Last week, Scott Bromley, Jerry Caldari, and Tim Button shared their favorite American historic house museums and landmarked residences. Here are Laura Bohn, Barry Goralnick, and Bruce Bierman‘s picks.
LAURA BOHN: I fell in love with The Mount, novelist Edith Wharton’s summer residence in Lenox, Massachusetts, right at the front door. It’s simple and unassuming, as is the grotto-like entry hall, which lacks a grand staircase—an indispensable prop for most great lady hostesses of the time, who’d sweep down it in Gilded Age magnificence to greet arriving guests. Instead, visitors were taken to a side hall and led up a graceful but unpretentious staircase to the second floor—the piano nobile, as in an Italian palazzo—where Wharton would receive them in a long, light-filled gallery. But it was only when they were ushered into the adjoining drawing room with its gobsmacking views of the Mount’s fabulous gardens that the full glory of the house revealed itself.
The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts, Edith Wharton’s summer residence, which she co-designed and built in 1902 and occupied until she moved to Europe in 1911. Photograph: Kevin Sprague
Wharton designed the 1902 house in collaboration with architect Ogden Codman, Jr., her co-author on The Decoration of Houses, a pioneering 1897 book aimed at showing the taste-deficient American nouveau riche how to create classically restrained, timelessly elegant homes. (It’s still in print and could be consulted with profit by some of today’s 1 percent.) Wharton and Codman followed their own principles at the Mount, producing a house of such self-possessed distinction—grand but not grandiose—that it was landmarked in 1971.
Wharton designed most of the grounds herself: ”I am amazed by the success of my efforts,” she wrote with justifiable pride. “Decidedly, I’m a better landscape gardener than a novelist, and this place, every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth.” Looking at the beautifully maintained estate today, it’s doesn’t seem such an off-base claim.
The light-filled second floor reception gallery at the Mount. Photograph: Janet Knott
The drawing room’s French doors open onto an expansive raised stone terrace overlooking the landscaped grounds, which Wharton designed expertly herself. Photograph: Kevin Sprague
Edith Wharton’s boudoir on the third floor. Photograph: John Seakwood
In a Vogue fashion spread, model Natalia Vodianova plays Edith Wharton descending the double staircase from the main terrace to the garden. Photograph: Annie Leibowitz
BARRY GORALNICK: Fallingwater, the weekend retreat at Mill Run, Pennsylvania, that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the Kaufmann family in 1937, became super-famous almost immediately. In 1938 it made the cover of Time magazine, was featured in Life, got star billing in an issue of Architectural Forum devoted entirely to Wright, and appeared in countless newspapers and periodicals worldwide. It has never since lost its position as a preeminent icon of 20th-century architecture.
Probably the most famous 20th-century house in the world, Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1937 weekend retreat for the Kaufmann family, cantilevers out over Bear Run creek in rural Pennsylvania.
Given to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966, Fallingwater is now the only Wright house open to the public with all its original elements in place. Although its location is somewhat remote, Fallingwater is an essential destination for anyone interested in architecture. Smithsonian magazine included it in a list of “28 places to see before you die,” right up there with the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Great Wall.
The way Wright perfectly integrated his dynamic composition of concrete horizontals and stone verticals into the wild romantic landscape has to be seen to be believed. In the end, no photography, video, or description can do more than dimly evoke the extraordinary imaginative achievement the house embodies—you just have to experience it for yourself. It’s a wonder of the modern world that absolutely lives up to its billing.
To help integrate the house into the natural landscape, Wright limited its paint palette to ochre for the concrete and his signature Cherokee red for the steel elements.
The massive vertical core of the house, around which the horizontal concrete elements are arranged, is made of native Pottsville sandstone, quarried on site and stacked like layers of sedimentary rock.
The seating in the living area, upholstered in Jack Lenor Larsen fabrics, is among the 169 pieces of preserved custom furniture Wright designed for the house—a trove far bigger than that at any other of his residences.
BRUCE BIERMAN: Ever since it opened in 2001, the exquisite Neue Galerie New York has been my favorite house museum. Devoted to early 20th-century German and Austrian art and design, it’s located at Fifth Avenue and 86th Street in the former William Starr Miller mansion, a superb six-story Louis XIII-style townhouse completed in 1914 by Beaux-Arts architects Carrère & Hastings. In 1994 it was purchased by art dealer and exhibition organizer Serge Sabarsky (1912–1996) and his friend cosmetics billionaire Ronald S. Lauder—both connoisseurs of German and Austrian Expressionism—who commissioned Seldorf Architects to renovate the building and convert it into a museum.
The Neue Galerie New York, a museum devoted to early 20th-century German and Austrian art and design, is located at Fifth Avenue and 86th Street in the former William Starr Miller mansion, completed in 1914 by Carrère & Hastings.
The Neue Galerie is particularly successful for the way in which it juxtaposes paintings and decorative arts to immerse viewers and transport them back in time. The second floor houses fine and decorative Viennese art, including paintings by Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele and objects by the artisans of the Wiener Werkstätte. The third floor exhibits various German works from the same era, including Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and the Bauhaus.
The museum also regularly mounts acclaimed exhibitions—such as the current “Vasily Kandinsky: From Blaue Reiter to the Bahaus, 1910–1925“—chamber music concerts, film screenings, and even cabaret evenings. Plus there’s the terrific Café Sabarsky, with its reproductions of Josef Hoffmann sconces, Adolf Loos bentwood chairs, Otto Wagner fabrics,not to mention its excellent Viennese specialties like sausages, goulash, strudels, and chocolate tortes.
The entry and main staircase at the Neue Gallerie New York, whose interiors were renovated and converted by Selldorf Architects.
A trio of paintings by Gustav Klimt dominates a second floor gallery where they were installed as part of the 2011 Neue Galerie exhibition “Vienna 1900: Style and Identity.”
A dining room designed by Josef Hoffmann for Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler, as installed in the 2006 Neue Galerie exhibition “Josef Hoffmann: Interiors, 1902-1913.” Photograph: John Gilliland.