Monday, March 31, 2014

Beauty Restored: The Glorious New Salon Doré

An eighteenth-century gilded room from a noble Parisian house is restored to glory at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. It opens this week for viewing, and it will thrill all lovers of design, beauty, history and craftsmanship

A Celebration of Beauty: The Completed Salon
The Salon Doré will be unveiled to the public on April 5, 2014, after a series of celebrations honoring the very very generous patrons who supported, advised, encouraged, and generously donated to make this world-class room happen.

The Legion of Honor museum is part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and a rich part of the heritage of the City. It is important to note that his is a public museum—and a treasure of San Francisco.


This week I am delighted to hand over the reins and introduce the great antiques and fine arts specialist Philip Bewley who is the guest editor for this vibrant piece about the restored Salon Doré, and the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco.

I’d suggest that you might wish to pour a flute of bubbly (Billecart-Salmon, perhaps, or JCB by the great Jean-Charles Boisset would be celebratory) or a sip of iced mint tisane (very French very seasonal) and come and enjoy this vivid and beautiful story. It is a highly detailed story, and endlessly fascinating and ‘insider’. Read this informative text—and then buy tickets online, and take a friend to view the room.

Philip Bewley will be your guide.

Philip, a longtime friend, has been following this multi-year restoration of the museum’s treasured eighteenth-century Paris room (from a famous mansion) and I asked him to write this piece.

Philip interviewed the museum curator, Martin Chapman, who directed the renovation. He spoke with the San Francisco architect Andrew Skurman, who worked on the project, and had the privilege of special viewings of the room in progress. I’ve also selected images of the work in progress.

Finally, last week he saw the completed restoration in all its glory.

Philip’s report is exclusive to THE STYLE SALONISTE.

The Fine Arts Museums presents ‘The Salon Doré Past and Present’ — the re-opening of the Salon Doré one of the finest examples of French Neoclassical interior architecture.

Richly carved and gilded, this lavish room was designed during the reign of Louis XVI as the main salon de compagnie of the Hôtel de La Trémoille on the Rue Saint-Dominique in Paris.

The Salon Doré: An Historic Beauty Glorified and Restored in San Francisco
I was fortunate to be given an insider preview of one of the finest examples of an eighteenth-century French Neoclassic period room: the Salon Doré from the Hôtel de La Trémoille now completely restored and refurbished to its former glory at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.

The restored Salon Doré sets a new standard of presenting period rooms in a museum setting. 

The Salon Unveiled

Philip Bewley, San Francisco fine arts consultant and antiques expert tells us about his private preview. He interviewed world-renowned experts, exclusively for THE STYLE SALONISTE.

After years of study, research, painstaking restoration by world-class experts, the generous support of highly generous patrons –and the supreme vision of curator Martin Chapman -the Salon Doré is unveiled. 


I was very fortunate to have a view of the restored Salon last week before its opening to the public, and the Salon Doré is dazzling.

The experience far exceeded my already high expectations. Upon entering the octagonal anteroom I felt a sense of anticipation, a palpable sense that I had left not only the museum, but also the present day behind.

To one side is one of the great treasures of the Legion of Honor , a superb Louis XVI transitional commode composed of Japanese black lacquer and panels enriched by gilt bronze mounts. Previously dwarfed by its placement in the expansive museum galleries, now, in this jewel box of a room, the commode replicates the small apartments of Madame du Barry where it had originally been installed in the 18th century. 

The restored room is a potent example of the power of classical proportion. The experience of inhabiting a perfectly proportioned room is almost inexplicable, but perhaps it is the exhilarating sense of “rightness” that I felt immediately.

At once grand and soaring, and yet surprisingly intimate, the Salon is the ideal room for conversation.

It is this magical combination of spatial shape and harmonious proportion that has captivated classical architects for centuries, and the Salon Doré captures this elusive quality. 

This is how the room looked in Paris, installed in a private room.

Everything is now balanced: the vast mirrors, darkly glimmering in the gentle light, afforded me views of other areas of the Salon in a compound rhythm; reflections of the vigorous fluted pilasters, the figural reliefs of the plaster overdoors, a glint of light from gilt on the boiserie.

