The Classicist: Inside the Embassies & Historic Mansions of Paris
Very rarely do any of Paris' remaining private palaces come on the market; when they do the properties invariably rank among the world's most expensive, such as the 1912 mansion built for the Duchesse de Montmorency recently listed at $140 million that we told you about back in November. The reason there is so little movement among these magnificent monuments to wealth lining the famed city's storied avenues is that most are occupied as embassies and ambassadorial residences. An equally magnificent new book, Historic Houses of Paris: Residences of the Ambassadors from Flammarion by Alain Stella with photography by Francis Hammond offers a guided tour of 22 of these amazing edifices, some seen for the first time, most originally built for members of the aristocracy and now the setting for lavish diplomatic entertainments and intrigues.
Gilded halls, formal sitting rooms, stately dining rooms, paneled libraries, perfectly landscaped gardens, chambers filled with rare antiques, luxurious wallcoverings and private living quarters are all examined in delectable detail, in mansions ranging from a 17th-century hôtel particulier to a Belle Epoque palace and even a couple more contemporary examples, now occupied by the ambassadors of the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, China, India and more. The cover (above) depicts the Sicilian theater of the incredible Italian Ambassador 's residence, aka the Hotel de la Rochefoucauld-Doudeauville, built in 1732. Some, like the Indian Ambassador's residence, aka the Hotel de Marlborough built in 1910 by architect René Sergent, who also designed Claridge's in London and Rome's Grand Hotel, are named for famous former owners; in this case the Duchess of Marlborough, aka Consuelo Vanderbilt, one of the world's richest and most beautiful women at the time.
Gallery: Historic Houses of Paris
Throughout the book, Stella's text offers readers a better understanding of the inner workings of the residences, as well as the historical significance of each estate. Most are perfectly preserved, such as the palace of Eugène de Beauharnais, built in 1713 and home to the German ambassadors since 1818, which retains its elaborate Empire style, intact since the time of Josephine. National tastes are reflected in decor flourishes such as tapestries inspired by Goya's drawings that grace the lavish salons at the Spanish residence, and the minimalist interior at the Japanese residence evoking the refined style of a traditional Japanese home. "These are buildings that number among the most elegant private dwellings in the capital," notes Bienvenue en France association president Marie-Thérèse François-Poncet in a foreword, "hôtels particuliers built over the centuries that have passed through the hands of members of royal and imperial families, aristocrats, and wealthy industrialists." See the gallery for a preview.