The Power of the Enfilade

I am gliding softly through as the clock chimes the hour, each door gives way to a space more extravagant than the next, the gilt boiserie glittering in the firelight and the doors sequentially leading me on, in enticing succession, until I reach the state bedchamber and slip past the the balustrade into the hotly contested ‘ruelle’,  bedside, the ultimate power seat.

north enfilade blenheim

I love an enfilade.

Even the name feels inviting. The enfilade is an architectural power-play, a sequence of rooms created with a seried rank of doors which teases your senses: how far down the line will your rank grant you access? how far will your host descend to greet you? In a tightly ordered hierarchical world of intricate ceremony the enfilade created a sequence of rooms to directly reflect Baroque court etiquette.  Where did this architectural scheme evolve from? what was its apex? how did it disappear?

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The State bed – the ultimate expense and power symbol of the Baroque

First of all why do you want access to the king’s bed chamber? Well…the closer you are to power and influence the more likely some will come your way.   Originally the great Medieval hall had a bed chamber off it, gradually a withdrawing room was introduced in between, then a guard room and an antechamber.  Over time a sophisticated suite of rooms culminating in the state bedchamber evolved.  Then a small room appears, called a cabinet, a private room – behind the grand bedchamber.  Gradually this mushrooms into a series of intimate rooms, ultimately creating a second ‘private apartment’. Then you need some subtle links, jib doors, small corridors, secret stairs – connecting these apartments and creating hidden access.  The term back stairs intrigue emerged in the court of Charles II as all the best gossip and power plays happened on the rear stairs giving direct access to his intimate cabinet.Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 14.57.03

For power behind the throne you need discreet access to the state bed and cabinet beyond

All elite European families wishing to impress have a state apartment, the really swanky ones have ‘double state apartments’ his and hers. Then in the 18th Century the new ‘apartment privée’ becomes the place where it’s all happening, behind closed doors. The Mercure of Paris announced in 1755 ‘ those of the highest ranks live in the smallest rooms’.Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 20.22.34

‘reading Moliére’ in 18th century Paris, hanging out in style and comfort.

So finally after over 200 years of evolution and power play the enfilade’s purpose is eroded: replaced  by concepts of convenience and privacy,  a redefinition of luxury for the elite.  The enfilade allowed no room for ‘vie privée’ due to the alignment of those doors, once the term ‘private life’ enters the Dictionaire Universalle in 1690, the enfilade’s demise is inevitable.Where once the elite saw luxury and power as the demonstration of wealth and splendour they now see luxury as using money to make  their lives more enjoyable.  But for the next 100 years almost all grand house will continue to have a state apartment of some description, creating fashionable new rooms shapes and architectural decoration to impress and delight.  But the real fun, is behind closed doors where privacy is assured and access is a privilege.

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and seductive… dinner for 4, intimate and alone…

What defines the modern home currently? What do we aspire too? It  seems to me we may have reached an architectural apex of open plan living.

House And Gardens has a sumptuous array of large scale open plan living

Maybe like our elite ancestors… living out our lives on constant display, in perpetual ear shot, makes the idea of shutting the door and having cosy corners very appealing.  I love a nook, need a study and fancy a bijoux girlie space.


Which bring home to me however modern each generation feels it is, there is always a historical antecedent, because our values and needs as human beings don’t really change.

Images from Pinterest except
State bed from Victoria and Albert Museum
House and Garden UK, open plan living
Dinner for 4 , Le Souper Fin, is from Moreau Le Jeune’s engravings of the 18th C French elite at play
Reading Moliere is a  1728 ‘tableau de mode’ painting by Francois le Troy

ps. you may have noticed I have started that Masters on the Decorative Arts, meanwhile the house/home is coming on and could even get a look in / photograph taken… very soon.  The bathroom is a big win, I love it.

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