Anyone who has built a beautiful home understands how Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton felt about the Mount, the house she designed for herself and her husband, Edward, in Lennox, Massachusetts. For Wharton, the Mount was the perfect writer’s retreat—one she could never truly leave. “The Mount was my first real home,” she admitted in her later years, “and its blessed influence still lives in me.” As it does with us all, as one of America’s best Victorian destinations.
Order, Scale and Harmony
The story of the Mount begins in 1897, when Wharton co-authored The Decoration of Houses with architect Ogden Codman, Jr. One of the premier American historical studies of interior design, the book outlined the authors’ conception of order, scale and harmony—key ideas they later embodied in the Mount itself.
Built in 1902, the Berkshires house’s clean, up-and-down architecture was inspired by the 17th century Belton House, a Palladian-style country home in Lincolnshire, England. Though smaller, the Mount has a similar H-shaped plan, perfectly balanced according to Wharton’s ideal.
A true Renaissance woman, Wharton was interested in not only literature and architecture, but also gardening and European landscape design. When she and landscape architect Beatrix Farrand designed the gardens at the Mount, Wharton envisioned the gardens as not simply a flowery display, but as outdoor rooms. All three acres of the Mount’s dynamic gardens create unique architectural compositions that work in concert with the house and the surrounding natural landscape.
Restoring A Victorian Destination
Founded in 1980, the Edith Wharton Restoration, Inc., purchased the estate and restored it with gusto. In the seven decades since the Whartons left the house, the Mount had served as a private residence, a girls’ dormitory for the Foxhollow School, and the site of the theatre company Shakespeare & Company. The greenhouse and stable had especially declined; the former has been fully restored, but the latter has been undergoing structural renovations since 2010.
To restore the garden and grounds, the Edith Wharton Restoration has invested four years and more than $3 million on thousands of trees, shrubs and flowers, in addition to expert landscape architects. The Italianate walled garden and its rustic rock pile fountain have been completely restored. As a result, this Victorian destination’s outdoor landscape is beautiful at all times of the year, reflecting Wharton’s belief that the garden should possess “a charm independent of the seasons.”
In both its exterior and interior, the Mount represented a late-Victorian return to simplicity, illustrating the evolution of American interior design and landscape architecture at the turn of the twentieth century.
by Suzanne Leder