June 3, 2008

More Maison Jansen Stories

One of the most fun things about the lecture the other night was the fun personal stories about Maison Jansen's clients. I think that all of these stories are elaborated upon in the book and illustrated with sumptuous period photographs and preliminary drawings.

First up, the First Lady. As you may know, Jacqueline Kennedy asked Maison Jansen to decorate the White House. One problem - they weren't an American firm. Much of the work was billed through Parish Hadley because there would have been a lot of political backlash if they'd used a French firm, albeit one with a branch in New York. Mrs. Kennedy did the same thing with dress designer, using French designs made by American designers.

At Ditchley Park, the Chipping Camden home of Nancy Lancaster Tree and Ronald Tree, MJ purchased a run of red silk damask to use as the wall-covering for their living room. However, MJ thought it was too new looking, and laid it out on a field for the summer so it could fade to a pale yellow-pink. It was then applied to the walls.
Are you distressed because your renovations are taking longer than expected? The work that MJ did for Lady Baillie took more than 40 years! Of course, they worked on houses for her in Kent and the Bahamas, and did loads of work, but still... Some of his work included cleaning and relining all of the tapestries in Leeds Castle and designing all of the passimenterie specifically to fit a room and then having it custom-made.

Babe Paley is widely considered to be one of the most stylish women in the world. But Stephane Boudin always said that she was one of only two women born with perfect taste. When asked who the other woman was, he would just smile and let the questioner think that it was her. That's an amazing way to flatter your clients. There are some beautiful preliminary sketches for the rooms MJ was designing for the Paleys.

As I mentioned earlier, the years around WWII were not kind to Maison Jansen. First, their workshops were raided in the hours after Germany entered Paris. By quick thought, many items were saved. When it looked like Germany would invade, workers went to chateaux that MJ had decorated and hid furnishings and dismantled the power and plumbing so that the Germans wouldn't burn the houses.
Adolph Hitler commissioned MJ to redesign the interiors of the Bank of Germany. M. Boudin agreed, but only if he could use the Jewish craftsmen that worked in MJ's Paris ateliers. He collected letters and parcels to take to the workers in Germany, but when he got there, he didn't recognize anyone. They were a random assortment of workers and so he had to train them from scratch to do the work. If the work hadn't been perfect, they would have all been killed.

One of MJ's signatures was their amazing faux bois work, which was nearly indistinguishable from that from the 1700's. They would begin with old wood, cover it with mud and paint. Then they would wax it and strip it. They would leave it in a barn yard, paint it agian several times and slather it with mud. Finally, they would clean it up, wax it again and hang it in a house. Ellen Ward Scarborough has a piece of MJ's faux bois for sale on her website for $7,800.

After he finished decorating the White House, Mrs. Kennedy gave M. Boudin an album documenting the work that MJ had done. M. Boudin usually gave his clients a gift when he finished a job, too. Clients received a hand painted chest or dresser, with items faux painted on it, like a letter or a special piece of fabric. For more interesting stories about Maison Jansen, their clients and the fabulous furniture, please read Mr. Abbott's wonderful book.


  1. These are such great posts about Maison Jansen! I am really enjoying reading them!

  2. These are such wonderful anecdotes! It's also interesting that the work on Lady Baillie's homes took so long- no instant decorating there!

  3. I love these 'insider' stories!! Must have been a fantastic lecture -i can't wait to read these books!

  4. Meg - what a treat, thanks again for sharing the lecture with us.

  5. What a great continuation of the lecture. I love the beautiful renderings, which are exquisite pieces of artwork all on their own.

  6. Meg, yes thanks again for sharing. Fascinating. I never tire of seeing the Lancaster room or JBK's wardrobe.

  7. Ohh how exciting about your bookmaking classes - must show us your results!

  8. 40 years! I feel better about the half done manse six years after moving in....

    This was fun, thanks!

  9. Your blog is a feast for the eyes.
    All lovely, fluffy goodness. The title also brings a smile to my face.

  10. fascinating post - another book for my "to read list"


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