“A Delicate French Chateau Mirrored in a Massachusetts Pond” : A House Tour of The Mount

Note and acknowledgement : All sections in italics are taken from the leaflet Welcome to the Mount : Self-Guided Tour


In my last post the tour group had just arrived in the Entrance Hall. Just as the forecourt was designed to be an extension of the house into the landscape, the entrance hall was an extension of the landscape into the house. It was conceived as a grotto, or artificial cave, with stylized plaster-work simulating mossy walls and dripping water. 



The Gallery was inspired by similar rooms Wharton had admired in Italy. It is essentially a circulation space, allowing separate access to all the surrounding rooms and cross ventilation in the heat of summer. Here Wharton displayed a collection of Objets d’Art from her travels.


This room was Teddy Wharton’s office. A bookcase displays treasures from Mrs Wharton’s book collection, which can be viewed in the Library through the “hidden” doorway. It maintains original hardware (ordered from France), mirror, marble fireplace, cast-iron fireback, French doors and parquet floor.


The design of Wharton’s library follows recommendations in ‘The design of houses’ that the primary decoration of a library should be its books [I can’t argue with that!], and that the shelves be organic built into the walls rather than freestanding furniture. The panelling is oak. 

Although Wharton is photographed several times sitting at her desk, she actaully did most of her creative writing in her bedroom. The library was a place for solitary study, or for entertaining close friends with readings before the fire.

The books on the shelves are Wharton’s own, having returned to The Mount in January 2006, after almost a century in Europe.


The largest room in the house (36ft x 20ft) it also the only room with an elaborate ceiling treatment, which was completely recreated in 2002.

The room features a beautiful French marble mantel with cast-iron fire-back depicting Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac. The terrazzo floor was covered by a carpet, probably an Aubusson from France.

Books in the Drawing Room


The one photograph of the dining room in the Wharton’s time reveals a round Victorian table with white-painted French armchairs. A cushion under the table was provided for a favourite dog. This has been recreated today. It is an intimate space that bears no relation to the dining tables in all the many other stately homes that I have visited. Attached to the back of each chair is a label indicating who was sitting there enjoying Edith’s food and wine and, above all, her stimulating company.



The hall, which is approximately 95 feet long, was decorated plainly in Wharton’s time, in keeping with her belief that a hall was principally a passageway and not a living space.


The suite of two adjoining  rooms on the western, or forecourt [courtyard], side of the house was probably used by Wharton’s married guests.


The novelist Henry James was Wharton’s most honoured guest, and it is likely that he stayed in this, the best guest room during his three visits to The Mount. James was deeply impressed by the beauty of the estate, which he called “a delicate French chateau mirrored in a Massachusetts pond”, and by the Whartons’ hospitality. 


Just as Teddy Wharton’s den is smaller than his wife’s library, so is his bedroom suite smaller, as if to emphasise his secondary position in the household.


Wharton’s boudoir, or sitting room, is the most elaborately decorated room on the bedroom floor. It is dominated by eight floral still-life paintings set into the panelling, which came from Milan in Italy. Original furnishings included a desk, a sofa, and a daybed, with curtains and upholstery in Toile de Jouy. The original paint colours have been restored, and the room will soon be furnished as it was in Wharton’s time.


This room was decorated simply; the treatment “most fitting” for a bedroom. 

Wharton did most of her writing here; she would awaken early and write in bed, dropping the finished pages to the floor to be collected later for typing by her secretary.

Other rooms included a sewing room, closet for Mrs Wharton’s dresses, a butler’s pantry, a brush room for cleaning shoes and outdoor wear, offices for household management, kitchen, scullery, servants’ dining room and laundry – now the Book and Gift Shop.

Every effort has been made to make the visit enjoyable and informative with the added touches of flowers and books relating to the decoration of this and any house and appreciation of those who have been involved in bringing the house back to life again as nearly as possible as it would have been during Edith Wharton’s time. The renovations and improvements are ongoing.


10 comments on ““A Delicate French Chateau Mirrored in a Massachusetts Pond” : A House Tour of The Mount

  1. Fran says:

    Love the bathroom wallpaper.

  2. dovegreyreader says:

    Fabulous Barbara, now did I dream it, or were many of Edith’s books owned by the late Alan Clark?? The house is truly stunning and seems to radiate a peace. I wonder if that was the case when lived in or was it always humming with visitors and parties??

    • Barbara Howard says:

      Here’s what it says in that Independent article, Lynne :

      “He had to travel to Saltwood Castle, home to the Clark family. Sir Kenneth Clark – father of the late Tory MP Alan Clark – was Wharton’s godson and he inherited the library. But he sold most of it to a London dealer from whom Mr Ramsden bought them. When Mr Ramsden returned to Saltwood to try to find missing volumes he was told by the diarist MP that his quest was “admirable but a thundering nuisance”.

      I’m not so sure about humming – she seemed particular about who came to visit – and if she was only there in summer how marvellous to throw open the doors and be inside/outside – as it was on the day of my visit.

      • Callum says:

        Speaking of the Saltwood Library, I just picked up an antique looking book regarding a not-so-famous neo-classical artist which has bolted to the back “From the Library of Kenneth Clark, Saltwood”, should I suppose this is from the great man’s very own Library?

      • Well, I am no expert but it looks highly likely that it was once owned by him.

  3. Nilly says:

    I’m so pleased you were able to photograph Edith’s interiors! I find her “style” quite light and modern.

    • Barbara Howard says:

      It’s a refreshing change, isn’t it, Nilly? Also you could sit on almost all of the chairs and wander around at will wherever you liked. It was very light and modern and I think a lot of the stuff was possibly reproduced but as near a copy as possible. I think they try to be very like the original as far as possible from the evidence that they have. She certainly had style as well!

  4. Simon T says:

    So beautiful! I had no idea she lived in such splendour. Those BOOKS! And to think you were allowed to sit on the chairs! The NT could learn a thing or two.

    • Barbara says:

      Splendour, maybe, but very comfortable. I think maybe we were allowed to sit on the chairs because they were reproductions. It was very relaxed. Yes, it is such a shame that NT restrict entry to rooms and access to furniture, the ropes are awful, there must be ways around this. Yes, Simon, a fantastic collection of her own books – all available to visiting students/researchers upon application.

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