This is CR Muse, a series dedicated to the remembrance of important artists and idea-makers from our past who have shaped culture as we know it today. From traditional creators to those of conceptual thought, we celebrate these women known not only for their work but their confident, eccentric style as well.
Delightful eccentric or genius aesthete? Arguably, Madeleine Castaing was both. A famed decorator, she adorned both her spaces and herself with pieces that fascinated her, regardless of whether said pieces were en vogue at the time. Though ornate, over-the-top, and occasionally overwhelming, Castaing had a knack for pulling unique items together that, in the end, always managed to be part of a whole. “I decorate houses the way that others paint pictures or write books,” she once said.
Notably inspired by literature (particularly the works of 19th century figures like Proust), Castaing’s rooms were filled with textures, patterns, and colors, drawing from multiple time periods to achieve rooms that could be best described as a maximalist’s delight. Intricately patterned wallpapers were paired with separately patterned rugs or curtains. Mirrors and lights were often trimmed in gold, while furniture was usually embellished with tassels—all of it in rich, vivid hues. Thanks to her expert eye, everything looked cohesive. Anything but modern, she drew from multiple time periods and was particularly interested in antique furniture and vintage pieces, enjoying a worn and weathered look over pristine and clean.
Castaing’s life was every bit as eclectic and unexpected as the rooms she decorated. She met her husband, Marcellin Castaing, when she was only 16 years old. He was 20 years her senior. Despite the fact that she liked to tell people he literally “took” her, the pair were happily married for 50 years. In the 1920s, she was briefly a silent film actress. By 1924, Marcellin had purchased the Maison de Lèves—their home, and a property that Castaing had loved since she was a child. She spent the next two decades redecorating it from top to bottom, inside and out (she painted the house white, and the shutters her favorite shade of blue).
Perhaps going hand-in-hand with her skills as a decorator, Castaing had a complementary career as an antiques dealer, naturally carrying pieces from the time periods she referenced. Her shop opened in 1940 in Paris in the middle of France’s occupation during World War II. Ever the oddball, Castaing would allegedly refuse to sell pieces to people she didn’t like. Despite this, it was popular enough that it remained open 12 years after her death.
Although she once quipped, “Sometimes you need a bit of bad taste!” Castaing’s taste was far from bad—especially when it came to the artists she associated with. A friend and patron to the likes of Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Henry Miller, and Jean Cocteau, among others, she adored the expression of talent and ideas of her social circle, even if her own aesthetic leanings differed from theirs.
Castaing died at the age of 98, leaving behind a aesthetic legacy that—despite being rooted in the past—championed the modern idea of mixing high and low, the one-of-a-kind with mass market. “She was free, free, free, totally free, with a fantastic independence of spirit and liberty of thought,” her grandson Frédéric described of her. “Conformity bored her.”END
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