Wharton lead a curious life for a woman of her time and position in society. In addition to her writing, an unconventional occupation for 'a lady' of her day, she traveled extensively. While the girls are currently at camp, Mr. H and I have decamped to the Berkshires for a few days of exploration. Day One included a visit to The Mount, the house in Lenox, Massachusetts that Wharton built as a refuge and which was inspired by houses she had seen in Europe.
Wharton originally hired her great friend, Ogden Codman, to design the interiors of The Mount - they had co-authored The Decoration of Houses - but she soon decided his taste was too extravagant and a short time after hiring him asked him to leave the project in the hope of preserving their friendship and her financial stability.
The interiors and many of the furnishings in my grandmother's house in Rhode Island were also designed by Ogden Codman (my green bookcases are his work) and although his work on Wharton's house was cut short, I recognized several Codman signatures in The Mount.
The library holds two-thirds of Wharton's personal collection of books. After her death the contents of the library were left to two god-sons in England where one-third was destroyed during World War II. The remaining books were returned to the house almost 100 years later in 2006 following its substantial restoration. The design of Wharton’s library echoes her philosophy that the primary decoration of this room should be its books.
Wharton's boudoir, designed by Codman and which she used as an office, is the most elaborately decorated room on the bedroom floor. Extensive research prior to the house's restoration guided the selection of paint and fabric.
While publicity photos exist of Wharton writing at her desk, the fact is that she did most of her writing in bed accompanied by the small dogs that were like children to her. As they were married for companionship rather than love, in addition to the fact that Teddy Wharton suffered from mental illness, the couple never had children of their own but raised a number of dogs that are buried in a small plot on the grounds. The portraits above the bed are of Wharton's father and two brothers.
The gardens at The Mount are a compact exhibit of beauty and European-influenced symmetry. It was in Lenox that Wharton penned Italian Villas and Their Gardens. Her belief that "gardens should be divided into rooms and planned in concert with the house and the natural landscape" is readily apparent.
Behind the house there are two distinct garden rooms connected by a lime walk. The following photos are of the Italinate walled garden - cool and shady.
The lime walk.
At the other end of the walk, the sunny flower garden and dolphin fountain.
Wharton referred to The Mount as her "first real home" and many of the precepts of architecture and design that she wrote about are evident here; it is a significant part of her autobiography. As it is sited in a beautiful location in the heart of the best antiquing in Western Massachusetts, a visit to The Mount is the perfect getaway for anyone interested in art and design. More information on the house and grounds can be found here.