88 of 89 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
What a beautiful book.
No. That's too little praise. What a work of art. What an inspiration.
Look at the American decorating books of the last decade, and what you mostly see is how important it was for the clients --- and their compliant decorators --- to spend tons of money. And they didn't spend it just on the walls and rugs and art and furniture. They went right on to the little things, the chotchkes. Every possible surface has stuff on it; these rooms are busy. Your eye darts around, looking for an idea that centers the space, but there is none. Indeed, none was intended --- the overarching concept here was, apparently, to overwhelm the visitor.
Now let us open "The World of Madeleine Castaing" and consider any of the 275 color and black-and-white illustrations. They're not all the work of Madame Castaing, but the rooms designed by others have her sensibility: simplicity, boldness, originality. The color combinations are like nothing you've ever seen. Often the rooms are almost empty. Instead of a framed painting, you might find that Jean Cocteau has drawn on a wall.
Why isn't Madeleine Castaing a household name?
Because she's impossible to describe in a sound bite.
She was French --- born near Chartres in 1894, dead at age 98 in 1992 --- but you can't really say she was a French decorator. "I can take inspiration from a scene in Chekhov as from a dress by Goya," she said, and she wasn't kidding. In one of her rooms, you could be in Russia, in another room London. Most of the time, the mood she created was timeless, poetic, a fantasy. As she said, "There is always beauty in mystery."
She was, as you might guess, quite a character. Daughter of the engineer who built the Chartres railway station, she was 15 when she saw the 36-year-old man she wanted to marry. She walked right up to him and, in record time, sealed the deal.
In Paris, the Castaings knew everyone, did everything. Most importantly, they started collecting. And not from the approved list. One day they saw students throwing rocks at a gallery window. They moved closer; in the window was a Modigliani nude. They stared for an hour --- and then went in and bought it.
Her husband was tall, handsome and aristocratic. To make sure he didn't stray, she bought a house in Lèves, a lovely village a few miles from Chartres, and set about personalizing it.
World War II took the Castaings by surprise. "We were living in our own world --- we wouldn't even open the letters we got in the mail," she recalled. "All of a sudden soldiers in blue-green got through to the garden and wrecked the bed. My poetic universe had suddenly collapsed."
The Germans occupied the house. The Castaings and their two children moved back to Paris. And as the war ended, Madame Castaing opened her first boutique.
Never had there been a shop like this. For one thing, it did not look like a store --- it was a series of rooms that looked as if someone lived in them. And no two rooms were alike. Indeed, no single room had an identifying theme or style. English Regency tables, Swedish chairs, a Russian couch --- her rooms didn't make statements, they told stories.
The most amusing story about her shop was that Madame Castaing had only modest interest in commerce. As Emily Evans Eerdmans notes, "She opened a shop not because she wanted to sell, but because she liked to buy and make poetic settings out of her acquisitions." So her prices were stratospheric --- she took the real value of her wares and just added a few zeroes. And if she didn't like you, she wouldn't sell to you at any price. On the other hand, a child who told her that a piece was beautiful could have it for almost nothing.
By the 1950s, Madame Castaing was the most admired decorator in Paris. (The gorgeous wallpaper she designed --- there are four dazzling pages of those papers in the book --- is still available, and still looking fresh.) Here too she was a one-off; she gave her clients the rooms she thought they needed, not necessarily the rooms they asked for. By the evidence of this book, there were no complaints.
Until her death, I never made a trip to Paris without visiting 30 rue Jacob, her final location. Her shop was on the first floor; from the street, it looked like an apartment with picture windows. Madame was often on the scene. She was as idiosyncratic as her antiques --- her lips were flaming red, her eyelashes were pasted on, and she wore a wig that announced itself as a fake because she kept it on with a black elastic chin strap. And as she had for decades, she would dress to match her upholstery.
Her family kept the shop going for a decade after her death, and then, in 2004, the contents of her residences and store were auctioned. Life moves on; now there's a branch of Ladurée dispensing pastries at 30 rue Jacob.
You can look at Madeleine Castaing simply as a decorator, and, if you're interested in lovely rooms, you can learn quite a lot from her. Or you can leave the narrowness of occupational identity behind and consider her as an artist and a teacher. What did she have to teach? In essence, this: "Don't be intimidated by audacity. Be audacious --- but with taste... Don't get taken in by fashion. A secret: love your house; love makes miracles."
That's not decorating talk. It's something else. As is this book.
