Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Mill, Part One


Over the holidays, I was tickled pink when a neighbor gave me a 1954 magazine clipping about the Mill, the French country house of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (or, as the article referred to them, "the world's most romantic couple."). Titled Our First Real Home, the article was a two-part series written by the Duchess herself, who described at length the renovation and decoration of the couple's first purchased home.  (Their previous homes had all been leased.) 

Formerly owned by the artist Drian, the seventeenth-century mill, Moulin de la Tuilerie, consisted of a millhouse and three outbuildings located, naturally, along a stream.  According to the article, the Duchess chose a fruit and floral theme for the home because "every house should have a theme in its decoration." She also established a vibrant color-palette for most of the rooms because she "wanted to have a fling with bright colors."  The exceptions to this are the Duchess's pastel-colored bedroom and the lighter-toned dining room.  Assisted by her decorator, Stéphane Boudin of Maison Jansen, the Duchess filled her country home with newly-purchased objects as well as furnishings from their previous homes, including pieces from York House and Fort Belvedere.  (If, like me, you have spent hours pouring over the Duke and Duchess of Windsor auction catalogues, you'll likely recognize a number of the paintings and objects seen here.)

As I've said before, I don't consider the Mill to be on par with the Windsors' Paris home, which was really most attractive.  I find the colors of these interiors to be jarring to the eye, and some of the decorative combinations are rather odd.  (One such example, seen below, is the drawing-room banquette, which was accented with red satin cushions.  Alongside it was a corduroy-upholstered chair.  See what I mean?)  That being said, I relish these photos, because they provide a glimpse into the lives of a stylish couple who, rightly or wrongly, fascinate me.

You might recognize some of these photos, for they later appeared in Suzy Menkes's terrific book, The Windsor Style. Because the article featured so many photos, I'm dividing them up into two blog posts.  And I've also included the original photo captions, because they're too good to overlook.

So, now, the tour of the Mill...


"Our Moulin de la Tuilerie as it looks through the entrance gate."


The Big Hall:

"Sometimes I think the big hall is my favorite room- it's so cheery and comfortable. The overscaled chintz was chosen to heighten this effect. The low leather chair is the Duke's pet and the funny twisted-root stool on the hearth he used to sit on to rest while elephant hunting in East Africa. The stairs in the corner lead to our bedrooms and to the drawing room."


"This group in the hall just inside the front door is worked out around a red and gold Louis XV chest I had in my London apartment. The two still-lifes painted in 1839 were the first things we acquired especially for the mill- were originally intended for the dining-room. The big faience swan I bought from the people who most recently had been living in the mill- it seemed so right for the room. The high-backed chairs are old Irish ones."


"This view of the hall from the pantry side reveals the dining-room door across the room- not too convenient for serving, as you can see. The rug under the sofa group is of felt embroidered in floral squares- I bought it years ago hoping to have a place for it some day. Gravestones in the floor were stolen from cemeteries during the French revolution- fortunately nobody's under them."



The Drawing Room:
"You step up through that tiny door in the center of the picture to reach the drawing-room. The sloping shelves behind the door cover the main stairs to the hall below. To give this forty-foot room the height it needed we removed the floor of the old loft above it, thus exposing the beautiful cross beams and buttresses. The screen behind the piano- a map painted by Drian- carries the carpet design up several feet like a dado."


"To give you some idea of the size of the room- the baroque mirror over the fireplace is ten feet high. On either side are the two paintings by Lorjou which suggested the color scheme of the room. The carpet was especially designed and woven but most of the furnishings are things we had- done over. The small door by the fireplace leads to our Bahamian bar."


"The banquette around the corner to the right of the fireplace contrasts a Jacquard-textured cotton with shiny satin cushions- the chair is covered in corduroy.  On the wall is the almost life-size portrait Drian did of me at the time of my marriage. The tree-trunk pedestals holding geraniums were in Drian's old studio in the barn."


