02 February 2011

Get Inspired: Ernest Wiart

Space: An apartment balcony in Paris, France

Year: 1936

Client: Called a member of Paris's jeunesse dorée by his friend the pianist Arthur Rubenstein, Georges L. Brocheton was a scion of a Spanish banking family that had settled in Paris around 1860 and whose descendants married into the French nobility as well as the American diplomatic corps. By the 1930s, however, the dashing young heir was a distinguished gentleman nearing retirement, living with his forty-something second wife, Renée, in an elegant limestone apartment building on the Champ de Mars, the fashionable sycamore-shaded park that stretches from the Eiffel Tower to the École Militaire. (The mosque-like building on the other side of the Seine is the original Palais du Trocadéro, a meeting hall from the 1878 World's Fair, which was soon to be demolished.) The neighborhood was, and remains, a bit stuffy, but the pale Beaux-Arts and Art Nouveau façades surrounding the park concealed many stylish residences, including the Brochetons' high-ceilinged flat. At some point the highly social couple came into contact with Ernest Wiart, an interior decorator, and he transformed their rooms into cool, classic, comfortably modern settings sparked with chinoiserie accents. The most inspired touch, to my mind, however, was Wiart's bright-idea treatment of a spacious balcony.

Elements: Through the installation of a glass-paned metal shelf that surely must have been hinged, Wiart gave the Brochetons' balcony a dual character. Shelf down, the balcony served as simple vantage point, a pleasant place to momentarily stand and gaze. Shelf up and locked into place, it became a plein-air entertaining space, a perfect spot to partake of drinks and hors d'oeuvre or enjoy more serious dining. Renée and Georges Brocheton and a couple of guests, all seated comfortably in chairs likely pulled out from the dining room, could sip wine and converse well into the evening, the grey-green sycamore trees, the Eiffel Tower, and a picturesque assortment of spires and rooftops spreading out at their feet and across the horizon. Boxwood planted in terracotta pots and clipped into tall, tidy cones were positioned at each corner of the balcony, making it seem an intimate adjunct to the park below.

Image: Bodorff for British Vogue, 5 August 1936, page 32