Houses I Dream About: Baroque Rococo on the Hudson

My thoughts have wandered out of New England again, over the border into New York and down the Hudson to this  fantasy house, straight out  of a Rex Whistler painting.
 Is it Vogue Regency?  Baroque?  Rococo?   The curvy beauty was designed by John Churchill in the early 1940’s for Vincent Astor’s first wife, Helen Dinsmore Huntington, later Mrs. Lytle Hull, on her ancestral acres at Staatsburg,.  It replaced a Second Empire manor built for her grandfather in the mid 19th century.  John Churchill is an architect about whom I know very little, and would love to know more.  This theatrical house, filled with light, curves and seduces,  literally embraces its site.

The new house, designed by architect John Churchill

The Entrance Front.  I’d do something about the overgrown plantings…something tight and architectural required here.
 First Floor Plan
Helen Huntington Hull in a portrait by Bernard Boutet de Monvel.  Note the wonderful mantel, with agrarian motifs. (AD)
The interior architecture was as downplayed as the exterior was fantastic.  Simple woodwork, huge windows opening onto the lawns, and elegant mantels were foils for her elegantly furnished interiors. A serpentine staircase seems downright modern in effect.
Drawing Room in Mrs. Hull’s era (AD)

Drawing Room, Present Day

Mrs. Hull was a leading music patron, and weekends at The Locust saw many of the leading figures in the arts and society gathered.
The gentlemen play croquet before dinner
Louis Armstrong and Grace Kelly in the Library
The Library Fireplace (AD)
 Dining Room set for a party (AD)
Dining Room, present day view.  Notice the lovely triple hung windows allowing direct access to lawn
After Mrs. Hull’s death in 1978, The Locusts passed through several owners, including Penthouse Magazine magnate Bob Guccione. The house survived remarkably well, with only the addition off the drawing room of one of those damnable Machin ‘Gothick’ conservatories that everyone had to have a decade ago, all wrong for this house, and an especially ill considered swimming pool on the front lawn.
The sight of it causes this blogger pain—someone didn’t pay attention to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ rule—poorly placed, out of sync and out of scale with the house, which had been designed to open to a sweeping lawn and the river views beyond.  If a pool in that location was absolutely required, close your eyes for a moment, and consider how much better it would have been as an oval, with larger scaled paving, and perhaps a darker surface, instead of the tropical turquoise?  Or perhaps shaping the terrace around it into  baroque scrolls?  But what do I know? I’m only a dilettante.  At least it isn’t an infinity pool.
Main stair, present day view
The house is now owned by hotelier Andre Balazs, and has been re-imagined as an events venue and small hotel.
ADDENDUM:  Since posting this earlier today, I happened across a terrific post about pools, all of them well designed and placed, on the Limestone and Boxwoods blog.

Way Down East: The Two Windswepts

There are two Windswepts.  One is a best selling 1953 novel by Mary Ellen Chase, about a several generations of a family living in a remote house by the sea in Down East Maine.  The other is her summer home, a remote house by the sea in Down East Maine.

Born in Blue Hill in 1887, Chase is considered one of the heirs to the literary tradition of Sarah Orne Jewett, and indeed is one of the best of the Maine novelists.  She puchased Windswept, located near the end of the world between wild blueberry barrens and the ocean on Petit Manan Point at Steuben, Maine in 1940, and there wrote nine of her books.  Built in the 1920’s, the simple cottage is classic Maine, low, shingled, with simple shutters, and many small paned windows to let in the light from the sea.  A big living room with fieldstone fireplace anchors two wings, one with kitchen, the other with bedrooms, forming a sheltered courtyard at the entrance.

When Windswept was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the nomination read: 

She is considered by many literary critiques to be second only to Sarah Orne Jewett in her ability to capture the history and particular atmosphere of the coast of Maine and its people.  The isolated cottage provided Ms. Chase with the tranquility and isolation she needed to write, and in turn it also provided the inspiration for the setting of ‘Windswept’ (1941), her best-selling novel about immigration and integration in old settled Maine communities.”

