Monday, January 27, 2014

Inspiration from Menshikov Palace

While recently reading Howard Slatkin's book, Fifth Avenue Style, I made two discoveries. The first one was that Howard Slatkin is quite the collector, and I secretly covet his collections. His Fifth Avenue apartment is a treasure trove of porcelains, books, candles, cachepots, and other decorative goodies, all of which I found very appealing.  But the other thing that really struck me was how Slatkin "aimed high" when decorating his apartment.  By that, I mean that Slatkin sought design inspiration in some very big and very grand places, including Pavlovsk, Schloss Favorite, and Menshikov Palace.

Perhaps I lack vision and confidence, because when I visit a palace or a grand house, I usually don't walk away with any decorating ideas for my own home.  No matter how in awe I may be of a grand interior, I simply file away what I saw in my memory bank, retrieving it only when I need to write a blog post or article about a particular palace.  It's as if I'm thinking, "What happens in XXX, stays in XXX."  Never once have I come home and tried to duplicate what I saw in these palatial residences.

But after reading Slatkin's book, I want to change the way I look at interiors.  If I really study the rooms of a palace, for example, I'm sure to find some great idea that can be replicated in my apartment, no matter how small it may seem when compared to said palace.  So, I decided to study the rooms of Menshikov Palace, the St. Petersburg, Russia palace that inspired Howard Slatkin's kitchen, to see what could be recreated in my own home.

As you can see, what makes Menshikov Palace special are its tiled-lined rooms.  There is blue and white tile on the walls and on the ceilings.  And check out the curlicue plasterwork on one of the ceilings; that's certainly some decorative flourish.  Slatkin did a masterly job of recreating both for his kitchen.  (In his book, Slatkin does make the point that many of his apartment's finishes are pure pastiche, meant only to evoke something grand rather than slavishly copy it.)   I, on the other hand, don't think that a similar treatment would work in my kitchen-sadly.  But, I could see installing a backsplash of Delft tile, a subtle nod to the tile of Menshikov Palace.  Or, I could hang a wallpaper that mimics blue and white Delft tile.  That would certainly be a far less expensive wall treatment than the real deal.  And finally, take a look at how some of the paintings at Menshikov are hung with blue or red fabric sashes.  Don't you think they look smashing against those blue and white-tiled walls?  That is an idea that could easily be copied in one's own home, especially if your walls are covered in a blue and white-patterned wallpaper or fabric.

I guess that the point that I'm trying to make is that inspiration really can come from anywhere and everywhere, no matter how small or how grand the inspiration might be.  It's all about keeping an open mind and being creative, especially when adapting a big design idea for a small space.

The four photos above show the interiors of Menshikov Palace. You could aim high and recreate both the tiled walls and ceiling as well as the inlaid floors in your own house. Or, you could simply borrow the easy-to-copy idea of hanging your pictures with blue or red sashes.

And Howard Slatkin's cozy yet still impressive version in his kitchen.

Slatkin photos from Fifth Avenue Style by Howard Slatkin, Tria Giovan photographer.  


  1. Great post..important points. I always use my travel inspirations in projects.....with an eye to contemporary lifestyle and often a change of scale (!). Go for it!!

  2. Yes, aim high!
    The sashes really make sense for hanging pictures, so as not to drill through the tiles. And they make for a nice contrast.
    I wonder if they still make that Delft tile patterned Contact paper?

  3. I think this concept of downsizing and adapting a big idea has been more commonly used by gardeners. Gordon Hayward is particularly good at informing how to look and see what can be adapted to your home garden. I think it is not as easy to do with interiors; the scale really throws me off

  4. Yup, lightning can strike anywhere; even the grandeur of Versailles has lessons that can be adapted for the average home. Like high fashion, grand design can have a trickle down effect. By going to the source, we get the idea in its purest form. In street parlance, it is the equivalent of, "you don't ask, you don't get"...

    Found a book in a used bookstore recently, "History of The Interior" by Charles McCorquodale. His very point was that grand design, and understanding the impetus of that design, informs how design evolved to meet the needs of the varying societies. Once you get the raison d'etre behind the design elements, then you can adapt the design accordingly. I mean, just a short time ago, who would ever have even considered putting a crystal chandelier in a kitchen; now it is the rage and people love the look (when done right...) The one thing that struck me, while reading this book, was that grand carved wood boiseries in France were actually considered a step down in expense and luxury, when one considers the expense of walls of marble and carved stucco. Everything is relative; once you understand that, then you can see and pull ideas from any source, great or small.

  5. I enjoyed Howard Slatkin's book very much. Even more I am delighted to see a person lead with his heart, and I must say, a great sense of joy. I also appreciated that Howard created an apartment of beauty, but also one that honors his sense of place and family, the soul-deep rootedness of it all. Would love to be at a dinner party with Howard and Tony Duquette!

  6. Super post. I love Howard's book. Now you are making me think about extending the design concepts into other areas.
    Have a great week--glad that you are "all better."

  7. Aim high! not easy to do interiors but it can be done. thanks

  8. Having been in St. Petersburg this past summer, we visited the Menshikov Palace, and it is truly amazing! Slatkin has paid a glorious homage to the exuberant charm with the tilework and stencilled floors. Another designer who has also been inspired by this palace is Bennett Weinstock. His rooms are often a tribute to the wonders (and excesses) of St. Petersburg. If you don't know his work, be sure to do a little research. Wonderful post!

  9. Thomas1:06 PM

    I had a friend who photo-copied blue and white Delft tiles and used them around his fireplace- it was very successful- Oh - the fireplace didn't work-

  10. Wonderful post! Thanks for the inspiration.

  11. How exquisitely designed! I am in love with patterns on patterns. There is something about the total uniqueness and warmth of many shapes and colors that coordinate together. Love the post.

  12. I'd go easy on the all over floor to ceiling eastern look. I notice Mr Slatkin has spent a lot of attention and probably money to achieve his pared down look.

    I can't imagine the overkill unless one had a particularly airy and wonderful space to play with.

  13. Dear Jennifer, I enjoyed this immensely, these images of the palace are new to me. I know from your writings that you like room portraits. On page three of my studio blog about half way down is my October 18th post of a watercolor study detail of the Menshikov Palace. Of course, like so many of us, I am completely charmed by Howard Slatkin's design. Thank you!