Museum Hopping: The Thorne Rooms at the AIC

Today, I’m starting “Museum Hopping”, a new series of posts that will appear from time to time. My goal for this little series is to highlight great places to see beautiful home design and/or home living. You might have never heard of some of these places or exhibits. Then again, you might find yourself closer to one than you realized and can add it to your list of things to see.

Most importantly, “Museum Hopping” guarantees the following:  No waiting in line, no security search, no coat check needed, no impatient yet loud crowds, no overpriced cafe food and no marble-floor-tired feet by the end of this post.

Our visit today takes us to the beautiful Art Institute of Chicago. It is important to mention that all of the images you will see in today’s post are courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago, to whom I am most grateful.

The Art Institute of Chicago was founded in 1879 and today attracts millions of visitors to their world-class collections and exhibits every year. I urge you to visit the museum whenever you are in Chicago. There is nothing quite like standing inches away from famous masterpieces. Speaking of which, let’s go inside!

Mrs. James Ward Thorne, 1915

The Thorne Rooms were created by Mrs. James Ward Thorne (1882-1966). Her husband was an heir to the Montgomery Ward department store fortune, which allowed the couple to travel extensively. At the time of their travels, there was a great popularity of museum “period rooms”. Period rooms were created to show realistic living spaces of a specific place in a past era.

Mrs. Thorne, who had always been interested in furniture and home design, saw a great opportunity to turn her passion into a great American art exhibit. With her connections and her own money, Mrs. Thorne, hired the best artisans available to help her create her vision.  Here is an example of their work:

"South Carolina Ballroom, 1775-1835"

You can see the amount of planning that went into a room like this one. Rugs were generally custom created for this project. A plaster specialist was brought in for the wedding cake detailing around the ceiling cove. Fabrics were ordered for the specially reproduced furniture. There is no way one person could create this entire room alone.

Fortunately, Mrs. Thorne was an excellent project manager and could afford the very best of materials for her craftsman. That’s not to say that she wasn’t working on these rooms. She rolled up her sleeves in the studio and painted, upholstered and cleaned windows along with everyone else. What vision to see this project though, right?

Now, there was one more interesting thing I was going to tell you about these rooms. What was it? Let me think. Hmmmmm. Oh! That’s right!

"South Carolina Ballroom, 1775-1835"

All of The Thorne Rooms are in miniature. And there are 68 of them.

"English Roman Catholic Church in the Gothic Style, Late 13th Century"

The church picture above is one of my favorites. When measured, the room comes in at only 48 x 32.5 x 41.5 inches. Most of the other rooms are just slightly larger. The scale used was 1 inch = 1 foot. We may be revisiting more of these rooms on future posts when we discuss furniture or design vocabulary. Mrs. Thorne was hoping to allow museum goers to have an appreciation of the beauty of past eras, so I think she would approve.

Now I’m going to just sit back and let you enjoy browsing a selection of the rooms. I’ve made the images extra large, so you can see the amazing detail, just like you would at the museum.

"California Living Room, circa 1935-40"

"German Sitting Room of the 'Biedermeier' Period, 1815-1850"

"Tennessee Entrance Hall, 1835"

"Chinese Interior, Traditional"

"French Salon of the Louis XIV Period, 1660-1700"

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s field trip!  Weren’t those rooms amazing? Do you like the idea of the “Museum Hopping” series? Do you have any suggestions of places we should visit?

Now, what is the very last thing you always do when visiting a museum?  Visit the gift shop!  Right here. Let me know if you find any great deals!

Posted on March 18, 2011, in Designers, Museum Hopping. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Wow Cathryn,

    The detail on these little rooms is amazing. It must have taken months and months to design and create these. The next time I’m in Chicago, I will definitely check out the Art Institute.

    Thanks for the response about the Eames Chair!

  2. I enjoyed the miniature rooms. It made me think of a trip we took to England one summer. We enjoyed Queen Mary’s Doll House at Windsor Castle. Any chance of a feature on your blog? I’d love to revisit that experience and hear your ideas. I’m adding this blog to my Favorites!

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