When asked to designate my favorite piece of furniture in our home, I become very nostalgic in recalling the original setting for this particular piece – a lit a’ la Polonaise (named after Louis the XV’s Polish queen) which makes sleeping such a dream.
It was twenty-five years ago and my husband, Jonathan, and I were living in a most special apartment taking up the formal rooms of a Back Bay Boston townhouse. The memories of those years are particularly magical as the chance associations and gilded experiences added an allure to our time there that shall remain vivid forever (as an example — and one reason we purchased the space — a Venetian princess had executed the masterful faux-finish paint details throughout the rooms.)
With sixteen foot ceilings, there was opportunity for “statement pieces” in this living space…so why not start in the bedroom, I thought. It was here where drama had been added to the imposing mantle and overmantle…which called for a corresponding gesture from the bed on the opposite wall. And what could be more romantic and storied than a French-conceived lit a’ la Polonaise, with its wonderful topknot that draws your eye up to the full height of any room? There was certainly no lack of versions from which to choose — from the simple…
to the elaborate.
With its swooping arms, emanating from a large decorative centerpiece, the Polonaise “statement” was both lyrical and subtly powerful–giving a nod to the grand height of our Boston bedroom. But the original designs needed to be toned down for our lifestyle (we obviously do not “receive” guests in our boudoir as French kings of the 18th century did).
So taken was I with the vision of what could be, albeit a bit tongue-in-cheek, I gave little thought to the fact that this was not a simple “canopy bed.” The project list included (but was not limited to) manipulating ironwork to achieve just the right angle and swoop to the curved arms, creating the entire bed’s framework to support the metal arms and this heavy centerpiece and then, the yards and yards and yards of silk required.
The original crown (now in the attic…perhaps for a pet bed someday?) was encircled with gilded, detailed tin.
All came together, even more beautifully than I could have imagined, a testimony to that saying (which I hold dear) “it was meant to be.” My Boston workrooms made the draperies, a Newport metal worker carefully calculated and crafted the “arms” of the lit and my Providence man-of-all-talents created the wooden and padded crown (from which the draperies were hung)…
which had to be meticulously manipulated to meet the four arms and not collapse or cause the entire piece to be thrown-off-balance. Keeping the whole “enterprise” upright and stable was not a small undertaking (monumental would well describe it.)
And what of the fabric? Two shades of a buttercream stripe, deep enough to be recognizable but subtle enough not to compete with the overall profile and angles of the bed seemed the perfect decision. Worthy of a ballgown, too.
Adding to the romance of this project, the weighty silk dupioni was woven in Thailand (this was 25 years ago, when “off shore” production was not de riguer); I worked directly with a silk house recommended by a friend living there at the time. Calculating the correct length of each of the four panels was another challenge, for allowing just the right amount of “puddling” was a must for a bed of this style and histoire. Its success is one of the details that I love the most about this creation – the full, voluptuous folds, lined in silk with two inner linings, collapse onto the Oriental throw rugs in an almost seductive gesture.
With the goal of understated simplicity, the only other detail to consider was an unfussy trim to finish off the edges of the centerpiece and draperies (I love that I still have the original gimp board, with the fabric house, “Maison Brunschwig,” written along the edge).
And what would this creation be without silk bows tied tightly to hold up the draperies at the curve of the arms?
Or scrumptious sheets custom colored in the same buttercreams to provide the finishing touches?
Needless to say, when we built our home in Newport, the bedroom’s size and ceiling height was one of our first considerations when speaking with the architect.
And here she is—seemingly straight from the movie, “Dangerous Liaisons,” in my first coffee table book, Private Newport: At Home and in the Garden (2004). What a wonderful investment of time and energy; we are always happy to crawl into this bed…with Louis!
Sweet dreams to you…