Have Boiserie Will Travel, Before, After, and After

The drawing room of a friend's apartment in the Pulitzer mansion, as decorated for him by Natalie Davenport of McMillen, Inc. in the 1960's
 I continue to rummage through my old clip files, revisiting favorite sites, remembering old friends.  Yesterday, I found one about a singular apartment in New York's Pulitzer mansion, created by a kind friend many years ago.

While at Yale, he had considered studying architecture, but felt he lacked the math--- he was passionate about houses and decoration---as well as music, but that is outside the scope of this post.   Throughout his lifetime, he made many contractors, real estate brokers, architects and decorators very happy.  I believe that there were over 30 houses and apartments over the years, usually two at a time.  The decorating firm of McMillen alone handled 17 commissions for him.  There were at least five by the brilliant modernist master Ben Baldwin.
Main Hall of the Hoyt cottage in Southampton
He had been brought up in grand surroundings.  In summer, his parents occupied the palatially scaled former  Hoyt estate in Southampton,  Winters vacations were spent in Palm Beach.  His father, to make work for the unemployed during the depression, had bought the Tiffany Mansion on Madison Avenue, and demolished it in favor of an elegant apartment building, the first built in New York since the crash of '29, and and also considered the last great  pre-war building.  The architects were Rosario Candela and Mott Schmidt, and the family occupied a 21 room duplex on the top floors.  It was during this process that his passion for his surroundings were formed.

After his parents died, he inherited a large collection of fine English portraits and Georgian furniture typical of the rich Anglophiliiac taste of the day.  The collection, even after division with two siblings, amply furnished his apartments in New York, including a handsome duplex on Fifth Avenue just downstairs from a young couple named Von Bulow.
His parent's Romney portrait, as seen in the dining room of his former wife's apartment on Park Avenue, also by McMillen
After a divorce, his parent's Gainsboroughs, Romneys and Raeburns went to his former wife's apartment on Park Avenue, and our friend, giving outlet  to his taste for something French, bought an apartment  formed from the former soundproofed bedroom suite of Joseph Pulitzer, on the second floor of the publisher's former mansion by McKim, Mead, & White on East 73rd St.  Measuring 26 x 36, the beautifully proportioned main room was what particularly caught our friend's eye, large enough for his Boesendorfer grand, and for entertaining for the various good causes he supported.
 The mezzanine bedroom in the Pulitzer house apartment, as done for our friend by McMillen (top), and for the next owner by Denning & Fourcade (bottom)
Finding the McKim, Mead and White interior not to his taste, he commissioned his decorator, Natalie Davenport of McMillen, to find an 18th century boiserie in France.  Once located, it was brought to this country, along with French craftsman to install it.  Then the fun of furnishing began.  These rooms were as far from the age of Aquarius, then dawning,  as the best upholsterers and painters in New York could make them. When finished, it was the ne plus ultra of the rich taste of the era, recalling the apartment, also by McMillen, for the Henry Fords, and the Wrightsman rooms at the Metropolitan Museum, which were then being decorated by Jansen of Paris, who also supplied many of the modern furnishing pieces used in this commission.
The lacquer bed (from McMillen Website)
 The octagon room, as decorated for our friend by McMillen, above,
and Denning and Fourcade's version for the new owner, below
The octagonal room was hung with silk of an indescribable shade of pale peach, and was centered on the most extraordinary lacquered bed imaginable, supposedly made for the Brighton Pavilion, an attribution shared with almost all Chinoiserie furniture of the early 19th century.
His parent's Romney, as seen two or three moves later in our friend's new apartment by Benjamin Baldwin
Needless to say, our friend grew architecturally restless, leaving the Pulitzer apartment for awhile, trying out two modern apartments on 5th Avenue, a summer house in Connecticut, another in Maine, a small chateau in France, then moved back to the Pulitzer House apartment which he'd kept through it all.  He then resolutely switched to modern, eventually winding up in a sublimely reductionist apartment nearby, with interiors not by McMillen, but by modernist master Benjamin Baldwin.  Here, after his former wife's death, his parent's English portraits also came to roost.
The library of the new apartment.  Two more moves later, the Cleve Gray was taken to a new summer house in Maine.
The story of the Louis XVI drawing room doesn't end here, however, nor does that of the bed.  The Pulitzer house apartment changed hands, and the new owner, also a philanthropist and arts patron, desiring something cosier, brought in Denning and Fourcade, who brought in  their signature mix of densely patterned rich fabrics, and, while keeping the McMillen curtains, refashioned it as an interior in Le Style Rothschild, redolent of the fin de siecle.  The former bedroom, now a dining room, was a particular horror.

