Beaulieu is a very distinguished house. Dating from 1862, it is one of the oldest homes still in private hands on Bellevue Avenue, and its grounds remain just as the landscape architect Calvert Vaux originally laid them out.
Noteworthy individuals have resided here, including John Jacob Astor, William Waldorf Astor, and Cornelius Vanderbilt III. And, in one of those coincidences special to Newport, Beaulieu (having originally been built for a diplomat, Federico Barreda, Peruvian minister to the United States) became the home to another diplomat, Wiley T. Buchanan, almost one hundred years later.
Everything about Beaulieu invites you to step back in time and reflect on a Newport lifestyle that existed many years ago. The gracious chatelaine who still lives a version of that life today, to the pleasure of her many friends and large family (eleven great-grandchildren), appreciates that Beaulieu was designed for entertaining, with five graciously scaled rooms leading off a large central hall.
The dining room, salon and small octagonal room flow openly to the porch through tall French doors, their elaborate hardware dulled to a soft patina by the salt air.
The completion of this vast porch was the occasion for the new owners’ first formal party, honoring their house guests, the future King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain (seen in the center framed picture below).
Having enjoyed a romantic diplomatic career, which included the position of U.S. chief of protocol, the couple were very popular hosts, counting Washington ambassadors among their friends. The first summer began a tradition that would continue, in one fashion or another, for almost thirty-five years — the Fourth of July dance. In the Newport spirit, this lady of the house loves to dance, “Fred Astaire style.” She confides, with a twinkle in her eye, “When I first walked into this house, I didn’t have to think twice. The marble hall was just a natural. It told me it was the place to dance. That’s the best thing about being a hostess. You’re invited to dance more often.”
Memories abound of the exigences and progress of this party over the years. “I had to give up a seated dinner because the party grew too big, four hundred people, so then we just had a dance. But when you’re older, a dance at ten is just too late. So after that I tried a tea dance, but just for one year. Nobody in Newport wanted to dance at five in the afternoon. They don’t even think about it until seven or eight. So that was out. Finally I concluded that a party from seven to eleven, with a dinner, buffet style, so guests can dine throughout the house and dance when they wish, was the perfect answer.”
For almost 150 years, this imposing but very livable house has seemingly reveled in the many fêtes, dances, luncheons, garden parties, formal dinners and cocktail parties held under its mansard roof. But then, come September, it all comes to a close…
At Beaulieu, departing Newport is preceded by an elaborate, two-week process known as “closing up the house.” To the amusement, or bewilderment, of her friends, our indefatigable chatelaine is the only one left in Newport who still carries out this ancient regimen. “It’s really so old-fashioned in today’s world that it’s ludicrous, but I can say it does pay off. Every curtain, chair, picture and light fixture is covered. Even newspapers are put on the wool carpets because moths are not partial to newsprint. It looks exactly as though we had died and gone to heaven.”
“All bibelots on every surface, in every vitrine are put away in their groups and labeled, to be put back in exactly the same place next year. Then, of course, all has to be uncovered and thoroughly cleaned before we return in mid-June.”
When asked for advice if one were to close up the house, she makes it all sound so practical. “ It saves a lot of wear and tear. For instance, these curtains in the powder room have been up since 1962. Forty years. Can you see anything wrong with them? If they hadn’t been covered, they would have bleached out. We do it every year with many people helping. It is a big house. Ten bedrooms and six staff bedrooms. But it just gets done.”
Three or four generations are always living at Beaulieu, with much warmth and affection the focus of such family life. And that is one of the secrets that makes Newport so special. Generation after generation comes back, “my great- grandchildren are friends with my friend’s great-grandchildren …it goes right on down the line.” our chatelaine allows. Her grandson echoes the sentiments of many who live here. “There’s something about Newport and the way the different age groups intermingle which you don’t find in a lot of summer communities. That’s one of the aspects that everybody likes about Newport…and I hope it continues.”
Featured Image Credit, Mick Hales.