These advertisements for interior decorators date from the 1910's, nascent years of the profession as we know it today.  Some of the names still resonate, others are long forgotten.

Tapestries and Medival ironwork, and faintly ecclesiastical furniture were all popular motif of the era

At the end of the second quarter of the 19th century, Herter Brothers ruled the field.  By 1918, the original partners were dead, it's distinctive style was distinctly out of fashion, and as Herter looms, the firm was attempting to capitalize on the taste of the day.

One easily sees why some have lasted in reputation and others have not.  I leave the reader to form his own opinion

Yet more tapestry, needlepoint chairs, and the rich Georgian atmosphere so beloved by the bankers of the day.  It became almost the official style of the Long Island set of the era, and the Hampton Shops were among the chief purveyors of the goods required for the look.

Mrs. Muchmore, 'Consulting Decorator' of Hollywood and New York.  Too perfect.  One yearns to see examples of her work.  For much more about the wonderfully named Minnie Muchmore after she moved to Hollywood, click HERE

Elsie de Wolfe.  Need I say more?

And last, before there was Eleanor Brown, there was Miss Swift, purveyor of controlled, edited, highly luxe interiors for the elegant and the fashionable.  I'm not social historian enough to know when the four hundred became five hundred but it says so below.  Miss Swift's elegant showroom was an early work by Mott Schmidt (thanks to the ever-surprising Ancient for the head's up)


MONEY USED TO GO FURTHER, # 3: Bar Harbor Property Taxes 1903

In the course of researching a story about the Vanderbilts in Gilded Age Bar Harbor for today's New York Social Diary, I came upon this little tidbit in the July 3rd, 1903 New York Times.  Here in down east Maine, late Winter is when the annual Town Reports are released, and absolutely everyone indulges in the voyeuristic sport of seeing how much their neighbors paid in property taxes in the preceding year.  Apparently it has been ever thus:

Naturally, I found this entertaining, and since I had far more important things to do, I decided to match those long-ago taxpayers to their houses instead.

Tax assessing has always been something of a mystery to this Dilettante, and this list was no exception.  It include several of the grandest estates in Bar Harbor, and left out several others.  Four of the cottages, Vanderbilt, Dorr, Kennedy and Morrell, sat on properties of 20-35 acres, and had many support structures---gatehouses, gardener's cottages, greenhouses, stables and carriage houses.  Most, as is typical in many resorts, sat on smallish lots of 2-4 acres, with perhaps a carriage house or lodge.

Pointe d'Acadie, the main house on the George Vanderbilt estate.

'Islecote House' at 'Pointe d'Acadie', the cottage occupied by Mr. Vanderbilt's niece, Mrs. William Jay Schieffelin, designed by Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, nephew of the poet.
A rights-free image could not be found of 'Whileaway', also designed by Longfellow, the third main cottage at George Vanderbilt's 'Pointe d'Acadie'
Total Tax Bill 1903:  $3,200.
The main house at George B. Dorr's 'Old Farm' off Schooner Head Road, designed by Henry Richards  (click HERE to see the porch at the left today)
Tax Bill in 1903,  $2,390
Augustus C. Gurnee's 'Beaudesert' on Eden St., designed by William Ralph Emerson
Tax Bill in 1903, $1,369
Charles T. How's 'Guy's Cliff', designed by W. Jordan, was next door to Beaudesert on Eden St.
Tax Bill in 1903, $1,263.
George S. Bowdoin's 'La Rochelle' on West St., designed by Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul.  
Tax Bill in 1903, $980.

John Stewart Kennedy's 'Kenarden Lodge' designed by Mrs. Kennedy's nephew Cornelius Baker's firm, Rowe & Baker, on Main St.
1903 Tax Bill, $2,280.
Joseph Pulitzer's 'Chatwold' by designed by Rotch & Tilden, with tower by McKim, Mead & White at right,  on Schooner Head Road.
1903 Tax Bill, $2,198.

John J. Emery's 'The Turrets', designed by Bruce Price, sat on Eden St. next door to 'Guy's Cliff'.  1903 Tax Bill, $1,375..

Edgar Scott's 'Chiltern' designed by A.W. Longfellow, on Main St., a few doors down from Kenarden Lodge.
1903 Tax Bill, $2,451.
Edward T. Morrell's 'Thirlstane' formerly the R.B.Scott cottage designed by William Ralph Emerson, sat on the largest property, 35 hilltop acres on Eagle Lake Road.  1903 Tax Bill, $1,046.
Charles Allen Porter may well have been one of Bar Harbor's biggest taxpayers in 1903, but he and his real estate eluded all attempts at identification.

