I finally got around to cleaning the desk. Deep in the back of a drawer was a wrinkled file of clippings from the 80’s. Among them was a real estate brochure for Skylands, the Seal Harbor, Maine home of Martha Stewart, a couple of years before she purchased it.
View of Seal Harbor in the late 1920’s. The full bulk of the newly built Skylands can be seen at top left
The stories of Skylands are legion, and since most Martha followers can recite them as if liturgy—-the mile of pink crushed granite drives which are raked up, washed and stored every winter, the forest floors sprayed with buttermilk to encourage a mossy carpet, the superb craftsmanship, the heated drying cabinets for linens—the list goes on, and I won’t bore the reader with yet another repetition.
Long story short: The estate was developed for Edsel Ford, son of Henry. The architect was Duncan Candler, a well connected society architect whose wife, Edith Stebbins, had been a Seal Harbor summer girl. Candler built up a fair summer practice in Seal Harbor, designing large, restrained and comfortable houses for such other summer families as the Rockefellers, who occupied the next hill over from the Fords (future post). Skylands is a severely geometric and horizontal house, gorgeously sited just below the brow of the hill, and appears to grow out of the very pink granite ledges on which it is built. Despite it’ academic qualities, it is as successful an example of a house growing organically from its site as any modernist effort. The landscaping is by the brilliant Jens Jensen, who had also done the Ford’s Michigan estate. There is no lawn, and the subtle landscape he created, of boulders, and native plants, naturalness achieved at great expense, seems as inevitable as if Mother Nature herself had laid it out—a true example of the Capability Brown axiom “consult the genius of the place.”
Skylands in a 1930’s postcard view
Oops. I said I wouldn’t go on, but born pedant that I am, I just can’t help it. Herewith, the pictures (sorry for the wrinkles) from the real estate brochure. The house was at the time owned by the Leedes, who bought it from the Ford estate in the 1970’s. Though the house was not as lavishly burnished and maintained as in the Ford’s day (hot and cold running staff helped), the Leedes’ did regularly call in Mrs. Ford’s old decorators, the Palm Beach firm of Jessup, Inc. to keep things up. Although the Fords left their furnishings, they took the art, and the pallid framed pieces do not live up to the architecture. Very Wasp , very understated, slightly boring. Now, of course, the joint is just plain jaw-dropping. Everything perfectly maintained, the neglected landscape restored to perfection, and maintained beyond perfection.
The paneled two story entrance hall leads into this living hall, with a fireplace carved of native pink granite.
The superb terrace overlooking most of creation
Most of creation from the terrace