Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A Fabric Covered Mirror

Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire is one of the greatest treasure houses of Europe. The quality of the furniture is breathtaking and it is all very, very palatial in a rather un-English sort of way. However on a recent visit I noticed something quite modest and unassuming that I had never seen before. In a small room upstairs, redecorated in recent years by David Mlnaric there is a mirror frame that is entirely covered in fabric, ensuite with the walls, the curtains, a sofa and the bed. 
 Here is a detail of the mirror - as it's easy to miss .. 
 I have to say I'm not a fan of the solid red carpet, but apparently that is 'very Waddesdon'. As is the elaborate furniture, including those green vases in their gilded bronze mounts, that are to my mind FAR too grand for a room that just wants to be a simple and charming, secondary bedroom. But I suppose this is Waddesdon, so even small, secondary spare bedrooms are given priceless furniture.
It's Le Gout Rothschild ... after all.
So as this is Waddesdon, the lovely printed cotton was recreated specially for this room, from a fragment found elsewhere in the house, but an almost identical pattern (as far as I can work out on the website) is done by Nicholas Herbert in London. He calls it Kaveri and anybody who likes soft faded cottons and linens should check out his website here. It's all beautiful stuff.
But anyway, I had never seen a mirror frame covered in fabric like that before and wasn't sure I liked the way it made the mirror disappears into the background. What I did know, and have always had a soft spot for, were wooden cornices for curtainboxes and fourposter beds that are covered in fabric. They go back a long way, as here at Knole in the 1670s.
I think that is one of the most beautiful beds ever made. I love the proportions, the richness of the material, but at the same time the simplicity of the design. It's so strong but perfectly ladylike at the same time. In the decades that followed it the design and execution of state beds became ever more complicated but the basic idea remained the same; an architectural cornice, carved in wood and glued with the same fabric as the swags, tails and curtains that hang from it. Here is the Queens bed at Hampton Court from the 1690s. 
And about 15 years ago in the same palace, they beautifuly recreated various beds and curtain headings in the rooms where William III used to live. This is a cornice over a festoon curtain in the King's private bedroom, with decorative swags, tails and ribbons.  
 I guess one of the last great state beds that had this kind of  architectural and entirely fabric covered top was the famous bed at Houghton, designed by William Kent in the 1730s. It looked back to the earlier, more architectural style of the bed at Knole,
and is totally covered in green velvet and intricate embroidery that started life being silver. 
After this time a different style came in and the fabric gave way to elaborately carved headings that were usually gilded, providing an amount of bling that the glued fabric could not compete with, as here in the state bed from Petworth. At night, with a few candles, the effect must be gorgeous. 
But that's another story really.
Cornices covered in fabric enjoyed succes in the various William & Mary revivals that the 20th century produced and I think it is still a very attractive way to make a grand statement that is not  over the top. Here is a bed, also by David Mlinaric:
  I think curtains and beds look so much more finished with a cornice like that - Surely it's much smarter than the usual gathered and velcro'd way ? And it's only a wooden cornice with fabric, so it's not that difficult to do.  And also if you have swags and tails, they look so much better coming from a cornice than when they just dissapear over the top of the board that they are fixed on. 
Here are curtains that my colleague Alec Cobbe and I had made when we redecorated Kenwood House, London for English Heritage, using a now sadly discontiued Jean Monro chintz.
We didn't want another silk room, but they had to have style and presence. Reproduced carved and gilded things would have interfered with the original room, so the fabric covered moulding was the perfect solution.
 So anyway, I started with a mirror. And then I digressed to one of my favorite things; fabric covered cornices. But a few months ago I found this image, from the 1840s. It is a tented dressing room in Paris and on either side hangs a mirror frame that is covered in fabric, just as at Waddeson: 
And here it is:
 To be honest, I'm still not entirely conviced by the Waddesdon mirror,
but as far as I can see, it does have a historical background.
Waddesdon from the air; from the website. photo by John Bidelow Taylor
A Bedroom in the Bachelor Wing, Waddesdon Manor
Photo in: Mlinaric on Decorating, Mirabel Cecil and David Mlnaric, 2008
Queen Mary's bed, Hampton Court Palace
Photo in: Great Interiors, edited by Ian Grant, 1967
Detail of Yellow curtains, The Kings Bedroom, Hampton Court Palace
Photo in : World of Interiors, December 1995

Green Velvet Bed at Houghton
Photo in: Fowler / Cornforth, English Decoration in the 18th Century
State Bed from Petworth
Bedroom by David Mlnaric
Photo in: Mlinaric on Decorating, Mirabel Cecil and David Mlnaric, 2008
Kenwood House
Photo in Country Life article on the redecoration
View of a Parisian Dressing room, by Francois-Etienne Villeret
in: Authentic Decor, Peter Thornton, 1984