Tuesday, July13, 2021. Another beautiful, sunny day in New York with temps in the mid-70s and the RealFeel just a little bit higher, but comfortable. The sky darkened by late afternoon threatening rain, but it didn’t arrive until late in the evening, with just enough to wash the pavements and the greenery.
Monday’s Diary about Susan Gutfreund’s previous apartment, especially the Winter Garden room which was done by the French interior decorator Henri Samuel was of interest to JH who had photographed it.
He had several images of that room and coincidentally of another Henri Samuel commission, the apartment of Count and Countess d’Ornano in Paris. We had gone over to cover a multi-day event for the American Friends of Versailles in 2006 and we were invited to see the d’Ornano apartment on our last day in Paris. I was familiar with the name although I knew nothing about the family or their Paris residence.
So we went. And JH, as is his wont when his camera is nearby, couldn’t resist this amazing residence full of beauty in detail. It is awesomely warm and spectacular. It is very personal yet inviting. As a guest you can easily feel relaxed and comfortable; that is the message. Naturally I wrote about it at the time. I had forgotten but am grateful to be reminded.
9/18/06 — 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.
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.
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 good looking 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.
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.