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30 June 2009

At Home with Mrs. Chalmers Wood

The Hall

Anyone who has read legendary decorator Billy Baldwin's memoir Billy Baldwin Remembers will be more than curious to see photos of Little Ipswich, the Long Island country house of his mentor Ruby Ross Wood which he lavished with praised for its evident chic.

I recently stumbled across an article in the March 1943 issue of The Magazine Antiques which featured the antiques collection at Little Ipswich. These are the accompanying illustrations which offer a rare glimpse into this fabled residence.

Delano and Aldrich designed the neo-classical house which was built in Syosset, Long Island between 1927 and 1928. Wood specified a one-story building so that she could have soaring ceilings in every room.

Ruby Ross Wood may not be as widely known as Elsie de Wolfe (for whom Wood ghost-wrote The House in Good Taste), but without doubt she deserves to be included in the pantheon of 20th century design greats. No doubt Mitchell Owens' highly anticipated monograph on this tantalizingly illusive figure will put this to rights.

The Library

Wood was a huge enthusiast of neoclassical antiques - the article points out that French Directoire and English Regency, clearly on view here, were particularly favored by Mrs. Wood. The maroon and tan upholstery on the sofa and armchair were picked up by the Aubusson rug.

Even though the focus here is on antiques, Wood took pains to express that she was in no way interested in living in a Museum-like setting - it was all about "up-to-date" comfort.

Mrs. Wood's Bedroom

To my mind, the inlaid floor (which dates to the Directoire period and was salvaged from a French manoir) makes the room. A dark green-painted Sheraton-style tester bed is hung with "gray green" taffeta which matches the walls. Note the swans on the rug - a motif Wood used throughout the house.

Sadly, Little Ipswich was demolished, but the words of Mrs. Wood - whether attributed to her or de Wolfe and which were as unerring as her taste - are timeless.

UPDATE: Little Ipswich was demolished in the early 1990's to make way for a development called the Pironi Estates. Click here to see one of the hideous McMansions that make up what is now a sub-division.

photos by Drix Duryea

13 comments:

Rose C'est La Vie said...

Emily, only YOU could stumble across a pertinent article in a magazine issue from 1943! But so glad you did. thanks.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic, Little Ipswich was such beautiful house!
Thank you for unearthing this article and taking us inside. The entrance hall is tour de force; a perfect example of scale, pattern and graphics....not as easy as it looks.

Pigtown-Design said...

Amazing what you found! I can't wait for the book about RRW. She and her husband spent time here in Baltimore and I'm interested to read about that period.

I found a signed copy of BB Remembers a few months ago. Such a fun read and a real treasure.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Meg, Isn't BB Remembers a delicious read? I think I may even prefer it to his first...

The Peak of Chic said...

Emily- I can't tell you what a treat this is b/c RRW is one of my favorite design legends. She hails from Monticello, GA, where my pup is from. So good folks come from that area ;)

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Jennifer, I think I'll get my next cat from Baltimore - home of BB, Pauline Potter de R, and Wallis Simpson!

little augury said...

What a wonderful post! As with all the others- RRW is someone we need to know more about. Elsie was so sly wasn't she ? In many of her pictures she looks like the cat that swallowed the canary.The Mitchell Owens books will be a must have- I love his writing. la

home before dark said...

And what replaced Little Ipswich? Something less, I'm sure.

I know that I have advocated your naming your next cats after the fabric they were upholstered in hoping that would help create an indestructible bond. But somehow the idea of naming a cat Wallis Simpson seems so right. Would do so myself, but I am allergic.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Home,
This is probably TMI, but I do have a cat whose name was always meant to be temporary and the two permanent try-ons - Fred Astaire and Arthur Wardle - aren't seeming to stick. Maybe I'll try Wallis, who some may think transcended gender...

Toby Worthington said...

One of my favourite things inside your book
Regency Redux, was two generous views of rooms done by Mrs Wood for Mrs Hugh Walker Mercer's Palm Beach residence. Seeing RRW's way with colour, was
a revelation.

magnaverde said...

I can probably think of half a dozen shots of the forecourt of Little Ipswich in different books, but I think this is the first time I've ever seen the interior. There's hidden treasure in old magazines, that's for sure. Thanks for the pointer to another potential resource.

Back in 1990, I had just quit a career at the phone company and gone back to school to get my interior design degree, and in one of our introductory classes, we were asked to name some of our favorite designers. There were lots of nodding heads at the frequent mentions of Phillippe Starck & Michael Graves & the occasional John Saladino or Ward Bennett, but there was total silence when I mentioned Robsjohn Gibbings & Frances Elkins & Samuel Marx & Ruby Ross Wood. I pretty much expected such a non-response from my fellow students, who were 20 years younger than I was, very hip and bored by anything that happened before last week, but I was surprised--and not in a good way--when the instructor, a respected designer in Chicago, asked me after class "Now, who was that Ruby woman you named?" He'd never heard of her. Clearly, I was in the wrong school, but at the time, it was the only FIDER-accredited school in the state, so I had no alternative. But that was then.

These days, it's nice that the great decorators of RRW's generation are again getting widespread attention, but it's too bad that such serious study never happened while they were still alive, and conversely, it's too bad that so many stories of their world died with them. I mean, it's great to be discreet and all, but ten-to-one that Billy Baldwin remembered a whole lot more stories that he never dared commit to paper, and he's not the only one. Eleanor Brown makes vague allusions to sending her staff over to sweep a lot of juicy stuff under the proverbial rug after the unexpected death of William Odom in McMillen: Sixty Years of Design. What ws that all about? Now we'll never know. There's nothing like that first-person voice.

Speaking of which, Emily, I've always thought that an evening of Elsie de Wolfe, Madeleine Castaing & Dorothy Draper would make an interesting one-woman show, not because of their decorating abilities, but because of their variously compelling personalities: charming & clever, quirky & romantic or bossy & headstrong as the case might be, and, hey, why couldn't you be the star? I mean, you've already got the MC gloves! Maybe you could work on that in, you know, your free time.

At any rate, it's great to hear the news that Mitchell Owens has a RRW book in the works. When it comes to design, he's flat-out the most articulate writer & analyst out there.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Magnaverde, it's always a treat when you comment. Yes, MO is not only a wonderfully talented writer but seems to know just about everything - his book will no doubt be the definitive one on RRW. But we won't have to wait that long for MO's next literary opus - he is writing the text for Derry Moore's forthcoming book out this fall - these two talents in one package?!

Now if I could have it in my contract to have an unlimited supply of incredible gloves, maybe this evening makes some sense....

EEE

Anonymous said...

I have been inside that home in the late 80's. Everything was still intact as it once was. Words can not express the grandeur of that home. I was even in the attic that was filled with photographs, furniture, books and clothing. The mural on the dining room wall depicting a Native Indian Scene, the inlaid wood floors, the grand fireplaces, the canopy beds and the wall to wall French Doors & Windows leading out to the patio and the pond beyond will be images I will never forget. Architecture and Interior Decor from a bygone era.....