The Palace of Versailles offers an amazing look at some of the most luxurious interiors ever created. Upon first look one might casually assume every whim from Louis XIV through Louis XVI was indulged in the interiors of the royal apartments. The walls are decorated with enormous royal portraits while the use of gold, marble, and elaborately carved moldings becomes almost redundant, or isn’t it? Let’s look beyond the opulence to find important interior design lessons very relevant to today’s modern home.
Aside from the symbolic importance, a royal palace is still a home. As a home, whether imagined in the sixteenth century or beyond, each room has a function. Good design dictates a well designed interior must first serve its purpose. In the Hall of Mirrors, the repetition of the seventeen arched windows using mirrors allow light to illuminate the important affairs and meetings which take place in this room. Multiple paintings on the vault celebrate the most glorious episodes of the Dutch War. This illustrates to all who enter the successful civil and military achievements of the French King. It makes a statement, and puts all those who enter in their place.
One of the most time honored design stalwarts for interior design and architecture is the use of balance and symmetry. Great interiors today harness this for both beauty and comfort. Matching one side of a room to another, items placed in pairs, the positions of doors, windows and other architectural features in the time of Versailles, marched diligently in-step with balance and symmetry. Rarely was a room a hodgepodge of the King or Queen’s fancy, even their clutter had order.
The Palace of Versailles has over 700 rooms. Multi-room apartments for both royal family members and nobles were housed in the same building the State Apartments. Though everyone could decorate their own space according to their own interests, what exists in the State Apartments, basically the home for the king and queen is a continuity of color scheme. Colors flow and repeat from one room to the next, though their purpose may be different. Rooms meant to impress will have more gold and bold colors like in the Hall of Mirrors above.
The Kings Bedchamber, directly off the Hall of Mirrors displays a similar color scheme.
Ceilings are not meant to be naked. History proves ceilings were indeed the fifth wall. If there is one design lesson we’ve all but lost, it is using the ceiling as part of the room. At Versailles a grand painted scene such at The Apotheosis of Hercules by Francois Lemoyne above, made both a visual and political statement. We don’t need to go to this extreme but when you have color on your walls, you need color on your ceiling. Leaving a ceiling stark white perched atop colorful walls screams mistake, or lacking in confidence or sometimes just cheap. Just for a moment, imagine these rooms with the typical builder white ceiling… hideous!
One of the greatest design axioms so eloquently utilized at Versailles is to design a room or space from the vantage point of a viewer. When one approaches a doorway, what is the view? Does it invite? Does it beckon? The first view into a room should draw one into the room. Use a door like a picture frame, consider what is inside this frame.
French Kings and Queens may not have had televisions, but they had reception rooms, retiring rooms, a library and other rooms with functions similar to what we have today. Their wardrobe room is our walk-in closet. Their games room is our media room. Like us they had public and private spaces. Although they had it all, and could afford it all, Versailles was bound by order, order of timeless design lessons just as relevant today. Each of their rooms from the artwork, colors and furnishings all were placed in a room to serve the ultimate purpose of the room. The rooms at Versailles work, on every level. These same big design ideas can work just as well in your home.