Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Old Long Island Estates: A surviving James W. O'Connor Playhouse

Long Island is famous for its Gilded Age Estates, immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald and chronicled, with vigilance by Zach L. in his blog Old Long Island.  The American Country house movement was propelled by the tremendous fortunes earned in steel, railroads, shipping, coal and oil. Vanderbilts, Whitneys, Phipps, Morgans, Pratts, Graces and Hearsts, to mention a few, erected spectacular weekend estates in Nassau County as private country clubs. Palatial homes in every idiom sprouted with architectural stables, polo fields, and Playhouses. Architect James W. O'Connor  cornered the Playhouse market. A Playhouse is a separate house, containing an indoor tennis court, occasionally a swimming pool, guest rooms, and a large gathering living room overlooking the tennis courts. This Playhouse survives today, and is one of the few private Playhouses remaining in the country.

This is an exterior photograph, from the family archives, depicting multiple elevations. The first landscape architect on this estate was Olmsted, of Central Park, followed by Ferruccio Vitale.

The exterior of the house today.  
O'Connor, educated at Columbia and The Ecole des Beaux Arts, was known for his colonial style using 18th century Georgian models. He was equally at ease with Tudor, Gothic, French, Manorial, and Italianate vocabularies. 

As an Irish Catholic, James W. O'Connor's entree to the social elite came through the patronage of his childhood friends within the W.R. Grace shipping family. His commissions grew steadily with his magnificently scaled manor houses, yet Playhouses were his oeuvre. 

The same ornamental facade from the old estate days

Many of the ancient trees on Long Island Estates were brought over on barges from Connecticut with the innovation of maintaining the large root ball intact. Ferrucio Vitale adhered to classical geometric principles in his designs, combining circular and rectangular elements with cross axes and interconnected parallel spaces. See the aerial view below to see how the pool is visible from both the main and Playhouses. 

The aerial view provides insight into the scale of the Playhouse relative to the main house. The second owners were heirs to the Jello fortune, and I would say their motto: "There's always room" must have resonated. Vitale's outdoor rooms are well defined, and illustrate his intention of creating a "gentleman's farm." In the top left hand corner, orderly gardens for vegetables and flowers provide sustenance and beauty for the estate. The greenhouse, practically invisible is above them. 

 The entrance to the tennis courts is a simple back door. The balustraded roofline is an O'Connor signature. The door opens directly to the right of the lower sitting room. 

"I tell you what. You slip away first. I'll meet you at... The indoor tennis court. ..." 
Sabrina Fairchild

O'Connor tennis courts have a signature double gallery with substantial ornamental mill and ironwork defining their space. 

The family has maintained the Playhouse with many original features, including the old furniture that came from the previous owners. Old coal boilers, large enough for a man to walk into, have been replaced by modern, efficient heating. It used to cost $10.50 an hour to heat the tennis courts for a match. The price is now $1.50. Lighting technology has improved dramatically, with double the candle power on the court. 

The old tennis racquet room has stayed virtually the same. Bobby Riggs was the house pro and would have restrung your racquet for you here. 

The entertaining portion of the house is upstairs. Spectacular paneling is certainly on par with the main house, but the furnishings were more in keeping with a men's club. 

The original furniture is timeless with fresh fabric and color. Mrs. M. decorated this room in the English country style with the legendary Sister Parish of Parish Hadley. At the time, Bunny Williams was her assistant, so there was a double infusion of genius to spread around! There has been a great deal of discussion of center table placement in large living rooms to break up the seating areas. This is a perfect example. 

The french doors open to the upper gallery of the tennis courts and allow the party to socialize while they enjoy the match. 

The old Playhouse living room was arranged very differently, with the same Aiken style, deep upholstery. The contemporary interpretation of the same room and furniture is eminently more feminine.

The long corridor divides the living room from the guest rooms traversing part of the tennis court on one side and the pool on the other. Bright chintz's on the upholstery play well against the dark paneling. 

Believe it or not, I was having trouble orienting myself and was wondering where the swimming pool entrance was hiding. Opening the door to the pool from the corridor is a truly unexpected vertiginous transition into light and space. 

This is a family photograph of the pool area. It is usually left empty due to moisture issues and is filled for parties, with magical floating candles illuminating the murals. The house is filled with Currier and Ives prints, and the murals were perfectly chosen to depict the era.

Moving towards the main entrance area, the guest rooms have been refurbished by the Grand Daughter of the third owners with the assistance of Megan de Roulet of Windham House design.

Megan is fluent in English and French country house styling, with a unique American twist. Working with the existing pieces from the second owners, she continues with the fresh aesthetic initiated by the wonderful Mrs. M. I think its time to head to the bar! Megan and Mrs. G. chose this exotic Digby's tent pattern by Charlotte Moss for Brunschwig & Fils.

In conclusion I'll end with some of the happy memories that have generated from the wonderful tradition of fun and hospitality this Playhouse has provided for many. 

My parents were wonderful tennis players. I found these photos in the family album of them relaxing with a cocktail after a match. Its hard to believe, but they are younger than me in these pictures! 