"The sofa group is dominated by the famous picture Sir Alfred J. Munnings painted of my husband on horseback when he was Prince of Wales. On each side hang old French hunting carvings. The coffee table, given us in Nassau, has a map of the Bahamas in black and antique bronze painted under the glass top."



The Duchess's Bedroom:

"This shows how my room looks as you first come in. The far window behind the dressing table opens over the millstream; at night its gentle murmur makes such a relaxing sound to go to sleep by! The clear pastel colors are those I've always been fond of- they also harmonize with the two painted chests (you can see a corner of one on the right) that I've had since we were first married. The little Victorian rocker in the foreground, painted to match the room, belonged to my grandmother in America."

"My bedroom is long and narrow with sloping beams, a little like a tent- so I decided to emphasize this by draping the old beams with striped antique taffeta. The colors in the curtains are repeated in the harlequin bedcover- a present from my husband on my last birthday. Its pieces are put together by hand like a patchwork quilt- I had decided it would be too expensive but the Duke ordered it for me anyway as a surprise. The door in the far wall opens to the bathroom; at the right next to it is the entrance door from the upper landing."

"My painted trompe l'oeil chest gave us the idea for decorating the bathroom. We painted the walls with the same wood grain, adding amusing trompe l'oeil symbols held up by red tape- things like the jacket of A King's Story, gloves, opera glasses, bouquets of flowers, butterflies, a dog leash."

"To me flowers are an important part of the decoration of a room and one of my hobbies is arranging them. I always like white flowers in my own room. Sometimes they're a low arrangement like the roses opposite; sometimes tall, like the one here of calla lilies and spiky eremurus."



The Duke's Bedroom and Bath:
"All the furniture here came from Fort Belvedere- the drum is one from the Grenadier Guards with the Duke's own cipher, ER VIII, used when he was king. The small clock on the mantel was a christening present from his maternal grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Teck."

"The Duke's bedroom is also a quiet retreat. He has his favorite books and collections there- the old prints on the wall show the different uniforms of the Grenadier Guards from 1660 to modern times. A naval dress sword hangs there under prints of old navy uniforms."

"One of our planning problems was the Duke's dressing room and bath just across the landing from my room. We solved it by building fixtures into closets and cabinets and setting a stall shower in one corner (for he prefers a shower to a tub bath). Stairs at right lead to the bedroom."


To be continued....

54 comments:

  1. A great look at this property and their lives. Fascinating. I've heard this article referenced but I've not seen these shots. Thanks!

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    1. James, Happy New Year! I was aware of this article, so was thrilled when it was given to me. Glad to hear you enjoyed the photos.

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  2. Hi Jennifer, Happy New Year! Terrific post. I love The Mill, in as much that it's a complete (but honest) comfortable mess and rather "anti-decoration" in feel. Did you realise that you can stay there? Its' now a holiday let, although the interior is completely different- now modern and minimal, which is a shame. Do you remember the Duke's garden (I seem to remember from the Menkes book) which was a riot of clashing colours, delphiniums and island beds- very 60's and now looked down upon by 'yew' gardeners. Best wishes, Luke

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  3. It's the first time I have seen this photos too and it is pretty fascinating. I keep thinking it's an interesting choice as their first home they bought too.

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  4. Alexis Purr9:42 AM

    It was at the Mill that Mrs. Simpson's "tacky Southern taste", to quote Billy Baldwin, was most apparent. Boudin's involvement in the decoration was negligible, in contrast to his magisterial role in the decoration of the Paris residence. No one looking at the Duchess' bedroom at the Mill can possibly attribute the interiors of their Paris home to some secret reservoir of good taste that she possessed. Mrs. Simpson was at her most elegant when she allowed herself to be guided by figures like Boudin and Chanel. The results were rarely flattering when she was left to her own devices.

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    1. Anonymous12:06 AM

      Don't think the tiny Mrs. Simpson ever wore Chanel. Her favorite designer was Mainbocher. He made her wedding dress, etc. etc.

