Friday, 18 September 2015

Chandelier Socks

One of my all time favourite rooms is the drawing room at Hambleden Manor. If you missed my raving about it (and my sadness about its recent demise) read about it here . It is just a wonderfully warm and smart symphony of colours and comfort, created by John Fowler and Lady Hambleden.
I'm glad I have a reason to use this image again: it shows the subject of this post... the chandelier
sock; the fabric wrapping around the chain that the chandelier hangs from the ceiling with. I have no idea if there is a more common name for these bits of fabric but I have always called them that. 
They were a common feature in rooms that John Fowler had had a hand in; another famous example is Nancy Lancaster's yellow drawing room in London, now part of the Colefax & Fowler head office. 
Recently I talked about these fabric socks with a friend and he put them down as '...rather 60s and decoratorey' , which was clearly not a good thing. I suppose this was the legacy of John Fowler speaking and the many imitators of his style. Chandelier socks were lumped together with those wide ribbons and bows that pictures were hung from in the 80s (more about them perhaps in another post).

However, when I looked through my images I found examples throughout the 19th century; chandelier socks were everywhere, EXCEPT .... in England. So where Britain is concerned my friend may well have been right (with 1 exception which I will show), but in the rest of Europe they were widely used from the age of Napoleon onwards. 

The earliest I have found dates from 1810, and it depicts, in fact, one of Napoleon's sisters, Caroline Murat, in a room at the Elysee palace in Paris, two years after he made her husband King of Naples.  
This was the 'Silver Salon' on the ground floor of what is now the Presidential Palace, with terrribly smart silvered furniture that was upholstered in red taffeta and embroidered with silver. The chandelier sock is clearly conceived as part of this scheme.   

Only one year later her drawing room in Naples was depicted with a chandelier chain covered in cream fabric and gold fringe, much like the rest of the room.    
This image shows what I love so much about these artistic interior views. Not only do they offer an astonishing amount of historical detail, but they also depict rooms in a way that photography could never have done. Looking at the ceiling and the carpet you realize that we see the entire room, not just one end of a room that was actually much longer. To replicate this image on film, you would have to remove one entire side of the room ! It's like a stage set, and this particular perspective has never actually existed. 

So from around this time these chandelier chains wrapped in fabric become common in images from France, Italy, Germany and Russia. Right from the beginning they seem to have been part of the decorative scheme. Palatial interiors tended to be very colour coordinated and I have found only one or two images where the fabric used for the chandelier is NOT in the dominant colour of the room. 

In the 1820s this lovely private room in the Royal Palace in Munich, had gorgeous wall paper, an interesting glazed door and a chandelier sock that matched the curtain pelmets.  
    Another beautiful room where absolutely everything matched and coordinated, was in one of the outer pavilions of  Tuileries Palace, and it depicts the Duchess de Berry with her son in 1822. The upholstery used many meters of braid, but the chandelier sock was quite simple and probably in the same fabric as the walls and the curtains.
More European images later, but now the question of Britain, where it seems that exposing the chandelier chain was preferred over wrapping it in silk. There are so many views of 19th century British interiors and in all of those I found just ONE single image with a chandelier sock, in a view from 1823 :    
It is at Cassiobury Park and the fabric matches the room. I particularly love the painted ceiling and the illusion of an open sky where a large bird is flying around, conveniently carrying a chandelier. It reminds me of one of the rooms in the Royal Pavillion in Brighton, built for the Prince Regent (later King George IV). There a giant Chinese dragon flies through the sky carrying the chandelier. I still remember being mesmerised by this idea when I saw it aged 14.

The Prince Regent loved everything french and his interiors are of an unimaginable opulence EXCEPT ... for the chandelier chains. One almost suspects he had a personal dislike for them. At the time that in Paris they were clearly used in the smartest interiors, his excessively upholstered rooms had chandeliers with uncovered chains.
In 1820 the Rose Satin Room was entirely hung with ... well, rose satin, which must have looked incredible, but was there no little bit left over to cover the chandelier chain with ? This was in Carlton House Palace and the amount of fabric used for these rooms is completely over the top, and yet in none of them the chandelier chain has a fabric cover.    
What you do sometimes see in English rooms is a chandelier hung from ropes and tassles; Here, in Buckingham house (later the Palace) this is made in the same colour as the rather splendid curtains.    
Perhaps this was a pully system that allowed for the chandelier to come down and this may explain the lack of fabric socks: perhaps in Britain they used to lower the chandeliers in a different way, which meant that the fabric was impractical ...? Even so, there are many images of opulent interiors, throughout the 19th century where you think "If this had been the continent there would have been fabric around that chain".