The Drawing Room, McMillen version
New owner, same old curtains--the Pulitzer House drawing room in its Denning & Fourcade drag.
After a few years, the new owner wearied of this heavy opulence (I myself would last about 3.2 seconds in a Denning & Fourcade interior before I'd have to be taken, screaming,  to a monastic retreat to sooth my shattered nerves).  In 1986, Patrick Naggar was called in, degilded the boisierie, hung new  curtains, and gave the room a luxe French Moderne touch.
The drawing room, in its post Denning and Fourcade mode. The chandelier remains the same
As for the Prince Regent's lacquer bed, it followed our friend, sans canopy due to lower ceilings, to  a country house in Connecticut, and another apartment on Fifth Avenue, before being sold to another royal, Mario Buatta, the Prince of Chintz, who I believe sleeps in it to this day.

 Mario Buatta, at work in the lacquer bed, de-accessioned by our friend.

All McMillen photos, from 'The Finest Rooms by America's Great Decorators'
Denning & Fourcade and Patrick Naggar Drawing room photos, Edgar De Eviva & Lizzie Himmel, New York Times Magazine, January 31st, 1988
Denning & Fourcade Bedroom and Dining Room, New York Magazine, n.d.
Mario Buatta Bed Sketch, Konstantin Kakanias for the New York Times.
Baldwin decorated apartment, Architectural Digest by Peter Vitale, September 1979.
Hoyt Villa Hall, Architectural Review


