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A Writer’s Lair: Honoring a Literary Heritage

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Welcome to 2021! Perhaps for you, as it is for me, reminiscing is part of a new year ritual and I now find myself remembering back with great sentiment to six years ago…

It was a bitter cold January night, just as now, and I had dropped by to chat about my upcoming book and to catch up on my friend, Rip’s, literary doings. “Rip” would be Washington Irving III, whose name just hints of a great tale to tell. Adjunct professor of English and the Humanities, Rip Irving (referencing the famed character Rip Van Winkle) follows in the footsteps of his namesake, the celebrated nineteenth century American writer and beloved man of letters, Washington Irving (looking down from his portrait over the fireplace). Rip’s signature kilt and accessories are as authentic as they come, complete with the Sgian-Dubh (scabbard), tucked into the top of the kilt hose.

Like a good host, (and a Scotsman) all is in readiness for Rip’s celebration of Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns, at a dinner the next night.

Soon, our conversation shifts from literary topics to comparing notes on building our new homes (within a year of each other). In the spirit of his distinguished ancestor, Rip had taken design inspiration from “Sunnyside,” the romantically charming cottage that was Washington Irving’s home in Tarrytown, New York in the mid-1800s.

Without being a slave to recreating the exact structure, Rip borrowed distinctive architectural elements: the stepped gables (a design feature identified with Dutch colonial architecture); the portico; the crenelated dormer (a detail the original Irving borrowed from his friend Sir Walter Scott’s castle); the stucco with ivy exterior, which provided the desired effect of the house appearing as though it were part of the landscape; and the slate roof.

But he and his son, Knick (nicknamed after the beloved Irving character, Diedrich Knickerbocker), added their personal taste in the welcoming gestures to be seen so eloquently in the entry hall and stairwell.

At the urging of Knick, Rip also looked to Edwin Lutyens whose English country ethos was relevant to his design goals (most obvious in the large, mullioned window in the kitchen, which adds such a note of drama to an otherwise prosaic room.) These architectural inspirations evolved “into a natural aesthetic that works so well in Newport, with its storied diversity of architectural styles,” Rip relates.

Each room in Quholme functions as a repository of Irving family collections, none more so than the library, where a blazing fire casts shadows against the deep red walls, as rich as the finest merlot. It is in this library where “the past coalesces”–leather-bound, gold tooled books, most importantly, the limited-edition collection of “The Works of Washington Irving;” his grandparent’s fur throw on the muted green leather chaise by the fireplace; the old, but surprisingly comfortable high back chair, covered in fine gauged needlepoint stitched by a family friend.

Special architectural details in this often-used room include a rectangular cove detail in the ceiling.

Rip’s ancestry also includes horticultural treasures. So if you’ll indulge me I’ll mention some garden lore before closing (as a prelude to my upcoming annual “Inspiring Garden Design” series). His peonies are growing from rhizomes that were in his mother’s garden for thirty years, and before then, in his grandmother’s garden following World War I–making the rhizomes about a hundred  years old! “And someday I may ask to take cuttings from the ivy at “Sunnyside” and plant it on my house. After all, Washington Irving took ivy cuttings for “Sunnyside” from Sir Walter Scott’s castle, so mine actually would be from that residence, Abbotsford,” Rip relates with a smile.

Ahhh, stay tuned. There are always tales to tell here at Private Newport.

All image credit, Alexander Nesbitt.

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

8 thoughts on “A Writer’s Lair: Honoring a Literary Heritage

  1. What a romantic house! Love what Rip has done – he definitely inherited his forebear’s good taste!

  2. Just Lovely! Having been to Terrytown and love reading the stories gave your writings and pictures and added glow.

  3. What a wonderful story. Rip looks every bit the Scottish gentleman and his home and interiors are just spectacular! Thank you, Bettie.

  4. I just might switch from bourbon to scotch after reading those delightful wee bits of wisdom!
    The pictures were wonderful; one could almost hear him laughing.
    As always, Bettie, you bring such joy!

    1. Witty you!! Rip actually does have a wonderful laugh…and he’s a good sport, too. That picture was taken on a 110* temp. summer day, with Rip wearing full, heavy Scottish wool attire….standing in front of a blazing fire…with no air conditioning. XXB

  5. Dearest B! Am fascinated and utterly charmed by this man, this house, and your writing of it. May we please visit him when I come to visit you… one of these days? ;D Love and Happy New Year, your devoted fan, Frances

    1. Of course, dearest F, he would be most pleased to have us visit. My spirits are lifting just thinking about having you here in Newport…2021 it is!!!
      Top of my to do list for the New Year. Hugs to you and stay well, be safe! xB

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