The gallery watching the finals of the annual "Divorce Doubles" tournament. The rule is: you must play with your spouse!
We hope you enjoy this post. Thanks very much to friend's for sharing. If you have guessed the origins of this estate, please keep it confidential for the privacy of the family who so generously shared their home with us. Please do not use the pictures without our permission.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Metrolina Flea with Eddie Ross, Part II

We could have followed stylist and designer, Eddie Ross at Metrolina Flea, for days.  We witnessed his "on steroids" creativity in so many ways, nudging us out of our shopping ruts and showing us how to repurpose mother of pearl buttons, old costume jewelry earrings, and even the ever stodgy chenille.

I had some shopping remorse about leaving these beautiful bottles behind. They were originally clear medicine bottles, but magnesium in the glass formula caused them to turn this beautiful shade of purple which compliments the traditional orange and brown tones of the fall harvest table. They are perfect for low, long flower arrangements, on the dining table, or at each place, with a name card propped against them. More brilliantly, Eddie Ross's idea of pouring different salad dressings in them and setting them on the buffet, is even better. I was thinking of massing them with different postprandial (after dinner) liqueurs, with a little sign on them that says: 

For $35.00, you can have a lot going on. There were buckets of antique keys at Metrolina.  I've been fascinated by some of their very beautiful,  ornate designs, complex function, and heft. Now I know where to put them: mysteriously, around the house so you wonder what wonderful doors they may open. Use your imagination. 

Stacking etched, colored glass, or crystal compotes with crudites  or flowers is an Eddie Ross signature. I can't wait to play with this idea in a couple of weeks. The important take away from Eddie's ideas, was to mix old and new, rough and shiny. The dynamic interaction of opposites is a strong theme among design leaders. For example, mixing an etched water glass at the table with another colored or modern piece makes a party look fresh and inviting. An entire tabletop in our Mother's and Grandmother's era makes my straight back ache. 

via Mrs. Howard

Here is the delicious chocolate and pink motif Eddie chose for his event the night before, at Phoebe Howard's over the top, gorgeous store in Charlotte. I love the step away from the earth toned tables and use of a fantastic shocking pink, which sets off the traditional 19th century brown transferware plates. Note the vintage post card from Metrolina flea used as a place card.  There is simply nothing flea about it. See what you can create, over time, for a song at the flea circus?  I love that Eddie Ross and Jaithan Kochar are all over the country, meeting the "little me's" of the world in person, demonstrating how style and taste are priceless, not to mention affordable.  

I know... this now iconic table, Eddie Ross just styled for Lonny, has gone completely viral.  Unexpected color is really coming back. I've linked you to the "behind the scenes" Eddie Ross photo shoot for Lonny, because I really had to know,  how he managed the plethora of china, crystal, vintage postcards, ornaments and ephemera Eddie draws upon for his amazing vignettes. He told me about his prop room, and Lonny scooped us. Surprise? 

via Lonny
Eddie and Jaithan are moving!  I cannot imagine how they can even contemplate this gargantuan task. 

I am not yet in recovery for my transferware addiction. If you see an Etsy button on our blog, you will know I've finally hit rock bottom. I embrace Eddie's enthusiasm for blending different patterns, eras and styles at the table. You can't always find the ten or 12 matching plates at the same time, but often you can find two sets of 5 that work beautifully together. Again, the mix brings new life to old favorites.  I call it "Art Blendo!" Vive La Difference--burlap and silver! 

I brought this Staffordshire blue sugar bowl home for $50.00, and believe me, I've paid more. I use them for flowers, but we stayed outside of the box most of the afternoon, so I loved Eddie's suggestion of using them by the sink for scrubbers or sponges. 

These images were from our summer entertaining post. The arrangements were easy to make, by creating a grid over the tops with scotch tape.  As we wandered through the myriad stalls of linens, paintings, prints, glassware, toys....Eddie jumped to this collection of lusterware.

You can see stylist muscles flexing here. How beautiful would this collection be, grouped, on your thanksgiving table or sideboard, mixed with votives to illuminate the iridescent glazes? We were feeling it.  Steve Gambrel's table at the Lennox Hill Neighborhood gala is a good example of using contemporary ceramics at different heights to create a striking table scape, helping us to imagine the multitude of possibilities with our individual collections. 

Sky is the limit when setting your tables and vignettes.  This image is from our post on the designer tables at this year's Lenox Hill Neighborhood house gala. Color outside the lines. Create magical settings, but most of all, sit down and love your family and friends in the moment.   We had such a fantastic time with Eddie Ross and Jaithan.  I'm a little trigger happy to make reservations for their Texan tour of Roundtop. 

If you are a die hard Eddie Ross fan,  view our YouTube videos!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Metrolina Flea with Eddie Ross!

Dovecote Decor had the pleasure of joining Eddie Ross and Jaithan Kochar at the Metrolina Flea Market in Charlotte this past Friday!

Eddie puts together wonderful, intimate shopping excursions at some of the best antiques markets across the country, and lucky for us, he came down south for this fabulous open air market at Metrolina in Charlotte, NC.  He had so many helpful hints about how to sort through the junk, find the best deals, and transform your flea market finds into Elle-Decor-worthy pieces for your home.

Here is a video clip from a stop at a booth full of beautiful china and transferware.  Eddie gives his advice on what to look for, how to begin collecting, and how to use antique china in new fresh ways.  Listen closely, he also gives a sneak peek of Celerie Kemble's new book, which will come out next year.