The contrast between Edith Wharton’s aunt’s house, Wyndcliffe, and her own Berkshire “cottage”, The Mount, could not be more extreme: decaying Victorian Gothic indulgence as opposed to restored (or in the process of being restored) and restrained American neo-Classicism. Even before Wharton penned her fictional bestsellers she wrote a popular interior design manual with her friend and collaborator Ogden Codman, Jr., The Decoration of Houses (1898), and The Mount fulfilled her vision. There have been some obstacles and challenges in its ongoing restoration over the past 15 years, but on this beautiful August morning it looked bright and cheerful and orderly. By all accounts, Wharton considered The Mount to be her first real home, and it seems like such a shame that she only spend a decade in seasonal residence, from its construction in 1902 until the break-up of her marriage and departure for France in 1911.
Our vivacious guide kept referring to the house as English in inspiration and style, and I suppose it is: Wharton always proclaimed her admiration for the Georgian style above all others. But The Mount felt very American to me, in that assimilated, melting-pot way: Georgian house, Italian gardens, French courtyard. None of the original furnishings are in the house, so contemporary designers have recreated an updated Edwardian ambiance inside, adhering to the original finishes and arrangements whenever possible. I did like Bunny Williams’s dining room, but I was more drawn to the original features of the house no matter how mundane: hardware, the “trunk lift”, the unrestored scullery in the basement.
Less decorative license was taken upstairs in the private rooms of The Mount, including in what is arguably the most important room in the entire house, Mrs. Wharton’s bedroom, where she did all of her writing, in bed. She would write every morning, numbering her pages and casting them to the floor, where her maid would pick them up and send them off to her secretary to be typewritten. She loved little yapping dogs, whose presence is felt by the placement of stuffed animals around the house and a pet cemetery out back.
Private spaces made public: Edith Wharton’s bedroom and adjacent bathroom.
The Mount, Plunkett Street (off Route 7), Lenox, Massachusetts.
Because I was having a completely indulgent day (one in a series), after my morning at The Mount, I stopped on the way back to my inn to pick up that must-have publication of the season, the September issue of Vogue Magazine. I opened it up, and there she was: Edith Wharton in Vogue! Or model Natalia Vodianova playing Edith in residence, in an 18-page article and spread entitled “The Custom of the Country” by Colm Tóibín with photographs by Annie Leibovitz. There was Edith/Natalia ensconced where I just was, along with various actors, authors and models playing members of her inner circle who were regularly invited to the Mount (Henry James, Walter Berry, Theodore Roosevelt, her landscaper niece Beatrix Farrand, and sculptor Daniel Chester French–whose home I also visited yesterday). A happy coincidence.