Robert P. Bowler's 'Corfield' on Eden Street, designed by Rotch & Tilden.
1903 Tax Bill, $1175.
 Alexander J. Cassatt's 'Four Acres' designed by Chapman & Frazer, on Eden St., two doors of Corfield, and later the summer home of the E.T. Stotesburys.
1903 Tax Bill, $1175.
J. Montgomery Sears's 'The Briars', designed by William Ralph Emerson, was later the birthplace of Nelson Rockefeller, and still later, summer home of Evalyn Walsh McLean and her unlucky diamond.
1903 Tax Bill,  $1200.
One wonders if the article just selected these few, as there were many other houses in Bar Harbor grander than some on the list, one example being Major George Wheeler's 'Avamaya' on the highest summit in town.

'Avamaya', renamed 'Blair Eyrie' by later owners
Having wasted enough time on this silliness, I continued.  I searched the Bar Harbor assessor's site to find out how the properties were assessed today.  This was not as easy as it sounds, for most of the houses referenced have been demolished or were destroyed in the 1947 Bar Harbor Fire, and the properties are mostly abandoned or subdivided. today.  Hence some, like the Vanderbilt and Morrell estates, were impossible to reconstruct for comparative purposes.

The three surviving properties offered some basis for comparison to their 1903 valuations:

Kenarden Lodge retains its original 26 acre property and outbuildings, and is still residential.  The 40 room main house was torn down in the early 1960s and replaced with a (relatively) smaller house on the same site.  The current tax bill on assessment of 7,177,900 was 67,759.  This tracks about right if one accepts a suggested adjustment factor of around 30 from 1903 to 2011 dollars, and a bargain compared to similar property on Long Island.
Gate House at Kenarden Lodge
'The Turrets' is now owned by the College of the Atlantic. Since 1903 it has lost its large stone and shingle carriage house to the Bar Harbor fire of 1947, and sits on 2.41 acres of land, and the cottage has gross square footage of 28,686 sq. ft. of which 18,825 is  living space. The house, used as an administration building, was slightly enlarged after 1903 by the addition of a third floor to the servant's wing (one can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many servant's bedrooms. Sadly, none of these apply to me).  Valuation in 2011 was 4,851,000.  Measured against Kenarden, with its main house gone, the Turrets, in much shabbier condition and without its significant carriage house, seems to have maintained parity with Kenarden from the 1903 assessments,  
The Turrets as it appears today.
Incidentally, College of the Atlantic is the recipient of the Dilettante's 2010 Bad Preservation Award, for removing the original granite wall, iron fence and magnificent iron gates, the finest in Maine, which were a significant landmark on Eden Street for over 100 years.  The College was a 2008 recipient for a willfully insensitive renovation  of 'Sea Urchins', a highly entertaining and idiosyncratic cottage designed by the seminal firm of Rotch & Tilden, given them by an owner who doubtless expected better. In fairness, The Turrets, abandoned for 25 years after the original owner's death in 1953, would not stand at all if the college had not saved it, and thus the college also has a Lifetime Achievemetn Award for that effort..  Although that does not excuse the removal of the gates.

La Rochelle had the biggest discrepancy between 1903 and 2011 valuations and parity.  I suspect that this is because the cottage was probably still under construction at the time of the article. According to the assessor's report, the house sits on two acres has 41 rooms on four levels with 13,392 square feet of living space.  The current valuation is 5,369,000.  The house was donated by the family of its last private owner, Campbell's Soup heiress Ethel Dorrance Colket, to the Maine Sea Coast Mission as their headquarters.  It is a three time winner of the Dilettante's Bad Preservation Award, for removing elegant French windows on the entrance front, and replacing them with blank panels topped with single panes of glass.  They also built a pre-fab 2-car garage in the service court, removed several hundred feet of iron fencing, and removed two of the sculptural tall chimneys essential to the architectural composition.  Although they did not have enough money to repair the chimneys, or worse, just didn't care, they did find the money to re-landscape the entrance court.  Obviously some well intentioned soul thought it was too formal, and replaced it with a 'natural' composition of boulders and shrubs.  

La Rochelle as it appears today.  The cedar trees replace iron grill fence
Good intentions are often the enemy of good design.  I like naturalized clusters of rocks and shrubs just fine, but not when they replace the carefully integrated design intent of the architects and landscape designer, in this case the great Beatrix Farrand.  Context is everything.  This was not one of those cases in which an interesting aesthetic tension was achieved between formal and informal elements.  Rather, it was just dumb.  On the plus side, the Mission did receive the Dilettante Good Preservation award once, for realizing their mistake with the French windows and putting them back.  (For Pete's sake guys, if it ain't broke, don't fix it).  One has to have seen this property when still in private hands to appreciate the sad decisions made since then.

