As winter approaches

Capturing the garden in an interior

9 NOVEMBER 2015,
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

As winter approaches, we may already long for the carefree warmer days of summer. I’ve always appreciated the idea of capturing the garden in an interior. Recently, I visited the Jacquemart-Andrè Museum in Paris. It is a splendidly designed mansion by Henri Parent. Building commenced in 1869 and was completed in 1875 on the then newly-constructed Boulevard Haussmann.

This home reminds me of the Newport “cottages” of the American gilded age. The scale here however is far more livable and tasteful. Henri Parent managed to maintain intimacy in grandeur. I fell in love with the Jardin d'Hiver out of so many beautiful rooms in this romantic grand home. The idea of a Jardin d’Hiver, or Winter Garden, is an appealing one. Popular with aristocratic Europeans from the 17th through the 19th centuries, they were frequently in the classical or gothic styles. At the Jacquemart-Andrè Museum, the Jardin d'Hiver is a refuge from the more highly decorated reception rooms and is classical in its interior architecture. Here, natural light flows from above in this mostly marble interior. The marble space is complemented by exotic potted plants and decorated with sculptures.

One can imagine how important this room would have been as a refuge from foul weather outside or a place to recover from a dance. I could imagine guests, catching their breath between dances in this eloquent setting. The sumptuous double helix staircase with its iron and bronze handrail leads us to the second floor. The wall is graced with a Giambattista Tiepolo fresco. It is as remarkable an interior today as it was in its day. The Jardin d’Hiver is a place to dream.

In contemporary life we too may wish to have a Jardin d’Hiver. Living in a northern climate, it's almost a necessity. Here are some of my suggestions for decorating your Jardin d’Hiver: First, choose a room that has the most natural light. Plants are de rigeur. This might give you a place to bring in potted plants from outside for the colder months, or an opportunity to buy new ones specifically selected for the space. The idea of the garden could be expanded upon with a French trellis, real or hand painted, wallpaper, and fabrics. Perhaps mix a fern motif print with solids. Fern motifs or botanical prints may be more formidable to incorporate in a gothic inspired conservatory. Use furniture that looks like it's made for the exterior, such as wrought iron, wicker, or rattan. Comfortable cushions are encouraged, possibly in white linen, or a sturdy cotton. Blue and white is a popular color combination in coastal areas. Perhaps join wide marine blue grosgrain tape along the leading edge of white cotton curtains. I also suggest at least one throw to curl up.

If one doesn’t have a separate room, a foyer, dining room, breakfast room, or hall could substitute. The idea of a Jardin d’Hiver could be brought into a bedroom as well. Perhaps line the walls with a hand-made wallpaper evoking an exotic garden with tropical fauna and birds. Floral tropical printed bedding could be another option.

Selection is vast and is offered in a wide range of budgets. Ideas like this may help brighten one’s day in the dark of winter. It could be an entertaining contrast to the snow outdoors. Visiting gardens, museums and stately homes is a great way to escape winter's cold and blues. You may wish to visit beautiful stately homes that are now open to the public such as the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris, the Frick Collection, New York, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. In New York, one can also visit the New York Botanical Gardens to take in the Victorian-style glass Enid Haupt Conservatory and Landmark. It is a spectacular treat for the eyes.

If one is ambitious, there are Botany Art classes to take at New York Botanical Gardens and at other Botanical Gardens. There's also an excellent gift shop there. The Tuileries Gardens Bookstore in Paris is a personal favorite resource, with a vast selection of books and more. Once, I found an exceptional antique pressed botanical specimen out of many to choose from. It not only adds to the décor of my home, but is a lovely sentiment of one of many Paris trips. Adding music to any interior will enhance one’s experience and set the tone. The Keren Ann Zeidel song “Jardin d'Hiver” is an apropos choice to start with. I leave you there to imagine what such a room would look like for you.