Richard Morris Hunt, Part 3

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This past summer I visited the Biltmore estate in BEAUTIFUL Asheville, NC. It was about a 7 hour drive from DC, so I took a long weekend there. Asheville is surrounded by beautiful forests and mountains; really spectacular scenery. Nestled among all this and outside of the small town of Asheville is Biltmore. George Washington Vanderbilt hired R.M.H. to design this monster in 1888 and it wasn't completed till 1895. It still remains the largest house in America at 175,000 SF and is probably the structure that comes to mind when people think of the Gilded Age.
The view from the rear and closeup of the entry

Surprisingly, Biltmore is still privately owned by the Vanderbilt family but as a huge business now and not a private home. No one has lived there since the early 1950s. The day I was there it was packed and they're open all year long! In addition to the house tours ( of which you can take your pick from numerous specialized packages) there is a wineyard and tastings area, numerous restaurants, a petting zoo, a working farm and a luxury hotel ( I stayed at a GREEN B&B in town ). The side garden
Asheville's main industry is tourism from the nearby hiking and the Biltmore estate of course which brings in over 1 million people annually! It's also a college town -so there is a thriving arts community and great restaurants. Really a cute little town!
Detail of the finial on the conservatory, rupenzel's tower ( rear of sculpture court )

I think everyone has seen Biltmore in one way or another - either in the Home Depot ads on tv, in numerous movies ( Biltmore has starred in over 12 movies starting in 1948 ) or in one of the many articles or books about it. Views from the sculpture court, almost looks like a smaller French chateau from here

The house has many 'modern' convienences, including a large indoor swimming pool, ELECTRICITY ( remember the time period! ), en-suite bathrooms for the NUMEROUS guest suites, really nice servants quarters ( a rarity in the day ), a 2-story library, a bowling alley, elevators, forced air heat, fire alarms, intercoms and oddly enough a system of centrally controlled clocks ( for the servants to run on time! ). Biltmore estate was built to be a well-oiled machine - based on the grand country estates in Europe.
Peaking through the garden towards the house and a weird (forgotten?) corner
What really is interesting to see are the servants quarters that have recently been opened to the public. Usually you see only the grand public spaces in house museums such as this -not the servant's bedrooms in the attic! You also get the opportunity to explore the massive kitchens and the sub-basement where the machinery is for the elevator, heat and electric generators, laundry machines, etc.
Entry Court Gates and detail of the stair tower
Unfortunately, you can't take any pictures of the interiors, but they're pretty easy to find if you're curious. The outside and the scenery are so breathtaking as you can see that I took 100s of photos - these are just a few of my favorites.details of lantern and the rear facade from the side

You can see the main website and learn more about Biltmore at
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27 Dresses

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I recently saw 27 Dresses ( I see a lot of movies ) and it's another movie I can really recommend. It's a romance comedy and at times can be a bit cheesey ( even for me ) especially at the end. If you liked 'My best friend's wedding' -you'll probably like this movie. It's very similar, except lacking a bitchy gay friend!
Katherine Heigl was ADORABLE and James Mardsen was a suitable romantic interest for her unlike a lot of movies where you could never see the 2 leads together or dating ( Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, REALLY????!!!!)
All 27 bridesmaid dresses were hideous for the most part and the running gag of the movie. I think a lot of ladies would love that part! Here is a picture of a special closet that Katherine keeps in her apartment for the dresses!!

Would you really want to keep all these ugly reminders of wasted money?
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Richard Morris Hunt, Part 2

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Grey Towers through the mist as seen from the side
This past fall I visited Milford, PA to see some fall leaves, the national forests there and also visit R.M.H.'s 'Grey Towers'. Of course it was rainy and misty my entire trip nearly, but that did add to the charm somewhat -so ignore the greyness of the photos! Milford is a charming little town surrounded by forests and amazing waterfalls. However, it wasn't always this way.

James Pinchot built 'Grey Towers' as his families summer estate to escape from NYC to his hometown of Milford. He had a flourishing wallpaper business and was friends with many influential designers of the day such as R.M.H. and Frederick Law Olmstead. He actually was on the committee to select the base for the statue of liberty and lobbied for his friend, R.M.H. to get the commission which of course he did.

Former Yale school of forestry, now cool design shops!

Pinchot was an early proponent of the American Forestry Association and endowed the Yale School of Forestry in Milford. The purpose of this association was to encourage reforestation of 'denuded' lands -which Milford and much of industrial America were! The school was housed in a beautiful building that now contains a few interesting antique and design shops seen above ( check them out if you visit). The building is in amazing condition and really fascinating!

Grey Towers from below
James's son, Gifford Pinchot (1865 - 1946) carried on his father's passion and was the first National forestor (he worked on the forests in Asheville, NC near the Biltmore estate at the request of the Vanderbilts from Frederick Law Olmstead's recommendation - I'll be talking about Biltmore later this week). He was one of the environmentalists at the turn of the 20th cenutry; So you might say he was an early 'GREEN' hippy!
one of the towers -check out the detailing in the lower right hand corner
Grey Towers was designed by R.M.H. for James Pinchot from 1884-1886 after his retiring from the wallpaper business. All the stone was mined from the site, so you can imagine how 'denuded' it became. Later on, his son Gifford would work on restoring the forests we see there now.
view from the house
The L shaped house is anchored by 3 large towers that give it its name and originally cost $19,000 to build ( furnishings were an additional $24,000 -hey, there were 43 rooms!).
on the front porch - cute shutters, love the moons and blue color!

