On the same day that a collection of Edith Wharton’s letters fetched more than $180,000 at auction, a group of noted French designers and architects gathered at The Mount, the writer’s bucolic property in Lenox, Massachusetts, to launch the estate’s 2010 exhibition, “Salute to French Design.”
all photos by Jennifer Krichels
Andrée Putman, whose grandmother translated Wharton’s Age of Innocence into French, fostered many of the participating designers’ careers and will help to oversee the show house. Fittingly, Putman will also decorate the library, which currently is filled with furnishings installed by Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill from the Mount’s 2002 centennial celebration.
That show also included noted interior designers Charlotte Moss, Bunny Williams, and Geoffrey Bradfield, who welcomed the incoming team in a reception at the French Embassy in New York. Nonagenarian man of letters Louis Auchincloss regaled the crowd with his grandmother-in-law’s memories of Wharton as a woman whose extreme shyness was perceived as coldness and who was “wonderfully warm to the people who knew her.”
Because the house reflects Wharton’s meticulously ordered neo-Palladian tastes in architecture but contains no original furnishings, wall coverings, or draperies, designers face the question of how best to honor the writer’s legacy. In a sentiment echoed by many of the French participants, Francois le Grix said he would try to imagine how Wharton, an ardent Francophile, would be living today as he furnishes the home’s drawing room. Other members of the team include Tristan Auer, Elliott Barnes, Daniel and Michel Bismut, Maxime D’Angeac and Nicole Zaech, Olivier Lempereur, Michael McKinnon, Leiko Oshima and Isabelle Stanislas, and Antonio Virga.
A woman ahead of her time in many ways, Wharton’s love of gadgets, gardens, and technology is evident in the home’s extensive electrical wiring and turn-of-the-century conveniences. The designers are similarly forward-looking; one of the most striking changes to The Mount will be a forecourt façade installation by botanist Patrick Blanc, inventor of the vertical garden. When the exhibition opens next June, visitors greeted by Blanc’s variegated wall of vegetation will know at first glance that Wharton’s storied home is a place that continues to cultivate.