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The Decadent Design Behind the Iconic Walnut Room

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For more than a century, the Walnut Room has been a Chicago Christmas icon, a designated stopping point for numerous families who make the annual pilgrimage to have dishes such as Mrs. Hering's Chicken Pot Pie, named after a turn-of-the-century milliner's clerk who began serving the dish to clients waiting to have their hats tailored. The room's lavish design fits in with the grandeur exhibited by the rest of the flagship Marshall Field's building, such as the 6,000-square-feet, 1.6 million-piece Tiffany Dome that took workers a year and a half to put together.

Designed as a single, massive 12-story block, a converted warehouse loft filled with uninterrupted commercial possibilities, the Marshall Field's building reflected the chain's incredible success. Historian Jay Pridmore said the store's central aisle recembled the "many pillared hall of the Madura temple in South India."

The 17,000-square-foot Walnut Room, outfitted with pricey Circassian walnut from Russia, a coiffered ceiling and Austrian chandeliers, is a multi-story atrium comprised of a central dining room and single-story auxiliary space. It was originally refered to as the tea room, but the walnut got so much attention that it became a causal signifier and eventually the official name. Starting in 1938 when a 48-foot balsam fir was added, a tree became part of the annual proceedings (a fake tree has been added since the '60s), as well as changing themes every year. An old Tribune article sums up the appeal, saying "it's that fantasy-rich, bauble-laden Christmas tree in the Walnut Room that makes so many Chicagoans and visitors alike feel possessive about Marshall Field's this time of year."

·Merry Christmas: Celebrating America's Greatest Holidays
·Department Stores [Encyclopedia of Chicago]
·Marshal Field's: The Store That Helped Build Chicago