Do you remember seeing the most recent release of the movie Sabrina starring Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond and Greg Kinnear? Admittedly a chick-flick, it shimmers like a fairy tale come true. Opening scenes are along the north shore of Long Island, NY, focusing on an estate that required many hired servants to keep the mansion and grounds in immaculate condition for the extra-wealthy Laraby family.
You may remember the love triangle and how Linus (Ford), who has no room in his appointment book for love, steps in to court Sabrina (Ormond), the chauffeur’s daughter, who has distracted his brother David (Kinnear) and is therefore threatening to ruin a business deal. Of course, Linus finds his heart in the end (right after his running scene) and confesses his adoration to Sabrina, who has taken up residence in the world’s most romantic city: Paris. The lifestyle of the rich and super-rich is also the focus of this enchanting movie—those who work in the city where they make their millions, but live in the country, in high style and in fabulous surroundings.
Nor are the Laraby’s the only members of the upper crust to enjoy country living. In real life there were the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies and the Rockefellers, to name a few, whose city mansions overlooked Central Park, but whose country estates were equally breathtaking.
A glimpse into the past becomes reality today at notable restored museum homes such as the summer cottages in Newport, RI, which include The Breakers, Marble House and other fabulous estate mansions. These and many others formed a fairy tale-like goal for many of America’s aspiring nouveau riche. To have an estate home was considered the ultimate goal in life. The Newport Historic Preservation Society has kept several mansions opened to the public and, with one ticket, entrance to all is a day’s event never to be forgotten.
Yet another country estate in America that should be on everyone’s to-see list is the fabulous Biltmore Estate near Ashville, NC, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, who also designed several Newport cottages and New York mansions. All of the floor plans for these homes could be measured not in square feet, but in square acres!
These homes were designed to be true to their European prototypes. The Biltmore is a French Renaissance chateau; Breakers is Italian Renaissance; Marble House is French Neoclassic; and the William Randolf Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA, is Spanish Renaissance, although Hearst customarily referred to it as “the ranch.”
These estates are filled with purchased treasures from Europe and were stages stunningly set for gracious entertaining. All re-quired the services of hundreds of hired help. Today, dedicated employees still keep these and dozens of other open-to-the-public estate mansions in America in excellent condition to preserve the architectural treasures that they are. Every design professional will find inspiration and motivation to do a better job after visiting these museum homes. Planning occasional vacations so that visits to these homes in your destination city or vicinity is worth the effort, and perhaps may provide some educational tax benefits (consult with your tax professional).
Estates also are a lifestyle much sought after when we think of our European neighbors who make up the “landed gentry.” As we contemplate the country gentleman and his lady who own their estates in Europe, from England to France to Italy, we conjure up images of marvelous architecture from the very formal English estates to the provincial French chateaux to the Italian Tuscany villas.
Each of these homes has a distinct flavor of its own, so a list of guidelines
on how to achieve the look would be dependent on which home you desire
to emulate. Yet all have some things in common:
• Good design and graciousness in all aspects of architecture and lifestyle.
• Larger scale and commensurate luxury.
• Sweeping views outside or exquisite beauty inside.
• Finite attention to detail in architecture and all furnishings.
• Lavish use of textiles, fine rugs and wall coverings.
• Marvelous window treatments—some with stunning detail.
• Accessories appropriate to the period or style and perfectly selected and placed. This includes greenery and the ever-present fresh floral arrangements.
TOWN AND COUNTRY TREND IN AMERICA
Could this lifestyle—much scaled down, of course—reflect a trend for the upper- and upper-middle-class American family who is financially secure today? Probably so.
We see a trend toward more people who prefer country or suburban living
at a slower pace and with fewer demands than city living exacts. If we
were to list the advantages of country estate living for the super rich,
it might read like this:
• Peace and quiet. Less noise from external sources.
• Privacy and seclusion. Guests are invited; security is a priority.
• A single attached dwelling—a house with a generous yard or gardens.
• Upscale (costly, stylish) furnishings, all selected with discriminating taste. These are carefully coordinated with matched wall and window textiles or much custom design.
• Individuality of lifestyle and furnishing style—formal or informal, often based on European originals.
APPLYING ESTATE STYLE TO SUBURBIA
Could this list also apply to many of our clientele who live in the suburbs and perhaps commute to work? It certainly could, and does. The look of the estate is both town and country. Town because it’s sophisticated, mature, educated, experienced, traveled and exposed to the finer arts in the world; country because its formality may be optional. A more relaxed lifestyle is less pressured.
This look can be achieved even in a home with a small yard—for that matter, even in a condominium with no yard. This is possible because it is based on furnishing elements and style. The look of country France, of country England, or of historic America can be achieved. It is wonderful when that country home setting is beautiful, or when the home overlooks a park, a golf course, a lake, or a wooded tract of land. Certainly beautiful settings enhance the estate look of town and country.
Ideally, to create the treasured look of a country estate, you’ll have the opportunity to advise on wooden or tile floors covered with lush Oriental or folk area rugs, rough stucco walls and ceilings for the more rustic settings or smooth walls where wall coverings will be the final result. But even if the lush grounds are lacking, the interior can be planned to create the town and country look.
It can be done all at once, all furnishings ordered and installed, or it can be part of a long-term plan. Whereas many estates originally were planned to be completely furnished upon completion, many others were furnished according to a master plan, one item at a time, until the look was complete. You also can help clients this way today—furnish all at once, or work out an item-by-item approach to furnishing. This is quite possible because, unlike so many fads that come and go, the look of a country estate is based on classic, established styles that will be beautiful and in style for many years to come.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.