April is the Cruelest MonthI hardly know where to start. At first, when there was little promise of spring we were buoyed a bit by the thought of the latest Stately Home by the Sea 2015 Show House. As all our British Cottage aficionados know, we love a show house. However, over the years as the buy-ins became more expensive and our belts less expansive we have opted for more peripheral roles: loaning designers product and glamming up the admissions area.
But this year when Norm Hungerford, Chair of the Landscape Division and Master Landscaper Extraordinaire called and asked if we would like to tackle an outlying area, a vine covered pergola on the periphery of a fabulous secret garden, he basically had us at hello. Never mind that we had to traipse in through several feet of snow and chase away a herd of deer; the space was amazing...over fifty feet of vine covered pergola with a brick floor, all weathered and mossy--we thought we were in Sissinghurst.
The burning question for us was, how would we design this outside space? At British Cottage we are all about interiors. However, we did have in the warehouse a fabulous 9' teak table and then along the way we'd bought some mostly indoor but still a bit outdoor rattan furniture that looked like the crazy expensive version sold at the chichi Treillage in Manhattan and next thing you know we were on a roll. All we needed was to gather together a slew of oversized blue and white Chinese porcelain jardinieres a la Carolyne Roehm and another dozen or so terracotta pots of holly and white azaleas. Our inspiration there came from Alan at Sciliano Landscaping who had successfully taken on the challenge of the Secret Garden, transforming it from a deer haven into dearest heaven with mass plantings of box, ferns and perennials. It was all happening.
If you have never done a show house then you have no idea of the work it takes. At the aftermath meeting one of the officials said, and I think he thought he was being complimentary, that the homeowner, who had been planning to sell the house, thought after seeing all that had been accomplished, that he might like to stay. No wonder... after thousands of hours of planning and months of sanding, staining, wallpapering, painting and furnishing in order to execute the dream rooms of not one but several dozen designers, of course, the house was transformed. And not only the house, but the gardens...This house had it all: formal gardens, lily ponds, porticos, and lawns and they were all transformed, by hard labor, into visions of beauty.
For me, I think, part of the attraction of a show house is that for a moment in time, a few months at best, you get to be part of a life style you, or at least I, will never enjoy. Homes made for staff: elevators, sleeping porches, deep water pools, tennis courts, butler's pantries, silver closets, and maids' quarters. It is like being in Downton Abbey live. So after the fire, and the loss of this beautiful home and all that time, energy and money there was some speculation that this is the end of the show house. Somehow I think not. There will always be designers who cannot resist the opportunity to decorate an extraordinary space on their own terms and demonstrate their vision and talents to an appreciative audience.
What might have been...