It was love at first sight, and house crazy though I was even at that age, my 8 year old imagination stopped at more obvious things like New England Colonials and English Castles. This was like nothing I’d never encountered. The article was about a house. The title was ‘An Italian Palazzo in Miami.’ The palazzo in question of course, was the sublime Vizcaya, James Deering’s dream evocation of the Veneto during the Renaissance. The effect of this sensuous house and its magnificent gardens was electrifying on my impressionable young brain.
I had not before imagined whole rooms and ceilings lifted from European palaces, (I was eight), carefully rearranged and combined for artful effect, to say nothing of stone barges set in artificial harbors. For the next few years, while my peers imagined themselves astronauts and cowboys, I preferred to think of myself as a Doge, or at least an International Harvester heir, living of course in Renaissance splendor at the edge of Biscayne Bay. I think it is safe to say I was never the same after…..
The story of Vizcaya is well known—-International Harvester heir James Deering, a bachelor, buys large tract of jungle in then rural Miami as site for a winter home, assembles a brilliant team—-architect F. Burrall Hoffman, Artist/Decorator/Cicero Paul Chalfin, landscape architect Diego Suarez, and together, not always harmoniously, they manage to build the finest American house and garden of its day. In her 1926 book, Country Houses of America, Augusta Owen Patterson, alluding to the teams of artists and craftsmen dispatched to Florida said “it seemed at the time as if everyone knew someone who was working on the Deering job.”
I’ve got more house posts underway, but no time to pull it together for a few days, In the meanwhile, I came across this old issue of National Sportsman the other day, and the cover made me smile–it shows two boys, one rough & tumble, with a freshly caught eel, the other prissily dressed, recoiling in horror. It reminded me of childhood fishing expeditions with my cousin. Go ahead, guess which boy I was….
And apparently she’s in good company.
I found this ad a few minutes ago in Building Age for November 1927—as you can see, I try to stay current with trends—and I love Lady Mendl’s aesthetic pronouncement, whether I agree or not.
Winter is almost over, even in Maine–knock on wood–and thoughts are turning again to outdoor pleasures
The tradition of a folly or gazebo as a garden retreat, goes back at least to the gardens of ancient Rome. Here in New England, with our short summers, the idea of a shady retreat, a place to enjoy a cool refreshment on a warm afternoon holds great appeal.. A summerhouse or gazebo is a pleasant spot from which to contemplate the garden or view, and simultaneously, can be beautiful feature or eye catcher in the landscape.
A rare few survive from the 18th century here in New England. They are usually enclosed, and though made of wood, and on a smaller scale, recall their cousins on grand estates in England. It was not unusual for these structures to be placed on a small artificial ‘mount’ in the English after European fashion. Unlike England, with its large preserved country estates, America has always been a country on the move, and most of the earliest that survive do so because they have been moved from their original settings.
The most exquisite to survive from the 18th century is the Derby summerhouse, designed by the great Salem, Massachusetts carver/architect Samuel McIntire for Capt. Derby’s summer farm in Danvers Massachusetts in 1795. Elias Hasket Derby was a merchant of great wealth, the Donald Trump of his day, but obviously with far better taste. Topping the roof were carved figures representing the Reaper (as in Harvest, not Grim) , and the Milkmaid. A young lady who visited the estate in 1802 wrote of going upstairs to the room above, “The air from the windows is always pure and cool and the eye wanders with delight over the beautiful landscape below…The room is ornamented with some Chinese figures and seems calculated for serenity and peace.”
In the late 19th century, the summerhouse was near ruin, and development pressures were closing in on the Derby farm. Derby’s great-granddaughter, Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott, rescued the it, seen on its original foundation in the upper photo, and had it moved to her nearby country estate, where it still graces the rose garden designed for it, now open to the public.
Okay, now bear with me for a second, for you know how I like all the dots connected, and this part requires your full attention. Already in the garden of the Endicott estate was a gazebo built in 1840 by Mrs. Endicott’s grandfather, Joseph Peabody, from whom she inherited the estate. Upon the death of her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Endicott, Jr., a nephew inherited the Peabody gazebo and moved it to his property on Martha’s Vineyard, where it sits to this day. In 1989, the Danvers Historical Society erected a replica of this structure, above, in the original location. Email me if you need a re-cap. As I’ve mentioned before, we really like moving buildings around here in New England, and sometimes a playbook is required to keep it all straight.
This late 18th century landscape painting by the Reverend Jonathan Fisher of Blue Hill, Maine shows a typical New England town, probably Bucksport, in the background, while in the foreground, a family enjoys tea by a domed gazebo. It is likely that this gazebo never existed there, but is an artistic conceit inspired by an English print.
A leitmotif of the Victorian age was that more was never enough, and here we have a gazebo as observatory tower seen in the 1880’s on the J.S. Potter estate in Framingham, Massachusetts. Potter was a self made businessman, and his garden was a veritable amusement park of garden structures.
Another trend was European style grandeur and formality, ever the means to display wealth. The apogee was reached with this pair of French classical limestone tea houses in the formal garden of The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island, designed by Horace Trumbauer for coal magnate Edwin Berwind. This photograph from a 1931 National Geographic shows the high level of maintenance that once characterized these estate gardens. A quarter century separates these structures from the Olmstead teahouse at Moraine Farm.
And finally, we travel more than full circle, back to Newport, Rhode Island. A mere two blocks from the Redwood garden house where we started, this tea house was designed by architectural historian Fiske Kimball, later director of the Philadelphia Museum, for Miss Martha Codman on the grounds of her summer home, Berkeley villa. In case you’re rubbing your eyes in disbelief, and about to say, ‘That stupid Dilettante, he’s inserted the wrong picture”, guess again. It is a copy of the Derby summerhouse by McIntire. Miss Codman was also a descendant of Derby, and a family feud was precipitated when she copied the summerhouse for her own garden without the permission of its owner, her cousin Mrs. Endicott.
Mr. Burden, a financier, aviation consultant and former ambassador to Belgium (not to be confused with Perle Mesta, who had curlier hair), was a major collector of modern art, one of the early movers and shakers in MOMA, eventually becoming president of its board. His background was a stately one—‘over the river and through the wood to grandmother’s house we go’ meant Florham, the vast country house of his grandparents, the Hamilton McKown Twomblys, now the Madison campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey
The only mystery remaining is what color was that amazing barometer on the wall? It looks as if its faceted frame is eglomise glass (gilded in reverse), but what color glass? Black? Green? I’m hoping green.
Despite the caption, written 25 years after the hall was photographed, I find myself wondering if the inlaid floor isn’t actually Zenitherm, once a favored flooring material of decorators and architects like David Adler, who often used it to stylish effect.
As my seven or eight regular readers know, I enjoy connecting the dots. It happens that I once owned a pair of those snappy emerald green sconces. They were sold to me as Victorian, and the seller’s idea was that they had perhaps once been arms to a chandelier. Later, I chanced across an identical pair in clear glass, which were positively known to be Steuben, from the 1930’s, making it most likely that these were also. Their very Vogue Regency style would support the latter. thesis. Whatever their origin, what really matters in the end was that, like the room above, they were GORGEOUS, and I hope the person who bought them from me is still enjoying them.