Saturday, January 17, 2009

Happy Weekend!

It's spelling bee time at Grey Gardens; Stay warm, everyone!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Belmont Mansion

The Belmont mansion, now home to the Order of the Eastern Star's International Temple, is located on an unusual triangular piece of land at 1618 New Hampshire Avenue here in the Dupont circle neighborhood of DC. I've always been fascinated by this building because of it's unusual footprint. a photograph from when the mansion was completed in 1909the mansion seen in the 1920s, behind an old firebell
The mansion was built in the Beaux arts style for Perry Belmont by the French architect Ernest Sanson who did the most grand mansions in France of the time period. Horace Trumbauer was the state side representative who was also the architect of the Elms in Newport, RI that I blogged about last year (you can read the post HERE, it is my favorite mansion in Newport).
the gated entry todaya side view along 18th streetone of the rear rounded corners
The odd shaped lot was $90,000 (a lot for land alone back then!) and the house cost $1.5 MILLION to build and was completed in 1909. The interiors are extremely ornate to this day, so I'm not really surprised at the cost. The home was the headquarters for this past year's Dupont Circle house tour so I was able to see some of the interiors.
the ground floor entrythe grand stairway to the piano nobile
Belmont was a congressman from New York and later became the ambassador to Spain. The house was used to entertain while he was in DC for the winter season. In 1925 Belmont sold the house to the Masons for just $100,000 as he was a member. What a deal as it barely covers the cost of the land!
The plans are fascinating in the way that Sanson dealt with the odd shaped lot. The entry is at the tip of the triangle, making for a very grand entry (a true beaux-arts ideal). Much of the front of the interior is open creating a grand hall and staircase, leading up to the piano nobile and public rooms (technically the '2nd floor'). What is unusual in this plan though, is that the bedrooms for the family are all located on the ground floor - unheard of in those days! The servants rooms are all up in the mansard roof (hidden by a parapet) on the 3rd floor. The main floor
The ground floor plan which has the family and guest bedrooms.
Pics courtesy of NCinDC on flickr

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Harbor Hill - new blog header!

In case you haven't noticed, I've finally found a blog header. Thats important to me, my blog has felt naked all along! What do you think of it? The image is by the famous architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White, of their project for C.H. Mackey, Harbor Hill. Stanford White was the architect of note and it was the largest home he ever designed.

The house, on Long Island, was built between 1899 and 1902 for Clarence Hungerford Mackay as a weekend/summer home 20 miles east of New York City. The Mackay fortune was from a silver strike in Virginia City, Nevada found by Clarence's father, John William Mackay. John later invested in telegraph and cable companies to gain a fortune estimated at $500 million by 1902 when he died and left everything to Clarence.The house was a collaboration between Standford White (architect) and Clarence's wife, Katherine Duer Mackay. She asked White for books about French chateaux and then later sent him a sketch of a proposed first floor plan with the suggestion he study the Chateau de Maisons by Francois Mansart (1642), seen below. White followed through and based the design on this chateau with a mix of other influences. The house was so expensive that multi-millionaire Clarence wrote White ,"don't suggest any statues of any additions, as I don't want another thing at all"

The original estate was originally comprised of 688 acres. The landscape architect Guy Lowell was brought in to do the landscape. The tallest hill on long island, overlooking hempstead harbor, was flattened to create a view from the back terrace, seen above. I guess they just don't build them like they used to!
Unfortuantely the house and stables were demolished (by hardcore dynamite!) in 1947. The blog, Old Long Island, which I love, has featured the existing estate 6 times. Today the property has Roslyn High School, Roslyn A.N.G. Station and a housing development. The stone main drive entry still exists, now leading to the town pool which utilizes the old entry gate as a snack stand! The water tower, designed by Mckim, Mead and White, stands in the middle of the housing development. An original statue of a horse and rider is now at the front of the Roslyn High School. Four equestrian statues designed by Henri-Leon Greber were saved and sent to Kansas City, Missouri where they are still located in the Country Club Plaza, seen here below.
Clarence's life reads like a soap opera. Besides divorcing his wife in 1914 (she ran off with his doctor in 1910, also leaving the children) -he gained and lost fortunes and befriended fascinating celebrities. His 2nd wife was the opera singer Anna Case whom he wouldn't marry till his first wife died in 1930, despite beginning to date her in 1916 because of his strong catholic faith.
The one thing Clarence Mackey is known for to this day is donating the Mackay trophy in 1911 which is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space museum here in DC. The award is given each year by the United States Air force for the 'most meritorious flight of the year'
There is a book about the estate, which I have not seen that you can find HERE on Amazon.