But I've wandered far from the point.  Be sure to check out this week's piece in New York Social Diary (Click HERE)

And to read the Dilettante in a completely different vein, click HERE for a story  in the current issue of Portland Monthly, about a lost mid-century building in Down East Maine with ties to the early days of Design Research. (the article opens on a full-page kitchen ad.  Just scroll down)


ANOTHER SIDE OF MAINE: An Early Carpenter's Simple House

As one approaches our town on Route 15, one rounds a bend along the shoulder of the 'mountain' and drives past a grove of beech trees, barely changed in my lifetime (but for the addition of an unfortunate steel storage building), that marks the beginning of the downhill descent to the village. After a long road trip, it is the moment that one knows one is home.  At the left is Mountain Road, and on each corner an early house.  The uphill corner is occupied by an elegantly conceived cape with an octagonal entry porch, and dormer with arched window above, the down hill corner by an old yellow farmhouse, now the headquarters of the local land trust, stewards and protectors of the front slopes of the mountain above.

The road downhill from Mountain Road to the village, c. 1900
This yellow house, also unchanged in my lifetime, is happily kept so by the Trust,an admirable echo of their policy on the 5,000 acres of land they steward on our peninsula. But appearances can be deceptive, and the house, which appears at first glance an ordinary Victorian farmhouse, is actually much older, a remodeling of a tiny Federal era house, and it holds several secrets.

It was built around 1815, on what would then have been a lonely bare hillside, by a housewright named William Carleton.  Built into the slope, its lowest level is thought to incorporate an 18th century cabin already on the site.  This space contains an early kitchen, unused and barely touched for most of the 20th century, in effect a time capsule, shreds of mid-19th century wallpaper clinging to the simple red-painted sheathing underneath.  The 1810's were a moment of prosperity in the hardscrabble 19th century history of our village---several of the elegant, Federal style houses there, with their lovely doorways were built in these years---but it is clear that Mr. Carleton did not  share in this prosperity.  

In an early  building contract, Mr. Carleton agrees to finish two rooms and upper and lower halls of a house for $34.53.
Early photographs of Mr. Carleton's own home bear evidence of a hard New England life----one thinks immediately of Ethan Frome, or the poorer villagers and farmers of William Dean Howells or Sarah Orne Jewett novels.

This first photograph probably dates from the 1880s, and shows a house untouched by time, already old, faded, worn. 

It is interesting (to me at least---you the reader will either have to ride along or jump out of the car now) to zoom in closer and contemplate the many details in this next picture.  At the windows hang simple panels of fabric, one drawn up to let in light and air.  There is no screen at the open window.

In front of the house, stands an elderly man, likely either Mr. Carleton or his son, wearing the costume of more than half a century before, tricorn hat and homespun jacket.  Behind him sunflowers grow in front of the small-paned windows with wavy glass. To the left of the vestibule, a complicated homemade gutter is seen, ending in a wood spout whose high placement suggest that a rain barrel would have been placed below it to collect water.
There is a huge woodpile stacked in anticipation of a long Maine winter.

The shed rested on the enormous granite slab that formed the ceiling of the enclosed underground spring, probably cut and hauled down from the mountain above.  Notice the 'make-do' nature of the siding---narrow claboards, wider boards, and finally, split cedar shingles

The small shed at ground floor level harbored a secret, quite unlike anything else I have ever seen in an early house.  Down a flight of stairs to an underground level, one finds oneself in a tiny chamber.  The walls are blocks of rough cut granite, the ceiling a granite slab which would have been the floor of the shed above, perhaps once used as a still room or buttery.  The floor of this underground underground chamber is another slab of granite, with a hole in the center, giving access to an underground spring.  However utilitarian its purpose, this cool, damp, quiet space is as mysterious as a Druid cave. (and for the life of me, I cannot at the moment find my photo of it, lost somewhere amongst the thousands).

In the early 20th century, the rise of photography made many things possible, and 'real photo' postcards of one's home, printed directly from glass negatives, were very popular. Miss Kate Carleton, the spinster daughter of the house, posed for her postcard, sitting in a Model T with an unidentified gentleman.  Against the shed is a buggy, soon to be obsolete, and beside them, a horse, clearly contemplating the new contraption that will soon render him obsolete.

When we zoom in on this photograph, we find that Miss Carleton, aunt of the village doctor, holds a large plump cat in her lap.  One doubts that the cat remained for the drive, and the wild expression on the man's face could be interpreted either as madness or 'let me out, of here,  neither the old lady or the cat know how to drive and she's got a gun'.  In these two photos, 20 or 30 years apart, we have spanned a century from Mr. Carleton in his tricorn hat to his granddaughter behind the wheels of a mode of transportation that he could not even have imagined when he built the house.

Footnote:  The town's first settled minister, Jonathan Fisher, also worked as a surveyor to supplement his meagre pastoral stipend.  This is his survey of the Carleton property.  Interestingly, no structure is shown,  raising the question whether it is not true that there was an existing 18th century cabin, or if it was thought so insignificant as to be not worth indicating.

Photographs from the collection of the Blue Hill Heritage Trust