A Trompe L'Oeil At Bloomingdale's

A Trompe L'Oeil At Bloomingdale's

Mark Chamberlain
Jan 19, 2010

Mr. Apartment Therapy himself Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan is designing a window for Bloomingdale's Big Window Challenge due to unveil tomorrow. The theme is a romantic writer's room, and I've been charged with creating two sets of trompe l'oeil bookcases to frame the room. I'm just a teensy raisin in a big fruit salad here, but let's take a brief look at the artistic process, and next week we'll reveal a close-up of the finished trompe l'oeil.

The concept was to suggest that an intimate dinner was about to take place in a writer's library. The room is to be fairly masculine — tufted leather, old books and paintings — but with softening elements to attract a female component. My contribution is two panels of bookcases in two or three colors of paint, like a high school theatre set. I immediately thought "studiolo," like the Gubbio room at the Met. In addition to books, I wanted the objets curieux that you'd find in an artist's studio — skulls, globes, masks, mannequins, a dodecahedron. You know, fun little things worthy of study.

In terms of color, this isn't strictly black and white like a grisaille, but an earth palette, evocative of wood marquetry. It's mostly Maryville Brown over Hasbrouck Brown, with a little Alexandria Beige for highlights and New London Burgundy in the Harlequin's smock.

As far as the artistic process, here are a few tips. I won't design a Christmas card with making a thumbnail sketch first. That from-the-hip, gut instinct, preliminary drawing on a beverage napkin is always the most cogent representation of a concept in terms of composition, gesture, form and movement. I then make elevations drawings and something actual size, so there are no surprises later for the client or me. In this case, I also made collages, to help me figure out how to break up the rhythm of rows of books.

Next week we'll look closely at the completed trompe l'oeil project, hopefully with a few better photos.


    • Benjamin Moore Hasbrouck Brown HC-71
    • Benjamin Moore Maryville Brown HC-75
    • Benjamin Moore Alexandria Beige HC-77
    • Benjamin Moore Branchport Brown HC-72
    • Benjamin Moore New London Burgundy HC-61

- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter

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