You can see great vintage photos of the interior online HERE

History about the house and the family can be found HERE

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Mercer Museum

I've already blogged about Fonthill and Mercer Tiles, so now I thought I would show you the showcase of Henry Mercer. Built shortly after his home, Fonthill, he started work on a museum to house his numerous collections of art, tools and Americana. It is a museum, essentially, to the 'hand-made' everyday items that industrialization was pulling us away from. Before we had cars, stereos, ipods and mass-produced clothing and furniture, society had the items displayed here.The building is even more striking than his house. Constructed between 1913 and 1916, the museum reaches 7 stories. An open center atrium was designed to suspend large items and float them for guests to view. Small rooms and alcoves are off the main space with smaller exhibits. Where to look?! Interesting things everywhere! You could spend days here.Of course the building is built entirely of reinforced concrete, same as his other projects and contains over 50,000 artifacts!! The building was created a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

So much to see that it's hard to take it all in!!Here is a fireplace in the museum covered with the famous Mercer tiles.Unlike his home, these windows are framed RIGHT into the concrete, not into wood!

Again -you can visit the museum's website ONLINE. If you are ever in the Philedelphia area, you must visit! It's also a daytrip from NYC as a 2 1/2 hour drive.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In the Pittsburgh Post Gazette!

MacKenzie Carpenter wrote a really interesting article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (my home town!) about some of my favorite bloggers (including me) and the fate of the shelter magazines. Check it out online if you get a chance HERE. One small correction though, I'm actually 28, not 27!
Thanks to the very sweet Heather at Habitually Chic for recommending me to MacKenzie!

ANOTHER dinner.....

Are you sick of these table settings yet? It's just fun for me to share! I had a small, informal movie night & dinner last night for a friend (hi Alex and her mom!). As it was a workday with very little time to get ready, I just used the crockpot for the meal and set the table in just 5 minutes when I got home. I try to keep the silver and china all handy, so it can be taken out at a moment's notice. It just makes even a simple dinner an OCCASION!I bought these new gold thread & linen placemats at pottery barn today ( 75% off!) to make the table less formal than a tablecloth. The same antique irish linen napkins as usual, grandmother's silver, my minton dinner plates and my favorite (use it daily) cuckoo pattery by wedgewood for the salad plate. I think it came together nicely! Instead of candles, I just used my small alabaster lamp (sort of like an old fashioned dinner club!).
We watched the Venus Beauty Institute -a WONDERFULLY fun French movie from 1999 that you should all check out (starring Nathalie Baye and Audrey Tautou). I wish you could all have been there!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fonthill - a dream house realized

Last week I wrote about Mercer Tiles (read the post HERE) and thought I would share a bit about Fonthill, the home of Henry Mercer (renaissance man!). Fonthill was built between 1908 and 1912 as a realization of Mercer's dream. It took 8 workers and a horse named Lucy to finish the house of reinforced concrete. You can see the arts & crafts movement very strongly in the design. It is stepping away from industrialization and towards a simpler time when everything was made by hand. If you came upon this house, you would think you had stepped into the english countryside and found a home that was built and added upon for generations. It has 44 rooms, 18 fireplaces, 32 stairwells and over 200 windows; Big dream house!
What other type of house would you expect from a gifted tile-maker, archeologist, academic & writer, collector of primitive building tools and architect who was a pioneer in the field of reinforced concrete construction (thats a mouthful!)
As it is concrete in a far from friendly climate, you can see the patchwork that is neccesary to keep the house in one piece due to the freeze and thaw cycles; I think this just adds to the charm though. I love the red painted window frames, don't you? They add so much!
If you were to build your dream house, what would it look like, like Fonthill perhaps?
Visit Fonthill's official website HERE.