Have you ever seen a house with a painted floor that looks like blue jeans? Or, walls so thick they accommodate multiple levels of sliding doors or shutters? Well, the PCA team surely has! Where may you ask? At the legendary Bunny Mellon estate in Upperville, Virginia.
Rachel “Bunny” Mellon is a name that often comes up when talking about Paul Mellon–her second husband, banking heir and art collector–and even her best friend, Jackie Kennedy. While Bunny was most known for her glorious gardens, particularly her most famous one, the White House Rose Garden, she also designed a series of houses. Her bold design and unique flare easily draws you in.
One of the most notable of her houses was her own estate. For those who do not know, the estate is not open to the public and very few are actually granted access. Some of our very own PCA team members, Ashley Marshall and Cathy Cherry, along with Kevin Campion of Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, were incredibly lucky to tour the estate with clients of ours who just purchased one of Bunny Mellon’s other houses a few minutes away. Our clients wanted to renovate the house originally built for Bunny’s daughter, but rather than change all the unique and bold “Bunny Mellon” features, they chose to embrace them! So to renovate this house, we must embrace the Mellon! Here are a few trademark Bunny Mellon treats!
Shutters – A Bunny Mellon staple. And, they aren’t the traditional shutters typically seen on the exterior of the house, from places like Atlantic Premium Shutters. Take a closer look. Notice how the walls are extra thick? There are two individual pockets on the INSIDE of the window. Why two? Well, closest to the window you have the wood frame sliding screens. But what if you want to filter some of the light? Oh, then next would come the sliding louvers. Want to go to sleep and have the room “blacked out”? We would traditionally use blackout curtains. However, Bunny added a third layer that did not pocket, rather, functioned like traditional shutters, and were completely solid. There are also folding hidden shutters at doors and windows, much like the ones you would find in her iconic Oak Spring Farm Estate. Another fun fact, there are shutters that have a high and low portion! You know… just in case you want the privacy while changing but still want to see the magnificent mountain views of the Middleburg area.
Clipped Doors – More often than not, architects will adjust the width or the height of a door, to prevent the top corners from being clipped when designing rooms that are built under, or into, the roof of a house. But when you walk into the guest house that Bunny designed and had built for her dear friend Jackie Kennedy, you will see clipped corners in several places throughout the house. So, when one happens in a house, we as architects have to remember to embrace it!
Comfort Stations – Ever wished to have a place where you can grab a quick drink for you and some friends,\ without having to walk all the way to the kitchen? You might know these areas as “wet bars”. For Bunny, they were “comfort stations”, and these were hidden all throughout her houses. So, it’s no surprise that there was always more than one. Some of our favorite hiding places? Behind the paneling in the living room and inside the corner built-in inside her dressing room. When you open the comfort station in her dressing room, you will notice everything at a smaller scale to fit into such a tight space. One of the pieces that our team loved the most was the 4” diameter sink, because where on earth can you find a 4” sink?! What we discovered was that it wasn’t necessarily a true sink. Rather, it appeared that it was a boat drain! But what a bold and clever use!
Hardware – Traditionally, we might purchase door hardware for a project through places like Touch of Brass or Walter Works Hardware. Not Bunny Mellon. All of her door hardware, down to the latches, hinges and door stops, were custom-made. And, interestingly enough, door knobs were never large like the typical ones we touch daily. They were smaller, more discrete, and all with an intentional antiqued look to them.
Today, we see houses that look like mansions, where everything is large, over-scaled and, in some cases, not completely thought out. One thing for sure is that when you walk into Bunny’s Oak Spring home, there is a simplistic elegance to it. Furniture and accessories fill the spaces. Nothing is too big or too small. Everything is just right. Enough room to entertain and the attention to detail that will keep you on your toes. It feels like a true home.
Written by Ashley Marshall, project manager at PCA