From Versailles parquet flooring and marble fireplaces to sculpted decorative panels and wallpaper, what were the fashions infitting out and decorating an 18th-century aristocratic apartment?
Here we visit a show home: the apartments of the Intendant of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne
The first rule to follow: a noble apartment had to include an antechamber, a bedroom and a small private room. You could increase the number of each of these rooms or add a toilet or bathroom.
In the 18th century, bedrooms were used less and less as places for socialising and they stopped serving as rooms for hosting people. Different reception rooms and the dining room appeared, replacing antechambers.
The rooms were positioned in a line, one after another, with doors aligned to give the whole place a sense of perspective. Where there were corridors, these were only used by servants, making it possible for them to move around the apartment more easily.
The row of Louis XIV rooms on the first floor of the north wing of the Palace of Versailles
Did you know?
It was during the 18th century that the notion of privacy emerged. Having grown weary of life as courtiers in large stately reception rooms under King Louis XIV, aristocrats gradually abandoned this lifestyle to take refuge in cosier rooms like music rooms, boudoirs and libraries. This is how the concept of privacy gradually came about.
In the 18th century, people also stopped putting up tapestries, which were typical of the Middles Ages and still used in the 17th century. Instead, decors of painted or sculpted wooden panels emerged. During the restoration work carried out in 2018 and 2019 in the apartments of the Intendant of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, traces of the original decors were revealed. Decoration would vary according to the room’s importance, ranging from white painting with simple moulding for antechambers to marble fireplaces with sculpted, gold-leafed decor and painted overdoors or door-frame friezes. The decoration of a room would represent the power and magnificence of the institution of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne.
For the flooring, tiling and solid-wood parquets with varied patterns would brighten up and embellish the rooms.
A restorer at work in the apartments of the Intendant of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne
Rooms would also be adorned with wallpaper. Such wallpaper would be printed through an artisan process and stuck end to end to create a pattern, which could be recurring or not.
A beautiful example of wallpaper, portraying two boats in a cove
Great importance was given to the furnishing, which helped emphasise the use of each room. In the apartment rooms, many chairs, armchairs and sofas were installed, as were desks in the offices, bedside tables in the bedrooms, consoles for displaying vases, small sculptures or clocks (the Hôtel de la Marine enjoys the patronage of Rolex France) in the receptions rooms, and games tables.
Pierre-Élisabeth de Fontanieu, the first Intendant of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne to live in the palace on Place de la Concorde, ordered the development of small private rooms for his personal use.
Adjoining the Intendant’s bedroom, the mirrors room reflected Fontanieu’s taste for opera girls of loose morals. The walls were entirely covered in mirrors, framed with mouldings and cornices in gilded wood. On these mirrors, chubby babies, vases on pedestals, birds, vegetation and unclad women were painted.
The mirrors room, which can be reached directly from the bedroom of Pierre-Élisabeth de Fontanieu
Carrying on in a straight line, you reach the golden room, a cosy room featuring golden decor. (Restored, like the mirrors room, thanks to the patronage of Siaci Saint Honoré).
Painted wall panelling, cornices with plant tracery and two fireplaces in finely sculpted white marble adorn this room that doubtless served as the ladies’ boudoir. Items of furniture by Jean-Henri Riesener, the King’s cabinetmaker, can also be found here.
The room is a perfect example of the expertise of the era’s craftsmen, who skilfully implemented the decorative designs created by Jacques Gondouin.
Did you know?
During the period when the French navy headquarters occupied the building, the golden room was a kitchen! The original decors were entirely covered with stainless steel panels, which protected them from the wear of time.
With a keen interest in science, Fontanieu installed two laboratories in his apartments. He used them to make semi-precious stones. It was thanks to him that the golden bronze chandelier featured crystals resembling diamonds and colourful gemstones.
His laboratories were later renovated to become part of the Intendant’s apartments.
The apartments of the Intendant of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne are a model of the 18th century’s finest achievements in decor and furnishing. They provide a true plunge into the lavish life of the era’s aristocrats in the heart of Paris.