“It is to the credit of the property owners since Ms. Chase that much of her former possessions, including furniture and books, and all the solitary ambiance of Windswept has been retained and preserved since her departure.”
Driftwood on mantel at Windswept 

Chase had to give up Windswept in 1956.  It went through several owners, who cherished the connection,  and the simple aesthetic of the place, before going on the market a couple of years ago.  The new owners did not desire any of Chase’s furnishings or mementos, and last week, there was an auction, sparsely attended, and the accumulations of seventy years were sold, including a handwritten notebook about the house, written by Chase for the new owners when she sold the house.  It was a sad reflection of Chase’s fallen literary status that even this manuscript failed to excite spirited bidding.  This writer, whose great-grandmother was a friend of Chase’s,  purchased a round chair table, probably destined to be my new kitchen table,  and the piece of driftwood from above the living room mantel, where Chase’s nephew remembered that she loved to always have a fire going in all weathers, for the pleasant scent.

 Windswept sold for 1.2 million, with 7.5 acres and 1100 feet of shorefront bordered by a preserve.  Imagine the same property in Montauk….

(Below), the final page of Chase’s Windswept journal, wishing the new owners the same happiness she had experienced there.

Hammer & Tongs

As in many New England towns, the Down East village of Blue Hill had a blacksmith shop on its Main Street.  Passersby could see the blacksmith at work over his forge, making utilitarian objects.  By the 1920’s, horseshoeing was perhaps not the sure profession that it once was, and the blacksmith who took over the Blue Hill forge, Charles Wescott, was an artisan.  The forge, renamed Hammer & Tongs, turned out useful and decorative objects, from his own designs and those of local artists.  His work decorated the front of the shop, and though examples of his signs and firescreens and lamps are still to be found in the area, few ever come on the market.  Mr. Wescott died in the 1960’s, and after a brief spell under other blacksmiths, the old building by the local millstream became a restaurant, ending 100 years of smithing on the site.  A copy of the Hammer & Tongs catalog survives.  The figure of Pan with his pipes, Wescott’s trademark, was originally created for the summer estate of Mrs. Ethelbert Nevin, widow of a famed composer of the day.


Green Thoughts

As Maine winters go, this one is so far fairly mild (sorry, Florida). Never the less, the snow on the ground and ice underfoot begin to take a psychic toll by the middle of January.   I am impatiently waiting for bulbs planted indoors to flower, and my thoughts turn increasingly to gardens. 
I am too busy during the summer season to garden in any real way; my only claim to fame the huge pale pink geraniums in front of my store.  In sad truth, most of my once lovely gardens are now just a memory—but a man can dream.  I’ve pulled a stack of garden books from the shelf, and am flipping through them, daydreaming—Francis Cabot’s A Greater Perfection, about his brilliant garden in Quebec, Vita Sackville-West’s Garden Book, with its aristocratic musings about plant combinations, Fletcher Steele’s Garden’s and People, wishing for the 109th time that by the mere act of reading this book, some of his brilliant design skills will magically rub off on me; Katherine (Mrs. E.B.) White’s Onward & Upward in the Garden, a collection of her elegant essays from the New Yorker, Beatrix Farrand’s Reef Point Bulletins, the best writings going about native plants and landscape, and last, but not least, Eleanor Perenyi’s Green Thoughts, which sent me looking for these clippings of her garden in Stonington, Connecticut.

I won’t waste your time and my space writing an essay about Perenyi—her New York Times obituary  says it very well.  If you have never read Green Thoughts, you must.  I am just now deep in her defense of dahlias, and it is thrilling.
Her garden was admirable for its taste, and for its restraint.  In this current era, where everyone is busily creating little formal gardens that reach the pitch of hysteria in their attempts to be charming and whimsical and artistic, here we have the real article.  Tailored to its site, a plot around an 18th century house in Stonington, CT, it is slightly under maintained and under designed, and very close to perfect.  Old fashioned plant varieties, unspoiled by eager hybridizers, are massed to create architecture and effect. This garden is the one that would look so well around my own little white house…when I’ve cleared the steeplebush and alders….someday….
Photographs by Emerick Bronson, published in House Beautiful, November, 1981

