Monday, 31 August 2015

Beyond Extravagance..Villa Windsor

Despite what you might think of the infamous Duke and Duchess of Windsor, there is no denying that they knew how to live the good life. In 1953 the couple took over the lease of 4 rue du champ d'entraînement in the leafy Bois de Boulogne area of Paris. The Villa was leased to them by the City of Paris for a peppercorn rent (some sources claim they paid as little as $10 a year) and the Duke and Duchess lived out the remainder of their lives in the residence. 

Villa Windsor, the palatial residence located in the tranquil setting of Bois de Boulogne in Paris.
I will admit that I have become transfixed on this exquisite home and of the lifestyle of the Duke and Duchess who spared no expense to make everything in their lives beautiful. Join me as I explore a World steeped in glamour and extravagance..Welcome to Villa Windsor.

The Doors are opened and the theatre commences as liveried footmen invite guests into the splendour of the glowing Entrance Hall.

In the grand entrance hall a sweeping staircase rises gracefully to the upper floor where the Duke and Duchess would invite special guests into their private sitting room after Dinner.  Designed to impress, the entrance is decorated in marble with an eclectic mix of Chinese and French objets d'art carefully placed to allow the eye to travel.  You will notice a red, leather box sitting neatly on the table. This royal dispatch box with its gold lettering inscribed 'THE KING' was next to the visitors book which all guests would sign on arrival.

The Duchess engaged society decorator Stéphane Boudin of the design firm Jansen to decorate the interiors. His influence is obvious in every room and in this one especially with its trompe l'oeil frescoes, silk woven carpet and decorative furniture and objets. The Duchess and her accomplice Boudin would spend the whole day scouring Paris for fine antiques and furnishings, indeed she managed to acquire a great collection.  

A handsome wrought iron balustrade frames the galleried landing which looks down onto the entrance below. You will notice a silk, brocade banner which hangs proudly and serves as a reminder that Royalty resides here! The banner belonged to King Edward VII and was displayed at Windsor Castle. 

Guests invited for Dinner would be ushered from the Entrance Hall and into the Salon for an apéritif.

The Salon faces south with its French doors opening out onto a terrace overlooking the garden.  This room is flanked by two smaller rooms on either end; as shown above, the Dining Room is at one end, not shown here, at the other end is the Library. 

The Duchess had a real penchant for fine French furniture with its feminine delicacy and beautiful curves. She was known to despise empty spaces and would fill a room as much as possible not only with furnishings but also with ornaments, objects and antiques on every available surface. 

To further enhance the space, the Duchess loved to delight her guests with heavenly floral arrangements.  The flowers were expertly arranged to compliment the decor of the room. The displays towards the end of the Salon would be a mix of white and blue blooms as the white salon gave way to the blue Dining Room. For the Duchess, details were important. 

Inspired by the Amalienburg Palace in Munich the panelling in the salon is painted a pale eau de nil with elaborate gilded mouldings.
Whilst waiting for Dinner, guests would be treated to canapés of bacon pieces frazzled in brown sugar and grapes filled with cream cheese. To wash it down chilled champagne, whisky or vodka. Once a favourite drink had been requested, the Duchess would ensure that servants remembered for next time. 

A portrait of the Duchess of Windsor hangs elegantly above a sofa flanked by an Empire chair and stool.  On the other side of the doors, a portrait of Queen Mary who never visited her son or his wife in their home. Just visible is the blue Dining Room with its chinoiserie panelling and deep blue curtains. 

The Duke and Duchess pose for a portrait with their beloved Pugs in the Salon. Behind them is one of two Antique lacquer commodes which were cluttered with precious objects, porcelain, antiques and pictures. Amongst many other invaluable objects, The Duchess bequeathed the commodes to the Palace of Versailles upon her death.  

Resting graciously are two matching enamel cigarette boxes in the form of stamped envelopes addressed to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Dinner is Served! Please come through to the Dining Room.

Notice the musicians boxes above the doors. The door on the right leads through to a serving pantry and kitchen beyond.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor loved to entertain and their small but intimate Dining Room was the setting for many high profile evenings. The Duchess herself would dictate the decoration of the table deciding what linens and china should be used. Not one for flowers on the dining table, the Duchess would carefully select precious objects to grace the table. The linens by Porthault were embroidered to match the porcelain dinnerware and it was not unusual to see the Duchess fleeting down the marble staircase in her bath robe to ensure the table was set to her standards.

The Duke and Duchess preferred to dine on round tables and often had two with each of them hosting a table.  They found that having a round table created better conversation as they were able to see and speak to all of their guests which is not possible with a rectangular table. As is the norm in Royal households, two footmen per table would service the evening. 

The Dining Room is decorated with Chinoiserie panels depicting gardens, pavilions and bridges, taken from a Chateau at Chanteloup. The blue panelling has been scrubbed with a wire brush, glazed and then the blue paint rubbed in dry.

At the opposite end of the Salon is the Library.

