Decorating a historic house is always a challenge — it’s not like you can just hop off to Target for another leaded glass assembly or some hand-beveled balustrades. And when’s the last time you browsed an aisle of newel post lighting fixtures?
True story: I didn’t even know how to spell “newel post” when I opened Felicte’s latest photo, cryptically titled “Meet Maeve.”
And there she was, already up on her pedestal, the front banister of Hohenadel House’s dramatic staircase, which originally was wired for gas light, then later updated to electric (before Sean and Felicite moved in).
In Irish, her name means “she who intoxicates” — quite fitting for a former beer baron’s home, yes?
She’s probably from the Art Nouveau period, roughly from 1880 until just before World War I. A lady never tells her age, so let’s keep her birth date a mystery…
In the Antiques World, she’s known as a “femme-fleur” — literally “lady flower” in French, which coincidentally means something altogether different in English (we’ll come back around to that in a moment). Sean drove an hour last weekend for her, and good thing, too. A beauty like Maeve doesn’t tend to stay “unattached” long.
Compared to other antique newel post lamps out there, Maeve’s brass is in top condition, and she’s a good balance of elaboration with practicality — not too tall or ornate for her setting. And not too fragile, either. While some styles of femme-fleurs feature multiple smaller lights, Maeve’s just got one large sturdy globe that’ll stand the best chance of surviving with three active kids. She’s remarkably colorful, too, with her striking amber glass, and her iridescent green dress, and the deeper green accents along her lamp’s graceful stem.
Speaking of — those green vines would’ve raised quite a few eyebrows, back in the Hohenadel’s day. Victorian society was so uptight, people had to speak in code when referring to “unmentionable” things such as the fact that women had thighs (Victorians preferred the term “drum stick“) and bore children (they said “in an interesting condition” instead). Often when you see “fruitful vines” in Victorian decoration, it’s a reference to fertility in a very specific and 10-year-old boy kinda way. Tee hee, and all.
But Maeve isn’t Victorian, she’s from an era that celebrated the feminine form, as well as natural themes like birds, flowers, dragonflies and even spiderwebs. Art Nouveau was a direct response to the Industrial Revolution — her presence at the home’s entrance ushers new grace and light into a space that once overlooked mills and breweries in all directions.
So: Welcome, Maeve! May you inspire intoxicating adventures in your new East Falls home.