Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Pimp My Crib: Eighteenth Century Artisanal Techniques In Today's Home

From Barron's Penta:

A circling zodiac of golden stars beams from the midnight-blue ceiling of the Albertine Books reading room, opened last September in the French Embassy on Fifth Avenue in New York. The ­effect is kinetic, dazzling: a mural—or is it a fresco?—that bends like the night horizon to the tops of the richly gilt-trimmed mahogany bookcases.

Except…it’s not a mural, exactly. And despite the look of texture and depth, there’s no plaster up there. There’s no gilt or mahogany on the bookcases, either. And the spray of stars achieves its eye-roaming luster from a few scattered gold-leaf novas amid others merely painted gold.

The Albertine reading room of the the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, in New York, where the trompe l’oeil effects dazzle the eye.
“Partly, that was a question of funds,” explains ­Philippe Courtois, 42, the CEO and impresario of ­Atelier Premiere, the New York-based branch of a high-end, semi-medieval French decorative-arts ­company, Atelier Mériguet-Carrère, headed by his brother Antoine. Philippe’s team of 50 artisans and apprentices, schooled in Old World skills—­preppers, decorative painters, figurative painters, gilders, ­plasterers—have descended on homes and private airplanes, and on places as diverse as the White House (they repainted, re­papered, and ­refurbished the Oval Office in 2011) and a yacht in Florida, with neoclassical landscape ­murals painted around the ­master bathtub, and walls and ­furniture sheathed in gold leaf.

The Albertine bookshop commission came via its designer, Jacques Garcia, a longtime collaborator of the brothers Courtois. Though Atelier Premiere is not typically engaged by budget-minded clients, Philippe relishes the ­ingenuity required to bring the Albertine work in on the numbers.

The central zodiac ceiling panel was executed in Atelier’s studio in Harlem—wet paint and dusty ­construction sites don’t work well together—and then ­affixed to the Albertine’s ceiling. Its ­apparent depth and texture is created by an exuberant ­laying on of different paint effects, including sponging and bold brush strokes. The deep, gleaming “mahogany” of the plain-wood bookcases came from stain and a wax satin finish rather than the pricey, multi-layer varnish process Atelier Premiere is known for. The moldings and trim are faux brass (another effect), and even the inset “panels” on the walls and doors turn out, upon closer inspection, to be painted.

The finished product at the French Embassy bookshop is a jewel box, and in its way a metaphor for the “hands across the water” ­approach that has served Atelier Premiere so well: “We are an American company with French skills,” states Courtois, whose New York-based artisans at this point are in fact mostly Americans, the long-term employees now handing down the skills they learned from the French crew that founded the stateside company 10 years ago.

“They are really the old-fashioned school of an atelier, of ­apprenticeships,” says interior designer Frank de Biasi, who has ­collaborated with the Courtois brothers for 20 years. “People move up the ranks ­according to their skill levels; you just don’t see that kind of thing here.”

And the U.S. has proved to be a ­target-rich environment. “I don’t want to do social studies,” Courtois says. “But in America, people really give a lot of importance to their homes, and they really don’t want to have the same thing as the next person.”...MORE
There's Fool the Eye and then there's Really Fool the Eye:
Afin de ralentir les cyclistes un peu trop imprudents sur Regent's Canal à Londres, la British Waterways a fait appel à deux artistes pour peindre un impressionnant trompe-l'œil. 
Originally posted May 9, 2015.
note: the Barron's writer was apparently typing too fast and did not clarify that The Albertine is not in the French Embassy, for there is no such thing in New York. It is not even at the "Consulat général de France à New York" but rather is housed at the Whitney mansion.I made a small change in the italicized bit to  try to make the point.

Here's the announcement of the opening of the Albertine.
It is unique. the largest collection of books in French and French books in English translation in the U.S. Cultural exchange gone intellectual.