1. Notes: 2

    House of Details: Henry Francis du Pont’s Chestertown House

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    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.

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    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.  

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    An oblique view showing the full expanse of Chestertown House

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    The South Facade with an inset porch facing the sea.

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    A detail of a false door on the South facade was used as a decorative device.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    An alternative view of the entrance hall with the stair case. Corner cabinets were placed in many of Chestertown’s rooms to display dishes.

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    Hall on the main floor opening on to a porch. The ‘Pine Room’ is to the left, and the Living Room to the right.

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    Another view of the hall.

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    A view of the Living Room.

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    Living Room, reverse view.

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    The ‘Pine Room’

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    The smaller dining room located off the ‘Pine Room’

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    A vignette of slipware pottery.

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    The Pennsylvania Folk Art room at Winterthur with an installation of slip and sgraffito earthenware from Chestertown House.

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    The library with a collection of Staffordshire.

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    Among one of the most important objects brought to Winterthur from Chestertown was this folk art mantle, now installed in the Pennsylvania German bedroom.

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    The mantle as installed at Winterthur, 2014.

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    The Green Study

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    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’.

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    Spatterware Hall, Winterthur

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    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.

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    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.

     

     
  2. Notes: 2

    The Creole Interiors of Andrew Lamar Hopkins

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    Andrew Lamar Hopkins is a self-taught historical folk artist. His remarkable paintings are now on view at Nadine Blake’s gallery and shop in the French Quarter, New Orleans where we recently acquired his depiction of a creole kitchen, full of telling period detail and great style. Hopkins, currently working out of New Orleans, calls himself “ ‘a realist Folk Artist’. A folk artist because I’m self taught. Realist because my artwork is realistic in the 19th century American tradition of folk artist.” His richly detailed paintings, mainly focusing on the Gulf Coast Creole lifestyle, are colorful depictions of architecture, interiors, people and place. In Hopkins own words, “I want my historically influenced paintings to be attractive, and colorful, and also have educational value, displaying the histories which surround us.”

    From childhood he was fascinated with history, architecture, antiques and art of his native city, Mobile, Alabama. He was encouraged by his parents and teachers to interpret what he loved through his art. As a hobby, he would sculpt miniatures of old world villages and Southern antebellum cities.

    He began to paint as  a teenager when his family moved to New Orleans, a city also known for it’s French and Spanish influenced culture and architecture. After Hurricane Katrina, he spent a decade in Baltimore, another old Southern port city. He also studied in France.  

    Here are some prime examples of Hopkins’ work with descriptions in his own words.

     

    Greek Revival Family (image at top) depicts an upper class Southern family in their fashionably decorated parlor, circa 1840. The room has a mixture of American classical furniture like the marble topped mahogany and gilt center table, the pier table, and classical giltwood mirror over the black and gold veined Egyptian marble mantel. The sofa and armchair are French Louis Philippe with Lyon silk fabric. On the mantel is a French Charles X portico clock and a pair of Empire bronze Carcel lamps. Over the Empire pier table is an English Regency bull’s eye mirror.

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    Vieux Carré shows a French Quarter streetscape of about 1830. “I got the idea to paint this painting walking down Royal street. The colors came first. I thought a praline-colored stucco building with light blue shutters would look great on a French Quarter building. Next, I selected a building in the French Quarter I liked - a two story Greek Revival Creole townhouse -  that I could use the colors on located on Burgundy Street. The 3rd transformed this scene back to the early 19th century. A free woman of color with a tignon headdress sweeps the flagstone sidewalk in front of he cottage. A Creole street vendor sells delicacies to a French Creole lady on the flagstone sidewalk, a common sight in 19th and 20th century New Orleans. A Creole gentleman surveys the French Quarter from his classical cast iron veranda. New Orleans was the only place in America where black and white property owners lived side by side. Gens de couleur owned about one-third of the land in the French Quarter. Free woman of color obtained land in the Quarter and surrounding areas mostly by means of Plaçage. Plaçage was a recognized extralegal system in French and Spanish slave colonies of North America (including the Caribbean) by which ethnic European men entered into the equivalent of common-law marriages with women of color, of African, Native American and mixed-race descent. The term comes from the French placer meaning “to place with”. The women were not legally recognized as wives but were known as placées; their relationships were recognized among the free people of color as mariages de la main gauche or left-handed marriages. They became institutionalized with contracts or negotiations that settled property on the woman and her children, and in some cases gave them freedom if enslaved. The system flourished throughout the French and Spanish colonial periods, reaching its zenith during the latter, between 1769 and 1803. It was most practiced in New Orleans, where planter society had created enough wealth to support the system. It also took place in the Latin-influenced cities of Natchez and Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; St. Augustine and Pensacola, Florida as well as Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). Plaçage became associated with New Orleans as part of its cosmopolitan society.