Chinoiserie styled cabinet inside the grand hall that I LOVED!

Later, after Gifford was married, Grey Towers became his summer residence and a large redecoration took place under the care of his wife which is how the house currently exists. She modernized the first floor plan ( and tackified the interiors ) by combining 4 small public rooms into 2 much larger, comfortable rooms. You can see them here...the wall treatment in question ( you know what I mean ) is's SUPPOSED to look like that. It really is quite magnificent if a little tacky by todays standards.

Two photos from the living room
The exterior 'patio' was also redone with beautiful flagstones with an unusual 'pool' as a dining table as there was no indoor dining room in this summer residence. You simply put food in wood baskets and shoved them on the water between guests -really clever and fun. Guests ate on the edges of the pool shown here. These are obviously not the original chairs. A large swimming pool was added just above this.
Dining pool in foreground, swimming pool in background

Many pavilions for numerous uses exist on the site too - and the views are spectacular!
the gatehouse through fall foliage

In 1963 the home was donated to the Forest Service by his son, Gifford II and they now use it for Forest Service seminars and tours ( of course! ). The first floor is done as it was in the 1920s, but the upper floors are set up for use as a conference center and classrooms. JFK actually came here to christen the building in 1963, shortly before his death!
JFK was here!

As a side note, while there I stayed at a really charming and luxurious B&B style hotel called 'Hotel Fauchere'. (
Hotel Fauchere in the evening!

R.M.H. himself ate here at the hotel ( as did I, yummy!!). The rooms are all done up with the best of everything for a VERY comfortable stay. I plan on going again this year! Go visit Grey Towers and the surrounding forests and stay at the Hotel Fauchere! It makes for a great long weekend! About one block from the hotel is a GREAT little diner.....and I'm a diner expert!
cute small town diner - yummy food! RMH did not eat here!

You can find more information about Grey Tower's at it's official website at:

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Mad Money

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This past weekend I saw a really great movie - Mad Money - with an all-star cast! Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes and Ted Danson (??????). Imagine a funny Ocean's 11, except in this case more like Oceans 3. It was really clever and just an enjoyable movie!

Diane Keaton plays the mastermind - an upper-middleclass housewife who to save her home from being sold takes a job as a janitor.

Queen Latifah plays the single mother with the heart of gold that is a money shredder

Katie Holmes playes the ADORABLE spunky, quirky hippie chick addicted to her ipod!

I laughed, I cried......wait - I didn't cry -but I did laugh. Check it out!
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Richard Morris Hunt, part 1

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Over the years I've visited a number of house museums that were designed by the prominent 19th century architect, Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895). He was not a pretty man, as evidenced by the photo above but was extremely gifted and ambitious. R.M.H. was called the 'Dean of American architecture' because he was the first American to be admitted to the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris and later opened the first American architecture school in 1855. Born into a wealthy family with an artistic mother, R.M.H. spent much of his teen years in Europe following his fathers' death. Here he visited many palaces and castles that later influenced his residential work for the 'who's who' of American society during the Gilded Age. (his brother is the prominent artist William Morris Hunt)
'The Breakers', Newport, RI.

While most of his work has been torn down in NYC where he was based, a few projects remain such as the base of the statue of liberty and the facade of the Met on 5th avenue. Boston houses a lot of his work still and so does Newport, RI. Other projects are scattered nationally. He had quite an exciting and successful career; designing the first apartment building in NYC which was considered scandalous, one of the first 'sky-scrapers' with an elevator (the new york tribune building) and being one of the lead architects of the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago which brought city planning and the city beautiful movement to the USA.
'Marble House', Newport, RI.

During the gilded age R.M.H. was the architect to go to if you were of a certain class to design your NYC townhouse and palatial country estates. Many of those still exist and are now house museums (Biltmore and the Breakers to name 2 of the most famous).
Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC.

R.M.H. was so beloved of his society clients that upon his death he was rewarded with the only monument in the USA to an architect - along 5th avenue in central park across the street from the Frick collection but at the time faced many of his beautiful townhouses which no longer exist. To this day you can still pay homage to this great architect at his monument (here it is!)
RMH memorial, Daniel Chester French & Bruce Price
He also was painted by John Singer Sargent at the request of the Vanderbilts to hang in Biltmore. Most architects are lucky to get their name carved onto a building somewhere or on a plague -let alone a portrait by one of the preeminent painters of all time! You can recognize the Biltmore in the background.

In the following posts over the next week, I'll be highlighting some of his projects that I've visited with photos I've taken -I hope you enjoy these! I think they illustrate that even though most of these residences are totally ostentatious they also were built as family homes with a lot of charm, function and coziness beneath the gilded exteriors and public spaces.
'Grey Towers', Milford, PA.

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Cherry Blossoms

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Every spring I'm reminded how beautiful DC is. Thousands of people from around the world come to see our cherry blossoms! Here are some pics I took last year, aren't they beautiful?
Cherry blossoms are all over DC, but the national mall has the most of them and this is where to see them at their most magnificent. The trees were a gift from the city of Tokyo to the people of Washington, DC in 1912. The initial gift was 3,000 trees!!!! Thats a lot of wood! See the official website online at:
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