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  5. This Mill can be rented as a self catering cottage on a weekly basis. It is just 40 min outside of Paris. Ask www.countessconnections.com about it.

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  6. First time seeing these pictures too. Fantastic. Looking forward to part two.

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  7. Oh my, I rather think I agree with Billy Baldwin although I think it's an insult to the South - their taste is far from tacky but much of this house is. I find it fascinating that it clearly was done on a slim budget. l guess she managed to spend most of their money on her own clothes and jewels. I remember thinking of them as a very glamorous couple when I was a child - my mother was in thrall of her taste in clothes - but the older I get (and I'm old as dirt now!), the more I look at them as a tragic, pathetic pair. I think she really thought she was going to be Queen and he was such a weak man, he gave it all up for this rather heinous woman.

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    1. Heinous is the correct word to describe her. I do like this house and its interiors a lot more than everyone else does!

      I think much of it is quite charming. Not so tacky.

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  8. Simply put, she was tacky. When guided by others, she was acceptable, but left to her own devices, as in this instance, her commonness shown. It is no surprise that the royal family objected strongly to her. Having only seen carefully edited and staged photographs of her, I didn't understand it, until I saw an old interview she gave on black and white telly. Dreadful. He gave up everything for her, but why? To this day, people wonder what he saw that no one else did. Thank you for sharing the article. It is indeed an eye-opener.

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    1. He found plenty with her. He was smitten beyond; and there was nothing that could have parted him from her. I admire that incredible dedication. We don't need to understand it.
      He felt it; and he did something (everything!) about it; and ended up with her. It was worth everything to him.

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  9. Anonymous10:51 AM

    Reading some essays by Diana Mosley, who greatly admired the Duchess. She thought her taste in clothes, jewels, and food was perfection, but her decorating wasn't up to snuff.

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  10. Fascinating post, for any number of reasons. And true enough, that many of the elements are jarring---not least of all the drawing room carpet. "Scaling up.." can give a room great style in some instances, but that carpet design is positively steroidal. Still, there would seem to have been an attempt at lighthearted wit throughout The Mill, however misguided the end results. (The trompe l'oeil walls of the bathroom do manage to stand the test of time, in my opinion)

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    1. Oh yes! My favorite in the whole house! That trompe l'oeil!!!!
      and the house itself......I could faint!!!

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  11. Happy New Year Jennifer! I have to agree about the interior design faux pas. I do like the Dukes Bedroom and I bet SMW would as well! I am also fascinated by this iconic couple!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena
    New Years Thoughts!

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  12. Fantastic blog post! Thank you!
    The colors seem very bright and uncoordinated for our today taste...but two things may help explain this:
    One, printing color photos in magazines at the time of this article in 1954 was not always color correct. Many photos were colored by hand with paint colors, and printing the photo colors was done with very basic 4 color letter press production. I am not a print expert at all, but I think the colors may have been more subtle and perhaps quite different in "real life".
    And two, the Simpsons were born in the quite "cluttered" Victorian Era where interior design was quit cluttered and rooms were full of furniture. We are all molded by what we grow up with in some way or another. Also, much of the furnishings may have been gifts from many different sources trying to "romance" the Simpsons for personal prestige and company gain. They may not have had unlimited funds once he stepped down from being King of England, yet they did have to try to keep up socially, which takes lots of bucks.

