Monday, December 12, 2011

Clare Booth Luce and her Summer House

It's not often that one attends a lecture that can be described as fizzy and fun, but that's just how I would characterize Steven Stolman's talk last week at ADAC. The recently appointed President of Scalamandre is an avid fan of old movies just like many of us. His presentation, "Iconic Interiors of the Silver Screen", spanned decades of cinema and included images from such films as Indiscreet, Auntie Mame, Valley of the Dolls, and The Women. If you ever get the opportunity to attend Steven's lecture, I urge you to do so. Not only will you see images of the chic interiors from these movies, but you will also get Steven's humorous commentary too.

When Steven mentioned The Women, it jogged my memory of a 1940 House & Garden article that profiled the Greenwich, Connecticut summer house of Henry and Clare Booth Luce. It was the latter who wrote the Broadway play The Women, later produced as a movie in 1939. If you've never seen the movie, do so soon. You just might reconsider running with a pack of women!

The Luces' Connecticut home, built around 1905, was described in the article as a being a "modified Georgian design." According to H&G, the entire house as well as much of the furniture was designed by Virginia Conner with the exception of the master bedroom. That room was given to Luce's friend Dorothy Draper.

The home's interiors look quite glamorous although there are some elements that seem a little gimmicky. (I'm referring to the dining room's serving table that was suspended from the ceiling with white metal ropes.) If you ask me, the interiors are a combination of the chic yet proper style of Mary Haines (the Norma Shearer character in The Women) and the flashy and brassy look of her man-stealing rival Crystal Allen (played by- who else?- Joan Crawford.)

Probably one of the most famous rooms of the house. The living room was mostly pale beige except for the curvy sofa that was covered in a blue green fabric. The article does not mention whether the mirrored screen was purchased from Syrie Maugham or simply inspired by that in her music room on Kings Road in London.

The other side of living room that looked out over the garden. The loveseats were upholstered in diagonally quilted seaweed green fabric.

The master bedroom that was decorated by Dorothy Draper. The walls, draperies, bedspread, and carpet were all in shades of ice blue. Draper's beloved cabbage rose chintz was also used.

The sitting area of the bedroom was delineated by folding screens. I'm fascinated by those unusual pelmets.

The dining room and the unusual serving table. The walls were soft pink while the ceiling and rubber floor were white. The pine chairs were covered in pink and cyclamen colored fabric. The colors were chosen from a Raoul Dufy painting.

In the hall, the walls were Chinese red and the sofas were covered in Prussian green satin. (Don't you wish that you could see the photo in color?)

The powder room wallpaper was gunmetal, pink, and coral, while the dressing table skirt was made of pink voile.

The library in which most of the room was sand-blasted oak. The ceiling was painted turquoise, and the rug was beige Astrakhan.

All photos from House & Garden, June 1940.


  1. Anonymous8:32 AM

    Virginia Connor also did the Sullivan house by architect Edward Durell Stone in Reading Pennsylvania-which appeared in H&G in 2003 beautifully decorated for Christmas by Miles Redd. Some of the very same furniture designs appear in both houses.

  2. Anon- I'm trying to place that 2003 H&G article. I don't remember it. Hope that it's in my archives somewhere. Would love to see the photos! Thank you for telling me.

  3. Would have LOVED to have heard Steven's chat. I saw The Muppets movie this weekend for my daughter's birthday - and even there I was scouting out the interiors - some of which were surprisingly quite chic!! Of course this is totally fabulous - and I love that the architect was a woman!! The Women is one of my favorites!!

  4. If I am not mistaken, I have been to this house. The architecture is more or less preserved, but there is a large banal addition and the house was then (late 80s) used as a corporate headquarters. However, without furnishings, this charm was lost.

  5. I was thinking of you for a lot of reasons when I saw Gone With the Wind last night in a 1930's vintage theatre.

  6. Auntie Mame would feel right at home.

  7. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Virginia Kenniston Conner (1910-1985) studied at the Cleveland School of Fine Arts (1927-28), University of Akron (1928-29), and the Paris branch of Parsons. Her first husband was Willoughby Francis Brazeau. Her second husband was William Karl Dick, chairman of National Sugar Refining. (His first wife, Madeline Force, was the widow of John Jacob Astor IV, who went down on the Titanic.) Her third husband was Frederick Strong Moseley Jr., a stockbroker and president of the Lighthouse for the Blind. She had two children by her second husband: Direxa Virginia (Mrs Christopher Farrell Dearie, also an interior decorator) and William. As Virginia Conner, Virginia Conner Dick, and Virginia Conner Moseley, she worked from 1938 until her death. Among her jobs was the decoration of offices for E.F. Hutton and residential work for Walter Cronkite.

  8. Two books state that Clare Booth Luce was a client of Maugham's ... so presumably the screen (which seems to definitely be an SM creation) was indeed purchased from her.

  9. Richard B. Fisher's 1978 book about Syrie Maugham cites CBL as a client, stating, "In New York she designed rooms for Claire Booth, the playwright married to Time founder Henry Luce, and for Gertrude Lawrence. Sadly, no records of these commissions remain." I suspect those Prussian green button-tufted sofas are Maugham's too ...

  10. Steven's lecture does sound wonderful. I would have loved it!! It makes me want to move to NYC. I also loved the old version of The Women.
    L'Amour, L'Amour!! The Luce's house on Long Island was super modern. We thought it was very cool in the 60's.

  11. Loved all of this! The master bedroom with, what appears to be the headboard? has to be my favorite-the square pillow...hmmmm. Thanks for sharing.

  12. I will EAT my best Lilly Daché hat if that sofa (with the Chenille covered "throw" pillows) and the iconic mirrored screen (replicating the one in the drawing room of Mrs. Maugham's house the King's Road) are not indeed by the divine Mrs. M.

    For an alternate view, look for the Horst photo of Mrs. Luce sitting on said sofa. (It is reproduced as plate 132 in HORST: SALUTE TO THE THIRTIES/The Viking Press/ c. 1970)

  13. Gorgeous! Love the mirrored coffee table with the greek key design in the first image.

  14. What a FAB tour dahhling! Enjoyed your post very much.

  15. maven3:48 PM

    Have you seen the latest issue of T&C? There is a feature story of how up-to-date and modern it was to be working for Time (Luce) in the 1950 & 60 and there are a lot of photos of the work and reception areas that accompany the story. The Luce office décor and home décor have a lot in common to my eye.