The furnishings in this setting brought the pieces to life, relating to each other in recreating a total entity and ambiance. Here are the torchères on their plinths, the chairs by Jacob, the curtains of rich silk expressly fashioned in the authentic 18th century manner.

Experiencing the Salon is compelling and immersive. As my eye took in all the various details, I felt I had entered into a rarefied “other” space possessing a distinct glamour –and it is heady and elevating.

The evocative ambiance of Ancien Regime (pre-revolutionary) Paris meets the rigorous research and perfected conservation techniques of the 21st century.

The restored proportions, boiserie (paneling), atmospheric lighting and furnishings, enliven the room. For history, architecture and design students it is instructive, vibrant, and relevant. 

The paneling was originally given to the Legion of Honor by Richard Rheem, a Bay Area manufacturer of HVAC equipment, in 1959. Rheem had acquired it from the art dealers Duveen Brothers under the impression that it came from the historic place de la Concorde Hôtel de Crillon

This new approach by a museum in presenting a period room is, as Martin Chapman, curator in charge of European decorative arts and sculpture at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco describes, “…one of the most evocative types of display conceived for the art museum.”

A Celebration of Beauty: The Completed Salon
The Salon Doré will be unveiled to the public on April 5, 2014.

It is the result of years of repair, reconstruction, craftsmanship and determination.

The newly restored San Francisco salon is the result of exhaustive research, significant discoveries, a re-instatement of missing elements, and a treasure trove of furnishings.

Research uncovered that the Salon Doré was a salon de compagnie, the principal reception room at the Hôtel de La Trémoille, a private mansion in Paris belonging to one of the oldest families of France. The room was first installed in 1781 on the occasion of the wedding of the eldest son, the prince de Tarante, to Mademoiselle de Châtillon.

Based on the original floor plans, the room has been returned from a rectangular to a square layout – the conventional form of an aristocratic salon. 

Curator Martin Chapman explains that returning the room to its original square plan “…shifts the proportions of the walls so that the main architectural elements — the grand Corinthian pilasters, the mirrors with their trophies, and the door cases — are balanced and the room is articulated by a more regular rhythm of pilasters, as if inside a Roman temple,” said Chapman. This effect would have been the aim of the architect, Delapoize, and it would be essential for the successful renovation.” 

The measured splendor is the highest reflection of the goût grec or Neoclassic taste, the use of mirrors, rock-crystal chandeliers and gilt in a classical framework to achieve, what the 18th century art historian and aesthete Johann Winkelmann (1717-1768) described as “ideal beauty…of noble simplicity and quiet grandeur."

The Salon’s original color scheme of pale grey paint and parcel gilt boiserie is now gently illuminated, giving the impression of candlelight. The Salon presents its full complement of 18th century mercury backed mirrors fitted in the boiserie. These provide seemingly infinite reflections placed opposite each other, and further enhance the illumination. These mirrors were originally the most costly items of to be incorporated in the salon, and the rather dark, rich, almost liquid effect enhanced by the iridescence of 18th century mercury plate cannot be underestimated. One of the mercury plate-glass was missing, and a replacement of a contemporary “antiqued” mirror proved unsatisfactory.

Dealer Pierre-Olivier Chanel gave the museum a mercury-style mirror, that Chapman asserts “…has restored a sense of harmony in this important area.”

Perhaps most significant historic reconstruction is the historic arrangement of furnishings, based on a 1790 inventory at the Hôtel de La Trémoille. “Before the Revolution these salons de compagnie were, in fact, furnished principally with chairs,” says Chapman.

A second set of sidechairs for the use of guests was arranged in a conversational “U” shape or circle in the middle of the room. 

Imagine the Original Room, an Event, a Celebration

Imagine, if you will, entering the Salon Doré at the Hôtel de La Trémoille in the 1780s. You would first make your way to the hostess, seated next to the fire, the next woman of rank and age opposite her. You would then find a seat appropriate to your own age and rank, or remain standing if you were a young man. No food or drink is ever served in the salon. If you were to engage in conversation, you would do so by addressing the entire assembly –a bit more like declamation than casual conversation! All rather daunting, and yet an account of the period by Frénilly noted in the catalog for the Salon writes that these gatherings in this arrangement could be quite scintillating. The success depended upon the skills of a hostess, “…who captivated their guests in directing a conversation; having a look, a word, for each person; drawing an outsider, by a mere glance or word, into the friendly conversation of others…what a charming, delicate art!”