Asher Benjamin Down East: A Doorway

Until the practice of architecture became a widespread profession after the 1840’s, carpenter/builders, using pattern books, most prominently those of Asher Benjamin, were responsible for most of the graceful classically inspired buildings that one sees in New England villages.   One of those carpenter/builders was the prolific Thomas Lord of Blue Hill (1806 – 1880), who can be fairly said to have taken the architecture of that area out of the Federal and into the Greek Revival, with the publication of Benjamin’s 1833 volume, The Carpenter’s Assistant. 
Lord’s own house in Blue Hill, built in 1840, after he had achieved professional success, was was a showcase for his skills.  This is the lovely front door of his house, compared to the plate which inspired it in Benjamin’s volume.

Hello, My Name is Down East Dilettante, and I am a Chair Addict

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.

Friend Anne pays a visit and graces a green satin Louis-Louis chair from the 50’s

Of all furniture forms, none can take on as many creative solutions as the chair, sculpture that one can sit on, and often the touch that makes the room.

The first chair I ever bought, at the age of 11, came from a local junque shop for $3.00.  A little worse for wear then and still, it dates from around 1820, is an American take on the classic Greek klismos chair.  The paint, worn though it is, is wonderful, and for the 45 years since, I’ve chosen to keep the tattered blue denim underupsholstery just as it was when I found it.  Originally, the chair would have had a rush seat.  I’ve since owned a set of RED ones in this design.

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 white painted Windsor Rocker from the 1820’s.  sinuous, with the most luscious pears painted on the center tablet.  Who knows why I didn’t photograph it head on?  I was young…

You just have to use your imagination for this one.  I was new to digital photography, and they were sold before I even figured out how to download the camera and try again.  They’re French, early 19th century tin and steel, with tin basket weave seats, and crossed arrows in the back splats, with cast feathers and points…and love the hollow back splat.  All in a pale crusty gray paint.  Late at night, I still think of these.
These were the first thing I ever bought on eBay….four of them….back when it was new and great things were waiting to be discovered online for cheap
Still new to digital…didn’t have the whole resolution concept firmly down…okay, so it isn’t really a chair, but black and gold Vogue Regency settee with yellow satin?  Yum.  I kinda like the little lyre back French chair to the right, also.
This funny little one was as light as a feather, the first American bentwood furniture, made by one Samuel Gragg of Boston in the early 19th century
I still own this one, 25 years later.  A Sheraton ‘Fancy’ chair from upstate New York; what you can’t see is the amazing freehand swirling decoration on the back splat, in black and yellow.
Nobody does chairs like the French.  The one on the right may look ordinary enough, but the color is the most ethereal blue gray, weathered by time.

I’m sure my friend Ellen thought I was photographing her delicious dill biscuits, but in truth, you see that Greek key fret on the back of that 50’s klismos chair…..I’ll get them away from her someday…..

Way Down East: The Ruggles House

What geographic area exactly constitutes Down East Maine is a hotly debated topic.  Some people like to think that it’s the entire state.  Others prefer to think of Southern Maine as Northern Massachusetts.  My personal notion is that it begins when one crosses the bridge across the Penobscot River on Route One just south of Bucksport.  What is certain, is after traveling another 20 miles up Route One, and passing through the strip mall big box nightmare of High Street in Ellsworth,  heading toward Washington county, the last bit of Maine before Canada, the landscape, the towns, and even the very light, take on a different cast.  The landscape gets wilder, more harshly beautiful, the economy is poorer, and distances seem greater.  The tiny town of Columbia Falls, just off route 1,  is no further from Ellsworth than the shopping hub of Bangor to the west, but it seems light years further away, and has been home to many extraordinary people and events.

