“Not to worry Mam. In a century or two, your home is more popular among tourists than Windsor Castle. Peter Tatchell told me that....so wait and see.”
Versailles (pronounced fair sized) is an entirely reasonably-sized French home, built during the original Hôme Idealle exhibition in the Paris suburb of La Haine. Visitors of the day were amazed by the sights to be seen in this home of the future.
It introduced people to some of the technological marvels that would soon be found in every home. These included mirrors, accommodation for thousands of servants and their families, a swimming pool and jacuzzi, an en suite bathroom for the master bedroom, peace treaties exacting promises from the Germans not to invade and vast acres of perfectly maintained gardens. Previously these things had been available only to a few, but Versailles seemed to promise that all this would be available to every family.
However it was all an elaborate sleight-of-hand. If it had actually been built, it would have bankrupted the French government, and maybe even would have helped cause a Revolution. In fact, the vision of a vast, luxurious interior surrounded by sprawling, perfectly maintained gardens was a trick: it was all done with mirrors.
Even today, French homes are the envy of the world, with more mirrors than houses elsewhere have windows, creating the illusion that everyone in France lives in vast city-centre apartments or mansions set in attractive countryside. Much of the credit for that goes to Versailles.
The technological marvel of the age was the mirror. At first it was a plaything for aristocrats, and there was speculation by scientists about their use in long-range semaphores, as accurate timepieces for ships far from land, for detecting signs of breathing and even as cooking utensils, until one day the practical possibilities for interior decorating were realised. It was at Versailles that the new fashion was shown off to the French public. It is stated that all Versailles come standard with a full set of kitchen cutlary.
The mirrors are what create the illusion of having a vast living space. No room in the house is in fact bigger than 9ft by 4ft, and several are considerably smaller, but few people realise this. The mirrors are so effective that visitors to Versailles are often convinced that the home is one of vast splendour and opulence, at a level that would bankrupt a country.
The facade seen by most visitors looks almost a mile long with a vast number of windows. However there are no more windows than most houses. All the rest are done using the trick of placing two mirrors opposite each other. This was so novel that the first visitors were convinced by the exterior alone that this was the biggest palace in the world.
The gardens have what appears to be a well-constructed symmetry about them, until it is realised that there is only one lawn, one small duck pond and a few flowerbeds. Beyond that, there are only mirrors.