatable to modern audiences) and the stark contrast just echoed the differences in character of the sisters.  Below the embellished gown of the Queen.
The 'embroidered' dress Princess Margaret wears when she plays queen for the day is actually painted onto the fabric, which I think is even more interesting and beautiful up close (although the creepy mannequin gives me nightmares). Read this fascinating interview about the costumes Princess Margaret wears with actress Vanessa Kirby HERE at Harpers Bazaar.
 The recreation of the famous red box was so fun to see too - wish they sold these in the gift shop!
Season 3 of The Crown will come out later this year and anticipation is building; Hurry up Netflix! The new cast who will play the older characters just proves how popular this series has become: gorgeous Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret (I CANNOT WAIT FOR THIS). 
And the equally fabulous Olivia Colman will play the queen. She's not a natural choice to me but she's so fantastic I'm sure she will pull it off. I CANNOT WAIT! Sidenote: have you seen "The Favourite" for which Colman won an Oscar? While the movie is historically flawed it's an amazing performance and fascinating film.
As always images are my own with the exception of the last 2 stills from Netflix. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Robert Adam's Entrance Hall at Osterley House

After the Etruscan dressing room the Entrance Hall at Osterley House must be my favorite room in England.
The space is so good that in fact it was the only room to be directly COPIED on a sound stage for the filming of The Grass is Greener - in which it appears for only a matter of moments.  That's a lot of expense although perhaps it was used in scenes which hit the editing room floor?  I wonder what happened to the scenery after filming?
Above is Cary Grant on a brief walk through the house (actually sets on a London sound stage) with his butler before opening to the paying public in The Grass is Greener.
Although it was meant as the Entrance Hall today on a tour of the house it's actually one of the last rooms you see; although you catch a glimpse of it from the long gallery central doors (below) earlier in the tour.  Those are the 'front doors' of the house.
The Entrance Hall was completely redesigned by Robert Adam during the extensive renovations to the Tudor house by removing one portion of the block of the house, essentially creating a U shaped plan.  One enters up a grand exterior stair and through what was formerly a totally enclosed courtyard which makes for a truly impressive processional entrance. The wing of the house which was removed was replaced with a classical screen which acts as a covered porch. Even the ceiling of that outdoor space has elaborate plaster-work.  One only wishes the current tour took this same path rather than in through the family entrance past service spaces on the Ground floor.
The hall was used for more than just grand entrances though; the family would use the room for dining and overflow from the long gallery during the weekend parties and balls they would throw.
Every inch of this space and surface is designed to complement all aspects of the room. The floor reflects the ceiling, the wall panels encase armorial panels, and even the furniture was designed by Adam.
 The soft french grey and ivory white are excellent foils for the limestone floors and mantelpieces.
These lovely 3-branch oil-lamp sconces designed by Adam grace elaborate plaster brackets. These would make for fantastic electric uplights today!
 At either end of the room are apses which function as inglenooks without the built-in seating.
The flowers in the firebox are decidedly odd but don't distract from the perfection of every detail. 
 This limestone mantel would be stunning on a flat wall let along softly and impressively curved to fit the wall.
Imagine having to do the math to figure out the details of the curved ceiling - no 2 pieces are alike.
 Notice too the built-in window seats facing the courtyard.
 I think mahogany doors within painted trim are one of my favorite details in life.
The Greek key cornice, which normally would be one of the first things I'd notice, is almost lost amongst the exuberant plaster-work.
 Greek key too in the classical overdoor (and who doesn't love an enfilade?).
The small vestibules on either end of the entrance hall have the most beautiful groin vaulted ceilings perhaps I have ever seen. A shame more discreet smoke detectors could not be found! Perhaps it would be better more in alignment with the pattern?
Here I leave you with the recommendation to visit Osterley House & Park on your next visit to London!