One of the great treasures of the city of Boston is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. You may have heard of the museum because it was the site of the most infamous US art heist of all time. The 1990 crime is still unsolved when thieves cut 81 world important works of art right out from the frames while leaving the frames still hanging on the wall. There have been all sorts of theories about the heist from it being mob related (Whitey Bulger) to it being an inside job.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, the last time I was at the museum was on a school field trip back in middle school. There really is no excuse but yesterday I finally made a return visit. Ironically, it was another field trip but this time it was lead by an artist from a local art school.
Isabella Stewart Gardner is a fascinating character in Boston’s history. She was a wealthy, attention seeking socialite and her unconventional behavior made her the Kim Kardashian of her times. After loosing both her children, one to pneumonia and the other in a miscarriage, she was told she could have no more children. Gardner decided her legacy would be to build an art filled museum for the city that would also function as her splendid home. She spent years traveling the world collecting and installing her collection according to her personal aesthetic. The eclectic gallery installations, paintings, sculpture, textiles, and furniture from different periods and cultures create a truly amazing visual delight.
Since her home and it’s spectacular collections was open to the public, it was like Boston’s first show house. One room really struck me because although it was done in 1900 it has design features that are just as on trend today.
- Wallpaper: Large scale Damask wallpaper is very popular today. The “wallpaper” in Gardner’s room from 1900 is actually individual hand tooled leather panels embellished with 24 carat gold. Since the room was lit at night by candle light (no electric lights yet) the gold would sparkle on the walls from the flames of the candles.
- Unique wall embellishment: I love the way Gardner used the gold “rope” chair rail running across the wall to separate the upper and lower leather wall treatments. The round centers look like large nail heads and we all know how popular those are today.
- Gallery wall: Gardner broke all the rules when it came to hanging her treasures and she hung her art as she thought it looked best. That’s more or less today’s trend as well. There are rules but they are often broken.
- Multiple fabrics: Using two different fabrics on one settee must have been quite unusual back in the day but today it is right on trend. Also notice how the over scale checked fabric mimics the square leather panels as well as relates to the small framed paintings.
- Mixed metals:Using different colored metals in the same room is a huge trend today. Look how Gardner paired a silver vessel on the side table along with all that gold. The wood on the settee is also painted silver.
So even though this room was designed so many years ago, it’s still relevant today. It all goes back to the simple premise that good design never goes out of style.