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Interior of the mansion

Maison Célières : Interior of the mansion

Building a clear picture the original interior of Maison Célières is not an easy task. The veranda was the favoured place for entertaining visitors so very few people were in a position to describe the interior and furnishings of the house. The contract signed in November 1897 by Thomy Célières and the contractor Gérosa provides the only evidence of plans for the interior. It tells us that the inner walls of the four rooms were to be wallpapered and kauri wood used for the parquet floor. We also know that the furniture had belonged to Thomy’s parents: they brought the Henri II style dining table and chairs and the bed with them from Reunion Island. Like many other New Caledonian families, the Célières also had furniture made by convict craftsmen. Some of the items of furniture in the living-room are said to have belonged to the last Commander of the Penitentiary...

The initial appearance of Maison Célières altered over time to meet the needs of a growing family and, more recently, to accommodate the current role of the mansion. Originally, the main body of the house comprised four central rooms, with a veranda running around all four sides. The birth of the three girls and the need to provide accommodation for servants led to the two side verandas being closed off. These were then decorated with colored tiles. The living-room and dining-room were converted into one large room in 1932, giving the house just three main rooms. Madame Célières played the piano in this enlarged room, which featured two decorative columns forming a classically inspired carved wooden portal. Finally, when the restoration work was carried out, the partition between the living room and the side veranda was removed to provide an area for conferences and exhibitions. The line of the former partition can still be seen on the ceiling. The portal has been preserved and positioned against the wall opening onto the corridor.

Although the mansion appears vast from the outside, to modern eyes the interior seems cramped for a family of two parents and three children, not to mention their domestic staff. And it is a fair assumption that Thomy’s mother, who died in 1931, also lived with them. Nevertheless, Maison Célières was one the colonial era’s grandest mansions. The simplicity of New Caledonia's colonial mansions contrasts with the opulence of the residences built by rich Creole landowners.

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Texts and illustrations: Association Témoignage d’un Passé © 2016