Photo Gallery: Historical Interior Design
“Exotic but not over the top,” says The Aesthete of the Windsors’ Chinese-and-seraglio-inspired space in Paris, France. It was decorated by Stephane Boudin in the late 1930s. “The diamond-quilted silk curtains are plush, the button-tufted sectionals are swell for relaxing with a cocktail, and the spidery bamboo furniture lightens up the bulk of the upholstery,” he adds.
“It’s the definition of relaxed chic — a cream, beige and brown colour scheme, natural wood furniture, stone floor, leather here, cotton there, a dash of leopard-spot fabric, and all that sunlight,” observes The Aesthete. This 1930s living room was one of decorator Ruby Ross Wood’s triumphs. “Notice the white planters holding the lily plants: they’re just galvanized-tin wash tubs painted high-gloss white. Such a smart idea — and so cheap to copy,” he adds.
“It’s a Gerard Butler of a room — sexy, masculine, relaxed and gutsy,” says The Aesthete of British decorator Maugham’s living room in Le Touquet, France. Furnished in the mid-1920s, it features clipped sheepskin rugs, bleached oak tables, roughly woven striped fabrics, and sofas upholstered in creamy damask.
“No-colour rooms are hard to pull off without them appearing chilly or malnourished,” notes The Aesthete. “But this mid-1980s New York living room by interior designer Mark Hampton, in cream and oyster, is rich, sparkling, and warm. Those wonderful orange Mark Rothko paintings shine down like twin sunsets, and the flowery Axminster carpet acts like a garden rolled out under the painted Georgian furniture.”
"One of decorator Billy Baldwin's lesser-known triumphs is this apartment living room in Madrid, done around 1970 for a vibrant couple with three young children," says The Aesthete. "I love it for many reasons, but mainly because it'
“Interior designer Jean-Michel Frank was so much more than straw walls and cube-shaped chairs,” explains The Aesthete, referring to the French minimalist master who created this circa-1936 seaside room. “The shaggy fitted carpet is natural brown wool, the curtains are made of green-and-white awning stripe cotton, and the Victorian-inspired chairs are covered in a pale yellow fabric with matching fringe. It’s a combination that recalls a garden composed of daisies, grass, and earth.”
“If I ever live in a log cabin, this is precisely how I want to decorate it,” says The Aesthete. Owned by Napoléon Bonaparte’s youngest sister, Caroline Murat, this charming folly portrays “an 1820s romantic ideal of roughing it, with perfectly tailored log walls as the backdrop to tidy striped banquettes, hanging shelves displaying white china cups, and grisaille pictures of neoclassical buildings and landscapes,” he explains. “The centre table is smart and useful, broad enough for studying, dining, and more; plus it has storage in the base.”
Italian architect and interior designer Renzo Mongiardino cut up inexpensive block-printed cottons from India to panel the walls, sheath the lampshades and upholster a vast Turkish-style sofa that anchors one end of the room. Louis XVI furniture lends a touch of formality; antique watercolors of Chinese potentates hang on the walls. “It’s the hippie-chic room par excellence,” says The Aesthete.
“I’m crazy about pretty rooms that have some backbone,” says The Aesthete. This particular study is in the country house of an aristocratic garden designer and art patron. “Here, the 19th-century rose-pattern chintz covering the walls is strengthened by broad strokes of carved mahogany. And against this old-fashion background are Napoléon III armchairs smartened up with white fabric, blue buttons, and a sassy coordinating fringe. It’s a charming mish-mash of a room, built up over a couple of generations rather than decorated,” he adds.
“Bold colors scare people, and mixing more than one can terrify, but the Honourable Mrs. Fellowes showed how to do it with nose-thumbing aplomb,” says The Aesthete — anonymous author of the now-defunct Aesthete’s Lament blog. “Her sitting room in the English countryside was like a great big petit four, with green-marbleized woodwork outlining walls painted in colours like orchid pink. It was an extreme combination — even before the blue-glass chandelier, leopard-spot slipcover and candy-colored Aubusson carpet are factored in — but it worked.”