Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Atlanta Week - 1928 and two depressions

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.


  1. I have not visited this home in a while, makes me want to go for a pilgrimage!

    I seem to recall that Atlanta designer Dan Carrithers was involved in the renovation.

  2. I haven't heard that Dan Carrithers was involved and he may well have been, but we were not told that at the time of the pre-installation tour or in fact since. I'll check it out.

    It is a beautiful house but as in all these places one can feel the dead hand of the curator - nothing ever changes or evolves. That is in the nature of museums, I suppose.

  3. Loved the Swan House, the grounds and its history. I recently visited there and featured an entry on my blog as well.

  4. Loved the tour and your insights. Have you read The Help by Kathryn Stockett? Will make you love those depressions in the kitchen floor even more.

  5. Home before dark .. I have not read The Help but someone else recommended it to me recently and for the life of me cannot remember who. Shall seek it out this weekend.

    Tea or wine ... I shall check out your blog.

    Thank you, both.

  6. The kitchen and butler's pantry are two of my favorite rooms in the house, and not just because of that vivid shade of blue. If I could recreate one room in my own home, it would be Mrs. Inman's dressing and bath room. Now that was quite chic for that era, and it still looks wonderful today.

  7. That bathroom is usually described by the docents as being Art Deco but it's really Empire Revival or Regency Revival. Painted by Athos Menaboni. Mr Inman's bathroom, never on the tour, is more beautiful in a totally different way.

    Behind stairs is always more fun than front of house.

  8. Philip Trammell Shutze is one of my favorite architects of all time! I noticed through the comments that classicist architect John J. Tackett, a distant relative of P.T.S. through the Trammell lineage, also reads your blog. What genes that family has! Tackett, who must be fifty-something, continues to have a remarkable career based on traditional residential design, though not widely known outside certain circles. After a stint at the legendary decorating firm Parish-Hadley, he opened his own office, sometimes collaborating with P-H alumnae such as Bunny Williams.

  9. Sheik of Chic - FAB nom de plume and very informative comment. You've given me leads to follow.