Martin Chapman expands on the historically correct presentation for this room: “This mode of furnishing, which has been largely lost or forgotten until recently, had yet to be properly re-created in an American museum presentation, so the Salon restoration was the opportunity to do so.”

Antiques dealer and designer Robert Garcia of Therien uses the period room as a tool for examining social history and wider applications in the decorative arts. Garcia relates that as a young designer working for McMillen in New York he studied similar period rooms at the Met.

“The Wrightsman rooms had just been installed at the Met, and I placed myself in the mind frame of those in the Neoclassic period - their understanding of the decorative motifs from classical antiquity informed by the discoveries at Pompeii. I was able to see how they related to that in a re-interpretation, reflecting their own ideas of taste and status. I looked at it sociologically –where they were coming from. These period rooms also show how the background together with the furnishings was a total concept –and that follows with Modernism. We use the same ideas in how things relate, and are tied together in how we see ourselves.”

Period rooms, “…vividly make the past alive in a direct tactile and visual way,” says Charlotte Eyerman, Executive Director of the Monterey Museum of Art in a recent conversation.

The period room in a museum presentation is not only a tool for academic study, but can have an aesthetic and emotional impact for the museum visitor– an evocative experience of stepping outside time.

Designer and multi-disciplinary artist Carolyn Quartermaine, who lives and works in both London and at her residence in France, describes the allure that rooms such as the Salon Doré possess. “The Salon Doré is the room as a book, a novel, a reminder of other places” says Quartermaine in a recent conversation. “When spaces are balanced you breathe them in…it’s the way pieces of furniture come to life –like people- having conversations with each other…the way the eye will link from the silk on the chair, to the light on the floor, like a story unfolding.”

The Original Room
The Salon Doré has been moved no less than six times in its long history, crossing the Atlantic from Paris to New York, and then to California where it was donated to the Legion of Honor in 1959. In each move the Salon has endured various alterations. The format most visitors will remember from its earlier presentation at the Legion of Honor was of a rectangular form, cream painted with gilt, without its parquet floor or ceiling. Display cases had replaced the windows. Furnishings related to the period were isolated on plinths, rather than recreating the period environment. Martin Chapman describes earlier museum presentation of the Salon as a “paneled environment” rather than a “period room”, which at the time had seemed an outmoded term.

These two images show how the room used to look at the museum. It was lovely...but not furnished properly and certain not planned and authentically put together. Compare the difference with the present glorious room.

The Dismantling
During the most recent de-installation, all the various parts of the Salon were carefully removed –the delicate plaster overdoors, the fragile mercury plate mirrors, the doors and the boiserie itself.

These various pieces of the Salon were then placed in a new conservation workshop, open to the Museum galleries though glass panels, so that the public could observe the meticulous conservation process. The dismantling revealed that in the course of its previous moves, the east and west walls had been switched. Additionally, notes written in French on the back of a mirror showed that at some point it had been switched from its original location. The de-installation proved to be the first part of the conservation process.

This is how the original room at the museum, when it was first installed looked...nice but not thrilling.

San Francisco Architect, Andrew Skurman, Created a New Construction/Structure for the New Salon Doré — His Drawings Show the New Concept

Visitors to the newly restored Salon Doré will first enter into an octagonal vestibule or anteroom before proceeding into the Salon Doré itself. This is a completely new construction designed by classically-trained San Francisco architect Andrew Skurman and his architectural studio.

San Francisco architect Andrew Skurman played a leading role in the renovation. We spoke to Andrew, and he told us:

I volunteered to be the architect of the project, and to work in collaboration with Adolphus Andrews who led the effort, Martin Chapman who dedicated his huge knowledge to bring this room back to its exact 18th century state, and with the Parisian antique dealer Benjamin Steinitz, whose expertise came with gift of the actual parquet floor of the room.