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
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It's about time someone published a book in English about the incomparable Madeleine Castaing. I remember reading years ago about an eccentric French decorator who was in her 90s and presided over her Paris shop wearing full makeup and a wig with a flesh-colored chin strap. Going on this information alone, before I had ever laid eyes on any of her rooms, I adored her. Later on, of course, I learned the originality that had first endeared her to me was realized fully in the decoration of the rooms at Maison de Leves and her other residences. The book, while informative and certainly a worthy addition to any collection of interior design volumes, is not particularly well-designed. The script font used to highlight certain passages is dated, large and distracting. Some of the photos are grainy and soft, particularly irksome since I have seen many of these same images reproduced clearly and in sharp focus in other publications ("Paris Interiors" for example). I suppose this is permissible, given Madame Castaing's penchant for displaying her interiors through a gauzy haze of filtered light and dust, but the contrast between the soft- and sharp-focus images is a bit jarring. Still, if you love the lady, you must have the book.
Addition on 1/31/11: I would like to add that, several months after the release of this book and after several readings, I find it to be one of the most fascinating books on interior design that I have ever read. The author's insight and knowledge of Madame Castaing is total and profound. The book has literally opened my eyes and changed my focus on the interior design of my home; once a strict devotee of Art Nouveau, I am now seeking out examples of English Regency and Napoleon III. I happily canceled the scheduled painting of my flat and now make sure all the Coolie lampshades are prominently askew before turning off the lights each evening.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Roger L. Walker
- Published on Amazon.com
The photographs are stunning, and I can understand why so many of the rooms are by people who either bought things from the boutique or listened to advice from Madame Castaing. Interior design in our century is transitory by its very nature. Fine designers rarely leave their own rooms alone, much less those of their clients. Honestly, I am not surprised at the paucity of interiors actually by Madeleine Castaing.
I did read the book in one evening, and I wondered if its editor actually read it herself. To say that the text is fulsome and overly familiar is a vast understatement. It reminds me of the society columns in Southern newspapers of my youth. It's as if the writer and the person she refers to as "Madeleine" and the empress she knows as "Josephine" are all very best friends. It's one gush after another. Many of the sentences have a subject, an unnessary adverb, the verb itself, followed by a lengthy ramble. However, I actually would buy it for the illustrations alone. Because I am an embittered old man, I know I will enjoy reading the text again, next time with a red pencil or three.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Patricia G. Tapp
- Published on Amazon.com
Just what this sort of book should be, enchanting. Can a book be all things to all people? I think not. If you are looking for a dry detached text-stodginess- do not enter the World of Madeleine Castaing. This book is for the scholar or student yes, perhaps- but Madeleine herself would have abhorred such a reading. It is after all- Madeleine's World. Here you will find magic-Madeleine seems to be walking just ahead of you in that red hooded cape on the grounds of Leves-her treasured home, where everything seemed possible. The author has invited us into that World and at times I feel as if she has spent hours interviewing her subject- hearing a story perhaps for a second or third time with a different embellishment or two.The book captures the magical rooms and life this woman managed to create while swimming against the tide of design and art in her era. This was a women who was inspired by Proust's work and nothing would do until she imbued her rooms and shop with the sense that time was suspended in the World of Castaing. The layers of design research with Castaing as the Maestro and her followers, Emilio Terry, Cocteau- whether designer or artist- entered that World willingly-soliciting the aid of the Muse herself or interpreting her work. In today's world of "a design book a year" from countless designers plying their trade,I found this book to be a welcome treasure. Both the author and the subject are fully confident in her abilities, coupled with inordinant charm & gratfully in no way prosaic.For all that enter the world of Madeleine Castaing-prepare to spent hours with a most bewitching woman-& book, revealing just enough for us to know this enchantress. Must we know all the minutiae of a magician's tricks to know it is magic? The World she created for herself -others desired and mimicked by the dozens- however none succeeded like the original-for it lacked one thing- the presence of the magician, and like magic this book will enchant and delight.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Exciting yet frustrating book. Short on facts, long on romantic gush that inadvertently creates a misleading impression that Castaing was an unimportant housewife decorator. One of book's strangest aspects is that it contains a multitude of photographs of interiors not designed by Castaing. When photographs of her rooms are available, most are not dated, so the reader sees several variations on the same room yet doesn't know which came first or even what general decade they belong to. Yet it is wonderful to have what few facts and photographs as do exist presented here in a beautiful and entertaining book. I'm grateful the author chose to publish Castaing's still-available wallpaper, rug and fabric designs, with their sources. I do find myself longing for a more detailed and factual analysis of her interiors and contributions. I suspect there is more to be said about her continuation of Aesthetic Movement interiors (long after their 1880s heyday) and the degree to which she conformed or diverged from popular taste and trends at mid-century.