Decades before the press became enamored by Princess Diana, there was a romantic British royal couple who had an even more engaging story. It starts with the dashingly handsome Edward VIII, king of the world’s most powerful empire. Edward decided to marry Wallis Simpson, a bewitching American divorcée, but British law did not permit such a marriage. Against determined opposition from the Royal Family and the British government, Edward held steadfast and abdicated from the throne of England in a dramatic radio address on December 11, 1936. The young King spoke to a stunned world “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.” The couple married in France six months later and lived in exile for the rest of their lives, mostly in Paris but also in the Bahamas and New York. With Stephane Boudin of Maison Jansen as adviser and guide, the Duchess set about designing a regal home that mixed French antiques with English needlepoint rugs to remind the Duke of the English palaces he had left behind. She scoured the antique shops of Paris and hired the finest artisans to create the rooms featured below.
It was a compelling story, the handsome king of the world’s most powerful empire, gives up his throne to marry a twice divorced commoner. It captured the imagination of the world, and the handsome Duke and the striking Duchess became the greatest icons of romance and fashion.
The American divorcée Wallis Simpson after she became the Duchess of Windsor.
If the Duke could not acquire the title of queen for his wife, he wanted her to have jewelry worthy of one. “Her jewels are very much not understated,” says a Sotheby’s jewelry expert, “they are all quite powerful, they are all quite visible, sharp and well defined very much like her features, this is not by chance.” Sotheby’s auctioned some of the Windsor’s jewelry in December 2013.
The French government leased to the Windsors a villa near the Bois de Boulogne that had once housed General Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French Forces during World War II. De Gualle later founded the French Fifth Republic and became France’s first president in 1959.
Needlepoint rugs are a quintessentially English art form and the Windsors chose a stunning red and gold needlepoint rug for the library to remind them of the palaces they had left behind in England. An equestrian painting of the Duke by Sir Alfred Munnings hangs on an ocher colored wall.
The Duke of Windsor riding ‘Forest Witch’ was painted by Sir Alfred Munnings in 1921 when the Duke was still the Prince of Wales and an heir to the throne of England.
On another wall of the library, a portrait of the Duchess by Gerald Brockhurst hangs between regal gold and red bookcases that resonate with the colors of the English needlepoint rug.
The English needlepoint rug in the Windsor’s library inspired the colors of the Flowing Coral CR needlepoint rug.
The Duchess of Windor’s coral, emerald and diamond choker was auctioned by Sotheby’s in December 2013.
A view of the Duke’s dressing room shows a taste for Chinoiserie and coral, red, green and gold.
The Flowing Coral CG needlepoint rug is a modern homage to the Windsor’s love of Chinoiserie.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1941, five years after the Duke abdicated the world’s most famous throne. They were both named to the Best Dressed Hall of Fame, the Duchess in 1958 and the Duke in 1968, which were the first years they became eligible. During WWII, Prime Minister Winston Churchill appointed the Duke Governor of The Bahamas.
The Malaga Savonnerie oriental rug honors the colors favored by the Windsors.
A picture from Sotheby’s famous 1998 sale of the property of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
The Undersea Mosaics needlepoint rug celebrates the Duchess’s jewelry.
The Duke purchased this 47.14 carats yellow diamond from Harry Winston to present to his wife. It was later bought by Estée Lauder.
The legendary Parisian decorator Stephane Boudin was responsible for the dining room’s elaborately painted Chinoiserie panels. Boudin later worked with Jackie Kennedy on the refurbishment of the Kennedy White House.
The Blue Summer Savonnerie oriental rug celebrates the shade of blue favored by the Duchess which became known as ‘Windsor Blue’.
The Duchess of Windsor’s bedroom features her favorite shade ‘Windsor Blue.’
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s salon in the Paris villa features a trellis patterned Aubusson rug and muted blues inspired by the Amalienburg Palace in Munich.
The Treillage Aubusson rug is reminiscent of the Aubusson rug in the Windsor’s salon. The rug features hundreds of subtle greens ranging from blue green to yellow green.
In the salon, a portrait of the Duchess by Etienne Drian hangs on blue walls framed by delicate gilding.
The Duke and Duchess in the salon with their pugs.
The Entrance hall features a handsome gold and red English needlepoint rug
The gold and red Barcelona needlepoint rug is a copy of a rug owned by the great Parisian coutourier Cristobal Balenciaga.
Sydney Johnson with the pugs in a hall adorned by a regal Bessarabian rug.
Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess stand at the entrance of the villa after visiting the terminally ill Duke in 1972. The Duke of Edinburg and Princes Charles stand on either side.
The sapphire bracelet worn by the Duchess in the above picture with Queen Elizabeth was auctioned by Sotheby’s in December 2013.
The first-floor boudoir where the ailing Duke received the Queen. A black Bessarabian rug anchors English style armchairs and sofa with books and magazines scattered about.
Another view of the Windsor’s sitting room with black Bessarabian rug, gold chairs and coral sofa.
The Somerset needlepoint rug was inspired by an English needlepoint rug in the collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Duke of Windsors bedroom in Paris with his desk anchored by a black needlepoint rug.