Design & Décor, Living with Style, People, Places & Spaces

Designing a Writer’s Lair

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In this new year, I will be spotlighting some of the Tastemakers within the pages of Living Newport: Houses, People, Style and our town, intriguing, talented people who are contributing to Newport’s centuries-old tradition as design-standard bearer (think Townsend-Goddard furniture of the 1700s, Gilded Age mansions of the 1800s, Olmsted Brothers landscapes of the early 1900s.)

With each century, Newport has not only survived but thrived, keeping its identity constant. A distinction that bears the influence of those who have the means and the opportunity to live anywhere but choose to reside here, in our “City by the Sea.”

Rip Irving and his sixth generation forebear, Washington Irving.

Just the name—Washington Irving III— hints of a great tale to tell.

Adjunct professor of English and the Humanities, former thespian and writer, 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.

The Sgian-Dubh, is tucked into the top of the kilt hose.

In the spirit of his distinguished ancestor, Rip has taken design inspiration for his new home from “Sunnyside,” the romantically charming cottage that was Washington Irving’s home in Tarrytown, New York.

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;) 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.

” Quholme” ( pronounced home.)

At the urging of his son, 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.

In the kitchen, a many-mullioned window.


Each room in Quholm functions as a repository of Irving family collections, none more so than the library. 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.

The arched opening in the bookcase is a repeating design element.

But it is in the small study where a most beloved detail has been borrowed from “Sunnnyside,” the sleep nook. “My little hermitage, my sanctuary, where I do all my thinking, writing and reading…and napping.”

Future creative  endeavors are in the cards for Rip, but one in particular heads the list…an evocative three story “folly,” one single room per floor, topped off with a swooping roof that ends with a center peak, his namesake’s last project at his beloved homestead.

Rare marine- themed porcelain plates for the Burns’ dinner.


Behind-the-scenes stories of a photo shoot are, at times, as provocative as the finished product. The theme for Rip Irving’s chapter was the birthday celebration of Robert Burns (January 25th) revered Scottish poet and author of “Auld Lang Syne.”  However, photography took place in August on a day that temperatures hit 102ºF, very unusual for Newport. And yet there stood our gracious host, in front of a blazing fire, wearing heavy wool– kilt, jacket and “hose”–with no air conditioning!

Thank you, Rip.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

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".

3 thoughts on “Designing a Writer’s Lair

  1. I was once close to Tarrytown, and my biggest disappointment in the trip was that we didn’t go to Sunnyside! Now, I feel that I’ve been!

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