Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The grand Willard Hotel DC, some historical surprises

Most people here in DC know of the Willard: one of the grand dame hotels of the city which one assumes have been there forever.
However what most probably don't know (I for one did not) is that the current hotel is actually mostly a recreation of the historic space!
We recently hosted a tour of the hotel with our ICAA chapter and the hotel historian had some eye opening surprises for us.
Many of the beautiful details which appear to date to the hotel's rebuilding in 1901 when the beaux arts style hotel was built actually date to 1986!
Lets back up here. Yes the hotel is historic. Like many hotels however it has been renovated and rebuilt almost continuously since its founding in 1818 (the year is a stretch but is when a hotel was first built on this site). Above is the lobby as it appeared in 1950. One recognizes the overall space but decoration and mid-centuryisms are the focus.
And above is how the lobby appeared in 1984! This area of Washington suffered greatly during the 1968 riots and after being ransacked the hotel was closed and practically abandoned.
 Finally in 1984 work began under new ownership to rebuild the luxury hotel.
 Above is the famous Peacock Alley, both before and after renovation, where society once had afternoon tea and today you can again as well.
It is said that the term 'lobbyist' was originated in this very hotel. Abraham Lincoln would cross the street from the White house to smoke cigars and have a brandy in the lobby as his wife did not approve of such behavior, and he would be accosted in the lobby by people asking favors; hence the term lobbyist was coined!
 Above the same area before restoration. As many of the fixtures appear to be original and everything in such good 'olde' condition I had assumed the hotel has sat this way for generations.
One of the oldest appearing rooms is known as the Crystal Room which features the original gas (now electrified) chandeliers. The building time period of this hotel was known as the gilded age after all!
 And below the Crystal Room as it appeared prior to the renovation. One can recognize the room by the beautiful plaster ceiling.
 All of the 'marble' pilasters and columns throughout the hotel are faux painted or scagliola (an Italian technique of creating faux marble) done in 1986 (recreating the former faux marble).
 Beautiful crisp plasterwork.
The former grand dining room features mahogany paneling. Sadly the restaurant closed during the recession but is still available for events.
The dining room was the site of a murder by a crazed congressman who shot his waiter in 1856 (read about that here for a good time).
The lower paneling is a recreation of the original as only the upper paneling survived but looks a pretty close match although less ornate.
The hotel also claims to have been where the Mint Julep made its original debut in the famous Round Robin bar(more about that here).  One can still order one in the bar today which I highly recommend!
The restoration of the hotel is a lovely recreation and modernization of this iconic hotel -so successful that no one on the tour had any idea it wasn't all original!
 All is not preserved however. During the renovation the original ballroom on the top floors of the hotel was moved into the basement, seen below, and the upper floors split into additional meeting and guest rooms with a few additional stories added to the hotel.
My favorite part of this renovation however is that the craftsmen still exist to create such intricate detailing.
If you are in the Washington metropolitan area I hope you will considering joining us on one of our many tours or perhaps considering joining the organization! Check out our website's Calendar of events and our facebook page which are constantly updated.
 And if not I hope you will add tea or a drink at the Willard hotel to your Washington visit.
All historic photos provided by the Willard Intercontinental hotel while all present day photos my own.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sophisticated Simplicity with Suzanne Kasler, Jeffrey Dungan, and a booksigning!

The great designer Suzanne Kasler is at it again with her 3rd book from Rizzoli, Sophisticated Simplicity, sharing more of her timeless projects. This new book looks at a number of her recent projects ranging from town to country, mixing high and low, and with a lot more modern than we're used to seeing from her!
The project below in South Carolina had the homeowners taking Suzanne out of her comfort zone with their love of bold colors.
Many of the projects however feature Kasler's signature of beautiful neutrals with light-filled interiors.
The project in Maine, seen in these 2 photos, showcases the homeowners' love of blue &white and is what relaxed coastal living is all about!
But the event I'm excited to share with you is a booksigning with Suzanne Kasler, Architect Jeffrey Dungan, and photographer William Abranowicz, that I'm hosting through our chapter of the ICAA in conjunction with Circa lighting with whom Kasler has a lighting line. Dungan is a talented architect out of the South who recently released a monograph of some of his impressive work to date. This book is not to be missed!
The free book-signing event will be hosted at the Circa showroom in Cadys Alley, DC on the evening of Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018.  The first 75 attendees will win copies of the books courtesy of Circa!  A fun giveaway raffle from Circa and the ICAA is yet another reason to come! Kasler, Dungan, and Abranowicz will all briefly speak about their work featured in these 2 interesting books.  Books will be available for sale in addition to the free copies.  I hope to see many of you there! 
All images courtesy of RizzoliUSA

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Heavenly Bodies

While on the topic of the Met I wanted to share with you some of my pictures from the controversial exhibit, Heavenly Bodies; Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.
While my interest in fashion is only passing the clothes throughout the exhibit are remarkable. Most remarkable of all however are the actual papal vestments found in a (respectfully) separate gallery from the secular garments (no photos allowed).
 Most extraordinary of all however is how excited people are for this exhibit; The crowds were immense. In all of my visits to the Met I have never seen crowds of people actually spending time in these medieval galleries.  People are excited for church stuff, in the 21st century,  that should be good right?
Well a lot of people are complaining that an exhibit on fashion inspired by Catholicism is disrespectful.  Whatever happened to 'Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery' or 'There is no such thing as bad publicity'?
 I found the exhibit thrilling, particularly the addition of chant'ish type music and great lighting.
I also thought it was incredibly respectful.  The actual papal vestments as I mentioned are in a separate gallery all to themselves, not mixed with other artwork.  These are works inspired by Catholicism, not copies or mocking in any way.
 This is an art museum:  we're looking at the artistry of the clothes both secular and religious.
Seeing these clothes up close and in person was truly astonishing, much better than in the pages of Vogue. The art is in the details.
 These glamorous gowns by Thiery Mugler were from his 'Winter of Angels' collection in 1984-85.
 Lame!  How I loved these.
 Also interesting were the 1991-92 evening tops by Versace inspired by Mosaics.
The exhibit Heavenly Bodies is on view at the Met and the Cloisters (which I sadly missed) through October 8, 2018, be sure to catch this!

