Ok, a month later, but finally getting back to part 2 of my blog series on this amazing French Country home, by interior design by Elizabeth Cabell. Also, many, many thanks to Elizabeth for her commentary!
A large room with an unbelievably high beamed ceiling required a deft touch from designer Elizabeth Cabell. The furnishings had to be on a scale that would fit the room, yet not overwhelm its occupants. Elizabeth accomplished this with a stunning mix of tall architectural features and twelve foot high drapery panels, which then nestle an extraordinarily elegant and comfortably sized seating area. The exquisite Aubusson provides an almost cloud-like feel while its soft colors keep the room from getting too heavy at the base.
Elizabeth Cabell – “This room had such tremendous strength and presence from the moment I stepped into it. It was important to manage the scale in this room as it is quite large and the ceilings are very high. The doors were selected at an estate auction in PA and were installed over an existing center archway. I think they came form an estate in England, or possibly a pub, we never heard the entire story. Lighting was installed behind the etched glass panes so that at night you are able to see quite clearly the etched glass. It is quite lovely. The Aubusson was selected in a neutral, quiet palette to soften the power of the ceiling beams and to minimize the patterning. The blue sofa is a gorgeous hand made piece from Honduras. It took 20 weeks to make and was well worth the wait. It is covered in blue velvet and will look stunning for years to come. Velvets wear so well! The small blue occasional chair was purchased by the owners on a trip abroad in Italy and the copper kettles were installed from an estate sale as well. They really keep the room grounded and offset any fussiness that might have come from the introduction of the Aubusson, velvet and silk drapery.”
This room was a challenge to photograph as well. Trying to keep the elements in the frame and in a spatial harmony kept me walking around and around looking for the perfect vantage point. The room demanded that at least two shots incorporated the features from ceiling to floor – it was all too important to leave anything out. What I was attempting to convey with the images was the feeling of awe at the size and luxuriousness of the space, and of the warmth and comfort that the design and furnishings conveyed.
Elizabeth Cabell – “I love this picture. I think it may be the soft pattern on the drapery which is so beautifully balanced with the ornate Tudor choir stall. The choir stall was purchased at an estate sale and taken to a fabrication shop. While there, the top hutch was removed from the base so that two separate pieces could be created; a back bar with mirrors and shelving for bar glasses and a base for storage and a bar top. It turned out perfectly! There were no issues in the removal of the hutch and the creation of the two pieces. It was installed over an existing window which faces a road and, thus, no view was lost. In fact, privacy was gained. The drapery panels are floor to ceiling and over 12′ tall…. they are in a soft blue Cowtan & Tout silk embroidered with butterflies and trailing vines. I have always loved the back view of the sofa in this photograph. The curve of the sofa adds such richness to an otherwise strongly linear room.”
Like so many of the rooms in this home, there just wasn’t enough time for me to make all the photographs I wanted to, but this detail could not be ignored. From the color, light, and placement of all the features in this incredible space, right down to the individual threads in the fabric, everything was exquisite.
Elizabeth Cabell – “The silk on this chair is from a very old fabric house in Lyon, France, named Tassinari & Chatel. They have been operating since the 17th century and were instrumental in fabricating silks embroidered with threads of gold and silver for the Kings of France, particularly Louis XIV and XV. These were placed in the living room to add a level of formality and to add an element of ‘France’ to the room, pure period “France” in order to speak to the architecture of the house. The sunlight pouring in to the room on the day of the photo shoot could not be ignored. The light was so strong it allowed the deep storm blue silk shot with threads of silver to absolutely glow.”
The kitchen – another space that was a challenge to photograph. The size and height of the island, combined with the massive pot rack, formed a visual block that took some maneuvering to work around. Fortunately, I was able to get back far enough so that the foreground and background elements stayed in a close relationship. The zinc countertops are very cool, unique, and beautiful, yet totally unpretentious. They lent an air of supreme functionality to a space that could have very easily been ostentatious.
Elizabeth Cabell – “The island was a creation to make living in the house easy for the homeowner with two small children. Lots of nooks and cubbies and storage space were created with an end cap for the cookbooks. The blue was a custom color creation. The pot rack was a custom design. The counter tops are zinc and are weathering beautifully. The two tones on the cabinets, blue and brown, are highly compatible and the wood floors soften the entire space. It’s one of the largest kitchens I’ve ever been in and yet it retains a warmth and coziness, somehow. The light from the window is everywhere… wonderfully ambient, warm, soft and full. The blue flower arrangement and the flower arrangement in the red pot above the stove top were a creative adventure on a rainy day and remain wonderful colorful additions to the room.”
Now on to the second floor. At the top of the staircase is the large open library with two windows and a set of arched doors with full length glass panels overlooking the front yard. The beautiful north light streaming through the openings was both bright and soft, and enhanced the calm and quiet demeanor of this space.
