Tuesday, April 21, 2009

historic house tour: dumbarton oaks

Honestly. Really. We could not have picked a more perfect day to see Dumbarton Oaks. The weather was divine and the gardens bursting forth with loveliness. It was all we could do to drag ourselves indoors for a house tour. But, as we had managed to get ourselves on the list for the elusive once-a-week tour, we were determined not to miss it!

The house and property were purchased in 1920 by Mildred and Robert Bliss. The original 1801 Federal-style house was greatly altered in the late 19th-century, and while the Blisses undertook an extensive renovation to bring it back to the spirit of its original form, it is really more of an early 20th-century construct. The interior is an interesting mish-mash of styles, incorporating the Bliss's collection of art, furniture, textiles and historic interiors (including a massive 16th-century stone mantelpiece from France, and Jacobean wood paneling from England, among other things). They worked with Armand-Albert Rateau, a Parisian designer, to meld everything together into a modern living space. Beatrix Farrand was enlisted to help design the extensive gardens, a combination of formal and informal, each flowing easily into the other. And then there is the orangery, which was built in the early 19th century, and was likely inspired by the one at Wye House. The Blisses also amassed an extraordinary collection of Byzantine and pre-Columbian art, which is now housed in a museum on the property (including a small wing designed by Philip Johnson).

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