Italian Villas on the Maine Coast: Partying with Atwater Kent

Sonogee, the main gate
In the late 19th century, some of the major works of the Shingle Style were erected in Bar Harbor.  By the turn of the century,  the Italian villa, creamy stucco with a red tile roof and arched loggia or courtyard--inappropriate though it may seem for the Maine climate and landscape--had displaced the turreted and shingled as a favorite for fashionable cottages in that resort   At least a dozen sprang over the first ten years of the new century on the hills and shores of Bar Harbor, including the neighboring trio of Eegonos, Buonriposo, and the present subject, Sonogee, built for Fifth Avenue Hotel heir and honorary Princeton researcher Henry Lane Eno in 1903. A New York Times article mentions a pagoda adjoining the drawing room as a unique feature, but no evidence of this has surfaced in old photographs.
Sonogee, Ocean Front, 1920's view
Unlike its Buonriposo and Eegonos, its similar neighbors to the north on Eden Street, Sonogee did not enjoy long ownership by its original builder.  Temporary financial reverses forced Eno to sell the house in 1911 to prominent stockbroker Lyman Kendall and his wife Ellen, the daughter of Governor Ballantine of Idaho. (Feel sorry not for Eno--- a few years later, his fortune revived, he moved to England and lived out his days at lovely Montacute House in Somerset).  In 1916, The New York Times reported that the Kendalls had expensively altered the interiors from the 'modern' to Italian renaissance.  These improvements included a marble staircase and hall. 
Sonogee.  Stair Hall
Sonogee. Upper stair hall
During World War I, Mrs. Kendall opened Sonogee as a hospital for recovering soldiers . One of these soldiers was Major Matthew Roberts, an American serving with the British Royal Flying Corps, and by 1918, the New York Times was reporting the Kendall's divorce, with Mr. Kendall marrying singer/actress Betty Lee, and Mrs. Kendall marrying the Major.  In the divorce settlement, which the Times called one of the largest ever at the time, Mrs. Kendall received the couple's Park Avenue apartment, an annuity of $100,000 (a lavish income in an era when a servant's wages were $5-$10 a week), $1,000,000 in cash, and Sonogee, valued by the Times at $2,000,000, including furnishings (unlikely).
Sonogee, the drawing room, with faux stone wall (the door with opener bar dates from Sonogee's brief time as a museum
Mrs. Kendall did not linger at Sonogee after marrying her Major, and in 1919 sold the house to the Frederick Vanderbilts of Hyde Park, who in 1915 had forsaken their Newport cottage, later owned by Doris Duke, for the simpler social pace of Bar Harbor.  Mr. Vanderbilt had a long history with Bar Harbor, having first visited with his parents, the William Henry Vanderbilts in the 1870s.  His late brother George, of Biltmore fame, owned Pointe d'Acadie, one of the largest estates in the resort, with grounds by Olmstead, and their niece, Mrs. Shepard Fabbri, owned Buonriposo just north of Sonogee.  The Vanderbilts commissioned Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul to make minor alterations to the house. in 1920.   With the house renovated to their liking, the Vanderbilts arrived each summer on their steam yacht Vedette, until Mrs. Vanderbilt's death in 1927, when Mr. Vanderbilt sold Sonogee to inventor and radio tycoon, A. Atwater Kent.
A guest room at Sonogee
The Master Bedroom, 1940's.  Note the Venetian blinds drawn against the spectacular ocean, island, and mountain views.  And how about those curtains?
The new owner, who had recently closed his giant companies,was about to embark on a new life as socialite and party-giver.   On the eve of the depression, Sonogee became Party Central for the new set in Bar Harbor.  Kent had fashionable architect Frederick Rhinelander King freshen up the old Renaissance pile, shearing off the porte cochere in favor of a copper hood in the Regency style, heavy renaissance mantels were replaced with Georgian and 18th century French models, and the solarium received a tented ceiling.  
Sonogee. Newspaper photograph of reception room
Kent famously did not like to drive the same car two days in a row, and a local architect was brought in to rebuild the carriage house with space for a dozen cars, a car wash and machine room,and a motorized turntable in the center to aim cars to the right location in the vast room.  Above were 16 bedrooms for  staff, and a caretaker's apartment in the lower level. 
Sonogee.  The garage, Horace McFarland, architect

Kent then bought the adjoining Robert Abbe estate, Brookend, across Duck Brook and joined it to Sonogee.  The original Abbe cottage was a large shingle style cottage by William Ralph Emerson, that had been added to in typical haphazard fashion ever since.
Brookend, also owned by Kent, adjoined Sonogee
Kent modernized Brook End, and joined its grounds to Sonogee's by converting the former mill pond at Duck Brook, which separated the two properties, to form a large naturalistic  swimming pool.  At the head of the pool, facing the ocean, he built a stylish cabana, also by King, with changing rooms, kitchen, and a near ballroom size entertaining space.  The roof and walls of the cabana were covered in red and cream striped canvas, echoing the colors of the houses, and giving the whole a jaunty Riviera air.  With the stage set, Kent was ready to party, and party he did, on through the depression, even as many of his fellow resorters were cutting staff and boarding up their cottages.
Sonogee, one of the formal gardens.  This garden was backed by a decorative wall shared with Buonriposo, the cottage of Frederick Vanderbilt's niece, Mrs. Fabbri, next door.
A perusal of the society columns of the day tells the story---almost daily---Mr. & Mrs. Atwater Kent entertain 20 at Dinner", "Atwater Kent gives Luncheon in his cabana at Sonogee" " Mr & Mrs. Atwater Kent entertain Archduke Franz Josef and wife with dinner dance at Sonogee"  "Two orchestras, one on yacht, one in house, at Kent party in Bar Harbor", and on it went, until the eve of World War II.
Sonogee.  Wrought iron garden gate.  Social Spectator, August 1937
By World War II, Kent had left Mrs. Kent and the children behind, and decamped for Bel Air, California, where he partied on until his death, known as 'Mr. Host'.  Sonogee was sold to industrialist Richard Wetzel, and Mrs. Kent and son stayed on at Brookend, which was torn down at her death.
Sonogee.  Ocean front, c. 1970
After Mrs. Wetzel's death, Sonogee was purchased by local family, the Colliers, who operated it for a couple of seasons as a tourist attraction.  The results were disappointing, and the Colliers sold the furnishings at auction, and converted Sonogee to a nursing home, adding large wings, and shearing off the upper two floors.  The marble staircase survives, leading nowhere.

