It is not possible if one has visitors from out of town not to take them to the Edward Hamilton Inman House or what is now known as the Swan House, a name apparently given by Mrs Inman after swans were used as a theme throughout the house. A beautiful, but surprisingly small house it is, and certainly worth the effort if one can concentrate on the architecture and the decoration, not the tales of the family that once lived there.
The house was designed by Philip Trammell Shutze, a superb classicist who after study in Italy and a short sojourn in New York lived the rest of his life in Atlanta, for Mr and Mrs Edward Inman. The fortune that built the house and purchased 25 acres in what was then suburban Buckhead was from cotton. Eventually (1967), the house, grounds and furnishings passed into the hands of the Atlanta Historical Society and became a house museum - one of Atlanta's most popular places for tourists to visit.
A few years ago we were treated to a walk-through of the yet to be reinstalled rooms after a multi-million dollar restoration. The most novel though to some people shocking aspect of the renovation was the color used on the columns you see above and in the dining room below.
These photos from Landmark Homes of Georgia show rooms that are charmingly faded and indeed were so when we first saw the rooms in the late 90s. After the renovation the comparison to what had been was quite striking. The hall columns were a strong terracotta pink and the morning room walls were as near to poison green as I have ever seen and the ceiling was painted what the friend showing us around described as titty-pink. A collision between the two colors happened without any mitigation from picking-out of elements in the cornice and was based entirely on scrapes and paint spectrometry.
Despite the scientific evidence a great fuss was made about the colors, especially that of the columns which were disappointingly and rapidly returned to what they had been before the renovation - white. The pink of the columns was not the most attractive I have ever seen especially in such an unbroken version but it was authentically 1920s and 1930s - as are the colors of the morning room - and I think it a pity it was painted over.
The room Mrs Inman referred to as her morning room was decorated by Ruby Ross Goodnow Wood, then of New York but originally from Monticello, Georgia. By the way, that is pronounced as Montisello not as in the Monticello of Thomas Jefferson - at least that is what I have been told more than once.
From the text of Landmark Homes of Georgia:
"Mrs Wood was one of the first professional decorators in America. She was the author of The Honest House (1914), and she was Elsie de Wolfe's ghost writer for the better known The House in Good Taste (1913). Elsie de Wolfe and Ruby Ross Wood practically invented interior decorating and this room exemplified their approach; both recommended chintz-covered sofas for that "English-country house look." Billy Baldwin, Mrs Wood's protege, has said her credo was "to arrange beautiful things comfortably." Nothing new there but sometimes its good to be reminded of what one knows one knows.
Also, the question is asked ".... why has a house of less than 75 years been opened as a museum" The answer, overblown and slightly pompous, is as follows:
"The place, inside and out, is a culmination of the domestic architecture of Georgia - which may never be equalled. It is the quintessential example of Georgia's love of beautiful houses and gardens in the classic revival tradition and as expressions of social and cultural status. It is the villa ideal, long courted in Georgia, ideally realized. It is what Georgians have been expressing architecturally, with varying degrees of success, since the houses of William Jay in Savannah one hundred years before. And expressed here with consummate knowledge and taste."
For me, one of the few actually moving things about the house are the two depressions worn into the linoleum floor by the cook in front of the stove and the sink in the kitchens of the Swan House.
If you wish to read more of Philip Shutze go to American Classicist: The Architecture of Philip Trammell Shutze, E. Dowling, Rizzoli 1989.