So, back to the continent and on to those marvelous images of the Winter Palace that the Imperial family commissioned all through the century. The detail of these views are incredible and I wish I could show them all. The private entrance was quite an austere and masculine room, and yet the chandelier (an oil or gas lamp?) is hung from a fabric sock, matching the red of the carpet.
I end with a couple of these fantastic interior views of the Winter Palace. Many rooms had chandelier socks. Here is the Dressing Room of Empress Maria Alexandrovna from the 1840s.
Both this, and the view of here bedroom, show chandelier sock of quite unusual design.
The Large Drawing Room of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, in 1858, had one in red.
The Small Cabinet of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna, in 1868, had one in green.  
And the Stroganoffs, down the road, even had them in 1865, in what I presume is chintz. 

As always I would love to receive more images and I would particularly appreciate images of 18th century chandelier socks, if they exist. Thanks for reading


Hambleden Manor
in: Jones, Colefax and Fowler

Brook Street, Nancy Lancaster's drawing room
in: Jones, Colefax and Fowler

Caroline Murat in the Elysee Palace
Watercolour by H. Lebas, 1810
in: Gruber, L'art dcoratif en Europe

Caroline Murat's sitting room in the palace of Naples
Watercolour by E.H. Montagny
in:  Gruber, L'art decoratif en Europe

Dressing Room of Crown Princess Room of Bavaria
Watercolour by
in: Thornton, Authentic Decor

The Duchess de Berry in the Tuileries Palace
Watercolour by Auguste Garneray
in: Praz, An illustrated history of Interior Decoration

Cassiobury Park
in: Gere, House Proud

The Rose Satin Room in Carlton House Palace
Watercolour by W. H Pyne
in: Watkind, The Royal Interiors of  Regency England 

The Breakfast Room, Buckingham House
Watercolour by W. H Pyne
in: Watkind, The Royal Interiors of  Regency England 

The private entrance in the Winter Palace
Watercolour by K.A. Ukhtomsky

The Dressing Room of Maria Alexandrovna
Watercolour by L. Premazzi

The Bedroom of Maria Alexandrovna
Watercolour by Premazzi

The Large Drawing Room of Alexandra Feodorovna
Watercolour by E.P Hau

The Small Cabinet of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna,
Watercolour by E.P Hau

The Boudoir of the Stroganoff Palace
Image from the Internet


  1. Very good post. I use these chain covers, and have only ever heard them called a sleeve. Sock is a rather inelegant name for an elegant item, n'est-ce pas?

    1. Thank you Cynthia, and yes, 'sleeve' is a much more elegant word !

  2. thank you again for one of my favorite blogposts EVER!!! These have been my favorite rooms for 45 years!


    thank you so much!

    ps may I share on my little blog?

  3. I also love your choice of words! "Chandelier socks"!! LOVE!


  4. I have only ever heard them referred to as chandelier bags---but whatever they're called, John Fowler made wonderfully inventive variations, infinitely superior to the gathered silk condoms which cover most chandelier chains. Though I now see, from this excellent post, that his inspiration was taken from the past and that in several instances he was quoting directly.

    To dismiss them blithely as '1960s and rather decorator-y' is to miss the point completely. When something is done in a skilful manner, as Fowler's unquestionably were, there is a different criterion for appraisal.

    1. Thank you Toby. I was wondering if the word condom was going to come up in the comments ...

  5. Lovely post David-
    When I have had them made, I call them "chain covers" - but this look has been "out" for some time now, unless one is fortunate to have a simpatico client. Honi soi qui mal y pens !

  6. It's a very refined detail. Even more useful since the advent of electrical wires I would think.I don't remember seeing them in 18th c decoration, but I do remember seeing silk cords at Versailles for example. I'm sure new interest could be brought to these what's-its again!

  7. I am LATE READING your POST but RED FLAGGED it and here I am............
    Loved every detail!
    I called them CORD COVERS when in the late 80"s I was making them for my home and did have the idea to sell them.Some one else BEAT me to that idea as they became a RAGE over here in the United states......but more for electrical outlets cords.......I however , have your SOCKS draped over the chains on a few of my chandeliers!LOVE THEM............