Flipping through the 1920 edition of House & Garden’s Second Book of Interiors, I passed many handsome rooms, most of which betrayed their time and place—typical Long Island country house drawing rooms, all correctly Georgian, stockbroker Tudor libraries, and Colonial Dining rooms. Suddenly, the room above jumped out at me, and demanded a closer look. It was something more unusual, rich, yet looser and more imaginative after the acres of floral cretonne and hooked rugs of most of the book. Here was something bolder—a bedroom with drawing room pretensions—the furniture well chosen, loose and sparely arranged in the vaulted ceilinged space, long French windows, curtains freely draped, facing each other on two sides. Old black and white photograph is deceptive. My first instinct was that the room was likely in traditional Chinese export color schemes—all celadon and rose. The bold Tibetan tiger rug should have clued me otherwise. The caption describes something far more dramatic for this room
kay, that got my attention. I googled Mr. Thomas—the house was called Huntland (click HERE
for more), and he himself was prominent in the foxhunting world in the land of silver stirrup cups and good English furniture. How he came to have interiors of such imagination, or who did them for him, eluded me, but clearly he was a guy with some dash.
he room seems to be missing from the history of Chinoiserie in America in the 20th century, which includes the Chinese Room at Beauport, not published by House & Garden until eight years after the Thomas Room.
Or Conde Nast’s ballroom, decorated by Elsie de Wolfe, with its famous set of Chinese papers from Beaudesert, an Anglesey family house in England
And of course, the Chinese drawing room of 1930 at Henry DuPont’s Winterthur House, whose wallpaper came from the same set as that in the Chinese room in Beauport. The DuPont room is seen below in a stereoview as it appeared when the family lived there, from the Winterthur Digital Archives.
I was tempted to veer off to Middleburg with more about the Thomas house, but instead decided to contemplate some the bedroom’s spiritual descendants, such as Pauline de Rothschild’s Chinoiserie bedroom at Chateau Mouton, as famously photographed by Horst for Vogue, below.
Or Nancy Lancaster’s famous bedroom at Haseley Court. One is tempted to wonder whether Mrs. Lancaster, in her own Virginia foxhunting days as Mrs. Field and later Mrs. Tree, had ever visited Huntlands and seen the glamorous Thomas bedroom. Certainly her famous bedroom there, despite stylistic differences has much in common.
Last but not least, the longer I looked at the Thomas room, the more familiar the bed became. And sure enough it is apparently the same bed for which Doris Duke paid $400.00 at a shop called The Flea Market in 1942, sold for many times that ($20,000 to be exact) at the 2004 Christies auction of her effects.
UPDATE: Perhaps I should have followed through on Joseph B. Thomas after all, for had I thought about it a moment longer—or not been so focused on dramatic bedrooms, the lightbulb would have gone off and I would have realized that he was the same Joseph B. Thomas who developed River House in New York, possibly the city’s most glamorous apartment building, and who was married to Wells Fargo heiress and muralist Clara Fargo Thomas, whose house up here is one of the epochal houses of the 1930’s, and which I blogged about HERE
AND TODAY IN NYSD: In ‘House’ I interview Michael Kathrens, author of American Splendor, the Residential Architecture of Horace Trumbauer, newly revised by Acanthus Press. Click HERE