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  13. The Suzanne Eisendieck painting in her bedroom is so Elsie...of course EVERYONE had to have a Suzanne Eisendieck or Dietz Edzard (husband of Suzanne) per order of Elsie de Wolfe! Drian, was a Master painter as well...friend of Elsie too! Can we honestly say this is as Billy Baldwin claimed...a 'hot mess of Sothern Taste'? I think not...it's really an expression of comfort, color and class - evocative even today in Balmoral, Sandringham and Highgrove. One does need a respite from the glamour and formal furnishings, and it's a getaway to a more intimate setting yet one filled with a polished surreal elegance in the simple and sincere. Look at that wonderful corner banquette, a smaller version of their first Parisian living room banquettes (which influenced Michael Taylor years later) or the Porthault Quilted bedcover, those tree stumps from Drians' studio (Nakashima like) or even that fabulous carpeting reminiscent of The Royal Garter and Tartan. Why do so many feel the need to shred this couple to bits...she lived in a bubble, of luxe and some may say loneliness...but she did love him. Having been married before and divorced, she could've left him if she really wanted to. He did find himself in her aura, for
    Gods sake he gave up a Kingdom to become Soulmates. I cannot even imagine the Queen Mother - who time has shown did lack style & panache - cast her own private jewels and furnishings a Spell of Love or the title of Style Icon. She was just another Aristo snob I n horror over the prospect of an American as her Queen. Can you magine her wearing those Cartier Panthers and Belperron Chalcedony jewels...not! I would take this as shown even today, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton loved it too, from the jewels to those Delphiniums!

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  14. The Moulin and its guest house can be rented for short stays from The Landmark Trust a public charity in The UK well worth supporting.

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  15. Great post. Every year we say we are going to rent this or the little guest house from the Landmark Trust (a public charity well worth supporting) but we end up staying in England instead. From the photos on the Trust's website it looks much more comfortable now.

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  16. russell bush5:29 PM

    Would love to see what The Mill looked like when Drian was in residence.

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  17. Anonymous5:44 PM

    How ghastly! Boudin created this mess?

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  18. fascinating. i'm the same - Boudin did this? and I can't put my head around the scale - the mirror was 10' and that portrait was lifesized???? seems so small!

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    1. Alexis Purr2:38 AM

      Boudin did not do this. That Simpson woman did.

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  19. I can't imagine that anyone designed this with forethought. Happy New Year 2016. xoxo Mary

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  20. It's very twee and controlled, but I think so was she, so if this was really a reflection of her personal taste, then it is not unexpected, nor is it out of keeping with its time. Unfortunately not one to which I would aspire. The house in the Bois de Boulogne was something else, and clearly the work of an expert.

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  21. Boudin was involved in some aspects of the home's décor, as was John Fowler, who was responsible for the dining room's trompe l'oeil mural. Photos of the dining room will appear in Part 2.

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  22. Indeed, these boldly patterned and color saturated rooms seem an anomaly in lieu of the elegant environments created by Stéphane Boudin for the Windsors prior. When we consider the era in which they were conceived it is not so surprising, however. If we look to fashion and interior trends of the late 1940's into the 50's we see two camps: the pastel and beige camp and the primary colors camp. Christian Dior used a great deal of black, white, red and pink, and Dorothy Draper was by then famous for her use of the same, with the addition of bright leafy green. Perhaps nothing can put the schemes selected for the Windsor's rooms at Moulin de la Tuilerie in perspective more than this little known fact: Draper invited the Duke and Duchess to "The Diamond Ball" grand three-day opening of the Greenbrier Hotel in 1948. Clearly, this bold and colorful feast for the eyes made its impression on the Duchess. I doubt, however, that Boudin had much to say about it! What I do see is a sophisticated furniture layout, including several interesting antiques and custom pieces, in an otherwise unsuccessful scheme of pattern and color. Thank goodness for the tufted gray sofa to brings things down a notch or two! A fascinating, and surprising, article! Thank you so much for sharing this bit of Windsor history.

