Last day in Paris

A corner in the dining room of the d'Ornano house. There are photographs of family of now and then everywhere, and like everything else about the residence, there is a mixture of other elements, pieces of sculpture, objets, ashtrays (and cigarette holders). It was fascinating to see that Mme. d'Ornano had pinned and stapled snapshots and unframed photos to the wall. What an American might think to pin on a bulletin board or a refrigerator, the countess attached very conveniently to the fabric panels of her walls or, in this case, a small draught screen. Photo: JH.
9/18/06 - After several very warm days, on Thursday, our last full day, turned a bit cooler with temperatures in the high 60s (Fahrenheit), some breezes and a beautiful clear sky of blue. Because of the different time zones, with Paris six hours ahead of New York, as a way of dealing with the jet lag and the heavy schedule, we quickly got into the habit of preparing and putting up the Diary early in the morning.

Late in the afternoon we joined Pamela Darling who
had arranged a private visit for several of us to the Left Bank apartment of Count and Countess Hubert d’Ornano. Both the count and countess are members of prominent European aristocratic families. Mme. d’Ornano is Polish by lineage -- Potocky and Radziwill. Her mother was the sister of Prince Stanislaus “Stash” Radziwill who was married to Jackie Onassis’ sister Lee Bouvier. The Count is also a member of an old French family that served the monarchies.

Countess Isabelle d'Ornano.
Count and Countess d’Ornano, however, are a very modern couple and perhaps because of their business life I was reminded of Evelyn and Leonard Lauder in New York. The d’Ornanos own the famous skin care and perfume firm of Sisley. The company was created by the count in 1976. It was by no means his first venture in the cosmetics industry. His grandfather was a friend of Francois Coty, the most successful perfumier in the world at the beginning of the 20th century. He learned that the profit margins for perfume could be thrillingly wide and decided to go into business himself. They named the company after a forest near one of the family estates -- Lancome. That company was eventually sold but the business has stayed in the family blood so to speak.

I’d seen photographs of the d’Ornano flat including
ones that were very impressive in a book called “The Great Houses of Paris.” The radiance and boldness of color softened by the textures of the fabrics covering the furniture, in the rugs, even on the walls are very alluring to the eye.

Actually physically entering the apartment, however, is even more impressive than the photographs portray. The size and the scale express a personal expansiveness. You are welcomed into the magic kingdom of the home. There is a lot of information everywhere – about the family, about the artists, about the ancestors, and all the personalities that created it. It is very attractive to the eye, wit and beauty abound; and it is so naturally compelling, like meeting someone who so takes your interest you’d like to get to know them.

All this is enhanced by the late afternoon late summer light coming through the tall windows. It filters through the colors of the room along with the golden artificial light from the lamps, illuminating the glass and mirrored surfaces and the abundance of paintings – oils, watercolors, photographs. It feels like being in a treasure trove. There is grandeur and richness and yet not an ounce of pretense. Pretending the way a child pretends with wonder, yes; but not a jot of pretension.

If I sound like I’m a bit over the top with this one, then you get the idea clearly. Well, I am and it was.

Marina Karella's portrait of a d'Ornano daughter, in the corner by the entrance to the dining room.
A few brief minutes after arrival we were welcomed by a very officious deputy of the hostess, a tall blonde woman wearing a dark hued pantsuit who explained that the countess would be along in a moment. That was good: it gave us a chance to sneak a quick look into such a private (yet welcoming) domain. The greatest kind of curiosity filled our thoughts.

Mme. d’Ornano soon entered and introduced herself. She is a very goodlooking woman with a gentle, almost diffident manner. Although she is by no means shy. Soft-spoken but direct yet gracious, she casually showed us the rooms explaining the choices of colors that she had made or that her original decorator Henri Samuel had made. The green of the grand salon which is bold is twenty-five years old and has faded some. But it is rich and warm and expresses an artistic inclination in the personality of the owners. There is art everywhere, ancient, 18th century and contemporary. This is found on the walls, in the furniture, in the sculptures. It is all in residence, like the owners – the snails that run up the wall and onto the ceiling, the cut crystal and bronze tables, the classic décor subtly prodded and tickled by the contemporary pieces which often command admiration for their unusual and unabashed beauty.