I offered to provide my services pro bono. Martin Chapman showed me books on the evolution of the room over the centuries. One was a book by Pons about French period rooms; another was a book about the Hotel d’ Humieres with the original floor plans. “Look, said Martin, the room was square, and now it is a rectangle. The room also had French windows, and now it’s totally interior in the museum”. “Not a problem, I said, we will fix that.” 

I went to study the Wrightsman rooms at the Met, and to the period rooms at the Getty, which are considered the top American models. And of course, each time I go to Paris, I visit one chateau of another, and always the Carnavalet Museum a delightful museum of period rooms. But in this case, the inspiration came from the curatorial staff at the Legion who devoted so much effort and found enough resources, to make to room identical to what it once was.

“The new anteroom is based on the kind of shapes and room arrangements you would find in a classical building of this period” says Skurman. “The anteroom also provides the visitor with a sense of progression before one enters the Salon.” This replicates the hierarchy of space and sense of progression and arrival that guest would have had upon entering the Salon originally in 1781.

Skurman, an expert in classical French traditions and the recent recipient of France’s Medaille des Arts et des Lettres, donated his services in the design of numerous missing elements for the room. His considerable donation of talent, time and expertise was crucial for the restoration of various missing elements such as the windows and elements throughout such as the handsome plinths for the torchères.

Skurman’s staff developed a new program for the working drawings in an original format that combined the high quality of classical watercolor and ink drawings with expediency required for use in presentations. Skurman adds, “We modified each drawing to include the various objects, pieces of furniture, and upholstery and curtain fabric as they were presented to specific donors for the project and then acquired.”

The Multi-Year Restoration
A team of gilders and conservators led by Natasa Morovic, conservator of frames and gilded surfaces at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, led the gilding conservation effort, with assistance by contract conservator Deborah Bigelow. Too many talents worked on the project for us to list them here.

The intensive restoration of the panels was conducted in a temporary conservation lab, also designed by architect Andrew Skurman, which was installed in the museum galleries. The treatment focused on returning the gilding to its original nuanced, high-quality execution. After intensive preparatory work, the gilders followed the traditional technique of water gilding as in the original 18th century execution. The process of toning was then applied through various techniques to achieve integration between old and new gilding – and to harmonize areas that are light and dark, and shiny and matte –throughout the entire paneling. 

Master carver Adam Thorpe (who had earlier created superb carving for Ann Getty) restored the wood details. Thorpe painstakingly removed old repairs to the carved sections and replaced them with new wood passages informed by the boiserie’s original design and perspective. 

All of those involved in the conservation–from the team of conservators, gilders, master carver and painters –strove to duplicate as closely as possible the virtuosity and skills of the original craftsman of 1781. The techniques and materials employed were based on considered analysis and care.

Bravo and thanks to everyone involved.

Philip Bewley is a Fine Art Advisor for private individuals and corporate accounts, with services in the selection and acquisition of fine art and blue chip period antiques and 20th century design. Private portfolio management including fine art and the decorative arts. Philip was formally with Therien & Co. a top period antiques gallery. Philip is also licensed Realtor with First California Realty, specializing in distinctive properties in San Francisco and Southern Marin. Philip's portfolio of original fine art photography set at Secret Cove in the Marin Headlands was recently featured in Jonathan Rachman's Di Sini Di Sana magazine, and will be featured this spring in Matthew MacCaul Turner's room at the San Francisco's Decorator Showcase.


Diane Dorrans Saeks says:

Philip, thank you for this brilliant and rich report.

Already, the museum has created a lively following for the Salon Doré and its restoration. The room was always at the museum, and was admired.

Now, with the gilding on view, the process examined, the history revealed, the room reinvigorated. Thank you for your expertise, your passion and your knowledge.

Martin Chapman, the curator who lead this extraordinary project at the Legion of Honor.

The excellent catalog for the room can be purchased at the Legion of Honor bookshop. 


All images used here with express permission of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

For more information on times and dates for this event:

Plans and drawings courtesy Andrew Skurman Architects, San Francisco.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Richard Shapiro's Inspiring Art Garden in Los Angeles: A Green Dream

In Los Angeles, the noted designer/antique and art dealer Richard Shapiro has shaped a surreal secret garden with rare botanical species, sculpted box, and a trompe l’oeil Palladian villa for luxurious repose. 

