A portrait of Louis XV in the Salon de Mercury at Versailles

The Fabric of Design

The Decoration of Houses by Edith Wharton
No one knew the fabric of design like Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman, Jr., who wrote “The Decoration of Houses.”

In their introduction to The Decoration of Houses, Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman, Jr., write, “In the middle ages, when warfare and brigandage shaped the conditions of life, and men camped in their castles much as they did in their tents, it was natural that decorations should be portable, and that the naked walls of the mediaeval chamber should be hung with arras, while a ciel, or ceiling, of cloth stretched across the open timbers of its roof.” The use of fabric was a given until life became more secure, which the authors note took place when the Italian conquests of the Valois had acquainted men north of the Alps with the spirit of classic tradition and proportion.

The Fabric of Design

French tapestry from middle ages
A tapestry from the middle ages displayed at the Musée de Cluny in Paris. Image © Saxon Henry.

“Portable hangings were in consequence replaced by architectural ornament,” they went on to say: “in other words, the architecture of the room became its decoration.” In an ironic moment in the trajectory of design history, I found myself north of the Alps as I began writing this post, immersed in arras and cloth no less. I was attending Messe Frankfurt’s Heimtextil tradeshow, which was brimming with portable hangings and textiles of every stripe.

A tapestry at the Musée de Cluny proves how far back the fabric of design extends
A tapestry at the Musée de Cluny proves how far back the fabric of design extends. Image © Saxon Henry.

I then made my way to Paris to experience Deco Off and Maison & Objet, visiting the Musée de Cluny in Paris, which holds medieval French tapestries on par with those Wharton and Ogden were envisioning, breathtaking in their fineness and scale as the two images above illustrate.

A Little Bit of History Repeating

Marie Antoinette’s boudoir at The Petit Trianon
Marie Antoinette’s boudoir at The Petit Trianon. Image © Saxon Henry.

But it was my trip to the Château de Versailles, The Grand Trianon and The Petit Trianon that had me marveling at the opulence for which France’s ancien regime was so famous, which is what has inspired me to present the most classic motifs and products I found during Heimtextil for this post. The fact that the fabric and wallpaper patterns remain relevant today in spite of the fact that they harken back to the bygone era when decorators had a field day with over-the-top ornateness is quite fascinating to me.

Design ID’s pale wallpaper with its floral nosegays
Design ID’s pale wallpaper with its floral nosegays is a nod to a luxurious past that Marie Antoinette would have embraced. Image © Saxon Henry.

Case in point is Design ID’s beautifully pale wallpaper (above) that echoes the colors I found in Marie Antoinette’s boudoir at The Petit Trianon. Time-honored patterns like this one are interspersed among the avant-garde designs that represent the most current trends in textiles. This is one of my favorite things about this show: the breadth of design eras and styles featured in it is staggering. This is not particularly a surprise given the number of products brought to Heimtextil would fill 30 football fields!

Marie Antoinette’s bed at The Petit Trianon
Marie Antoinette’s bed at The Petit Trianon. Image © Saxon Henry.

Any of the floral fabric patterns below would have been “at home” in Marie Antoinette’s bedroom at The Petit Trianon (above), don’t you think? I loved touring the small château that Louis XVI built for his wife. There was a simplicity to the architecture that was so straightforward, and yet the ornate furniture within it never felt out of place. I’ll be sharing more about my visit to all of the properties within Versailles soon.

Pretty floral fabric displayed at Heimtextil
Pretty florals displayed at Heimtextil that might interest Marie Antoinette were she choosing upholstery fabrics today. Image © Saxon Henry.

Within the palace proper, I toured a string of rooms that last served as the apartments of two of Louis XV’s daughters—those belonging to Marie Adélaïde of France, who was the fourth daughter and sixth child of the King and his consort Marie Leszczyńska; and those last inhabited by Victoire de France, the fifth daughter and seventh child of the King and Queen.

Princess Adélaïde’s bedroom at the Palace of Versailles
Princess Adélaïde’s bedroom at the Palace of Versailles. Image © Saxon Henry.

Princess Adélaïde was born at Versailles in 1732 and her rooms at the palace, where she was raised, represent an avant-garde point of view for her era. But this was not always the case because her apartments had had a storied past by the time she moved into them. Her outer chamber had once belonged to the Count of Toulouse, who was the legitimized son of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. It was passed along to his son the Duke of Penthièvre from 1737 to 1744, and finally to the Duchess of Penthièvre from 1744 to 1750. The Marquise de Pompadour claimed it for her bedchamber, which would be the room in which she died on April 15, 1764. It then became Maria-Josepha of Saxony’s bedchamber in 1766, but the Dauphine died before she could properly move in. Her body was displayed on a ceremonial bed after her death.

An embroidered silk fabric in the EsseDecor Collection
An embroidered silk in the EsseDecor Collection by Italian manufacturer Erre Erre, which is spotted at Heimtextil. Image © Saxon Henry.

