Still Fearless After All These Years

This past weekend I attended Edith Wharton’s 150th birthday celebration.  I was expecting maybe 40 or 50 people.  Instead, there were about 400 of us.

We all gathered at Edith’s American home in Lenox Massachusetts to drink wine, tour the house. view the grounds and celebrate the birthday of this remarkable woman who continues to inspire interior designers, writers, movie directors and us ‘common folk’ alike.

The Mount, aptly named for the view it commands of trees, formal gardens and a lake in the near distance, was what Edith called her “first real home”, built entirely on the principles she developed with her young architect friend from Boston, Ogden Codman.

These fundamental principles are set out in The Decoration of Houses, first published in 1897 and still in print today. The Mount is where you can see the advice in that book put into practice.

A corner of the drawing room

This was my first visit to The Mount, and the main thing I came away with is that Edith practised what she preached.  If you’ve seen or visited the Newport mansions built simply as ‘show houses’ by wealthy industrialists in the early twentieth century you would be struck by the contrast with the Mount – because it feels like a real home. Built to be lived in and loved.

We’ll come back to Edith and her homes many times on this blog, but I don’t think it’s by accident that the visitor to the Mount takes away a sense of this house having been built, not to impress anybody, but rather, with the comfort and convenience of its owner in mind.  And if you keep that goal in mind, says Edith, “the easier our rooms will be to furnish and the pleasanter to live in”.

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