I presented Richard’s Malibu beach house on THE STYLE SALONISTE and it’s one of my most all-time popular blog posts which you can see by clicking here.

Here is Richard at home in a hidden corner of Holmby Hills. This garden has been his obsession for over two decades. I know you will love this highly original and ultra-private garden, and Richard’s fascinating private world. 

Come with me for a visit.

Richard Shapiro, a world-renowned art collector, furniture designer, and antique dealer based in Los Angeles, is also, secretly, a superbly creative, accomplished and daring landscape designer.

Richard has created for his pleasure an extraordinary private garden that surrounds his Hispano-Moorish residence on a quiet street in Holmby Hills.

Hidden behind walls of Boston ivy and a forest of timber bamboo, it is an utterly silent and tranquil domain, his escape from the world. 

Shapiro’s garden is a dreamscape of sculptural clipped box. Meandering paths lead past a reflecting pool to hidden corners with dramatic steel sculptures. This verdant world—vivid green year-round—feels much larger than its half acre. Boundaries are blurred. Even his residence is entirely shrouded with overgrown vines and feels part of the garden.

“I view my personal garden as a vast canvas and the creative possibilities are limited only by my imagination,” said Shapiro, who works on the landscape every day, pruning and planting. “Rather than a garden, I think of it as a vast installation of land art.”

Overlooking the large pool and designed as the focal point of the garden, is a charming folly. This pool house was inspired by a Palladian villa, complete with a handsome antique stone fireplace, hand-carved columns, an antique mirror, and a large-scale lantern, all designed meticulously by Shapiro. It’s a chic stage set, and entirely convincing.

But it’s Shapiro’s surreal boxwood garden, inspired by the abstract hilltop gardens surrounding the Chateau de Marqueyssac in southwest France that is his theatrical tour de force.

“On an annual tour through the Dordogne ten years ago, I visited the fifteenth-century Chateau du Marqueyssac and marveled at its endlessly swirling and surreal boxwood sculptures,” recalled Shapiro. He had started designing his garden about 26 years ago, as a labor of love. In a kind of frenzy, he dug up the lawn, and planted the first hundred boxwood plants in the ground nine years ago.

The 17th-century chateau garden, his inspiration, was originally planted by a pupil of André le-Notre, the designer of the Versailles gardens. Acres of box topiaries are clipped in abstract shapes. It can be visited today.

“I returned home and began researching buxus sempervirens—known as box,’ said Shapiro. Some of his plants are acquired fully grown from a specialist nursery; others are just a few tender branches.

“The box bushes, now numbering around 1,500, suggest to me the forms they might take,” said the designer. “The entire exercise is very fluid and spontaneous, with a great deal of accident, surprise, experimentation, and randomness.”

He planted the box, and then hand carved them into a maze of undulating cloud-like forms.

“I had visited the chateau for research and discovered this sculptural garden concept. The shapes are so mysterious and original. The clipped box was the basis for what became and remains my obsession. It is a work in progress, always being refined and altered somewhat from year to year.”

Shapiro conceived the entire clipped box sculptures and does all the shaping and shearing by hand with Japanese shears and clippers. More are added every year and his skill at creating new effects grows each year.

“It is very spontaneous and unplanned,” said Shapiro.

The evergreen garden, tranquil and shaded, doesn’t change from season to season. A burst of light green new growth and the beauty of wisteria and jacaranda blossoms herald the spring. 

There are juniper trees to create a curtain of green background. Boston ivy covers most of the walls of the studio, where the designer crafts new collections and meets clients.

Shapiro planted Eugenia to secure the tall property line hedges. An impenetrable perimeter of trees, hedges and foliage entirely obscures the house and garden from the exterior.

He uses a variety of hand shears and arcane tools. Heavy-duty American versions go into action for rough work, and lately he has been using very sharp Japanese clippers.

“With these shears, the sculptural possibilities are endless, very precise, and rapid. Gratification is instant,” said Shapiro.

Over the next few years, Shapiro obsessively covered every square foot of a former lawn with this material, creating vast and wavy vistas in every direction, like a flock of green sheep roaming his land, when viewed from the residence.

