Decorating with Rare and Antique Maps

Decorator Anthony Todd's Use of the Turgot Map

Decorator Anthony Todd's Use of the Turgot Map

Decorating with maps is a tradition that dates back to ancient Rome where elaborate regional maps and city plans were laid in mosaic tile. Hundreds of years later, during the Renaissance and the great age of exploration, maps were hotly contested national secrets and were often hidden away. Yet, even then, the decorative value of maps was appreciated. Wealthy Dutch merchants commissioned elaborate wall maps not only to plan their trading exploits, but as decorative symbols of their wealth and power. By the late 19th and early 19th centuries it was common to frame and display maps in homes and offices. Though the collecting of maps diminished significantly in the early 20th century, once again collectors and decorators are appreciating their beautify and craftsmanship. Today the decorative qualities of fine maps are widely recognized by interior designers who appreciate their beauty and design flexibility. Depending on the individual map, presentation, and context, a rare or antique map can be modern, traditional, abstract, figurative, serious or whimsical.

Unlike painting and other pictures, maps rarely leap off the page, instead, they draw the viewer into themselves. Maps tend to lay flat on the page and be rich in detail. While it is easy to admire a decorative map from a distance, most maps will bear significant intimate perusal and it is up close that a map truly reveals its secrets. Possibly because of this fact, maps have long been most keenly appreciated by the introspective and detail oriented. As subtle objects, a rare map used decoratively conveys a sense of seriousness and gravitas. Consequently, rare maps have historically been a favorite of lawyers, doctors, and business people who appreciate not only an antique map’s individual message, but also its aura of refinement.

Thought those who love rare maps for these very aspects are some of the map industry’s most serious and ardent collectors, maps themselves can offer much more. Many who associate maps with seriousness and gravitas do not realize that an antique map can also be a whimsical or supremely modern. Though maps can indeed be ancient objects, they are also abstractions and have many qualities in common with modern and contemporary art. Maps, much like Cubist painting, attempt to reveal not just the world we see but the world as it really is. Over the years, countless cartographers have struggled with the idea of representing something inconceivably large and complex on a simple piece of paper in a practical and comprehensible manner. While some have some have succeeded magnificently and others failed disastrously, all have produced a fascinating and artistically valuable pieces of work.

A contemporary use of the Turgot Plan.

A contemporary use of the Turgot Plan.

Depending on the context in which a map is displayed, it can evoke and emphasize any of its many aspects. Take for example the dualistic contemporary look accomplished with a multi-paneled Turgot Map of Paris by the Kansas City agency TMB Travel. The designer who imagined this created a sleek modern look using a very antique map. He does this successfully by framing each map individually with no matting and the narrowest possible margins. They are then displayed in a clean high contrast minimal setting. The perfectly placed lighting, like the map itself, is a balance of old world complexity and the clean lines of modern design. http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/chicago/look/look-maps-maps-and-more-maps-062431

The Fry Jefferson Map in a Virginia Colonial Home

The Fry Jefferson Map in a Virginia Colonial Home

At right we have a more classic example of how an antique map can be used decoratively. The entryway to this beautiful Virginia colonial home employs the Le Rouge edition of the Jefferson-Fry map of Virginia and Maryland. Here the detail of the map compliments both the home’s colonial history and the delicate slim lines of the furniture shown. Placed at the entrance of the home, this map offers visitors an immediate and fascinating topic of conversation while setting a historic tone for the home as a whole. Moreover, though the map is large and prominently displayed it blends perfectly into the overall design scheme. Historically, foyers, lobbies, and entryways have been popular places to place antique and rare maps because most collectors are eager to show off their prized maps to everyone who visits them! http://antiquesandfineart.com/articles/article.cfm?request=896

The Turgot Plan goes Shabby Chic.

The Turgot Plan goes Shabby Chic.

This is a charming usage of a reduced version of the Turgot Plan (probably from the 19th century) in a shabby chic style antique shop. Here the map blends into an appealing clutter of interesting Frenchish objects. The decorator has framed the plan in a series of simple distressed white frames. While the map itself is somewhat overwhelmed by the tone of the frames and recedes into the background – that is exactly what this design aesthetic calls for. You may not know where to look, but wherever you do look you are certain to find a treasure that draws you in. http://peacockparkdesign.blogspot.com/2009/02/there-is-no-place-like-home.html

While the antique maps below are reproductions (I hope!), we find the idea of using rare maps as ceiling panels fascinating. Of course, there is no reason why a collection of authentic rare maps could not be displayed in a similar fashion – though without putting holes in them for lights! The ceiling is an often neglected decorative space where much of interest can be accomplished if the decorator has a clever imagination. Here, one might not even notice the maps until, looking up, the viewer is

Rare Map Display on the Ceiling

Rare Map Display on the Ceiling

treated to a smorgasbord of visual and intellectual delights. The effect is both creative and classic, evoking a historic feel in an innovative and novel way. http://www.pretorius-art.com/Murals.html

Though these are just a few examples, the potential use of maps as decorative elements is both extraordinary and diverse. Properly framed, lit, and displayed antique maps can be a part of almost any successful design scheme. We have worked with designers who have incorporated our rare map finds into hotel and building lobbies, contemporary homes, yachts, beach homes, professional offices, window displays, and corporate complexes. Each usage has its own challenges and has brought something special and unique to the space.

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4 Responses to “Decorating with Rare and Antique Maps”

  1. [...] Read more here:  Decorating with Rare and Antique Maps [...]

  2. Great post! I have to tell my father about this site. Excellent work.

  3. Elizabeth Moya says:

    I want to display a largish antique map of England in my (smallish) living room. I don’t want the frame to be too dominant. Any ideas?.

    • Kevin Brown says:

      It really depends on how large it is, what kind of map it is, what your budget is.

      Since maps are by nature relatively flat compared to more traditional wall hangings it is important to choose a simple frame that does not overpower the map. Conservation framing of one form or another is highly recommended but you do not need excessive matting – just be certain there is a space between the map and the glass. If you chose a neutral, plain frame, you should be fine. Since the map is very large, I suspect at least 1.5 inch wide fame will be necessary to support the rear architecture that is often necessary to keep the frame stable.

      Another option is to choose a frame that has a lot of depth, but not much width and float the map. This will look great but you’ll need to consult your framer on the particulars.

      Kevin

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