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…

George W. French, for Maine Development Commission, 1940’s
But, back to the Ruggles House.  It was built for Judge Thomas Ruggles, a lumber baron, back when this part of the world was still the Eastern frontier, and trees were tall and plentiful.  Basically only four rooms and a hall, with an ell kitchen in back, but oh what rooms, what a hall.  Ruggles and his builder pulled out all the stops with this house.  The house is only one room deep, two rooms on either side of a hall on each floor.  The workmanship is fine, yet charmingly naive.  The columns on the little porch are Corinthian, but like nothing one has ever seen.  The builder has interpreted the drawings in a new way, and the little capitals, support an openwork frieze that would seem incapable of actually holding up even the small roof.  On the main cornice, a Benjamin drawing of a cornice with applied leaves has been improbably and excitingly interpreted as openwork, the leaves freestanding.  Over the windows are swags, not carved, but merely in silhouette, each suspended from a little heart.  One tears oneself away from this nonacademic, yet classically beautiful sight, enters the graceful doorway, whose design shouldn’t work, with its full arch inside a flattened arch, but it does, with delicate tracery defining the fan.

And immediately, one loses one’s breath.  One is in a small, high hall.  Directly ahead is a small, perfectly proportioned flying staircase an open flight from floor to landing, quite possibly the loveliest of its type in existence.  The main flight sweeps up to the roomy landing, flooded with light from an arched window.  The floors are painted buff, with ‘carpeting’ painted in black.  One turns, goes up one of the short flights to the upper landing, and is confronted by a lovely Palladian window, answering the arched window on the lower landing.  Many of the details are naively styled and executed, and they maybe shouldn’t work, but they do.  The staircase practically floats, and the pure, crystalline light of the north country makes every molding, every detail stand in perfect relief.
The second floor contains two perfectly pleasant bedrooms, but no need to linger….back down the wonderful staircase, and through one of the beautiful faux mahogany doors, in beautiful condition after 200 years, into the dining room.  The dining room is  a decent sized room, good ceiling height, with deep windows with seats, and an interesting mantel with pinwheel inlays, all nicely proportioned, full of light from the four windows.  A set of early Wedgwood creamware is eye catching, decorated delicately with feathers.
Dining Room.  HABS photograph

One crosses the hall to the Drawing Room.  And one gasps again.  Here the builder has pulled out all the stops.  And once again, has performed tricks that shouldn’t work by any academic rules, but they do—-spectacularly.  Perfectly proportioned space, three exposures, deep window embrasures, elegantly detailed woodwork.  The bracketed consoles over the doors are from an English builder’s book, by James Pain.
And then, there’s the mantel:  The chimney breast elegantly projects into the room,, a graceful effect shared with many houses of its period, but this one is almost a structure in itself.  A riot of ornament, inlaid mahogany panels, and again, those hollow capitals, that cannot possibly hold anything up.  In the early days, the legend of the Ruggles House, this unexpected bit of fluff in the hardscrabble of Washington County Maine, was that an English carver did all the work on the mantel, using only a penknife, his hand guided by an angel.
Ruggles House Parlor

The truth is more prosaic.  Most of the basic ornament is obviously the work of a talented builder/craftsman, but one with very little knowledge of how the drawings should actually translate to three dimension, and the elaborate swags are imported composition ornament, often seen in the cities, but almost unheard of in this part of the world.
 Parlor Chimney Piece, 1930’s

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.

Black & White Photographs from Historic American Buildings Survey.
Color Photographs from Ruggles House Postcards and Down East Magazine, photography by Brian Van Den Brink

Oh My! I want to thank all the little people out there at home…

Kind Yvonne of La Petite Gallery has nominated me for a Kreativ Blogger award. Now, if I understand this correctly, I have to tell seven things about myself that others may not know., and nominate seven favorite bloggers  Reserved Down Easters don’t let out personal information easily.  See Taciturn.  Heavens, I’m not sure that I even know seven things about myself:

 1.  In my 20’s, I headed a board that funded Head Start centers.  Most people who know me would have trouble associating me with anything that doesn’t advocate mandatory foreign boarding school with no parole I mean,  vacation,  for all children from the ages of 4 to 24.  Head Start is a fine program, and seriously needed in a  world where not everyone has the opportunities that many of us have.

