Guignécourt, the de Guigné family home built exactly 100 years ago in the San Francisco Bay area, is a palimpsest of 20th century American decorative history. It was built by Christian de Guigné Jr, the son of Count Christian de Guigné who emigrated from France to California in the 1870s before marrying Mary Katherine ‘Minnie’ Parrott, the daughter of industrial mogul and financier John Parrott.
BROWSE THE SALELegacy & Heritage: The De Guigné Collection, 24 March in New YorkView lots
The successes of the Count’s marriage and his two corporations fuelled the creation of Guignécourt, which would become both a benchmark of decorative connoisseurship and the scene of intimate family gatherings.
Set on nearly fifty verdant acres on a hill overlooking the water, Guignécourt was intended to continue in the tradition of Europe’s grand country houses. Its historical roots, however, belie its contemporary aura and décor: acclaimed San Francisco decorator Anthony Hail, a classicist who counted Truman Capote and Andy Warhol amongst his social circle, began the main redecoration of Guignécourt in the early 1960s, taking great pains to preserve the classic elegance of past interiors.
The Pavilion became a focal point for family use and decorative drama. This whimsical space located off of the pool area combines 18th century Chinese wallpaper, Italian furniture and repurposed Chinese fragments to create a Chinoiserie manifesto reminiscent of European palaces. In the early 1980s, when Michael Taylor, a designer credited with creating the ‘California Look’, took over the redecorating process, he refused to alter Anthony Hail’s original vision.
The Pavilion at Guignécourt combines 18th century Chinese wallpaper, Italian furniture and repurposed Chinese fragments
Suzanne Tucker, a leading contemporary San Francisco decorator who is regularly featured in top design publications, is uniquely qualified to comment on the evolving style of Guignécourt. She is a close friend of the de Guigné family, knew Tony Hail and studied under Michael Taylor.
Here, Suzanne reveals the inspiration behind much of the design, discusses the enduring nature of classic decoration, and offers insights into how to weave antiques, family heirlooms and pictures into a narrative décor.
Going ‘through the keyhole’, what were your first impressions of Guignécourt?
Suzanne Tucker: I am sure that I’m not alone in recalling this first impression — the mile-long, bucolic drive that meanders through sculptural oaks, vistas checkered with deer and glimpses of the world left below, eventually to deposit you into a graveled motor court that presents a house of breathtaking Italianate architecture.
‘Good design encompasses good architecture, good decorating, an eye for collecting and an ease of living. The catch is that none of those things are trendy’
The anticipation of the arrival is part of the seduction of all great houses: hopeful to many, mysterious to most, enchanting to a fortunate few. Guignécourt does not disappoint — indeed you had arrived at a very special home.
In reference to this façade, and knowing that architects Bliss & Faville had designed Guignécourt in 1913, how does the architecture of Guignécourt fit into the grand California aesthetic of the Gilded Age?
ST: Guignécourt was not built in a vacuum and Bliss & Faville were the same architects who designed the impressively regal and ornate St. Francis Hotel and the Pacific Union Club. Just as was being done in New York and Newport, Rhode Island, the 1910s marked an era of grand estates being built up and down the California Coast.
A view of the house from the pool area
Following the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, the city was being rebuilt with a resurgence of power from the City Beautiful campaign and the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition. As a prominent family, the de Guignés contributed what was expected from them: erecting striking houses with breathtaking grounds; hosting visiting dignitaries; establishing their place in San Francisco society.
‘Guignécourt’ entered into a club of titled homes, finding its place amongst the Crockers’s ‘New Place’, Tobin-Clark’s ‘House on Hill’, and the famed Harriet Pullman’s ‘Carolands’ — the difference being that Guignécourt is still a family home, still intact and still with its original 47 acres. And no surprise here, but Guignécourt has an interior that matches this exterior elegance and grandeur — that’s what makes this iconic sale so exciting!
A pair of George II style giltwood mirrors, mid-19th century. 94.5 x 44 in. (240 x 112 cm.) Estimate: $8,000–12,000. This work is offered in our Legacy & Heritage: The de Guigné Collection auction on 24 March at Christie’s New York
Which lots do you like the most, and which ones do you feel evoke the Gilded Age?
ST: Lots 6 and 7 — a pair of George II style giltwood mirrors (above) and a pair of French black-painted console tables (below), respectively — jump out as obvious examples of the grand scale and gravitas of the Gilded Age. The mirrors are slightly less than eight feet tall, anchored by exquisite iron and marble demi-lune consoles.
A pair of French black-painted wrought-iron console tables, late 19th/early 20th century. 35 in. (89 cm.) high, 54 ½ in. (138 cm.) wide, 23 ½ in. (59.5 cm.) deep. Stimate: $7,000-10,000. This work is offered in our Legacy & Heritage: The de Guigné Collection auction on 24 March at Christie’s New York
But I have a list of favourites — the Chinese large ochre-ground cut velvet panel (Lot 67); the breathtaking pietra paesina and mother-of-pearl specimen table (Lot 248 — as every decorator would say, ‘To die for!’); the four Chinoiserie tables (Lot 153 — very Sister Parrish); the pair of Chinese lacquer tables — the likes of which I have never seen anywhere (Lot 137); and a personal favourite of Michael Taylor’s — an Italian blue-painted and parcel-gilt center table (Lot 260, see below).
An Italian blue-painted and parcel-gilt center table, probably incorporating late 18th century elements. 30 x 70 x 36 in. (76 x 178 x 91 cm.) Estimate: $6,000–8,000. This work is offered in our Legacy & Heritage: The de Guigné Collection auction on 24 March at Christie’s New York
Apparently Michael was digging around for furniture in the basement and attic and came across this six-foot long and three-foot wide Italian table. He proclaimed that it must be brought out immediately and placed in the house. It’s 18th century and no surprise that he was crazy about it.
