Autumn, Design & Décor, Living with Style, The Newport Diary

A Newport Story: The Twin Pleasures of Elm Court

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


This gorgeous fall weather has reminded me of a very similar day three years ago. In the final stages of photography for my new book, Living Newport: Houses, People, Style


I was documenting a home to be included in the Autumn section of the book. And what made it especially fun was that the action included twins, the sixth generation to live at Elm Court. This is a very Newport story!

It’s a glorious autumn day, the majestic, century-old fern leaf beech is bathed in rich golden yellow, its leaves set off by the Japanese maples that are ablaze in iridescent shades of scarlet, claret and copper. Elm Court’s sheltered position from Newport’s forceful sea breezes has preserved an important collection of these specimen trees, some to be seen as you enter the iron gates off Bellevue Avenue.

Photo Credit: Kenneth Lindh

For the Cary family, Elm Court (built in 1853) served only as a summer residence until the 1950’s when the Italianate brick villa became a year ‘round home. In 2008, Mary and Guy Van Pelt took up full-time residence in the large house following Uncle Guy Cary’s death. Their five-year-old fraternal twins, Mary Vivian McGill and Cynthia Fairfax Cary (named after their grandmothers) are now the sixth generation to live at Elm Court. And living at Elm Court with a young family has European overtones that hint of old Newport while graciously acknowledging the realities of modern-day life.

Mary says, “I think it’s important to enjoy the space we live in, and to create memories! We have fun at Elm Court and use all of the house. Every room is shared by all four of us; nothing is off limits for the girls. We don’t worry about spots, spills or breaks. I envision the house evolving, but not losing its ambiance or patina. Yes, it may seem ‘museum-like’ (from the antiques in every room to the stacks of old Louis Vuitton trunks in the attic) but we make it livable and workable.”

Photo Credit: Kenneth Lindh

To me, romantic is another descriptive for Elm Court: old hand-painted wallpaper graces the height of a tall folding screen, the evocative family portraits line the stairwell, a pleated silk lamp shade adorns a handsome column lamp on an eighteenth-century French chest. There is an authenticity and personality to Elm Court accumulated over the years by the contributions of architects and artists of their day. As Guy explains, “During the late 1800s it was the fashion to seize upon the newest architect to arrive in Newport and commission him to add a room, wing or tower to your home. For our house, George Champlin Mason was followed by McKim, Mead & White. Ogden Codman added his signature embellishments to the overlays.”

Photo Credit: Mick Hales

The cutting garden provides many bouquets to place throughout the grand rooms, their bright autumn colors complementing the warm patina of the oil paintings and gilt wood antiques.

Photo Credit: Mick Hales
Photo Credit: Mick Hales

The open gallery’s much-used sitting area creates one more spot for a cozy living space for the twins.

Photo Credit: Mick Hales

Guy’s childhood memories of Elm Court include peering over the balustrade during parties, watching “the grown-ups” dancing in the main hall below, after the rug was rolled up.

Photo Credit: Mick Hales

 In the summer, we all head to the screened-in porch, our favorite spot, for breakfasts, family dinners and guest suppers.” Five-year-old Cynthia adds “I like the porch; it’s more fancy. My pearls look better.” The porch lets onto the parkland setting, which includes the old greenhouse with its fanciful cupola at the north end of the lawn. The greenhouse itself looks every bit like a vestige of the Crystal Palace from the 1851 London World’s Fair. Beyond the greenhouse are the requisite stables (with ten stalls) and carriage house.

Photo Credit: Mick Hales

The mention of stables raises a bit of interesting family history. Guy’s great-grandmother Frances was a fine equestrian and highly regarded Lady “Whip” (the formal term for one who drives a coach) who was invited to participate in many of the venerable Coaching Club’s events. It was rumored that she was the first woman to drive a four-in-hand in Central Park, quite noteworthy in its day. Like Mary and Guy, Frances was also the mother of a set of twins by her first husband, a titled Englishman, Sir James Boothby Burke-Roche, 3rd Baron Fermoy. Her eldest twin son Edmund inherited the title to become 4th Baron Fermoy; his granddaughter was Diana, Princess of Wales.

With young Mary’s words echoing in my ears—“Every five seconds there’s a tea party going on”—I’m reminded of a certain English country home that has become the subject of a very popular BBC series. Here in America, in Newport, the script seems to be playing out most charmingly in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Featured Image Credit, Mick Hales.

If you enjoy this article, please share it!
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".

10 thoughts on “A Newport Story: The Twin Pleasures of Elm Court

  1. SO,THAT IS THE CONNECTION of PRINCESS DIANA to AMERICA!I read in another blog there was a connection but did not know the STORY!
    Love the bit about the little GIRL and HER pearls!!!!!!!
    THANK you for the history lesson and what TV series is filming in NEWPORT?!!

    1. Yes, that’s why I titled this a “Newport Story.” I’m not aware of any TV series filming here; please fill me in!

  2. Very enjoyable read. Little girls and their pearls. Lovely family home on a rather grand scale.

    1. Thank you for your note. Yes, “little girls and their pearls”…out of the mouths…

  3. Thank you Bettie. Charmed by the daughters comment on her “pearls” & of Guys childhood reminiscences.
    Mary’s view of enjoying all that Elm Court offers will surely lead to some wonderful memories for this delightful family!

    1. Was that not the cutest comment?Out of the mouths…and the sixth generation to live in this handsome home. Plus, they are dear friends!

  4. This was such a wonderful post and I really enjoyed reading about the family and history of the home. Thank you for sharing a bit more of such a wonderful town. I can’t get back there soon enough!

  5. As i read this story i felt as if i was there once again. I can recall the smell of the grass as well as see the flower arrangements i would put together everyday. Yes the porch is a wonderful place and im sure many wonderful memories will continue tobe made there. My name is Stephanie Harris. I worked for Mr Cary back in1994 as his first floor maid. He was a very wonderful man. I am very grateful to him for all the wonderful people that i was able to meet and to all the stories that he shared that i was able to share with my children about my adventures in Newport RI.May your lives be blessed and memories made at Elm Court.

  6. I am new to your blog and a lover of Newport. I try to visit at least once a summer and while most people are there for the mansion tours, I am there for the cliff-walk and imaginings of a by-gone era. There is such a tranquility about walking the cliff and it brings me peace and contentment in an otherwise chaotic and at times, blue reality.

    I love your blog. You have a beautiful way with words, filled with imagery and reflection. Its very enjoyable to read…Thank you.

Comments are closed.