Monday, December 6, 2010

Russian Romantic

It’s been awhile since our last Interests post when our examples of Hollywood at Chatsworth reminded us of our love for period movies, particularly as sources of design inspiration. While the sets for Pride and Prejudice, especially the Bennett’s charmingly derelict Longbourn House, are certainly among the most beautiful, there is one lesser known film that has always captivated us.

In the 1999 film Onegin, based on Alexander Puskin’s mid-nineteenth century novel in verse, the title character trades the glittering palaces of St. Petersburg for the glistening snows of his Russian country estate. As the jaded Onegin (Ralph Fiennes) engages with the provincial nobility he is introduced to our heroine Tatiana (Liv Tyler), who resides in this rustic wooden manor house with dream-like interiors.

The main living space is a grand white neo-classical hall with banks of white gauze curtained windows, rows of double columns, and a gleaming parquet floor. Arranged around this airy interior are seating areas, a dining area, and even a grand piano.

Throughout the film we see the space transformed from an elegant living room to an intimate supper room from banquet hall to whirling ballroom. As lovely as this space is however it’s the next one you enter that really caught our imagination.

Through the elegant double doors we leave the Grecian temple behind and find ourselves in something like a giant humidor paneled entirely with raw wooden planks. Similar to a modern family room, such a space would have been known as a divan room for the long cushion backed sofas that dominate the walls.

The stark contrast between these two completely different environments is unexpected yet makes perfect sense considering in the long Russian winter it would be ideal to spend the few daylight hours in a bright airy space before retreating to a warm cozy den for the long dark evening.

According to Priscilla Roosevelt, author of the fascinating book Life on the Russian Country Estate, neo-classical architecture and rough plank walls contrasted with intricate parquet floors were common to manor houses of the period, most of which were lost to history following the Russian Revolution. Onegin recreates this lost world down to unique touches like the one-of-a-kind divans and these wonderful wooden floor-standing candelabra that represent the type of provincial furnishings that would have been produced on the estate by local serf craftsmen.

For a decidedly modern take on the divan room look no further than the April 2010 cover of House Beautiful touting "the new look of wood”. We’ve even seen a new lounge open in the neighborhood sporting an interior clad in planks of wood recycled from old shipping palates for a uniquely green twist on the trend.

Click HERE to view the Onegin movie trailer.

Images #1-6 from Onegin, #7 from April 2010 House Beautiful.
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