Picture an IKEA warehouse – but make it chic – and add an inventory of priceless furniture, textiles and objects that date as far back as the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, who indisputably raised the bar on what we’ll call French ‘power decorating’ for centuries to come.
A sprawling Art Deco reinforced concrete building, casually tucked away in the quiet backstreets of Paris’ 13th arrondissement, has been guarding the furnishings of government buildings and royal residences since the dawn of the Second World War…
Behind its bunker-thick walls, you’ll find everything from the 82 foot-long 17th century carpet that was saved from the Notre Dame blaze, airing out in the main reserve, to a selection of 20th century presidential desks that reflect the changing tastes of each decade and leader.
When a new President comes into office, this is where they’ll come to decide what kind of furniture he (and hopefully one day, she) would like to decorate the Elysée with.
A large inventory of Napoleon’s foot stools sit under plastic sheeting beside a pre-revolutionary collection of royal vases crated away and carefully inventoried on industrial shelving. In the basement, you might find a stack a French flag poles and red carpets waiting to be pulled out of storage for Bastille Day or for the Queen of England’s next visit.
At the same time as carefully conserving over 130,000 decorative items; the reserve’s mission is also to restore and manufacture. The site is home to numerous artisanal workshops, where some of the nation’s finest craftsmen are busy at work, entrusted with fixing the minor wear and tear on an antique commode from a government waiting room to restoring priceless works of art rescued from beneath the collapsing roof of a national landmark.
And you didn’t really think France just goes shopping for its government furniture at the local Roche Bobois store, now did you?
Since the 15th century, the nation has been designing and manufacturing its own furniture from an artisanal village in 13th arrondissement, which still exists just behind the reserve’s more modern and climate-controlled headquarters today. The “Enclos des Gobelins”, which began as a single dye atelier set up by Jehan Gobelin in the 1400s, flourished during the reign of the Sun King into a veritable design factory of state-sponsored textiles, painting, sculpting, woodworking and engraving.
In an effort to increase the manufacture of domestic design and artistry, Louis XIV spared no expense in ensuring France would be known for creating its own beauty and riches, and for its savoir-faire.
The Galerie des Gobelins, a handsome Beaux Arts building was constructed in 1914 at the gates of the village to proudly exhibit some of the most exceptional pieces created in these ateliers throughout their 500 year history.
The grand gallery located on the main boulevard just a short walk from the metro stop, Les Gobelins, is open to the public throughout the year. But if you want to see the French government’s secret furniture reserve where presidents shop ‘IKEA’ style, you’ll need a trusty Parisian ally to get you the keys and take you around.