Adélaïde’s private chamber also once belonged to Mme de Pompadour but it was swathed in red lacquer when this famous member of the demi-monde lived there. Describing Adélaïde’s taste, the Countess of Boigne said she “had a desperate need for the latest luxuries,” the room representing her summer furnishings illustrating this point. I tap the embroidered silk above in Erre Erre’s EsseDecor collection for the fille de France were she decorating today.

Louis XIV’s bedroom at Versailles
Louis XIV’s bedroom at the Palace of Versailles. Image © Saxon Henry.

Festooning Louis XIV’s bedchamber (there really is no other word for it!) is a very fine brocade fabric of gold and silver on a crimson background. The King moved his bedroom to this area of the palace in 1701, and it became one of the most important and symbolic rooms in the royal apartments because it was used a number of times each day to carry out his most intimate routines: when he arose in the morning and retired at night; when he dined in private; and when he received certain courtiers or ambassadors with whom he wanted the meetings to remain more confidential. This was the room in which he took his last breath on September 1, 1715, ending a reign that spanned 72 years.

Design ID’s Ascot wallpaper
Design ID’s Ascot wallpaper. Image © Saxon Henry.

I have decided Design ID’s Ascot wallpaper could be the perfect modern interpretation of the crimson, gold and silver he might enjoy were he overseeing the decorating of his king’s quarters today.

Modern Is a Relative Term

Louis-Philippe’s Family Room at The Grand Trianon
Louis-Philippe’s Family Room at The Grand Trianon. Image © Saxon Henry.

One of the state apartments at The Grand Trianon served as Louis-Philippe’s Family Room. It represents one of the color trends I spotted at all of the shows, a bright mustardy yellow. Louis-Philippe created the spacious lounge by combining two existing rooms so that he could spend evenings with his family away from the pomp and circumstance of the court.

An ornate tie-back in Louis-Philippe's Family Room at The Grand Trianon
An ornate tie-back in Louis-Philippe’s Family Room at The Grand Trianon. Image © Saxon Henry.

The lounge was furnished in the contemporary style of the day with game tables and sewing tables, and padded armchairs and sofas upholstered in yellow purl with blue motifs.

Passementerie in Louis-Philippe’s Family Room at The Grand Trianon
Passementerie in Louis-Philippe’s Family Room at The Grand Trianon. Image © Saxon Henry.

If you’re not accustomed to thinking about decorative elements like passementerie as contemporary, there were plentiful examples at Heimtextil. The tie-back above was one of the “modern” elements in the historic family room at The Grand Trianon, a relative term to be sure. The booth of Turkish passementerie manufacturer Os-Iz was filled with luxurious examples of au currant designs, one of the simplest captured below.

Passementerie brought to Heimtextil by Oz-Is
Passementerie brought to Heimtextil by Oz-Is, a Turkish manufacturer. Image © Saxon Henry.

Last but not least, I offer a modern-day brocade to serve as an exemplar of the motif found in so many of the rooms at Versailles. The portrait of Louis XV in the Salon de Mercury above, which graces a wall covered in a luxuriant color of red, was painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud in 1730. A number of the salons in the Grand apartment du roi were swathed in damask patterns in brilliant colors that might be a bit too vibrant for contemporary sensibilities.

A portrait of Louis XV in the Salon de Mercury at Versailles
A portrait of Louis XV in the Salon de Mercury at Versailles, painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud. Image © Saxon Henry.

That’s why this Graham & Brown damask pattern I found at Heimtextil would do so well as a substitute, as it would bring the lushness of the motif into a space without overpowering it.

A damask pattern by Graham & Brown seen at Heimtextil
A damask pattern by Graham & Brown seen at Heimtextil. Image © Saxon Henry.

I always make it a point to stop by and see my pals at Potterton Books when I’m at the shows, and I found several treasures amongst their shelves this time, one of which is Jacques Garcia’s Twenty Years of Passion: Château du Champ de Bataille. He’s successfully created a kingly bedroom of his own in this spread in the book which I snapped at Heimtextil, don’t you think?

bedroom by Jacques Garcia
A bedroom Jacques Garcia created in his Chateau du Champ de Bataille.

That’s a wrap of my take on the echoes I felt during my romp through this important international show. I hope you enjoyed seeing contemporary textiles through the lens of decorating history as much as I enjoyed spotting them!

The Modern Salonnière and The Fabric of Design © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and strategist whose books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.

6 Replies to “The Fabric of Design”

  1. That ornate passementrie tassel looks like the ones made by Samuels and Sons!
    I’m trying to find a reddish damask for 4 antique baroque armchairs my Selma client has, to replace the faded version on them now.

    Turning out to be very difficult to source that color damask.


  3. There were 30 football fields worth of fabric and wallpaper at Heimtextil. I wonder if you could find something on the Heimtextil app. It’s pretty comprehensive.

  4. I loved that book, Winkie. I think Fraser is a remarkable historical novelist and she really brought Marie-Antoinette to life in that book. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and for commenting!

Comments are closed.