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    La Maison du Free Man of Color shows a well appointed late 18th century salon of a Creole gentleman of color. He is fashionably dressed in the latest fashion from France including a powdered wig. His parents’ portraits are over the chest- a mother of African descent and a French aristocrat father. A portrait of the Creole gentleman as a child in a giltwood Louis XV frame hangs over the mantel. The Creole mantle and over mantel are copied from Columbia Plantation, built in 1782. The mixture of locally made pieces of furniture such as the Creole armoire, Louisiana walnut pied-de-biche center table, and the chest with cabriole legs alongside fine imported furniture from France like the Louis XVI gilded sofa and armchair is substantiated by 18th Louisiana inventories of interiors. Other imported items in the room are decorative arts like the blue and white Delft vases on the mantel, the French cast-iron fireback in the fireplace, the Louis XV mantel clock, the Louis XVI giltwood mirror. The French faïence pottery on the chest and silver candlesticks would have been available in a port city like New Orleans. The term free people of color (French: gens de couleur libres), at first specifically referred to persons of partial African and European descent who were not enslaved. The term was especially used in the French colonies, including La Louisiane and settlements on Caribbean islands, such as Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. Free people of color developed as a separate class between the colonial French and Spanish and the enslaved black African workers. They often achieved education and some measure of wealth; they spoke French and practiced Catholicism.

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    Creole Serenity is a painting of an idyllic Antebellum French Creole family and their classical pink stucco home in New Orleans. The house, a two story two bay shotgun, is a common type in New Orleans that did not have interior halls. Verandas or porches were used instead. This house was influenced by the American Greek Revival style expressed by the Corinthian columns, classical cast iron railings, and Greek ‘eared’ front door. The Classical pediment is carved with palmetto acanthus leaf decoration. A fragrant garden grows around the home and potted citrus fruit bloom on the top veranda.

     

    Read Andrew’s blog for more insight into his work.  

     

     

     
  3. House of Details: My Kips Bay Room, 1996

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    In honor of this years Kips Bay Showhouse, I dedicate this House of Details post to my Kips Bay room from 1996. I recently saw the pictures in our archive and I think the room still has merit. It also demonstrates how taste, even in a traditional vein, continues to change.

    My goal was to make a “swell” American room, after a remark that Henry DuPont made when he chaired Mrs. Kennedy’s committee to refurnish the White House. He thought to convince her that you “could have a really swell house with American furniture”.

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    The space I was assigned in the Thomas A. Howell House, a Federal style mansion at 603 Park Avenue, was tall and square. Its perfect proportions were slightly set off by windows placed especially high to clear the street immediately outside. It was important to strengthen the architectural base of the room and I did this with warm grey paint applied to panels with a “surprising” blue shade by the artist Chuck Hettinger. The walls above the chair rail were covered with a Clarence House paper with a soft tone-on-tone trellis pattern.

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    The room is furnished with American furniture of the best quality from Bernard & S. Dean Levy, including a secretary attributed to Duncan Phyfe. The large paintings were loaned from Hirschl & Adler. Like many of my rooms, the carpet came first, an oushak with bright —almost fluorescent—but still tasteful green and orange patterns. The upholstery was by Jonas and was particularly fine. The Chatham style chairs are a form I continue to use today. What really galvanized the room was a trip from my own apartment with quirky personal possessions, such as my mother’s portrait, family photographs including one of my dashing boyfriend, and a bust of Washington replete with a rubber snake.  Such odd ball elements were what caught Mitch Owens’ attention in The New York Times piece he wrote about the showhouse.

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    From our twenty-first century point of view, the room might appear crowded, and in fact the space was intentionally packed to serve as something of a diploma piece. It was early in my career and it was a special honor to be asked to decorate at the show house. I was working really hard at being swell.

