Iolani Palace regains a piece of its history

Iolani Palace regains a piece of its history
Charlene Hunt
Charlene Hunt

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - By Melanie Yamaguchi

Newly installed floral print carpets in the interior of the historic Iolani Palace will exude a sense of the sophistication and cosmopolitanism of the Kingdom of Hawaii, the palace's curator said.

"They certainly are a big part of representing the Victorian aesthetics of the 1880s and 1890s, and the Victorian aesthetics have a lot to do with the king being influenced by the monarch of Britain as well as his travels around the world and seeing how other patterns were furnished," Heather Diamond said.

The carpeting -- 27-inch panels of individually sewn together by hand -- now covers the bare floors of the palace's Grand Hall as well as the koa wood staircase. Made out of wool, it replicates the original carpeting in the palace's interior during the Hawaiian monarchy.

"We've actually made them a little more dense than the originals because we get a lot of visitors every year and we want to make sure that these are going to hold up over time," Diamond said. "So they are made to withstand traffic."

Diamond said it's unknown what exactly happened to the original carpets in the entire palace interior, but after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, governments looked at a more practical approach to the palace's design. As a result, the carpet in the throne room was cut up and distributed to people who wanted pieces of it.

David and Charlene Hunt -- owners of Vermont Custom Rug, a company that provides carpet and flooring services -- flew to Hawaii to sew and install the carpet. It was a process that took about 11 days to complete.

"They asked us about helping them with this project and we love to do historical work so that really inspired us," Charlene Hunt said. "We're very proud that we could do this and we enjoy seeing it here and we're glad we could do this for Hawaii."

Diamond said the new carpets are actually part of a larger refurnishing project in an effort to give palace visitors a true experience of what the building actually looked like in the late 19th century. Iolani Palace was physically restored in the 1970s in preparation for public viewing and has undergone several furnishings since then. However, this is the first time it's being refurnished since the 1990s.

The project -- which took at least seven years of research and finding the right patterns, colors and textures -- also includes drapes that will be added to King Kalakaua's and Queen Liliuokalani's bedrooms. At a cost of more than $330,000 the entire project was funded through a federal grant from the Institute for Museums and Library Services as well as private donations.

Celia Oliver, a Vermont-based textile specialist who's sewing the drapes, said other than having electricity, the process isn't much different than how it was in the late 1800s.

"It's been really inspiring for me to talk to people to visitors, both Hawaiians and tourists, to see what it means to them to see the fabric come to life as drapes and what it will mean to the palace for the refurnishing project," she said.

The drapes will be ready for public viewing late March.

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