He also planted exceptional specimen trees and shrubs, including Italian Cypress, Ficus Nitida, King and Queen palms, and fragrant Pittosporum, Schefflera actinophylla, Podocarpus Henkelii, with its elegant slender leaves, as well as Jacaranda, Norfolk Pine and Raphis Palm, a dramatic fan palm.

Shapiro’s petite pool house (it is just ten feet deep) is a copy of the portico at Palladio’s Villa Chiericati in Vicenza. He discovered the 16th century architect’s original construction drawings of the structure in a book from his private library.

Shapiro executed the plans in weather-resistant redwood and then eroded and patinated the surfaces with plaster, lime and varied pigments to simulate ancient stone and to give the portico and the entire scene an authentic antique appearance.

Shapiro executed the plans in weather-resistant redwood and then eroded and patinated the surfaces with plaster, lime and varied pigments to simulate ancient stone to give the portico and the entire scene an authentic antique appearance.

It’s furnished with weather-faded furnishings, to appear old and worn and well used. It’s the perfect hide-away for festive apéritifs in the evening, as a setting for a quiet summer lunch, or even for an early supper on a winter evening with the fire blazing and darkness settling over the trees.

But it’s the sculpted box that has become Shapiro’s obsession.

“Having been steeped in post-war conceptual art for over thirty-five years, and as a working sculptor, I sensed that something other than mere landscaping was taking place,” he said. “It was at this juncture that I began to realize that for me, this entire exercise had very little to do with gardens. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that I was installing plants. Instead, I was in a dream state creating art populated not only by individual sculptural forms, but rather a fully integrated whole, with buxus as the medium.”

Shapiro said that his lifelong immersion in the world of art had taught him to see everything as art, or at least as the fodder for art. It’s silent here in his verdant domain. He can work for hours, his artistic instincts and imagination taking over. For him, it’s sculpture, creation, expression.

“My garden, it is now obvious, is my art project, endlessly captivating and inspiring, ” he said.

The primary objective—that of total creativity and isolation—has been achieved.

Contemporary and antique sculptures are a dramatic counterpoint to the green garden panorama. A welded steel sculpture by Sir Anthony Caro has developed a rusted finish.

Richard Shapiro designed the dramatic monumental steel sculpture, “The Red Forest”. Seven 18’ tall steel columns, painted red, emerge from the earth at random angles.

Richard Shapiro’s Studiolo line of furniture is sold in eight showrooms around the country, Or by appointment at his Holmby Hills studio: 310-275-6700.

New Collections

I asked Richard about his newest Studiolo designs

DDS: Next collections in the works?

I am now working on a collection of teak furniture, which will be very minimal and sculptural and suitable for both interior and exterior. Additionally I am always sketching designs for various pieces of furniture, almost always with a contemporary take on a classic design. Yes, Studiolo. All the new pieces are for Studiolo and will be released when ready...maybe 6 months.

Sculptor Ulrich Ruckriem created a massive sculpture of two quarried stone monoliths, each weighing six tons.

Throughout the garden are classic sculptures, including ancient torsos, Roman and French column fragments, capitals, Romanesque lions, 16th-century Florentine lions, an 18th century stone bust, and stone urns.


The vast preponderance of the plant material is the boxwood, but Shapiro has also planted:

Boxwood (European). Buxus Sempervirens

Japanese Timber Bamboo

Black Bamboo

Italian Cypress

Ficus Nitida

King and Queen palms




Podocarpus Henkelii


Norfolk Pine

Raphis Palm

Juniper trees

Boston ivy on most of the walls of the house and garden

Eugenia for the tall property line hedges

David Sutherland, Dallas
David Sutherland, Florida
David Sutherland, Houston
Travis and Company, Atlanta
Shears and Window, San Francisco
Jean de Merry, Chicago
Studium, NY
Holland and Sherry, Chicago
Administrative and Sales office, Los Angeles


All photography by the great Lisa Romerein,

Lisa Romerein is the superb photographer for memorable images in my most recent book, ANN GETTY INTERIOR STYLE (Rizzoli, 2012). Her work is also featured in recent issues of House Beautiful.

All photography by Lisa Romerein used here with express permission. All of her images are copyright Lisa Romerein and may not be used without written permission of the copyright holder.