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  4. Notes: 1

    New York Transformed - the Architecture of Cross & Cross

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    The RCA Victor Building (now the General Electric Building) at 570 Lexington Avenue, New York City, built in 1931.

    New York Transformed: The Architecture of Cross & Cross by our friends and colleagues Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker arrived recently. It is a comprehensive monograph of Cross & Cross’s work, a firm known for their “reserved aesthetic that pays homage to Beaux-Arts while steeped in American tradition, focusing on stately, direct, and masculine structures in the Colonial Revival and Georgian styles.”

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    The George Whitney house (1930), 120 East 80th Street, New York City

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    One Sutton Place South (1927), New York City

    Their aesthetic is representative of important aspects of the architectural taste of New York in the 1920s and 1930s as demonstrated by commissions for One Sutton Place South and George Whitney’s residence. Other times they eschewed their reserved sensibilities in favor of modernistic designs as seen in their most well known structure, the exuberant RCA Victor Building (now General Electric Building) at 570 Lexington Avenue. It is a fine and engaging book which you all should purchase immediately.  

    Here follows some highlights from the book.

     

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    The RCA Victor Building (1931) as seen from Park Avenue 

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     Details of The RCA Victor Building (1931)

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    Tiffany & Co. Building (1940), 727 Fifth Avenue, New York City

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    City Bank Farmers Trust Company Building (1931), Exchange Place, New York City

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    Preliminary Sketches of the Interiors of the City Bank Farmers Trust Company Building (1931)

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    Guaranty Trust Branch (1918), 25 East 60th Street, New York City

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    Guaranty Trust Branch Main Banking Hall (1918), 25 East 60th Street, New York, NY.

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    Lee, Higginson & Co. Building at 41 Broad Street, New York City, (1929), and a detail of mosaic columns in the main banking hall below.

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    Further reading:

    Architectural Digest’s Q&A with Peter Pennoyer

    New York Times article on the book.

    Next week we will mount a further discussion on the architectural merits of Cross & Cross with a House of Details post on Chestertown House, the Southampton home of Henry Francis du Pont.

     

     

     

     
  5. Notes: 1

    The Low Table: The Emphasis of the Whole Room

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    A room we decorated in Southampton with a white linen wrapped low table.

     

    My thoughts on low tables are somewhat corroborated by Dorothy Draper in her 1939 book Decorating is Fun!. She describes a plain box of a room where she slipcovers the furniture in chintz, paints the walls watermelon pink and then carries the room with a pair of low tables:  

    The emphasis of the whole room is actually the two big coffee tables before the fire. They were specially designed with the tops of black Carrara glass, the sides and legs covered with dark bottle-green leather. The gleaming black tops act as a deep, inky mirror for anything that is placed on them.

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    Perhaps no other furniture form can make or break the success of a contemporary room than these tables, known alternatively as low, coffee or (what fun) cocktail tables.   

    This form first appears regularly in western interiors at about 1900 when Asian eighteenth and nineteenth century examples made their way west to furnish exotic chinoiserie interiors. To this day, they continue to be reinterpreted.

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     An example of an early coffee table — an extremely rare 19th c. rosewood ‘Coffee Table’ attributed to J. S. Lock of Collinson & Locke cabinetmakers, London, c. 1885, with intarsia inlay attributed to the sculptor Stephen Webb.

    I think low tables are pivotal because of their central location in rooms, most often in front of sofas. And, because they are small, they are easily perfected and often enriched.

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    The library of Brooke Astor’s New York apartment as designed by Albert Hadley (above and below) featured two antique Asian low tables.

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    In fact, the Asian examples still look great in today’s interiors because they often have added decoration, say a chow leg, or a lacquered surface. It is a fine day when a genuine old Chinese table made before the twentieth century can be found, such as this example we discovered some twenty years ago for a Southampton library.

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    By being extremely plain, good examples can provide a decorative foil in an elaborate room such as the one in Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s living room on the Rue de Babylone in Paris.

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    Image from The Private World of Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé by Robert Murphy

    We often use linen wrapped tables of parsons like form. I appreciate their color and simple lines.

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    A Parsons form low table in the sunroom of Julia Reed’s New Orleans home.

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    A Philip and Kelvin LaVerne waterfall low table has a clean silhouette but the surface adds texture and dimension.   A bridge between the simple and elaborate.

    Certainly, as Dorothy Draper pronounces, the lowly low table can be the emphasis of the whole room.