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  23. Anonymous12:06 PM

    The reaction to this feature is really quite unbelievable and pathetic !
    People write as if they actually knew this couple . People forget - or don't know - that the Duke of Windsor was one of many [ including members of the British government ] who visited Hitler and tried to talk reason to this maniac but since that visit he has been crucified . Hitler's own translator said that the Duke refused to speak German - a language he was fluent in - during the visit - hardly the action someone who had been seduced by the cause . The establishment felt it necessary to label this couple 'trouble' in the 30's in order to allow the new King to prosper without competition - in 1936 63% of the British public wanted the Duke to remain in Britain - but really in 2016 do we really need to react with such venom toward a couple none of us have any real experience of ?
    Well done Jennifer for posting this .
    Anthony Ferrie
    The 'Swan ' is right - this was their country home and therefore a chance to leave formality behind in Paris .

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    1. Merci Monsieur Ferrie

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    2. Exactly. It was a comfortable, informal, country retreat. Like Fort Belvedere.

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    3. The post is really about the style and taste of the Duchess of Windsor in her decoration of The Mill. Whether commentators have coloured their judgement by their dislike of the Windsors is a relevant factor, but it seems reasonable to assess the Duchess's ability and style based on the history we have read, which in Britain today seems to be universally against them for their perceived placement of self above duty, in the case of the King. I am not surprised at the 63% approval rating, (in which I would be very interested to see the source), that the British public had in Edward VIII, but in 1936 he was their king, and the press was muzzled, so there was no discussion of the King's relationship with Mrs Simpson. Of course it is unlikely that anyone here ever met either of them, but history suggests that they were quite rightly removed from the situation of Edward VIII being king in the run up to the Second War. The British Government certainly advised against their visit to the Fuhrer in 1937, and whether or not he conversed in German in a moot point; he saluted him with a sieg heil. To have ignored the wishes of the government was an act of supreme petulance, a trait with which he is often identified. In 1941 to have stated that he thought that Hitler was the right leader for Germany was surely a display of his rather poor grasp of world affairs.

      Whilst many are seduced by the so-called glamour of the Windsors, that too needs to be viewed in the context of the Duke & Duchess's behaviour in the lead up to and during the war.

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    4. Anonymous4:23 PM

      By December 1936 the press were no longer ' muzzled ' and the debate was raging amongst press and public alike . The Mail, Express and Telegraph all held opinion polls on this matter . Indeed the Daily mail on the 3rd Dec went so far as to say ' The people want their King ' in spite of their knowing of the existence of Mrs Simpson . This is public record as well as sourced from newspaper archives and is contained within biographies of Edward VIII / Abdication- Zeigler et al . This is typical of opinions on the internet - they are based on half read articles and badly researched television documentaries .
      To say that one's reaction to someone's glamour / taste has to be ' viewed in context to their behaviour ... ' is quite frankly ... well as I said before ... pathetic .
      Anthony Ferrie

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    5. I have studied the Windsor story at length through biographies and history of the time, but perhaps it's best if we do not continue this aspect in this post. As the celebrities of their day, what they did, said, wore or decorated is viewed in the context of who they were; her decorating abilities are judged in light of that, which obviously you find unfair.

      I still enjoy your work, as I wrote in the first comment to Jennifer's post on your house:

      http://thepeakofchic.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-glasgow-residence-of-anthony-ferrie.html

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  24. Alexis Purr12:25 AM

    Informality does not have to mean ugliness.

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    1. Anonymous10:59 AM

      Why on earth are people going-on about their personal lives; let alone their political lives? The topic here is the decoration of the Mill...the awful, awful decoration of the Mill...

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    2. AWFUL...AWFUL...such drama, so over the top. Clearly you don't own a second home to understand that a respite is needed from one decor to another to achieve a sense of relaxation as when one travels. AWFUL AWFUL is today's feast of milktoast interiors redundancy galore in every book and magazine printed in the last ten years. What would you have done with a Mill and Gardens that were historic ala Hameau of Versailles. Everyone thought Marie Antoinette had the worse taste to back then.

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    3. I agree with the Swan. I love the banquettes and many of the pieces! Those Irish chairs! Swoon! Her painted chest; the red and gold chest from her apartment. Love what they did with the beams.....I REALLY love that baroque mirror! The house itself is heaven also!

