I had the enormous pleasure of a private tour of the house which is located in the tony town of Hillsborough, just outside of San Francisco, kindly given by estate manager Meg Starr.
Conceived by Harriett to be the grandest residence of San Francisco's bon ton, it was lavished with nothing but the best: from the top residential architect in France, Ernest Sanson, and the highly acclaimed landspace designer, Achille Duchêne, down to the finishing touches of firegilt hardware and parquet de Versailles floors.
Carolands cost Harriett not only most of her fortune, but her social aspirations as well. She had hoped for the chateau to be completed in time to entertain royalty attending the Pan-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, but it was not to be. Two years later, Harriett cut her losses and was back on the East Coast.
For decades the house stood empty until another fearless lady took on the chateau. Countess Lillian Remillard Dandini, whose brick company attracted the attention of a dashing Italian count "of no account," purchased a house worthy of her new title.
The Countess was very generous with Carolands and opened it up for all manner of causes. But a house this big can swallow one up, and at the end of her life, much of her resources had been exhausted leaving her reduced to living in a small corner of the house.
Details from a circular room Harriett bought lock, stock and barrel and shipped over from France; the masterfully carved plasterwork depicts the four seasonsAnd like the Countess, the Johnsons often share the house for worthy causes. It is their intention that Carolands be preserved in perpetuity.
The extensive service rooms included a silver polishing room, a flower-cutting room, a pastry room, a fruit and vegetable room, and the laundry which houses this floor to ceiling dryer for sheets - talk about a place for everything and everything in its place!
*Three Women and a Chateau, the documentary about the house's history, is fascinating and has now gone to the top of my list as THE hostess gift to give. Click here to purchase. There is also a very thorough book on Carolands including original plans and correspondance relating to the house.
Photo credits: all photos taken by EEE except: top courtesy of Luna Films, and #2 by Eric Luse for the San Francisco Chronicle
STAY TUNED FOR PART II: Mr. Buatta's Passementerie