Friday, July 13, 2018

an Ogden Codman Jr watercolor

While at the Met to see the Versailles exhibit, this framed watercolor caught my eye. The presentation drawing by architect Ogden Codman Jr. was for the bedroom of Louise Vanderbuilt's bedroom at Hyde Park in 1898.  I wish we made such evocative drawings for our clients still today; sketch up models cannot compete with the artistry of watercolor. 

Codman, of course, was the friend and co-author to Edith Wharton's 'The Decoration of Houses'. I think a monograph on this decorator's Architect is long overdue!
as always - click on the image to see in greater detail

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Visitors to Versailles

Ever since Louis XIV moved the seat of French government to Versailles it has been a very public place full of visitors very unlike the original hunting lodge he inherited.
You have your chance to see the chateau a little closer to home as Versailles has come to us.  Until July 29, 2018 the exhibit 'Visitors to Versailles' is at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC.
I visited the exhibit back in May and while it doesn't compare with the real thing it is a great introduction to the history of the storied chateaux.
The palace, after the ransacking of the revolution, is still shockingly accurate to pre-revolutionary time (despite the touch of future generations). I spent a lovely day in Versailles last month and all of the historic images from the exhibit are instantly recognizable.
The crowds may be rather more casually dressed these days but they still come to ogle the spectacle that is Versailles.
Back in the 17th and 18th centuries your rank and dress could grant you varying degrees of access to the chateau.  The gardens were open to the public but if you were well dressed you could gain entry inside and even see the king. There were ways of sorting the wheat from the chaff however.
Interior court costume rules were very strict: you were told what to wear to get into the most private spaces which only the very rich could afford.  The exhibit had a few original examples of court dress which are works of art unto themselves.
 The embroidery is as fine on the men's clothing as on the women's.
In addition to Paris the town of Versailles (which is charming, btw, and worth a visit) was full of seamstresses and haberdasheries that could supply you with the necessary clothing to gain access; for a price.
The exhibit had this tavern sign from 1760 showing a young man in his finery.  After the long 12 mile journey from Paris, naturally visitors would want to refresh themselves and change into their court dress at places such as a tavern or hotel. Versailles is easily reached today on the RER metro but was rather more difficult to visit in the 18th century for the common man.
A large part of the exhibit deals with more official visits however: those from ambassadors of foreign countries.
Many came bearing costly gifts in addition to their large entourages and townspeople would line up to see the spectacle. The king was trying to impress the visitors with his chateau so the ambassadors had to really try hard to impress the king in return.
This bejeweled Ottoman powder flask is one of many impressive gifts on display.
Under Louis XIV ambassadors had their own staircase designed by Louis le Vau in the late 17th century, which this amazing model depicts (built in 1958) .
Sadly the staircase was removed in 1752 leaving ambassadors to enter the palace by other more ordinary means.
Inside the palace the best of France was on display.  These large urns and an Aubusson carpet above are some examples shown in an interesting interpretation of the hall of mirrors.
Visitors were entertained in other areas of Versailles as well.  Marie Antoinette made full  use of the gardens of her Petit Trianon to host select groups of friends. There were lovely night-time paintings on loan for the exhibit commissioned by the queen to commemorate certain visits. Seen above are the Rock and Belvedere lit for a party, painted by Claude Louis Chatelet for the queen in honor of the visit of her brother Emperor Joseph II on August 3, 1781.
The rock and the belvedere are instantly recognizable today thanks to loving restorations -seen above last month during my visit.
The other nighttime painting in the exhibit is of the Temple of Love. The painting by Hubert Robert commemorates a fireworks display for the visit of Paul and Maria Feodorovna of Russia in 1782. These paintings were definitely my favorite items in the exhibit.
 Above you can see the temple of love, just visible beyond the Petit Trianon, and easily viewed from Marie Antoinette's bedroom.
 Also on display, although they came from just over the river from a museum in the Bronx, are some personal items of furniture commissioned by Queen Marie Antoinette. 
 Above are an amazing armchair made for the queen by Jacques Gondouin and a commode by Jean Henri Riesener.
The exhibit is pretty great if you've never been to the chateau in person, but nothing can ever prepare you for the shear (exhausting) scale of the palace and gardens.
 I had visited the palace and the Trianons a few times in the past so on this past visit devoted my day  to the gardens and was graced with perfect weather.  Notice the scale of the few other people visiting the orangery above....those doors must be over 20'-0" tall!!  No drawings or photographs can prepare you for that.
The immense scale of the gardens meant that most areas aren't perhaps as lovingly tended as others, but impressive none the less if only for their size.   They aren't kidding when they tell you to wear comfortable shoes; you will be exhausted!
June is a great time to visit: Roses and orange trees are in bloom and hopefully you'll have as lovely weather as we did.
Here is the Colonnade from 1685 designed by Mansart.  32 marble columns and pilasters surround the immense space which was frequently used by the king for his daily walks and outdoor musical entertainments.
If a visit to Versailles is not in your immediate future I urge you to visit 'Visitors to Versailles' at the Met in New York and take in a little French magnificence closer to home!