Elizabeth Cabell – “This cabinet almost didn’t make it up the stairs! It took 3 hours to move that piece around both corners of the three flights of stairs. That was a brow mopping few hours! But in the end we had such wonderful luck with all the contractors, particularly the movers, that there were just no issues. The drapery turned out beautifully using a Beacon Hill damask made in Italy. The clients have a lovely library with volumes of old book sets and family pictures.”
Stay tuned for Part 3, the final installment of this massive project!
The approach to this elegantly stunning French Country home is like a storybook illustration, even in this photograph, taken in the early morning during an oppressive heat wave. By 9 am we were well in excess of 90 degrees, and the brief overnight shower provided no relief, only making the Southern muggy air even thicker.
But as we stepped inside, the uncomfortable weather conditions were soon a thing of the past.
Interior designer Elizabeth Cabell, of Cabell Design Studio in Montpelier, Virginia, was contacted by the homeowner in the month of April for this design project – a 10,000 square foot French Country home in Charlotte, North Carolina. The homeowner’s instructions were, as Elizabeth explained to me, “Retain the French atmosphere that the house, obviously, exudes, but to create an environment in which they could live. They did not want a museum and they did not want a french fussy place full of country chickens. She specifically banned ‘toile de jouy’.” And one other item – the project had an August completion deadline!
Elizabeth Cabell, “Into the dining room…. This is the house for me. Quintessentially. Totally. This image, and the moment that you grabbed it, will forever remain in my memory. That moment represented completion for me. It was the visual fruition of the months of planning, presentation, ordering, straining, solving, sweating, swearing and smiling captured in an instant. I love the doors, they allow the house to breath with more life than the new owners could ever hope to provide. They add the sense of history and permanence that a house of this magnitude should have, a grounding, lest it become too false. I love the way the light beckons the viewer into the room and the barest glimpse of the marbled back wall provides intrigue and interest. Funny, but this was one of the most sparsely population rooms and yet this picture still has the capacity to speak volumes.”
I spent two enjoyable days photographing this home, but the image above, one of the first taken, turned out to be the summation of the entire design project. As a photographer of interior design, I strive to not only capture an accurate visual representation of the project, but also the feel and the essence of the designer’s vision. Sometimes it is easier to get one part than the other. While struggling to get a photograph of the foyer that satisfied those requirements, I turned and saw this – a timeless scene of exquisite beauty.
“The doors came from an estate sale that the builder attended in France. They were part of an old chateau that had been demolished and portions of it were auctioned. They are truly one of a kind, handmade, incredible.”
And then sometimes the issue isn’t what to photograph, but what gets left out. I could have easily spent a half day in a creative reverie just in the master bedroom, but fortunately Elizabeth had some definite ideas about what she wanted to capture. The homeowner had insisted on a TV over the mantel. Elizabeth wasn’t too keen on the idea, but by locating a manufacturer of tapestries that are held on a remote control roller, she was able to find a solution within a proper historical framework for the house that was a happy ending for both homeowner and designer. The furniture, with the exception of the bed, was all being purchased from an antiques dealer in Italy, and then shipped in a container for an August delivery. There was an uncertainty over the dimensional information supplied by the antiques dealer, and Elizabeth was on pins and needles until the shipment arrived with the pieces all the correct size. The bed, ordered 13 weeks prior to the move in date, arrived in 10 weeks, but was ‘smashed to smithereens’ when it was unpacked. Somehow Elizabeth scrambled and found two replacement options, both ready to to ship, one of which the owners liked better than the original choice!
Elizabeth’s description of the master bathroom is all that is needed: “The rug was an adventure for the client and I. We found the perfect rug for the upstairs library in Pennsylvania. It worked well with the library chairs , bookcases and drapery which were going to live in there and the husband loved the colors. However, it was 6 feet too long! We asked the dealer, a very reputable Iranian who has been in the oriental rug business for 45 years, to cut it down to size and retain what remained. He did as instructed, serged the edges and added a trim for us and, voila, Master Bathroom rug! It was a great two-for-one moment for the homeowner, who at this point was dazed by the spending. The drapery, over the top treatment as usual, is an Old World Weavers embroidered silk. It is lovely and graceful and elegant and soft. The tan silk drapery panels underneath really support the lightness of this swag as the top treatment would be lost to the wall color, otherwise. The ottoman material is a Vervain, and one which I happen to love . It was a coup for me to have the client approve this one, as it’s much more contemporary than they prefer. They found a wonderful antique coat hanger / shelf on 1st Dibs which is only 9″ deep and fits perfectly in the niche behind the tub to store towels and bath things.”
Next post – the living room, chair details, kitchen, and library.