In a very European fashion, the Harold Brown Villa has been occupied by the same family since 1895 – approximately seventeen generations – which is befitting of an aristocratic family that is a direct descendant of Roger Williams, the founder of Providence, and the colony of Rhode Island, in 1636 (Williams is the historic figure who was directly responsible for this rogue colony’s foundational beliefs of religious freedom and separation of church and state, which later were memorialized in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights).
As well, descendant Nicholas Brown, Sr. was a noted merchant of this early colony and founder of Brown University. It is his grandson, Harold, whose Newport home is the subject of this post. After one-hundred and twenty-three years, the home is now about to be sold. I wanted to take this opportunity to share it’s interiors, a rare time capsule rich with Newport culture and history. Tended well by a full set of live-in servants and staff over this entire time period, nothing has been changed, a fact that makes the Harold Brown home so fascinating…and important.
As impeccable as the home owners’ pedigrees are the credentials of those who created this house and property, making it the rare jewel you see in these images…architecture by Dudley Newton, one of Newport’s most prolific talents of the period; interiors by Ogden Codman, who co-wrote the definitive book of the times, The Decoration of Houses, with Edith Wharton; and landscaping carried out by the Federick Law Olmsted firm.
I will never forget the first time that I visited the Brown home, feeling a sense of awe at this stunning example of Ogden Codman’s signature “grand entrance.” The progression takes a guest from the massive porte-cochere through the stately front doors and along the lengthy and wide marble hallway.
One then passes under an arched opening into the large square marble entry hall, decorated with green scagliola columns.
But it is the almost incidental, curved-marble stairwell that made me catch my breath…and has since prompted me to consider this entry hall a singular example of understatement and refined drama at the same time. Pure Codman!
It is Codman’s genius that has also produced a French Empire interior within what is essentially a Norman hunting style manor (built of locally quarried granite). Exquisite craftsmanship is to be seen throughout, from the original intricate period detail to the elegant decorative elements to the multiple fireplaces (including the entry hall).
Grand and impressive rooms — a dining room, parlor, library, and morning room…flow from this hall. It’s no surprise that these rooms were also dedicated to entertaining; the memories of more recent coming-out parties and weddings for the last owner’s four granddaughters come to mind.
And of course, the requisite butler’s pantry and kitchen.
The glass enclosed, southern-facing conservatory floods many of the family rooms with light, a signature of Newport summer houses.
The almost fourteen thousand square foot home is beautifully set within an entire Newport city block. The five acres represent the finest of the Frederick Law Olmsted landscape firm (the original plan still exists). Massive specimen trees (i.e. beech, oak, butternut and maple) shelter the house from Bellevue Avenue while creating a breathtaking setting from every window. Serpentine gravel paths allow for easy strolling throughout the garden beds, while mature evergreens and shrubs enhance views of the substantial stone house (to include the monumental porte cochere, below).
Beautiful stonework makes the point again that this is a grand estate.
The last resident of the home was society doyenne, Eileen Slocum (niece of Georgette Sherman Brown, Harold Brown’s wife). A dominant figure in the Rhode Island Republican party, she hosted former presidents, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, as well as leading national political figures.
With the sale of this home, the Harold Brown Villa will pass from the original family’s hands for the first time in over one-hundred and twenty-three years. Newport is again witnessing the end of an era…
Featured Image Credit, Michael Osean.