Sonogee.  Ocean front as it appears today, shorn of two upper floors
Sonogee.  Present day view of Drawing Room.
NOTE: Despite its size and luxury, Sonogee was admittedly less than an architectural masterpiece.  This fact was underscored for me this morning as I logged onto Old Long Island , where is posted the far more masterful H.H. Rogers cottage at Southampton, a house of similar size and composition which was one of the most admired of its day.


Gropius Down East

In 1947, Arnold Wolfers, a noted political scientist who had emigrated from Switzerland. a few years earlier to take the post of Master of Pierson College at Yale, and would later become director of the Center for International Relations, built a summer house on a wild and lovely stretch of ocean front at the end of Naskeag Point in Brooklin, Maine.
View from the West
For their architects, the Wolfers went to Harvard, choosing The Architect's Collaborative (TAC), the socially idealistic partnership formed by Walter Gropius and seven other young architects, including Benjamin Thompson, who was simultaneously remodeling a large summer house for his mother and her partner in nearby Blue Hill (we'll follow the Thompson thread, an interesting story, in a future post).
The entry breezeway, looking out to the bay
Dr. Wolfers and his wife Doris were a cosmopolitan couple, and this house, with its gull wing roof and glass window walls, was radical for the time and place.  Locals and summer residents alike compared the house unfavorably to a factory or a school.  Walls and ceilings of clapboards, painted the gray of a foggy day, further blurred the distinctions between outside and inside.  The house was furnished with examples by the modern masters, creating a seamless aesthetic.
The Living Room
After retirement, the Wolfers moved full time to their Maine house.  The open breezeway was enclosed, the house was doubled in length, adding a new sitting room and bedroom suites.  The Wolfers brought their elegant traditional furnishings and art collection from their Washington house.  Mrs. Wolfers, a fabric collage artist of talent, made the modern house her largest canvas, with wonderful objects from many centuries and cultures--french chairs, Italian brocades, Chinese porcelains, Greek bronzes, tribal rugs, modern paintings, all  playing richly against the modernist framework of the house.  I'm sorry I don't have pictures of the house in that era.  The look recalled the deMenils in Dallas, and spoke wonderfully of a cultivated mind and discerning eye.

The height of modernity, 1948.  It was a simpler age.  The floor was red marmoleum.

Embarrassing Personal Anecdote:  Long ago, at a dinner party at this house, we were taking our places at table.  Graceful 18th century candelabra on the Bruno Mathsson table lit the summer evening.  Everything gleamed. The soup had been laid, ready for us to begin.  Across from me was the uber-elegant wife of an ambassador---don't be impressed, he was a Reagan era ambassador to a minor country, one far smaller than his ego---and after helping the lady next to me with her chair, I sat down.   As I did, my tie, an elegant number of whisper light silk from Barney's, took flight and defying gravity for a  moment, gently, gracefully, landed in  the cream  of avocado and pea soup, slid across and landed ,with its soggy green load, in my lap.  I am still haunted by the look of suppressed mirth on the face of Mme. Republican Ambassadress.  I continued to be invited back. however....and always, to this day, hold my tie to my chest as I sit at a table.....
I buy less expensive ties nowadays, too.

All Photographs from House & Garden, May 1948


Money Used to Go Further: # 2

The White Pine Bureau,  a joint effort of the Northern Pine Manufacturer's Association of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and the Associated White Pine Manufacturers Association used to sponosor architectural competitions to promote the use of white pine in building.  The entries for some of these competitions were then published in Architectural Review.    Held in 1917, this particular competition was "Design for a White Pine House to Cost $12,500".   Judging was held at the Greenbrier in its pre-Dorothy Draper days.  Such competitions were a good way for a young architect to get his work before he public---although I seriously doubt that many of the entries could have been built for the money even then.   Adjusting by an inflationary factor of 20, for today's cost it would still be difficult.