 2.  In that same fuzzy bearded liberal youth (I still have the fuzzy liberal ideals, just not the beard or the youth), I had a ponytail, briefly.  I also had a mirror, so that’s why it’s something many might not know about.

3.  The tragedy of my life is that I can’t dance.  Not even a simple box step.  I took ballet for a year and a half, in one of my many desperate attempts to discipline and train my body to dance.  It was very sad.   A lithe lesbian acquaintance, who had absolutely no sense of humor, was also in the class, and would keep hissing at me at the barre—“What are you doing here?”  In her world of earnest pursuit, nothing was ever done for fun.  I treasure the memory of seeing myself in the mirror, 6’2″, awkward, hulking over my shorter, more graceful classmates. The classes were better workouts than I ever get at the gym, though I still can’t dance (many brave kind souls have tried to help, all have failed), but it did give me excellent posture and very shapely calves.
The Dilettante practicing at the barre

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.) 

 “No More Plastic Shutters!” 
 5. Addiction:  No, I’ve never, ever, tried drugs (ok, I’ve inhaled twice.  But I didn’t enjoy it)).  We’re talking about Diet Coke here, the monkey on my back:  I actually really, really have tried to conquer my diet Coke addiction.  Daily.  But then, sometimes with four minutes to spare before the store closes, I’m in the car, racing for that 12 pack–those cold, shiny aluminum cans, the click and whoosh of the pop top as it opens, the high of the first slug sip…….yet, though I love a cold dry gin martini far more than I love vile Diet C, I can always stop at one or two martinis, and will go weeks between them, whereas with Diet C four hours seems to be my limit  Go figure.
6.  Although I am quite happily bald and shaved, and have been since my early 30’s, I will still brush a ghost forelock away from my face in a breeze, just as I did as a young man with the real thing— much the way I”m told an amputee can still feel his missing limb
Portrait of the Dilettante as a young man.  Note wavy forelocks, bandana to keep same out of face, soft and fuzzy beard, liberal attitudes.   
7.  Long ago, when they were first imported from Sweden, my then partner and I, in a profound and sincere desire to live gently on the earth (see items 1 & 2),  installed a Clivus Multrum composting toilet in our charming seaside cottage.  I’m sure they’ve improved the technology since then.  I hope they have.  But I don’t intend to find out myself.  Permanently traumatized. 
Entrance to Charming Seaside Cottage.  Within lurked a monster that terrified all who entered.
Now, *Drumroll, Please*,  here are my seven nominations, which should really be 15, very hard to make, given the wide field of excellent blogs that I follow.   ( Lists are hard. I nearly imploded when JCB asked me for five favorite books about Maine.  It took hours to get the list down to 10…).   So, in addition to the blogger  who nominated me, Yvonne of La Petite Gallery, my list would be, in alphabetical order…..

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.

Old Long Island.   Zach is doing something very important here, compiling a vast online archive of material on his chosen subject, making a wide range of material available to an interested public. I’ve found gold in his posts.

Peak of Chic. First blog I ever went to. Here’s where I confess that I used to be cynical about blogs—-lots of  long winded, self indulgent people with too much spare time going blah blah blah about their prejudices and weird interests, thought I—A breeding ground for mini Rush Limbaughs.  Then, one day, trying to find a specific photograph of a room by Tony Duquette, I stumbled across Peak of Chic.  Over the next three days I went through every post.  Such good stuff about design history, with solid knowledge, and an open mind.   Then I started checking out others., got hooked, and here I stand before you today

This list should really be longer.  I finally narrowed my tied list of 15 down to seven  based on how long I’d been following them.  These seven are the ties: ;  Cafe Muscato, worldly and amusing, runner up for best title;  Little Augury, stylish and esoteric;   What Is James Wearing  (at first I just couldn’t believe this guy, but it’s really grown on me); The Corinthian Column, Erudite, worldly, knowledgeable;  Reggie Darling, another well furnished mind with distinct opinions and elegant style, newest blog on my list; Early American Gardens , a delightful specialist blog on a subject I love; and Frognall Dibdin (speaking of best blog titles), who keeps the discussion elevated.
And then, of course, there’s the Sartorialist…. Snappy, fun, and inspirational.  Viewing his posts has gotten me jauntily knotting my scarf again, just in case his camera ever comes to my town.  I want to be ready for my closeup.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It, # 1

Mies van der Rohe said, ‘Less Is More’.  Coco Chanel said, “Elegance is Refusal”.  Alexander Pope said, “Consult the Genius of the Place”.  Here in Maine, we say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  They all add up to essentially the same concept, and they’re all good advice.  You see where I’m going with this? 

