My last book, Living Newport: Houses, People, Style (2014), was a response to the latest evolution in our town’s 381 year history…the ability to work remotely that was accommodated by technology. Now, a mere six years later, technology has made possible the seeking of a “kinder, gentler” lifestyle following the mass exodus from big cities prompted by the Covid pandemic. No surprise, Newport has turned into a beehive of real estate activity! It has become clear that it’s time to revisit the private homes of our fabled town…some are on the brink of changing hands, others have undergone tasteful, sensitive renovation, and still others deserve the spotlight for a myriad of reasons. I’m happy to introduce this new series that will take place over the fall…Inspiring Architectural Design.
One of the last great mansions to be built in a town of substantial houses, Bois Doré once boasted eight acres set off by a pink stucco wall. In the fall, the statuesque avenue of pollarded lindens bordering the drive (above) bathe the way in gold, providing a visual interpretation of the house’s name, which means “gilded wood.” In the summer, blue and purple hydrangeas dress up the whimsical pair of “guardhouses” flanking the driveway entrance.
Built in 1928, according to the plans of the renowned architect Charles Platt, Bois Doré (his only Newport commission) was designed in the style of Louis XVI. Stately, elegant and classic, it is spare and more refined compared to its earlier Gilded Age cousins. This French manor house was maintained in a grand style through the 1960s by as many as thirty servants.
Bois Doré is a large house, but the arrangement of rooms lends a sense of light and air to the free-flowing entertaining areas. Once you are ushered through the elaborate iron and glass doors, the house reveals its intimate side.
Just a few steps across the marble entry hall, the light-filled loggia’s French doors open upon a curved brick terrace.
But it is the gracious dining room that transforms this grand house through wit and fantasy. Facing south, the room is washed with sunlight through most of the day, encouraging close study of the trompe l’oeil artwork unfolding on the walls.
Martin Battersby, a master of “magic realism,” painted the series on-site during a summer in the late 1960s. Commissioned by a former owner of Bois Doré, a Francophile and collector of Impressionist art, the murals confirmed her passion for all things French. Vignettes recalling court life in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France are colorfully played out in twelve panels and one large mural at the head of the room: Louis XIV and his extravagant Versailles, Madame de Pompadour and her Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette and l’affaire du collier.
When studying the panels, you have to keep reminding yourself that every inch is paintwork. There are no “wooden” frames to the pictures, no “tacks” holding up an “etching,” no “glass” that can shatter.
The ballroom, at the end of a long, wide hall, is the largest in any private Newport residence. Deserving of its own wing, the ballroom includes a series of French doors that give access to the surrounding grounds.
Over the years I have attended more than my fair share of events, white tie dinner dances, seasonal parties and luncheons in this spacious, gracious room. One in particular captured the spirit of entertaining so identified with this home…a book signing, luncheon, and talk with Brian Rafanelli (Boston event planner extraordinaire). Taking pages from his own book (A Great Party) he brought a fresh fall perspective to this grand room on an otherwise very rainy day.
Of course, a girl can never seem to leave a party without visiting the “powder room” (an old-fashioned description that suits this home so well). Located close to the front door, it has an anteroom with handpainted (and lovingly restored) wall panels that make it worth the trip. I’ve always loved the antique pagoda lamp, sitting atop the marble and gilt wood corner table.