Herewith a few of the designs, and some observations about the sources used by the young competitors:

The White Pine Bureau, through their White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs, a promotional series which documented important early American wooden buildings, played a large role in spreading the popularity of traditional American styles in the first half of the 20th century.  Therefore, the Prairie style house above, by Russell Barr Williamson who had spent a few years working in Frank Lloyd Wright's office, is something of an anamoly.  In regards to another Williamson entry in a 1918 White Pine competition, the judges, who included William Adams Delano, had this to say: "This type of house, though somewhat outré to Eastern eyes, has distinct merits, both from the point of view of practicality and picturesqueness." 


$12, 500, Huh?  I don't think so, not even 90 years ago.  That's a lot of expensive millwork indicated for the very conventional house above, which won First Prize in the competition --- the White Pine Bureau clearly had a preference for traditional designs.   But what an improvement over the 'Colonial' builder spec McMansions  that have populated new suburbs in recent years.  The architects, Winston Risley and James Perry Wilson, were Columbia trained The partnership apparently did not continue.  Risley went on to design houses for the Rancho Santa Fe development in New Mexico during the depression, and James Wilson became a painter of note.

I thought this interesting design was channeling Albro & Lindeberg, and sure enough, the architect, Herman Brookman, had worked in their office before becoming one of the most prominent architects of the Pacific Northwest. (My father used to tell me that someday I'd break my arm patting myself on the back congratulating myself.)

I could find little about Messrs. Scarf & Yewell, but they clearly borrowed from Edwin Lutyens here, and applied his famous facades to a more conventional floor plan. (Help, my Lutyens books are not at hand, and I forgot the name of the house that inspired this design.

 This Hollywood Regency design was submitted by Milton Rogers Williams of Highland Park, Michigan, about whom I could find nothing.   I'm interested to see that he has used Montebello, a famous and now lost Federal era country house near Baltimore as his inspiration, but given the formal design a casual rusticity with his use of batten board siding contrasted with elegant details.  Below, Montebello, the house that inspired the design.

Coming up in the Down East Dilettante, more posts about houses in New England & Maine:  Gropius Down East, The Third Mrs. Astor,  Atwater Kent's Party House,  A Favorite House,  Progress on the Dilettante's New Store,  A Friend's Boiseries, and more.



Working on several posts about nifty houses, nifty objects and not-so-nifty oil tanks to post over the next few days, but until then,

 How much fun is this stacking china, featured in today's New York Times Home Section?  Just call me a sucker for a gimmick, especially if it's black white, and graphic all over.


Rooms in Maine: The Wyeths

 Here is a room from my clip files---a stark early 19th century keeping room, a romanticized version of a past that never was, glorifying the humble, beautiful nonetheless. I don't remember where this was published, but for some reason, I think it was Vogue, about 20 or 25 years ago.  It is in the summer of home of the late Andrew Wyeth in Cushing, Maine.  I'm not a huge fan of Wyeth's art, cultish, faux mysterious, sentimental, manipulative, but I do like the clarity of vision here---country without the cute---weathered surfaces catching the  sea light outside, uncompromising palette.  I  admire the aesthetic rigor that it takes to produce a room like this,  be it modernist, minimalist or colonialist, but myself, I'm afraid that I'm forever being seduced by a continental mirror, a pretty lamp, or my friends' demands for comfortable seating when they visit....no Shaker-like purity for me.

Oh, Look!  Shiny object!



I treasure this tattered photograph of a young woman in summer dress, leaning against the rocks on the shore, her Kodak Brownie at the ready, gazing into the future. The location was her future mother-in-law's cottage.  The day was her 20th birthday, a warm day in late May 1921.  The young man who took the photograph would become her husband two years later.  They were my grandparents.  Sixty-seven years later, he still carried this photograph in his wallet, and as my grandmother was pleased to point out, never forgot Valentine's day.

Happy Valentine's Day.