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From the dust, glittering Louvre show emerges - 18th-century decorative arts wing

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PARIS - For nearly a decade, one of the world's greatest palaces has also housed a dusty building site. Now, thanks to a 26 million-euro ($35.4 million) restoration, one of the Louvre Museum's most exciting collections, the 18th century decorative arts wing, has been re-opened to its full glory.

Paid for entirely by private donations, the nine-year restoration modernized creaky halls and corridors and built new rooms for over 2,000 design objects. They start with the reign of France's Louis XIV, who lived in the Louvre, to his successors Louis XV and Louis XVI.

The latter's lavish court brought such contempt and outrage that it helped spurn the French Revolution.

And this collection shows why. The Louvre's north section, the Richelieu wing, has been transformed into 33 glittering salons, full of gold mirrors, velvet chaise-lounges and cabinets with intricate precious stone inlays.

"These collections now show off the real spirit of French-style art de vivre," said Louvre President Jean-Luc Martinez said at a dinner to thank the principal sponsor — Marie Antoinette's watchmaker, Breguet. "It's part of a project to build a Louvre for the 21st century."

The public can now get up close and personal with Marie Antoinette's fastidiously embellished desktop or another French queen's incredibly ornate hot chocolate maker — all opened up thanks to glass cabinets.

"It now reunites more than 200 masterpieces from one of the most glorious periods in the decorative arts," said department director Jannic Durand.

A series of rooms reconstruct original salons from the reigns of trend-setting kings from 1660-1790 who made France the envy of the world for its fashion and style. In chronological order, they show how France's tastes changed with the influences of Orientalism and Turkish styles, as the West's power expanded into colonialism.

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP'

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