Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Postcards from Newport: Little Treasures

We spent an afternoon in Newport last Friday, after stopping to see Green Animals, a topiary garden and house museum in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. I'll have postcards from the garden later. In Newport we saw two Preservation Society house museums. We always like to visit Kingscote, a Gothic Revival house with an unusual Arts and Crafts dining room designed by Stanford White.

We also visited Chepstow for the first and last time. While the house itself is 19th-century Italianate, we should have paid more attention to the mentions of "mid-century" and "contemporary" in the Preservation Society's brochure. While the house has fine antiques and paintings dating from the family's Colonial–era ancestors, the overall atmosphere is "Trapped in the '80s with My Overpaid Decorator."

As the tour guide discussed the blatantly patriotic red-white-and-blue color scheme of the formal rooms, I kept getting a creepy feeling that the last owner — whom I imagine as an 80-ish grande dame with a lacquered blonde helmet and too much cosmetic surgery — was just around the corner, sipping a Manhattan and jingling her charm bracelet. While I enjoy visiting house museums that mingle several generations of family furnishings and tastes, I seem to draw the line somewhere before the 1960s. Chepstow looks like every rich old lady's house from the past few decades — you can tell too much money and effort went into creating its sumptuous "informality," and the ghost of Laura Ashley is always lurking somewhere, too.

I realize that it's prescient of the Preservation Society to keep this house as it is, as a prime example of overprivileged feminine taste in the late 20th century. I'm trying to be enthusiastic about it (can you tell?). Someday soon, all the ancient, distinguished, opera-loving trust-funders will be gone, and their padded chintz upholstery, dog oil portraits, and needlepoint cushions will land in their grandchildren's dumpsters.

We parked our car in town and walked to the house museums about a mile away. Newport has a wealth of interesting domestic architecture from the late 17th to the 21st centuries, with especially elegant and/or fanciful houses built from about the 1860s to the 1920s, of course, when the town was a summer destination for Society. Wandering around is the best way to find them.

We spied this picturesque gate and had to look in:

A lushly landscaped pathway led to a small, English-style stone cottage with a slate roof and hexagonal chimney. I'l take it!

Not far away, we found this delightful stone house with windows that "make faces" on its little tower:

Gee, I'll take this one, too! I'm not sure if these houses were once gatehouses for larger mansions or if they were built as small "storybook" residences, but you will be hard-pressed find such elegant little fantasy houses anywhere in the Boston area, especially in stone.

On the lower end of Bellevue Avenue — the opposite end from the great "cottages," you'll find the Hotel Viking (1 Bellevue Ave.), a stately five-story brick hotel built in the 1920s. We've eaten lunch there, and I'd happily spend a night or two upstairs. When we're in town, we always go in just before the ride home to use the restrooms. On this visit, we found dispensers of iced cucumber water and lemonade in the lobby, so we took our drinks to the rocking chairs on the shady veranda.

Across the street is a row of colorful commercial buildings:

These two buildings are the Hydrangea House Inn. While I've read that there aren't many original details left within, I'd like to stay there, too. In fact, there are lots of really lovely inns and hotels in Newport. Inn-hopping could be even more fun than visiting house museums. Someday...

1 comment:

  1. I too love the little stone gate houses.. They are wonderful.
    Your descriptions of the old grande dame furniture hitting the grand children's' dumsters is so funny, partly because it is so true.
    Your last photo of the yellow and pink place.....YUCKY color scheme. That place is terrible next to the nicer one on the left. Oh well, gotta try to stand out somehow.


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