Salon 01: Aesthetics

February 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Film

The 1985 film took the Oscar for Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, and it’s not hard to see why! Here are some views of the drawing room at the pension:

Drawing Room - Lucy plays Beethoven

Drawing Room - Mr. Beebe listens

Drawing Room - Charlotte enters

Drawing Room - Bickering

Drawing Room - Mr. Beebe

The drawing room design likely took its cue from this description:

And even more curious was the drawing-room, which attempted to rival the solid comfort of a Bloomsbury boarding-house. Was this really Italy?

Miss Bartlett was already seated on a tightly stuffed armchair, which had the colour and the contours of a tomato. (7)


As beautiful as the film sets are, I’m not looking to recreate 1908. The play of light and shadow in the first two stills above would work well in a translational sense (the contrast between the two having a symbolic role in the novel), but the agoraphobic nature of Victorian interiors doesn’t speak to contemporary preferences. Playing off the novel’s structural contrast, as well as my own inclinations, I plan to blend traditional and contemporary aesthetics:

Aesthetics - Inspiration

Inspiration from existing interiors

Inspiration Collage

Initial inspiration collage from August

Salon 01: This is an adaptation

February 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Title Page”

In Merchant Ivory’s film, an illustrated series of grotesques openly addresses the fact that the film is a literary adaptation. These grotesques are used to list the cast of characters, as well as to divide the film into “chapters.” (Read more about them in Filming Forster: The Challenges in Adapting E. M. Forster’s Novels for the Screen, available here.)

Chapter Title

Taking inspiration from the film’s approach, I sketched an idea for an interior “title page” that would embrace the fact that the space is a translation. The main point of entry to the fourth floor (on which the pensione is located) is an elevator tucked away in its own abbreviated corridor. So a guest’s first look at the pensione will be framed by the opening doors of the elevator…

Point of Entry - Plan

Point of Entry - Elevator Opens

After exiting the elevator, the guest will enter the “title page” before crossing a defined threshold into the translated space.

Point of Entry - Title Page

Point of Entry - Title Page Alternates

How stark the contrast between the two spaces will be is yet to be determined, but here is a look at creating stark contrast through color:

Defining volumes with color

But what about reception?

Typically, reception is immediately visible when a guest enters a hotel. The above scenario clearly bucks this tradition. How much of a problem is that? Is it a problem at all?

First things first: the location of the main (only) elevator simply precludes placing reception at the point of entry. Relocating the point of entry would require intruding on the spaces below, including the historic event spaces of the Palazzo Gianfigliazzi Bonaparte-something I am loath to do, despite the fictional nature of the project!

Secondly: The flow of the novel is that of a traditional comedy… confusion, even greater confusion, revelation. (Or muddle, if you will.) Now, confusion is not exactly what you want your guests to experience when they are trying to check in. Is it possible, though, to achieve an acceptable hesitancy by delaying access to reception, while also guiding visitors to reception via a path that does not allow for deviation?

Just for fun


January 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

Doors = Drama

From Sarah Luria’s “The Architecture of Manners: Henry James, Edith Wharton, and the Mount”:

Wharton’s doors offer an invitation to enter and yet protect privacy through their controlled revelation of the house’s interior. Like manners, the doors heighten intimacy while they also make social relations more formal. The opening door, for example, restores the key dramatic moment of entrance to its full intensity: it creates a prolonged moment of suspense during which neither the intruder nor the occupants can see each other—a moment of simultaneous revelation and concealment, as the occupants have time to stop what they were doing and turn to meet the new guest.

Of course, the dining room and drawing room of Forster’s pensione are divided by “curtains—curtains which smote one in the face, and seemed heavy with more than cloth” (7). Not that this prevented the inhabitants from sizing up the newcomers….

Miss Lavish Observing

Dame Judi Dench as Miss Lavish

Doors establish social order

Again from Luria’s article:

‘While the main purpose of a door is to admit,’ Wharton writes in The Decoration of Houses, ‘its secondary purpose is to exclude.’ Key doors in the house serve to separate outsiders from insiders, servants from residents and day visitors from overnight guests. Wharton’s architectural creed reveals the extent to which doors themselves become a pivotal means of establishing a social order; it is they that do the including and excluding, with the result that they establish an inner elite by determining who is allowed in—and, crucucially, how far in. The Mount establishes its subtle social order in large part through movement. Insiders have the greatest number of paths available, outsiders the fewest. Servants have access to the entire house but only through certain doors.

Something to consider… especially if parts of the pensione are open to “day visitors.”

Doors from the film

Doors leading from the guest room to the bath, the bath to the hall, the hall to [an intermediary space following reception]?

doors doors doors
doors - guest suite to hall
doors - off from reception

Two sets of double doors in the drawing room, flanking the piano…one presumably leads to the smoking room?
doors - drawing room

A traditional Victorian pass-through door between the dining room and the kitchen:
doors - dining room pass-through

Doors, doors, doors!


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