Meadow Brook Magazine Blog: Hidden Art Deco

Welcome to the new Meadow Brook Hall Magazine blog! We’ll be sharing historic facts and tidbits about The Hall on a monthly basis, showcasing this beautiful National Historic Landmark. First up: the Art Deco bathroom to end all Art Deco bathrooms.

While most of Meadow Brook Hall is in the Tudor revival style, it was built in the 1920’s — the era of Art Deco. Art Deco elements are incorporated in many of the 110 rooms on a small scale, but there is only one purely Art Deco room in The Hall: the English Bedroom’s bathroom.

To step from the Tudor-style English Room into the bathroom, visitors are taken aback by the geometric black, red and cream tile. The tile was so out of character from that found in other rooms of The Hall that for several weeks in 1928, the contractors debated whether the delivery of the tile was a mistake. When the architect wrote a questioning note to Mrs. Wilson, convinced that she would hate the tile when she saw it in person, she coolly responded that it was exactly what she chose.

Many Art Deco designers and architects had studied the Beaux-Arts method, which taught that everything from the window views from inside to outside to door knobs and ceilings were integral parts of a room or building’s final construction. Meadow Brook Hall’s architect, William Kapp, was trained in Beaux-Arts, so every detail of the English bathroom fits the Art Deco aesthetic, even if perhaps he did not like it himself.

It seems the Wilsons were well-versed in the style as they sent several notes to their architect reminding him that the toilet and other plumbing fixtures in the room were to be black. The bath curtains, mats and towels were custom-made with black and red fabrics and embroidered with Matilda Rausch Wilson’s very modern monogram. The bathroom vanity was the coup de grace of this modern room,  and so Art Deco in style that it was literally imported from France (where most elements in the house were American-made).

The wrought iron and brass mirror and vanity console were made by Hibou of Paris. The sloping triangular console was wall-mounted, while the mirror, patterned like waves, hangs above. The dancing woman at the center of the console embodies the spirit and freedom of not only Art Deco, but also the “roaring” 1920s.

You can see the English bathroom for yourself on the Behind the Scenes tour, which runs April through October.

This article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of Meadow Brook Magazine.

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