I clipped this photo from a Sotheby’s brochure a few years back.  I don’t remember where it is, exactly, somewhere in Massachusetts.  I saved it, because I thought it that the house was maintained with perfect pitch.  The color scheme is clean and simple….a nice soft yellow that suits the architecture and the New England light, with the dark shutters and white trim.  No replacement windows,  no ill fitting, artificial looking plastic shutters standing in for the real thing, no hideous color scheme off the Benjamin Moore exterior  charts, which should all be gathered up and burned.

We interrupt this blog for a public service announcement:  If you own one of these fine old houses, do not, repeat, DO NOT use those silly, scale destroying, inoperable plastic shutters.  I don’t care how much peer pressure the neighbors put on you to have shutters.  If you don’t want the nuisance of repairing real shutters, fine.  Just don’t have shutters.  The damned things look worse than false eyelashes and pasties on Whistler’s Mother.  The old houses have fine enough proportions and moldings that they will look very well with nothing at all, and far better than with fake shutters that are inevitably ill proportioned and placed incorrectly and just make the house look artificial, tacky, and wrong..  Have I made myself clear, class?  Now back to our scheduled program.

The landscaping is fine here, too.  No attempts at anything cute, or ‘colonial’, also known as Phonie Colonie.  It follows the good New England tradition of simple planting, no pyramids of yew with variegated foliage euonymous at the foundation—-the lilacs and low old fashioned seasonal plants allow the strong lines of the house to meet the ground in an elegant fashion.  If you want a lovely little formal garden, or flower borders, put them on an axis with a window or doorway, and don’t jam them up against the front of the house.
And, if you need to add more room, don’t feel that you need to order every arched window in the Marvin Catalog.  You don’t want your addition to be the tail that wags the dog.  If it’s Versailles or a McMansion you want, buy Versailles or a McMansion.  Leave these poor old houses alone, to continue to grace the countryside.
This concludes our first seminar in how not to mistreat a fine old building.  If you are one of those brilliantly talented people who can break these rules and make something spectacular and charming, more power to you.  Most of us can’t, and shouldn’t.

Hey! Domicidal Maniac!

Thought that would get your attention:

Remember last year, when you were enchanted with the Cushing house at Newport, which was used in the filming of ‘Evening’, the clunker that shouldn’t have been, what with starring  Meryl Streep, Vanessa Redgrave, and Glenn Close?  (Although I did love Glenn Close’s spot on portrayal of a tightly constrained High WASP matron).  And you hoped to find some interior shots?  Well, here you go.  Deep in my clip files was this wonderful shot, from an old copy of Connoisseur Magazine,  of the studio appended to the back of the house, almost the a paradigm of depression era style—one has no trouble populating this room with stylish folk out of either Fitzgerald or Coward..

The room is simple—a large box plastered roughly–the only architectural decoration a good pine Georgian mantel over a simple brick surround.  But oh, what stylish things the room is populated with, casually scattered and arranged—-a tan ground Chinese rug, a superb screen in red laquer, handsome overmantel mirror, and plenty of comfortable low chairs.  Much as I hate dead animals on the wall, one has to admit the horns on these are beautifully sculptural.  Accessories are a mix of wonderful and mundane.  A folding backgammon table is at the ready behind the screen.  Wonderful room, designed for living, not for show.

 The Ledges at Newport.  Photograph by Tony Cericola, New York Times

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.

 Portrait of Ethel Cochrane Cushing by Howard Gardiner Cushing.  MFA, Boston

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.

above photos by Tony Cericola, from the New York Times