Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The restoration of Frederik VIII’s Mansion

As mentioned yesterday Frederik VIII’s Mansion at Amalienborg has during the last six years undergone an extensive renovation process to make it suitable as a residence and a home for Crown Prince Frederik and his family. The last touches were still being added when I was there last Wednesday, but the royals will be able to move in after the summer.
The renovation process has cost 220 million DKK and has been very complicated, mainly because of the great damage caused to the house in the last 250 years, especially during those years when King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid resided there.
Most traces of the original interiors, presumably by Amalienborg’s architect Nicolai Eigtved, were erased when the building was turned into a military school in the 1760s and by Jørgen Hansen Koch’s extensive renovation when it became a royal residence in 1827-1828.
The 2004-2010 restoration process has therefore aimed mainly to recreate Koch’s interiors, but has at the same time sought to re-establish Eigtved’s rococo floor plan where possible. One prominent example of this is the ground floor vestibule, facing the Amalienborg Square, which already in the 1820s had been divided into two separate rooms, but which has now again become one.
King Frederik VIII and Queen Louise, who lived there from their wedding in 1869 until their deaths in 1912 and 1926 respectively, furnished the mansion in keeping with the taste of their age, but made few permanent alterations. The next inhabitants, King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid, who settled there in 1936, on the other hand made many permanent alterations.
Queen Ingrid, who sprang from the artistically gifted Bernadotte dynasty, was often praised for her good taste and was known to have a knack for grandeur. But when it came to the family home at Amalienborg, comfort and fashionable taste were obviously more important than the preservation of the building’s historical and artistic heritage.
What was done to Frederik VIII’s Mansion in the days of King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid was simply atrocious. It has later been claimed that the King and Queen behaved in a very authoritarian way to the architects when they were reluctant to humour the royal couple and that they thereby managed to force through their wishes by overruling the responsible architects.
It was fashionable in the 1940s and 1950s to paint the walls and the ceilings of a room in the same colour, giving the room the appearance of a box. This was in marked contrast to the ideals of the empire style, which differentiated clearly between walls, floors and ceilings. Queen Ingrid’s taste for discreet colours also contrasted starkly with the empire style’s very colourful interiors.
Only 1/3 of the mansion was made available to Frederik and Ingrid when they married in 1935 and a renovation was carried out by Thorvald Jørgensen, perhaps best known as the architect of the third Christiansborg Palace, in the following years. In connection with their accession to the throne a more thorough renovation was done by the architect Thomas Havning between 1947 and 1950. After King Frederik’s death in 1972 his widow reorganised her home quite radically, obviously so that the memories would not be so hurtful.
The Great Hall, seen in the second photo, became Queen Ingrid’s sitting room after 1972. But even before that the marble-imitating walls, as well as the ceiling, had been painted white. Only the gilt on the columns was retained to add some sparkle to the central room of the building. Yet this was one of the rooms which had been least altered and it was therefore fairly simple to give it a more colourful appearance.
The entrance hall (photo 3) had also been painted completely white – walls, columns and ceiling, but not the staircase of Norwegian marble. It now appears in yellow and grey marble imitation.
The Throne Room, seen in the fourth picture, was last used as such by King Frederik VIII. The completion of the third Christiansborg with its oval throne room made throne rooms at Amalienborg superfluous and Queen Ingrid used it as her bedroom. The coffered ceiling with is floral ornaments and the guilt Arabesque decorations on the pillars were all covered by white paint and the beautiful doors were removed. The doors are now back and the walls, which were originally hung with red fabric, have been painted a very dark purple. The artisans have also done a great job in restoring the pillars’ guilt decorations. This will now be a room for reading and music.
The room next to the Throne Room was in the days of Queen Ingrid divided into three, one part of which became a bathroom. Bathrooms were generally scattered throughout the mansion and moved around as it suited the inhabitants, the installation of pipes causing much damage to the building. This bathroom was later turned into a kitchen in the strong orange, plastic-fantastic style so beloved by the late 1970s. The room has now been reunified and it was thankfully possible to save the ceiling (fifth photo), but other traces of the room’s original interiors had been erased.
The Green Hall, seen in the sixth photo, all but one of the flower murals in the arcades were painted over and for practical reasons a staircase was installed, breaking through the floor in such a manner that one of the doors entered into empty space. Now the murals have been recovered and the inner wall has been moved slightly to allow the installation of a narrow staircase in the passage which runs through the centre of the building.
The room which will now be the office of Crown Princess Mary’s secretary is located in a part of the building which was damaged by fire in 1891. After that a neo-rococo ceiling was created in the room, incorporating the arms of Denmark (seventh picture) and the monogram of the then Crown Princess Louise. When Queen Ingrid made the room her library, the ceiling was lowered by covering the 1891 ceiling with concrete. The older ceiling was discovered by chance during the restoration process.
Another room which had been divided up into several smaller is the one which will now be the Family Dining Room. Here the current architects, in the absence of traces of the original interiors, have been inspired by Jørgen Hansen Koch to the extent that they have created a ceiling in empire style (eighth photo) which is taken from a drawing of the library, which was apparently never executed in the 1820s.
Following Queen Ingrid’s permanent move to the Chancellery House at Fredensborg in 1997 and her death three years later, the mansion had been allowed to decay and it was therefore a building badly in need of repair which was made available to Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary when they married in 2004.
The restoration of Frederik VIII’s Mansion has been beautifully done and has brought back much of the glory of the empire style at the same time as the building’s original rococo layout has been recreated. However, empire and rococo do rarely go well together, and the only part of the restoration I am a bit reluctant about is the removal of (the admittedly mostly secondary) parquet floors in several rooms, which has revealed the original wooden floorboards. Parquet floors or painted wooden floors would harmonise better with the splendour of the empire interiors than simple floorboards are capable of doing.
There are also some clashes between empire interiors and rococo chandeliers, but this is hard to avoid, bearing in mind that there is no bottomless well of available chandeliers to choose from.
While Frederik VIII’s Mansion is open to the public (throughout May) the rooms will be seen without furniture, but this may in fact partly remain the case for a long time to come. The furniture which was found in the mansion at the time of Queen Ingrid’s death ten years ago was either divided between her heirs or in such bad condition that it cannot be used. Unlike some kingdoms, Denmark does not have a vast amount of furniture in storage, meaning that it may take a while for the mansion to be completely furnished.
A book about the restoration process will be published in the spring, while the TV documentary on the process which was recently shown on DR may be viewed at the following link:


  1. Thank you for sharing your visit with us! I'm fascinated by the restoration, as this is in my own line of work, but on a very grand and wonderful scale. I appreciate that you've enlightened us on the history of the building's "upgrades", that was a piece of the puzzle I had been concerned about. Hard to believe that there was a deliberate effort to hide the building's light under layers of white paint, but the subjectivity of taste and style is interesting!

  2. Queen Ingrid was apparently very influenced by the interior design seen in ladies' journals of the time, where it was fashionable for walls and ceilings to be painted in the same, discreet colour. The architects protested against many of the royal wishes, but it has been suggested that it was the great respect felt for the royal family after the war which caused the responsible authorities to let the royal wishes overrule the responsible architects. This time royal wishes have also been taken into consideration, but not been allowed to conflict with preserving the mansion's historical and cultural heritage.

  3. "This time royal wishes have also been taken into consideration, but not been allowed to conflict with preserving the mansion's historical and cultural heritage."

    That is music to my ears! Thanks for these wonderful reports!

  4. It is my impression that the future inhabitants have been allowed a say in toning down somewhat some of the very strong colours of the empire style. But I believe this must be within the limits of the acceptable, and the same thing was done when the neighbouring Christian VIII's Mansion was renovated some years ago.

  5. What a wonderful place i was so impressed seeing the concrete removed from the ceiling to reveal that amazing piece of history. thank you for the information and history


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