Of particular interest for me is Chestertown House, designed for Henry Francis du Pont and his wife, Ruth Wales du Pont, in Southampton. So in further celebration of Cross & Cross (see my recent post on Peter Pennoyer’s book on Cross & Cross), I thought a House of Details post on the du Pont’s house would be ideal.
Commissioned in the mid-1920s, du Pont specifically requested an ‘American house’ after influential visits to Electra Webb’s Brick House, also designed by Cross & Cross, and the home of Henry Davis Sleeper, Beauport.
Henry Francis du Pont commented to his wife, Ruth Wales du Pont on the proposed design for their Southampton house —“Why don’t we build an American house? Everybody has English houses and half the furniture I know they have is new. Since we’re American, it’s much more interesting to have American furniture.”
Having settled on “an American house”, du Pont engaged Henry Davis Sleeper to advise on the decoration of the house, and Marian Coffin to design the grounds. Completed in 1926, the house incorporated many important architectural elements largely from Chestertown, Maryland, the namesake of the house.
The unassuming North Facade looked on to Meadow Lane and artfully hid an entire wing from view. Large pedimented doors were considered iconic of Early American architecture in the the first part of the 20th century. White washed brick was also popular in the early twentieth century, and less so in colonial times. The Atlantic Ocean is immediately behind the house.
An oblique view showing the full expanse of Chestertown House
The South Facade with an inset porch facing the sea.
A detail of a false door on the South facade was used as a decorative device.
The open loggia on the South Facade furnished with Windsor chairs, a form which has appeared in American Interiors since the eighteenth century.The shutters were dramatically scaled and useful in Hurricane season.
The Entrance Hall, like many of the other rooms, relied on a vast collection of hooked rugs. Their relatively bright colors and strong patterns were attractive foils to the the simple forms favored in American furniture.These rugs were made in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, usually more than a hundred years after most of the furniture was made.The combination of these decorative elements was an aspect of twentieth century taste.
Ceramics were also important in du Pont’s rooms.They too were displayed with a twentieth century eye rather than early American accuracy—they provided color and texture that appealed to modern tastes.
A Chinese export punch bowl, as seen in the above image in the entrance hall of Chestertown entered the permanent collection of Winterthur in 1960.
An alternative view of the entrance hall with the stair case. Corner cabinets were placed in many of Chestertown’s rooms to display dishes.
Hall on the main floor opening on to a porch. The ‘Pine Room’ is to the left, and the Living Room to the right.
Another view of the hall.
A view of the Living Room.
Living Room, reverse view.
The ‘Pine Room’
The smaller dining room located off the ‘Pine Room’
A vignette of slipware pottery.
The Pennsylvania Folk Art room at Winterthur with an installation of slip and sgraffito earthenware from Chestertown House.
The library with a collection of Staffordshire.
Among one of the most important objects brought to Winterthur from Chestertown was this folk art mantle, now installed in the Pennsylvania German bedroom.
The mantle as installed at Winterthur, 2014.
The Green Study
Quite a few rooms translated directly to Winterthur from Chestertown. What was originally a men’s dressing room and decorated with a collection of Spatterware by Sleeper, was reinstalled (and expanded) at Winterthur in 1940 as ‘Spatterware Hall’.
Spatterware Hall, Winterthur
Detail of Spatterware from Winterthur’s collection. The central tureen can be seen on the lowest shelf in the room as installed at Chestertown House in the Men’s Dressing Room.
In 1930, du Pont drew up plans to convert Chestertown into a house museum after his death.
However, in 1927 he inherited Winterthur and began the addition of an ‘American Wing’ in 1928. Du Pont wrote: :When Chestertown House was almost finished, I had occasion to buy another paneled room from Chestertown. I realized it was too sophisticated for the other rooms in the Southampton house; so for the time being I stored it in my barn in Delaware. As time went on, I developed the plan of adding this and other rooms to Winterthur, my family home near Wilmington, in order to create a wing that would show America as it had been. Through friends, I learned of Belle Isle house at Boer, Virginia; the Port Royal house near Frankford Junction, Pennsylvania; Readbourne in Maryland; and other eighteenth-century houses form which I was able to acquire much of the original woodwork.”
With the burgeoning interest in Winterthur, he began moving some of his best pieces from Chestertown House.
Chestertown had several owners after du Pont, and had a bit of a sad ending as told in this piece.
Many thanks to Maggie Lidz for sharing the color images of Chestertown.
The black and white images of Chestertown are from Peter Pennoyer’s book on Cross and Cross, New York Transformed - The Architecture of Cross and Cross.