When you walk through Vizcaya’s Main House, you will notice that many of the rooms feature stanchions or barricades that limit where visitors can walk and reach. You may also see signs asking guests not to touch objects or sit on historic furniture. So why can’t you go in there?
Like those of other museums, these precautions are in place for the protection of the collection as well as for the safety of visitors.
Stepping Inside Decorated Spaces
Vizcaya refers to rooms that feature collection items, furnishings or delicate embellishments as decorated rooms or spaces. These differ from areas like the Courtyard and the East Loggia, where visitors can walk about quite freely.
While we do our best to offer visitors as much access to decorated spaces as possible, limits are put in place through barriers to protect collection items, which are often well over 100 years old.
While Vizcaya was built in 1916, many of its decorative objects were already antiques when they arrived onsite. Some notable examples include the Admiral Carpet in the Living Room (c. 1450) and the wall murals in the Music Room, which are also from the 15th century.
When Vizcaya’s Collections Care staff enter these spaces, they wear protective booties to prevent damage to rugs. Staff also have a keen understanding of the condition of each room’s structural elements – doors, wall panels, ceiling murals, etc. – and how these can be managed.
For instance, the hidden door built into the bookcase in James Deering’s Library remains open at all times for visitors to access the adjoining Reception Room. Given that 100+ years of opening and closing this door causes natural wear and tear, this door is permanently open to prevent potential damage.
Protecting Objects and Furnishings
Similarly, the handling of collection items and furnishings also requires expert care. Vizcaya staff must wear gloves when touching objects. This prevents the oils in their skin from potentially damaging items. This is true of most collection objects including sturdy pieces like marble sculptures. Repetitive touching of these surfaces can lead to discoloration and staining, as oils, lotion and sunblock residues are deposited on the stone.
Collections care staff are trained in proper art handling techniques to ensure that objects are moved with vulnerabilities in mind. This includes lifting objects from their most solid component, always using two hands or at times two people to provide proper support for an object, as needed, and considering any damaged or vulnerable areas of the piece prior to moving.
Many of the rooms in Vizcaya’s Main House are also small and filled with delicate objects, so strong spatial awareness is also required to avoid accidentally bumping into or knocking over items in tight quarters.
In addition to following the “do no touch” signs around displayed objects, visitors should also be mindful of similar “do not sit” signs on historic furniture. A handful of historic benches and chairs remain in hallways and other open-access spaces. Although these furnishings may appear sound, their significant age means there might be underlying vulnerabilities, such as prior termite damage, not visible to the eye.
One such example of this is of the bench in the video below, which was damaged when a visitor sat on it. Fortunately, the visitor was not harmed and the bench is currently being repaired.
What it takes to step inside a decorated space
On rare occasions, museum partners will be granted access to decorated spaces for promotional photo shoots for Vizcaya. In the last six years, we have done three of these activities.
These opportunities are not offered to the public as part of our photo permit program because they require active supervision from Vizcaya’s Collections Care department, taking them away from their everyday responsibilities.
In the summer of 2021, we completed one such photo shoot with period cosplay influencer Asta Darling. This photo session included access to the Library, the Swimming Pool Grotto and the Barge, among other spaces in the Main House.
To go behind-the-scenes and see what it took to pull this off, watch the video below.
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