Friday, May 8, 2015

Charlotte Moss with the ICAA

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of hearing Charlotte Moss speak for the Mid-Atlantic ICAA in Georgetown at the historic Dumbarton House. The Federal styled house, built in 1800, has been a museum since 1928 when it was bought the the Colonial Dames of America.
The house is kept accurate to the time of its building and is a hidden gem here in Georgetown. Not to be missed are the beautiful gardens which are somewhat eclipsed by their famous neighbor up the street, Dumbarton Oaks.
Moss spoke about her latest book, her 9th, Garden Inspirations. Her lecture was so witty, inspiring, and surprisingly down-to-earth that everyone left if not ready to garden, ready to travel and see some of the sights she shared with us! She said time and again that the book isn't a gardening how-to; you won't find planting lists or how deep to plant seeds. Rather you will find inspirational photographs of beautiful gardens and how to use their blooms both inside and outside of your own home.  She believes that everyone may not have a garden, but they can still be influenced by them.
 Moss's appreciation of gardens has changed over the years. She started loving the classic English Garden, which is so influential here in the USA because of our climate. She loves their beautiful flowers but found the style to be high maintenance; difficult for a city dweller who only visits her garden on the weekends. Even with help in the garden she prefers to be very hands on.
After giving up on her dreams of a English styled garden, she moved onto the more formal French gardens, famous for their symmetry. She was also drawn to the style for their love of the sculptural tree, 'No one can shape a tree like a Frenchman' - except perhaps Bunny Mellon whom Moss spoke about at length.  The third favorite garden type she spoke about was the Italian, rare in the USA where our climate is not hospitable to the plants, but if one learns abundance from the French, one can learn ease from an Italian garden.
Collaboration in her gardens in East Hampton are important and Charlotte designed hers with professionals -namely Lisa Stamm and her architect husband Dale Booher. Garden festivals are one of Moss's passions and she travels the world exploring these functions. She may not be able to bring the plants home but she can talk to the gardeners and pick up tips and ideas. They're also generally hosted in some of the most beautiful gardens in the world.
Charlotte spoke personally about her love of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home, which she visited first as a 4th grader in Richmond, Virginia, and fell in love with the house and gardens. That love continues to this day as she is on their board of directors and helps in the care of this important site. She believes in historic preservation as one of the most important cultural institutions we have, as do I, because it preserves how people have lived through different times. We can always learn from the past, and as it turns out, from gardens. One can also learn from Charlotte, who encourages us all to ' Do something mad... you can do anything you like with your own house, who cares what anyone else thinks'!
I highly encourage you to grow your collection of Charlotte's inspirational tomes, with the addition of Garden Inspirations and go out there and do something MAD!
Images from Garden Inspirations by Charlotte Moss.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

John Russell Pope's McCormick residence -Embassy of Brazil

This past weekend was the annual Embassy open house (Passport DC) and I headed straight for the Embassy of Brazil. Not because I love Caipirinhas but because the mansion was designed by master Architect John Russell Pope for Robert McCormick in 1911.
Here is the house as it appeared in 1911 after completion back when this area of 'embassy row' was nothing but farmland outside of the city. The house has a unique siting on a triangular lot which creates a very grand entry sequence from Massachusetts Avenue.  I think that is what has always intrigued me about this Italian High Renaissance styled Villa, so I was excited to finally get a chance to get in (along with 1,000s of other curious Washingtonians!).
The vintage photograph and these floorplans come from one of my favorite books which I've mentioned before: Mastering Tradition, the Residential Architecture of John Russell Pope by James B. Garrison.  As with all Italian Villas the house has a piano nobile plan, ideal for the city with cars whizzing by on Massachusetts Avenue (on the right hand side of the plans).
The rooms are spacious but the plan is more of a house than a large mansion. Notice how the public spaces are kept very separate from the private spaces. In order to access the upper levels where the bedrooms and family quarters are, one has to go up a tiny side stair which at first glance of the plan appears to be for servants. This is why houses like this become great embassies! Ambassadorial duties can be performed downstairs with the family housed in their own private apartment out of the way.
True to any Pope designed structure the limestone facade is a very cleaned up form of Classicism. This simple classicism inspired some of the best works of the early 20th century.
Every detail is carefully planned and thought out. Notice how the watertable which runs around the entire building (the limestone ledge) runs past the basement window well, not disturbing the line.
The house appears exactly the same as it did in 1911, down to the shutters on the bedroom level.
These marble bowls of fruit were found throughout the gardens, dozens and dozens of them. A sign of hospitality perhaps?
The details are incredible -all done in limestone.
I love the ball detail where the metal bars intersect.
The planting has become full and lush lending privacy to the house which is on a very exposed site.
This side porch off the library is where Mr. McCormick planned on smoking his cigars. Unfortunately he didn't live long in the house before passing but his wife remained until 1932. After her death it was sold to the Government of Brazil, including all of the contents, so that it retains a lot of the original furnishings.
Brazil has been an excellent caretaker for this beautiful house!
Now shall we go inside for a peak of the public spaces?
The interiors are eclectic and range from a number of periods, typical of many houses of the time.
The beautiful plasterwork in the entry and the faux painted walls continue up the grand marble staircase to the public rooms.
Even the stair niche has niches! I wonder if they ever held anything? The vase is probably 6'-0" tall.
Here you can see how the stair-rail dies into the wall -a rather odd detail but it works and is executed very neatly.
The elevator door features this charming little porthole. I had never seen something like that before other than on a service door.
The ornamental plasterwork continues on this level.
Everything clean and tidy -amazing for a house that is over 100 years old and in public service.
A close up of the faux painted plaster walls -painted to resemble stone blocks.
These lovely sconces light the stair landing.
The main salon measures 60' long and 25' across -an amazing room for entertaining!
Check out those amazing chandeliers and again all of the crisp ornamental plasterwork.
As Mitch Owens commented on my Instagram feed, the curtains are somewhat skimpy -but I like the color they add to the spaces, keeping them from being too cold.
Chandeliers with little shades like this may be one of my favorite things -not sure why. I have them in my own dining room on a much less grand scale!
The small salon operates as a more private and intimate space and features a dining table, probably used by the family as a family room.
Each room naturally features a fireplace or two!
The dining room features an unusual Tudor plasterwork ceiling. I've never seen one with the design picked out in a dark paint but it really is a nice detail.
The original bronze hardware throughout the house is gorgeous.
The table was elegantly laid for a meal. Oddly though the dining room doesn't have a chandelier but is rather lit by lamps on all of the sideboard surrounding the room; Dining by candlelight.
Notice the scale of these rooms - that is a standard 7'-0" door. Also notice the decorative tape surrounding the grasscloth wallpaper.
The library on the ground level features a scenic wallpaper (Zuber?) and beautiful 2nd empire furnishings.
I loved the Egyptian influence in all of the furniture.
We were serenaded by an excellent jazz band.
I can't get enough of this wallpaper!  I've said it before and I'll say it again, sconces are the best lighting source for a room. They add beautiful detail and the quality of light is the most flattering.
I know this last picture isn't the best but I loved this clock and had to share it. I hope you enjoyed this little tour of John Russell Pope's Brazilian Embassy with my snapshots, it really made my weekend!