There are pieces by Polish sculptor Bronislaw Kryztof, by Claude Lelanne, by Jean-Francois Fourtou, by the sculptor Mitoraj, the artist Gromanda and the French sculptor Georges Jeanclos. On either corner of the room are full length watercolor portraits of the d’Ornanos’ daughters by Marina Karella. The green carved wall panels are Louis XV and there is a portrait over the fireplace of Barbara, Queen of Poland, an ancestor of our hostess. The ceiling is painted blue.

The duplex apartment has been photographed many times and it is always astonishing to see. But the actual apartment beyond the photographs is rife with the presence of the family. The count and countess brought up their family here. They are all grown now and so alterations have been made to re-use the space they’ve acquired from the vacating siblings. 
Right: A vista of part of the grand salon with the portrait of Mme. d'Ornano's ancestor, Barbara Radziwill, the Queen of Poland.

Below: The other side of the grand salon looking toward the dining room.
A corner of the grand salon with a contemporary coffee table, with a bronze wild boar atop, by sculptor Bronislaw Krzytof, who also sculpted the extravagant bronze and crystal candelabra on the chimneypiece as well as the table depicting Icarus in the dining room.
Another closeup of a corner of the grand salon with the Marina Karella portrait leaning against the corner.
Another view of the grand salon looking towards the entrance gallery.
Family photographs in the grand salon.
The sheep by Jean-Francois Fourtou, one sporting a cotton and lace "sheep-dress."
A guest inspecting an 18th-century porcelain urn in the entrance gallery with portraits of the countess' ancestors hanging above the doors.
A view of the entrance gallery looking into the grand salon. There are more family ancestors hanging above a watercolor by a contemporary artist discovered by our hostess.
Mme. d'Ornano is fond of mixing everything together, the old with the new, the ancient with the contemporary, and even the everyday objects, magazines, newspapers and books of the present, leaving evidence of a family home everywhere.
Another view of the entrance gallery.
Left:

Views of the ceiling of the entrance gallery: The swords are family relics.

Right:

Monogrammed Pillows and stools in the grand salon.
A table in the entrance gallery.
A portion of the grand salon.
Looking into the grand salon from the dining room.
Family snapshots stapled to the walls between the framed oils and photographs.
The table depicting Icarus falling into the water as his wings melt, by Bronislaw Krzytof.
Scenes from the dining room.
Scenes from the dining room.
Peeking into the bedroom from the grand salon.
The grand salon looking towards the entrance gallery. Next to the blue winged chair is one of a pair of crocodile chairs in bronze by Claude Lalanne.
On either side of the doors, on the bottom row are are pair of watercolors by Kristina Radziwill, a contemporary painter and relative of Mme. d'Ornano. Jackie Onassis was enchanted by the artist's work which she saw at a catalogue from an exhibition the countess arranged. Despite her ill-health she bought a picture which the countess shipped to her by air. She died shortly after taking possession of it. It was not in either of the Sotheby auctions of her belongings, so it remains in the family.
L. to r.: a closer view of one of the Radziwill watercolors; Snails crawling up the wall and onto the ceiling leaving their snail detritus on M. Samuel's blue sky.
The dining room. On the right, over the commode and behind the candelabra, a most recent acquisition, a forest scene in pink. The countess wasn't certain when they first installed how the colors and the textures would work with that of the wall and ceiling. She decided it just somehow worked.
Another view of the dining room.
After our tour, we were served cold or hot drinks and canapés of smoked salmon and of course the colorful macarons that are so French to this Amurrican mind. Mme. d’Ornano, however, is very enthusiastic about her home and she very quietly continued to entertain and inform us with her anecdotes about the choices and the pieces and the feelings that are the result.

What intrigues the most is the sensibility, the attitude about life and living: it is most definitely French to this writer who is very familiar with luxury and the trappings of wealth. This luxury had the trappings of ease and enjoyment and comfort also, as if they were the priority (as it is with the rest of us in our ideals).

We were very privileged to have such a charming hostess. And then at the end of our visit, she mentioned the new fragrance that Sisley has just put out on the American market, “Soir de Lune.” Listening to her history of the family’s relationship to fragrance and skin care was like listening to the inner workings of a family life and livelihood.

I realized for the first time that the d’Ornanos were working people, like the aforementioned comparison, Evelyn and Leonard Lauder in New York, who live full lives, always progressing. Their Paris house is like that, always progressing, always changing and always centered and substantial.