Recently I viewed the Coco Chanel haute couture fashion exhibit at the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte (“Chanel: Designs for the Modern Woman,” through Dec. 31.) It is as beautifully executed as the fashion exhibits I have seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Among the items on display was a Coromandel Screen. These screens were a favorite of designer Coco Chanel (1883-1971). In her luxurious French residences, she had a vast collection of Coromandel screens which she used as decorative elements around her rooms.
Coromandel screens are black lacquer covered folding screens. The name comes from the Indian port city which shipped many of them to western markets. Their arrival in Europe, particularly with British and French furniture makers, started a vogue for lacquer in all forms of furniture and screens well into the 1800s.
Originally they were crafted using 40 coats of stained black lacquer. Today’s screens are made with fewer coats of lacquer. Once the layers of lacquer are dried, then the artist starts work on the decorative scenes that adorn them. This is done by placing a sketch on the surface to act as a guide for carving the intricate details which are then covered with tempera colors. Scenes include flora, fauna, people and landscapes. The sizes vary greatly from short 2-3 paneled screens to 7 to 8 ft. tall screens with multiple panels.
Coromandel screens are equally appropriate in today’s interiors, whether they stand on the floor or are mounted on the wall. You don’t need an Oriental-style interior to use them. Nor do you have to have any other black furniture pieces in your interiors. Use them as they have been used for centuries, in traditional and transitional style interiors.
In the bedroom, by mounting them on the wall above the bed you can create a unique headboard. When they are standing on the floor in the bedroom, they can effectively hide a piece of exercise equipment or an unpleasant view out a window.
In the living room and dining room, they make a dramatic statement mounted on the wall. As with artwork, the decorative colors on the screens need not be the same as the color palette in the fabrics you use in the room. And if you have an odd shape in a corner or elsewhere in the room, using a floor standing screen there will be an excellent solution.
The foyer is also a great location for a screen. When you have a foyer that needs a piece of furniture, but do not have the room to fit it in without sacrificing a comfortable traffic flow, a floor standing screen becomes a perfect solution.
Teal Michel ASID, is a licensed full-service interior design firm specializing in residential interior design and renovation-remodeling design throughout the Carolinas. Teal has won awards from ASID for interior spaces and furniture design and from the Home Builder’s Association of Charlotte Excellence in Remodeling for remodel design and interior renovation. She has participated in HGTV’s “Designer’s Challenge” and her work has been featured in several books. www.tealmichelasid.com.