Today I stand before you and admit it. I have never met a chair that I didn’t like. Venetian grotto chair? You betcha. Fifties chrome kitchen chair? Just look at that tubular design. Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair? Of course. Look over there! Is that a Georgian back stook in original needlepoint? A yellow painted windsor with original stenciling? I’m weak at the knees. Oh my gosh, look! A pair of Breuer chairs! A 50’s Louis-Louis bergere in green satin! I’m going to overdose! You get the idea.
Chairs and mirrors, mirrors and chairs. Sometimes friends joke that my shop should be renamed Chairs ‘n’ Things, or Lots O’ Chairs. Or are they joking? On a trip back from Brimfield, there they sit, piled in the back of the van in disorderly array, their skewed legs and arms allowing no room for more practical, squarer objects, like a nice chest of drawers that someone might actually buy. Plus, chairs look so good under mirrors, reflected in mirrors……
Hello, my name is Down East Dilettante, and I’m a mirror addict.
But that’s another post. Here are a few of the chairs that have passed through my life:
A Depression era traveler coming from the south would drive along Old Route One, through many miles of rugged blueberry barrens would suddenly see the little village tucked below him. As he rounded the bend on the little main street, he would be confronted by this unexpected sight.
Be still my heart. The chaste miniature mansion pictured above is the Ruggles House, situated on a crook on the Main Street of Columbia Falls, as it appeared when the Historic American Buildings Survey first photographed it in the 1930’s.
The resemblance to the Asher Benjamin plate that heads this blog is not coincidental The architect/builder, Aaron Sherman, used Benjamin’s book for inspiration. The doorway of the cape across the street, also built by Sherman, has the exact doorway of the plate…
The Ruggles house followed the trajectory of so many historic houses—the family ran out of money, the last heirs lived in genteel squalor, the house barely survived as a weathered ghost. In the early 1900’s, William Sumner Appleton, found of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, visited the house, and declared that it must be saved at all costs. It barely squeaked through the depression, and then was rescued by a descendant, Mary Ruggles Chandler, the first woman pharmacist in Maine. She bought the house, patched it, was able to interest wealthy summer residents from Mt. Desert Island i in her cause, and little by little, the house was brought back to life, open to the public during the warm months.
Color Photographs from Ruggles House Postcards and Down East Magazine, photography by Brian Van Den Brink
4. In my Walter Mitty moments, I win the lottery, and use some of the money to start a foundation to eradicate the menace of dinky plastic fake shutters on fine old New England houses, a problem which threatens to destroy the very landscape of America. I also give a gazillion dollars to AIDS research in memory of all the good friends lost, and another gazillion to the local library so they can buy more design books. ( I know you’re reading this, Rich. Just kidding. I’ll give the library a gazillion anyway. When I win the lottery.)
An Aesthete’s Lament. Stylish. Such fine writing, on myriad and esoteric subjects of just the sort that interest me. Why this one isn’t publishing books, I don’t understand.
Architect Design. Imaginative, infectious in his enthusiasms, and a sense of joy in his discoveries. Makes me nostalgic for that time in my 20’s when all was new—in a good way.
The Blue Remembered Hills: A well furnished mind, has opinions and good manners, and not afraid to use either.
Domicidal Maniac, an imaginative and well written blog, with the best title of any
JCB. Love her trouvees, and her own elegant photography ( I wish I had that kind of eye), and her writings on art and architecture are incisive. Lovely blog header too.
The studio was added to the house for artist Howard Gardiner Cushing (1869-1916). He was a fashionable painter in his day, and is memorialized by the exquisite Cushing Memorial Gallery on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, an elegant controlled design by Delano and Aldrich. In the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is a lovely portrait by him of his wife, the former Ethel Cochrane. It was perhaps painted in this very studio, and in the background can be seen what is probably the same red lacquer screen.
The Cushing cottage itself, called The Ledges, is an iconic symbol of Newport, a roomy old stick style family house on a spectacular bluff overlooking Bailey’s Beach in Newport. It is a welcome antidote to the vast palaces that symbolize that resort. I think the place first came to fame when Slim Aarons published this photo in Town & Country in 1966.
After the movie was released, the New York Times featured these photos of The Ledges in an article about Newport decorator John Peixanho.
But, the star of the house is its entrance hall, one of the grandest to survive from colonial New England. Rather than running through the center of the house in usual 18th century fashion, it occupies more than 1/4 of the first floor, allowing for an exceptionally broad two-run staircase, with superb carved details and a great arched window on the landing. In the early 19th century, a scenic wallpaper, probably Dufour, depicting the Bay of Naples in grisaille was added. The effect is tremendous, the harmony between the Georgian woodwork and the sweeping classical panoramic wallpaper unexpectedly fine.
Only 7 miles and 10 years separate the gilded splendors of Wingwood House at Bar Harbor ( parts 1, 2, & 3) from this exciting house. Both were built for wealthy women prominent in their respective worlds, both were designed by Philadelphia architects. Both take inspiration from a Maine vernacular. There the resemblance ends. Wingwood looks back to a romanticized past, Fortune Rock looks forward to an ideal future. They provide interesting case study in the range of architectural aspirations.
The original intention was that the house be the central building of a larger family compound, a vision never fully realized, although Mrs. Thomas’s architect son did build his own very interesting house sitting astride a small cove, looking across to his mother’s house in flight above the water.
In the 1980’s the house was purchased by a member of the Berwind family. Nothing could be further from the splendors of his great uncle’s palace at Newport. The Berwinds undertook a sympathetic restoration and re-decoration of the house, by then time-worn. Missing was Clara Fargo Thomas’s spectacular mural from the dining room.
The color photographs of Fortune Rock are from a 1987 article in the New York Times. Unfortunately, they were damaged in my files, and I was unable to straighten them for good scans. But they show well how the house’s design holds up against contemporary work.