30.12.09

'SKYLANDS' BEFORE MARTHA

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.
Entrance Front
The paneled two story entrance hall leads into this living hall, with a fireplace carved of native pink granite.
The 30 x 50 living room
Dining room.
The superb terrace which overlooks most of creation
Most of creation, as seen from the terrace
Pergola Terrace off Living Room

The Playhouse, with squash court

8 comments:

Blue said...

The hall, a living-hall I suppose and a 19th century idea, is lovely. Cavernous, certainly, but looks as it it would be welcoming in any season. The living room is another matter. Very interesting! Thank you.

Ggamer509 said...

Thank you for sharing the beautiful photographs/brochure and also some of the history of Skylands. I am a docent at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan and am always looking for info on the family and their wonderful sense of style and design. Skylands is a remarkable house and a true reflection of the sense of welcoming, family and, most importantly, home that was so important to the Fords. As you mentioned, we also enjoy the magnificent landscape architecture of Jens Jensen and are preparing to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth this year with special tours accentuating his vision for and of the Estate. Nothing can compare though to the breathtaking landscape of Skylands!

Anonymous said...

glad to see you will be doing the Aerie. one time when visiting Thuja Gardens, we were talking to the curator and mentioned we had been lucky enough to be there on one of the too rare days when the rockefeller gardens were open. the Thuja curator said, " yes, thuja shows what you can do with a lot of money and the aerie show what you can do with a shitload of money" so i look forward to the post on that.
one day when i was panning miz martha, my girlfriend said i should take into account that she had probably done more to revitalize a moribund home decorating field than anyone in the modern age. as in all other things girlfriends say, she was of course right. once you get past all the kitschy arts and crafts projects, miz m does project the ultimate in good taste to the masses like me.
PACK RATS - TURNER, MAINE

Sarah in Tacoma WA said...

I happened upon this post when searching for photos of Skylands and really enjoyed seeing the pictures "before Martha." I also love the old postcard photo. Is that a postcard you own?

Thanks again for taking the time to scan these images, they are such a rarity. I'm glad you saved the brochure! In all my searching these were the only photos I hadn't seen before.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Thank-you Sarah!

Part of the fun of blogging is that one can indulge in little concentrated discoveries, and share information.

Decor Arts Now said...

And this one will be a link on Decor Arts Now. Super fun post. I hope to pair it with a sky lands after Martha Stewart link/ post. So fun!
Lynn

Dovecote Decor said...

Nice pile of rocks!
Best,
Liz

Tom Sheaffer said...

I was excited to discover these photos and the information about Skylands. I am a retired architect and car collector who reveres the legacy of Edsel and Eleanor Ford.

Under Edsel's direction, the Ford Motor Company created some of the most beautiful cars of the 1930's, and after Edsel's death in 1943, Eleanor carried on as a patron of the arts in Detroit. I visited their home in Grosse Point Shores several years ago.

Now that I live in Florida, I want to find some information about their winter home in Hobe Sound.