Castle Kilbride, pride of Baden, near Kitchener Ontario, features some very unusual decor.
Do you remember those old television ads, “Is it live? Or is it Memorex?”
You might ask yourself a similar question when you step into the elegant entry hall of this castle.
Is it real? Or is it trompe l'oeil?
Trompe l'oeil is a French phrase meaning “fool the eye” and describes a type of painting that does exactly that: fools the eye into thinking it sees something that isn’t there. In this case, it’s a statue. Or at least it LOOKS like a statue. Get closer though and you’ll see that it’s a painted statue, not a real one at all.
That goes for this lovely vase of flowers too.
So why would anyone want a fake statue in their hallway, especially when they were rich like the Livingston family, the owners of this mansion, and could afford a real one? Perhaps just for fun? Or for fashion? And maybe both! In any case, the highly skilled trompe l'oeil work by the artist H. Scharstein at the Castle is the main reason this gorgeously ornate Italianate-style home was classified as a National Historic Site in 1995. You’ll find more examples of Scharstein’s work in other rooms throughout the home as well. Look for the “marble” mantelpiece; it’s actually painted wood.
Although this remarkable painted craftsmanship from the 19th century is the highlight of the house, the wonders don’t stop there. The Castle features other treasures as well, including a stunning coloured skylight, a beautiful belvedere (from which you can see all around in the countryside) and many unique antique furnishings and art works. Look at the marvellous ceiling medallion.
The whole house reveals a family rich not only in money but in the love of art and creativity (it's quite possible to have lots of money but no interest in beauty!).
All of the rooms are decorated with care, but my favourite one has to be the spacious library/study with its horsehair couch, huge desk, and antique desk pieces where three generations of the Livingston family looked after their flax mill empire, starting with James Livingston who built the home in 1877. It’s a room fit for a king, and that’s what they called Mr. Livingston: The Flax Mill King.
One of the funniest features of this "castle" is the brick two-seater outhouse, possibly the fanciest outhouse in the country! Look for it just to the side of the entrance.
No, it wasn’t there when the house was in use. It was around the back. It was moved to the side, though, when the township of Wilmot built its offices on the rear of the Castle (a surprisingly successful integration of the old and new – the addition isn't even visible from the front gate).
Although some people may find the current position of the outhouse insulting to the memory of the local gentry, something tells me that Livingston, the man who commissioned a fake statue for his entryway and obviously didn't take himself too seriously, would have a good laugh at this turn of events. He might even have wished he'd thought of it himself.
Where is the Castle?
The museum is in Baden, a small town in the rural township of Wilmot in the Region of Kitchener-Waterloo. It's about a 20-minute drive from Kitchener Ontario.
For admission fees, hours of operation and special events, see the museum’s web site at http://www.castlekilbride.ca.