A portrait of the Duchess of Windsor by Gerald Brockhurst hangs above the fireplace in the Library.

A portrait of the Duke of Windsor hangs above a banquette.

Let us go upstairs and visit the more private spaces of the Duke and Duchess. Directly above the Salon is the private sitting room, and as below this is flanked at either end by two other rooms;The bedroom suite of the Duke at one end and the bedroom suite of the Duchess at the other. I love the idea of having a private sitting room to separate the two rooms. This was the place where the couple relaxed, wrote letters, watched television and enjoyed the creature comforts of life. Close friends were also invited into this space after Dinner. 

The upstairs sitting room is cosy and intimate with comfortable seating arranged for conversation, it is in stark contrast to the formal Salon below. The Duke's Suite can be seen at the end of the room. 

Wallis's desk, used to write letters is filled with precious objects and pictures..a most personal space.

The Duke and Duchess are having a nightcap upstairs together, as they pick over the party. The apricot Boudoir and the Duke's Bedroom next door are as solidly English as the Salon below is daintily French. The Duke and Duchess sit in comfortable armchairs, covered in golden yellow velvet to match the silk-fringed curtains. Between them is a squashy sofa with leopard print cushions - a whisper of the exotic beside the wholesome dark English oak bookstand and footstool. The Duchess's coiffeur Alexandre will perch nervously on the edge of the canteloup-coloured sofa when he is invited by the widowed Duchess to stay for tea. 
             -From The Windsor Style by Suzy Menkes

 The Duchess's Bedroom Suite is perhaps my favourite room in this house. It is so elegantly feminine with its watered silk walls and dressing table filled with pictures, flowers, jewels and cosmetics. The gilding on the walls continues to the mirror and pictures, hung precisely.  I can just picture the chic Duchess casually dressing each morning in the splendour of her private suite. In fact, the Duchess would have her coiffeur Alexandre come each day to transform her hair into a sleek chignon. 

Wallis, famous for her pristine nature and attention to detail insisted that her maids remove the bed linen every day to be pressed..she could not bare wrinkled sheets. At the foot of the bed is a French sofa filled with Pug cushions.  In the evening the Duchess's nightgown is laid out by her maid with a tucked waist and spreading skirt, waiting patiently as she attends the nightly ritual of removing her makeup and hanging her clothes to pristine perfection.

Detail of the Dressing Table which is filled with cosmetics, jewellery and personal objects.

 A French chest with pictures and photographs atop. 

The Duchess's bathroom is designed to resemble a romantic circus tent. The ceiling is painted trompe l'oeil with stripes and tassels. The walls have murals created by artist Dimitri Bouchène. You will notice fluttering flowers, dancers and ribbons. 

A charming chair is another example of the exquisite taste of the Duchess of Windsor.

The passage back into the Bedroom can be seen here.

Between the Bathroom and Bedroom is the Duchess of Windsor's Dressing Room

The Duke's Bedroom is decorated in the style of a typical English gentleman. It is masculine with its leather topped desk, filled with objects of militia.  The room is almost a shrine to his Royal lineage, above the bed there is a hanging velvet drape, embossed with fleurs-de-lys and the Royal coat of arms. The Ivory bedcover is emblazoned with a symbolic ER.

Also dominating the room is Wallis. That is, pictures of Wallis. They are stacked on every available surface from the bedside to the desk. It is clear to see that the Duke did not regret renouncing the throne for the love of his life. 

Like his Duchess, the Duke is waited on attentively by staff. His Butler Sydney would squeeze the toothpaste onto the brush and lay his pyjamas out on the bed. 

A bedroom fit for a King - this room shows the Royal heritage of the Duke and the importance it has to him.

The Duke's bathroom is rather elegant, if a little 1970's in decoration. In typical English eccentricity the bathtub is sealed with a wooden lid with magazines piled high on top. The Duke preferred to Shower. The lavatory and shower are hidden behind the mirrored doors.

The Duke's Closet

The Dandy Duke - A collection of Edward's shoes


  1. Elegance and charm in abundance. Thank you for sharing these beautiful images.

  2. What a treat Nicolas!... I felt as if I was there.. all beautifully described in your elegant text. Thanks for posting x

  3. Nicolas, I recently discovered you on instagram and subsequently have sought out your blog. I have thoroughly delighted in both! Thank you for taking the time to share your home, adventures, and inspirations.
    With appreciation,
    (from CA, 25 miles from SF)

  4. Like Charlotte, I too discovered you on Instagram and sought out your blog. I am so happy to have found it. I can revel in how the "other half" lives!!

  5. Oh, this is so great - I always wondered what it really looked like inside - before everything in it was sold off - I still would love to visit the Villa - but I am sure it is not open to public - but your photos are lovely! Thank you.

  6. Beautiful but a pity most of the items did not come back to the royal family seeing as they were bought with money handed to the duke on his abdication.

  7. Perfectly beautiful interior- has a slight Italianate quality with all of the trompe-i'oiel and decorative finishes. thank you for posting these photos.