Lilliputian Style: The Thorne Rooms


The adage that good things come in small packages is never more true than in the case of the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago.

These miniature miracles are named after their creator, Mrs. James Ward Thorne (née Narcissa Niblack), who between the 1920s and 60s assembled over one hundred exquisitely crafted and intricate rooms (of which 68 are on view at the Institute) that tell "a" story of interior design from 1600 through the 1940s. ("A" story because the period styles chosen for the rooms were selected by Mrs. Thorne and reflect the historicist tastes of her moment.)

Inspired by the newly installed period rooms in museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Wintherthur, the Thorne rooms were happily unhampered by the space requirements of full-scale replications, hence allowing more to be on display and a fuller picture of design history to be told.

Here are but a few I found particularly interesting:

"A French Library of the Modern Period, 1930s"
Thorne gave this Neoclassical moderne room an Asian flair to conjure the last word on design as seen at the 1937 Paris Exposition Universelle.
Note the sculpture seen through the open doorway, also seen below....

in Mrs. Brown of McMillen's dining room.
And available today....

for a price from Quatrain. (Many thanks to Bart Swindall for making this connection!)

McMillen, as you may know already from the Peak of Chic's post here last week, did their own collection of miniature rooms during the Depression to drum up interest. They toured the country to great acclaim.


Another modern interior Mrs. Thorne created was this "English Drawing Room of the Modern Period, 1930s" inspired by Syrie Maugham's famous All-White Living Room as seen below. Even the Constance Spry-esque flowers are included!


This stunning "French Bathroom and Boudoir of the revolutionary period, 1793-1804" was based on...

this design for Mlle Dervieux's Directoire bathroom, Paris, 1789

designed by the architect Belanger. This is one of the only documented designs of a Directoire interior which I included in Regency Redux, BUT I never noticed the recessed bath in the floor until I saw the Thorne room.

According to Peter Thornton's Authentic Decor, Dervieux was a dancer who loved to entertain in these rooms. Ahem. Apparently le tout Paris was scandalized by her relationship with her architect, until he married her.

Click here to view the entire Thorne collection.

Top photo of a Regency entrance hall based on the Stone Hall designed by Sir John Soane at Lewisham - sadly I couldn't find any photos of the original.

All Thorne room photos by Kathleen Culbert-Aguilar and Michael Abramson for the Art Institute of Chicago.