Christmas at the Elms

(WPRI) — All week long we have been live at the beautiful mansions in Newport.

We take a look at the elegant decor, including the lacquer panels in the breakfast room, and also how to plan for a Newport wedding.

On Wednesday, we were joined by Director of Retail Sales Cynthia OMalley.

Newport is all about nautical and sailing! We have the wonderful America’s Cup heritage unique to Newport. We have designed unique items for our stores using the nautical theme

With the wonderful company Mariposa we designed this special Shamrock tray. It follows the design of the America’s Cup boat that is still sailing in Newport harbor. The tray is great for entertaining and makes an excellent gift for the holidays. The tray is made of recycled aluminum so it never needs polishing.

We are known for the detailed replications of famous sailboats from the America’s Cup era. This models are a precisely manufactured and come in a variety of sizes.

An excellent stocking stuffer are our brass key chains that come in their own wooden box. The key chains come in a variety of designs including an anchor, the wheel, compass to name a few. These items are exclusive in the US to the Newport Mansions Stores.

Onne van de Waals, a local Newport author and fabulous marine photographer, launched his new book this last year. Onne does incredible photography which is sold as wall art of sailing. Each book comes autographed by the author.

We then spoke to Jeff Moore about the lacquer panels inside The Elms’ breakfast room.

What are we looking at?

  • Panels that were made in Canton, China in the early to mid 18th century for export to Europe, where they likely furnished a nice, and very up-to-date Parisian townhouse.
  • They are wood coated with Asian lacquer, which is applied in multiple thin layers like varnish and in this case decorated with gold powder.
  • Asian lacquer is different than western varnishes in several ways:
    –  It is derived from the sap that can come from several trees related to poison ivy (one of which is Toxicodendron vernicifluum. Even the name is scary). As you might imagine, it can be very toxic to the skin during application.
    –  It only dries (polymerizes) in very damp conditions. Each of the many layers must be exposed to high humidity in a special chamber before applying the next.
    –  Asian lacquer is extraordinarily durable: it has been excavated after thousands of years and it still retains its integrity.

What makes the panels special/important to the PS and internationally?

  • The panels in this 20th century context accurately reflect an 18th century French style with which the owner wanted to identify.
  • Asian lacquer panels in an architectural context are rare internationally, usually in royal residences such as in Vienna, Sweden, Hungary, Italy…as far as we know, these are the only real Asian lacquer panels in a historic house museum in the US and this connects us to a rare group of institutions in Europe.

What was my involvement?

  • Lacquer is very durable, but it is susceptible to damage from light and wood movement. These panels had been acquired by the interior designer of this house as architectural salvage in France, so they had a tough previous life.
  • Main problems were splitting and lifting of the lacquer and darkened western varnishes that had been applied to brighten the panels up over the years.
  • I and a team including specialist Conservators from Portugal and Boston reattached lifting lacquer, removed layers of varnish, and compensated for losses to the surface and decoration as necessary. It took 2 years – there are over 38,000 square inches of surface. We also undertook a campaign of cross-section microscopy and scientific analysis to more specifically understand the materials and technology. Because of the size and sensitivity of the panels, we created a lab at The Elms itself.

How do you continue to preserve these valuable assets?

  • Environmental conditions are threats to all objects. We work to provide better conditions by applying UV-absorbing film on the windows, by keeping the room as dim as feasible, and by using equipment that reduces relative humidity in the summer.

Lastly, we discussed how to plan a Newport wedding with Director of Special Events Phillip Pelletier, who’s planned more than 2,000 in his career.

He said in order to plan your wedding, you must:

1. Establish a budget. Be realistic about your budget. Set it and stay with it – at Rosecliiff we have many options in season and off season – Did you know you can have your dream wedding on a Thursday in February and make it your winter wonderland wedding for a realistic budget.

2. Determine the Location. When thinking about committing to a location think about:

  • Look for bundling opportunities.
    – Less thinking is better for the bride – it’s all about you.
    – See if you can have your ceremony, cocktails & reception all on one property.
    – Photo options are important – they can take up to an hour and you want the location to be convenient yet special. Outdoor and indoor photo options should be explored.

3. Secure vendors ASAP. They are normally booked in advance.

  • Caterer
  • Music
  • Floral Designer
  • Photographer
  • Stationary (Save the Date, Invitations, Programs, etc)

4. Secure accommodations for guests – especially in Newport with it being a seasonal location.

  • Newport offers a great variety of accommodations from full service hotels to inns and B & B’s.

5. Begin working on a timeline ASAP.

6. Final Touches

  • If wedding is at one of our properties, we usually suggest minimal décor for a wedding” pretty linens, candles and beautiful flowers bring out the beauty of the museum. Houses are beautiful by themselves. Minimal is good.

7. Enjoy the day! Let the reception location/vendors/friends & family handle the on-site details as you enjoy spending time with your guests.

8. Think about things that are unique that you could have as a part of your wedding

  • Unique arrivals: elephants, horse and buggy, sport cars
  • Table configurations: how one sets up a room determines the ambiance

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