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  25. Anonymous4:57 PM

    How can you measure taste from 1954 up to the standards of today ? Interior design changes so quickly.
    Just visited Huis Doorn in Holland where the last German Emperor lived and died in 1941 .
    Hardly to believe royalty lived that way ! And only 13 years prior this Mill retreat ... .
    .

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  26. Anonymous1:55 AM

    IN THE DRAWING ROOM, YOU CAN SEE A TONY DUQUETTE, PAINTED SECRETARY DESK, WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN CREATED FOR HER "A LA ELSIE MENDLE'S FAMOUS MOIBLE" WHICH DUQUETTE MADE FOR DE WOLFE'S HOUSE "AFTER ALL" IN BEVERLY HILLS. THANKS FOR POSTING THIS GREAT OLD ARTICLE... SINCERELY, HUTTON WILKINSON, TONY DUQUETTE INC., LOS ANGELES.

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    1. Aha! Love that secretary! What about the dressing table in the Duchess's bedroom; and something else painted in the corner?? Tony also?

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  27. Anonymous4:06 PM

    Sadly they were a couple of nazis.

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    1. I think they didn't understand. A lot was not understand until later. Who knows? Not me!!!

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  28. I am certain the dresser in the Duchess's bedroom corner with painted butterfly's is by Maison Jansen...I recall it at auction. The dressing table may be as well. Elsie really did influence all with her protégés Drian, Edzard & Eisendieck, Duquette...perhaps Stephane Boudin and John Fowler learned to let go a bit and have fun as well. One can only hope.

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    1. Your knowledge is such a gift! Thank you Swan! Lovely lovely stuff! Gorgeous!

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  29. LOVED THIS........will SUBSCRIBE to YOUR BLOG so I DONOT MISS PART TWO!

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  30. Very interesting - an excellent example of how the trend of a previous time becomes the scorn of a layer one. Will be interesting to see how future people judge our current monochromatic tastes.

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  31. Anonymous8:46 AM

    Some of the decor did change as seen when the Winsdors gave a tour of the mill for the CBSTV show 60 Minutes on February 4, 1969, archived in the Paley Center for Media

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    1. OH Gosh!! Going there! Thank you so much! Can we see it online? I hope!!?!

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  32. Hi Jennifer. I think I may be the first person to have bought your book "In with the Old" a few years ago and I love it. I completely agree with your article regarding the homogenization of design and decor. Many of the families on the UES of New York have similarly decorated apartments, devoid of their personalities and of their family history. Plus, most mothers are now germ phobic so visiting is an issue since we must use hand sanitizers before entering. The interior decorating tastes have become global. My family has an ancestral home in Italy and when I bought excellent quality furniture from a high end consignment, featuring items from nearby villas, I was chastised by my aunt who thought the room needed modern furniture! I assure you that the furniture was not over-the-top, just a beautiful armoire, a Murano light fixture and two lovely couches. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. There are many people who agree with you!

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    1. Regardless of what your Aunt said...I say, "well done!" Your selections sound "appropriate to the house"; that is what I think, sadly, is missing today. In many cases.

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  33. How many people making nasty comments know anything about post war style? For the period this is well decorated and if the Duke and Duchess wanted their country house, which was really a warehouse of mementos from The King's early life, to be comfortable.

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  34. I think it's lovely. Yes, the satin photos look slightly out of place but how many people wear silk or cashmere with denim?

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  35. Re-reading The Letters of Nancy Mitford last night (18 March 2016) I was surprised to come upon this paragraph written to Nancy Mitford's lover Gaston Palewski dated 18 March 1947:

    "Peter [Rodd, NM's husband] is completely set on buying the Drian house. I think it's a sensible thing to do, from every point of view, & I expect we shall. It won't be heaven, like living in the rue Bonaparte, but neither will it be so compromising for you."

    The footnotes go on to explain that the house was purchased by the Windsors in 1952.

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