How do the layers of decorating history reveal themselves as you move through the home?
ST: The house itself feels utterly timeless — yes, of a different era of grand living, but still incredibly inviting and livable. The architectural plan of Guignécourt is particularly wonderful in that it was designed for flow and entertaining, privacy and family living — cocktails in the drawing room, dinner in the dining room, dancing in the Pavilion. But the welcoming aura of the interior speaks to the success of the decorating.
Eleanor de Guigné had tremendous chic, exquisite taste, and a keen eye for style. She and Tony Hail collaborated and he always credited her for launching his career. Tony laid out the rooms, brought in the fabrics, gave the dining room its layout and flexibility and designed the Pavilion. He was a master at furniture placement and incredibly knowledgeable in his use of antiques. The history is living and breathing in the structure itself and the items that fill the room.
And what about the Pavilion? What do you know of Anthony Hail’s original blueprint followed by Michael Taylor’s vision in the early 1980s?
ST: Interestingly enough, the Pavilion was designed to be a ‘big living room’ for summer entertaining and dancing. Built in the 1960s and designed by the wonderful architects Porter & Steinwedell, it was supposed to be Italian in style.
All of the furniture was on order and close to installation, when Mrs. De Guigné called Tony Hail one morning and told him about a dream she had of the room. Instead of an Italian influence, she saw Chinese paneled walls with wallpaper decorated with figures and pagodas. Eleanor loved the idea — was all consumed by it — which must have sent Tony into a mild panic!
‘Michael Taylor loved Guignécourt, appreciated the architecture, the scale and proportion and certainly knew when to leave well enough alone’
The story follows that Tony then found the 18th century Chinoiserie paper that decorates the Pavilion walls buried in the back of a warehouse. It hadn’t been touched in years and was completely intact. Other than adding some sky to the top of the panels, it fit perfectly in the room and was just as Mrs. de Guigné had described it. Hence the Chinese pavilion — one of the chicest rooms anywhere!
Years later, when Michael Taylor was working on the house in the 1980s, he had lunch in the Pavilion and said he couldn’t possibly improve upon it. He could make changes to it, but it wouldn’t be any better. What Tony Hail has done here will last a lifetime; Michael did not touch those rooms but instead went on to work on the family quarters upstairs. He loved Guignécourt, appreciated the architecture, the scale and proportion and certainly knew when to leave well enough alone.
The formal drawing room where Antony Hail’s vision — an elegant assemblage featuring the de Guignés’ collection of fine art, antiques, and period furniture — remains as timeless today as it did half a century ago
What an anecdote! What do you think Guignécourt can tell us about how to create an animated space?
ST: Classic decoration is the combination of good architecture and good bones. That’s what makes this particular house sale at Christie’s so unique. It speaks to the lasting quality of good design that encompasses good architecture, good decorating, an eye for collecting and an ease of living. The catch is that none of those things are trendy, so I’m forever telling my younger clients to hold onto the old and mix it in with the new. That is the secret recipe for timelessness.
At one point, the pieces in Guignécourt were new. But time, love and care created patina and provenance. The life of the objects comes from an appreciation of and devotion to family and legacy. That is something that any of us can affect and pass on to our heirs.
‘The life of the objects comes from an appreciation of and devotion to family and legacy,’ says Suzanne Tucker. ‘That is something that any of us can affect and pass on to our heirs’
What other pieces of advice would you give your clients, both for decorating in general and for buyers at auction?
ST: I am privileged to have worked with Michael Taylor himself and have studied the greats like Tony Hail, but the most important piece of advice is the most simple: listen to yourself!
Stay true to your taste, and buy what speaks to you and what you love; honour the architecture; don’t change styles in a room simply for the sake of change; place furniture in intimate groupings; be inspired by and use colour from your surroundings; always have something old in a room; plan for entertaining and flexibility; use personal collections to create an undecorated look.
At auction, do your homework beforehand by speaking to the experts and collecting condition reports; do not just buy something because it’s a good price — if you really love a piece and cannot afford it, you will probably figure out a way to buy it, if not now, then somewhere down the line; set yourself a price limit and go one bid over that! But above all, when it comes to decorating, listen to a house, it will tell you what it needs.
As Architectural Digest noted in 1976, ‘the home was a communion of interests… that rare and happy relationship between people and each other, between people and the environment they love‘
It’s the memories created inside houses that really create the energy. What are your favourite recollections of spending time with the de Guigné family at the house — and what did they tell you about their approach to collecting and to decoration?
ST: My favourite memories are not what one might expect — not the glamorous party circuit, but rather the very special intimate family times: the christening of a first born daughter and subsequent children’s birthday celebrations. Welcoming the next generation into the house was deeply special and gave the house new life, renewing it as a true family home. What I loved most was the ease with which this very grand, very formal, large-scaled house availed itself to family life: a black and white checkered marble floor begging for an impromptu game of hopscotch; children’s laughter; an effortlessness of living amidst beautiful antiques, rare collections, family heirlooms and four generations of history.
A favourite room is of course the Pavilion where everyone wanted to be — a more modern room with timeless appeal that casually looked out to the pool while enveloped within the most chic environment! I savour that juxtaposition of relaxed ease within grand formality.
But we all say how the heart of a house is the kitchen and everyone ends up in the kitchen. In truth, on one of my final visits, we simply had an improvised lunch of cold chicken and sat at the kitchen table. It felt like home.
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