Posted by: lornasass | July 21, 2009

A VISIT TO NAUMKEAG

To enter the gates of Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Massachusetts is to time-travel back to the late 19th century when architects McKim, Mead, and White designed grand neo-classical buildings like Lowe Library at Columbia University and country homes for the rich like Naumkeag.

The strange name of this country home is the native American word for the area around Salem, Massachusetts where lawyer and ambassador Joseph Choate was born.  As did many of their social standing, Choate and his wife Caroline built a “simple” Victorian-style country home in the Berkshires, a rural farming area about 2 1/2 hours north of New York City.  The house was built on a hill with sweeping views of the farmland below.

When their daughter Mable inherited Naumkeag in 1929, she put her own personal stamp on the house and surrounding 47-acre estate, reflecting primarily her passion for gardening and Chinese antiquities.  She engaged the innovative landscape architect Fletcher Steele and together–with seemingly unlimited funds–they created a world unto itself.

Here is the cast-iron pagoda one sees immediately to the left upon entering.  It houses a Chinese philosopher’s stone on a marble base, with a backdrop of lyrical Japanese red maples.

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To the right of the Pagoda is a grand allee of linden trees that leads to a forest of maples, pines, and spruce.

Probably the singular most memorable work of Fletcher Steele are the dramatic Art Deco “Blue Steps.”  Steele designed these concrete steps, shaded by White Paper Birches, to provide Ms. Choate with an easy and pleasing descent to her cutting garden.  Looking up from the bottom of the steps to see the patterns of circular handrails interrupted by the birch trunks is an absolute delight.

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Here is the house itself which, to my mind, is the backdrop for the garden.

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What is especially lovely about the house is that from every room one has a vista of the outdoors where the combined handiwork of man and nature is being celebrated above all else.

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