Edith Wharton built her home in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts in 1902 when she was 40 years old, five years after she had written the seminal design book The Decoration of Houses with architect Ogden Codman, Jr. This was the first text book I read when I attended design school and it’s a great book to re-read on occasion. The design of the house was based on the precepts she and Codman set forth in their book – those of a return to classical architectural virtues of harmony, proportion and symmetry. While Mrs. Wharton did consult with architects and landscape designers, she was the guiding force behind every detail of the house. In photographs, the mansion looks quite large, but in person, it has a very human scale. It was a time when many wealthy New Yorkers were building their summer “cottages” in Newport, RI – such as The Breakers and The Elms. Houses built on a grand scale – mini Versailles and American-ized European castles. The Mount was built for real living.
Originally set on 125 acres (now down to 49.5 acres), the house is set down a long winding lane. One first comes on the Georgian inspired stables, which is a beautiful building in and of itself.
The driveway winds through a naturalistic setting of lawn and wooded areas. The house eventually comes into view, snuggled comfortably into it’s woodsy setting.
Two statues face each other across the courtyard.
The simple double front door – very reminiscent of many European townhouse entries. A little step up and you’re in! (I do hope they do something about the bare lightbulb soon!).
Henry James (in backseat) joins Edith and Teddy Wharton and their chauffeur for a motoring tour through the Berkshires, Oct. 1904. (image courtesy of EdithWharton.org)
A quick walk around to the left side of the house reveals a lovely wrap around veranda. The classical form of the balustrade encases a gorgeous herringbone brick patio that is currently the side of the cafe. A lovely place to dine!
Can you just imagine Edith Wharton and her friend Henry James sitting out here, overlooking the Berkshire Mountains and enjoying their refreshments? The series of French doors open up to the library, living room and dining room (in that order across the back of the house).
Here is the center portion of the rear of the house with a great view of the stunning cupola. Mrs. Wharton’s bedroom was on the second floor, in this right hand corner. While she often put out that she wrote at a desk, she in fact did most of her writing in her bedroom, in the mornings, in bed. As she finished a page, she’d toss it to the floor. If she were around today, I’m convinced she be a blogger, laptop at the ready!
Don’t you just love the steps built into the lawn leading down from the veranda?
A view of the left side of the rear of the house. The building is built on a hill that runs up to the right, so the left side is perched on a stone foundation – which houses the lower kitchens, skullery and currently, the book store. A view from the left side lawn.
Edith Wharton sold the house in 1911, having lived there for less than ten years.
Stay tuned for my posts on the interiors to come!