Design & Décor, Living with Style, The Newport Diary

Inspiring Architectural Design: Oakwood

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Oakwood has led a charmed life. Built in 1854 as a wedding gift for William Backhouse Astor’s daughter, Mary Alida, (granddaughter of John Jacob Astor). It was one of the earliest estates in the soon-to-become Bellevue Avenue residential area. As is typical of Newport homes, the original structure was enlarged in stages– for example, in 1872, the main living room and music room (essentially an addition to the south), and in 1875, the tower and kitchen wing (on the northeast corner)–providing the interesting facade that we see today. You’ll also note the long veranda and, above it, the addition to the master suite made over the years.

While the interiors have been changed by the current owners, I love capturing that moment in time (2014) as they appear in my book, Living Newport, Houses, People, Style. One of Oakwood’s outstanding distinctions is that it glows with sunlight in every room, while many French doors insure that Newport’s famous breezes provide welcome cross ventilation. This impression is first apparent as you enter the western-facing entry hall.

Fabrics, rugs and draperies are in joy-filled shades that add “oomph” to the pleasures of walking throughout the many rooms. From the living room…

to the music room, a salute to John Philip Sousa in red, white, and blue.

Many details delight in this house, but I will choose to single out one exceptional decorative element added to the dining room (circa 1910), a particular favorite of mine –the fifty-six hand painted Chinese silk panels. As you dine, you can admire, unfolding around the walls, the elaborate details of life in a Chinese village (and a very elegant one at that).

Off the dining room, the butler’s pantry is every bit as appealing in its decorative focus as any room at Oakwood (note the large silver safe positioned in the right corner, standard addition to any home of this era).

To this list of rooms add an expansive screened verandah and conservatory that brings the lush outdoors inside, while the roof terrace allows viewing the grounds from a different perspective.

Oakwood’s six acres once boasted amenities of a certain style – like a Wimbledon-standard lawn tennis court and six-hole PGA-standard putting green. It also included a striking and whimsical four-story clock tower; while that small bit of the property was sold off, the estate still has the pleasure of the “borrowed view.”

But today, Oakwood possesses another distinction that is a focus and priority of the young family that resides there…it was the first privately owned residence in New England to achieve Level 1 accreditation as an Arboretum. I’m betting that the woodland trail that once encircled the grounds has many new specimen trees that make it all the more welcome for a stroll.

All photos credit, Mick Hales.

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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".