It is January and the dogwoods in the back yard of this University Park estate are blooming two months early. A long spate of warm weather has encouraged them prematurely, and there are clusters of white petals gathering on the bare branches like snow. Winter is confused; the seasons can’t be counted on. But inside this historic Gatsby-era mansion, nature is consistent, by design.
The Four Seasons estate, as this Federalist Georgian-style home has been nicknamed, was built in 1929 by famed architect Hal Thompson. There’s no evidence that Thompson ever called the house The Four Seasons or intended the design to reflect the seasons of the year. A former homeowner might have dubbed it this many years ago, or it might have been the quixotic invention of a clever real estate agent. Its origin is probably less romantic than I hope. Yet, consider the four main rooms of the house: The dining room, with its many shades of new leaf green, is as fresh as spring; the living room’s mahogany paneling and carved fireplace evoke autumn in all its cinnamon-hued glory; the solarium’s Texas limestone fossil walls remind me of the beach in summer, while the foyer is pale and spare, like a winter day. To top it off, someone installed four marble statues representing the four seasons in the back yard, under the dogwood trees.
Interior designer Larry Grussendorf’s clients bought the estate four years ago. It had been renovated by architect Richard Drummond Davis, who has been lauded for his historically sensitive, 4,000-square-foot addition to the back of the house. By then, The Four Seasons legend was firmly entrenched, and Grussendorf’s redecoration developed accordingly with the architecture. He used a light hand.
The fundamental foundation of the house was already in the seasons, he says. It’s reflected in the details of the walls, ceilings, and beautiful Hepplewhite carved doors. Sweeping windows allow an abundance of sunlight, and French doors in every room open to the gardens. Hal Thompson was a master of proportions, and while the house is spacious (the square footage of the original wing is about 6,000 square feet), it is not overscaled. Rooms feel intimate.
Fine details are Thompson’s hallmark, and they are everywhere, from ornamental plaster ceilings to shell-carved niches, ornate mahogany doors, fireplaces, and planked basket weave mahogany floors. An original leaded glass window in the foyer remains, along with original carved mahogany stair railing and raisin-and-white marble floors.
Designer Larry Grussendorf played to the lady of the house’s coloring, using the auburn in her hair and brown in her eyes as much as possible throughout. Naturally, she looks great in the dazzling citrus dining room, which is dressed in varying shades of light green. The wall color was toned down with several layers of umber glaze, Grussendorf says, for a more antiqued look. The ornate moldings on the ceiling and the carved-shell niches were painted green instead of a contrasting color so that nothing would detract from their beauty. Orange taffeta draperies left by the previous homeowner were replaced by verdant silk draperies and embroidered green sheers, which softly filter the light. An existing French crystal chandelier was in good shape, but too large for the room, so Grussendorf had it rebuilt and scaled down. A few green crystals were added to the chandelier, and the couple’s dining room chairs were reupholstered in citrus velvet by Lee Jofa.
White porcelain cachepots by Lorin Marsh from David Sutherland Showroom; citrus-colored, silk Fortuny fabric panels on walls; chandelier and sconces by Thomas Grant; Louis XVI style dining table designed by Larry Grussendorf; Waterford crystal and Rosenthal china place settings; draperies are Nancy Corzine silk, with Scalamandre silk trim; woven lace sheers by Coraggio.
One can imagine Daisy and Gatsby lounging in the solarium, the French doors flung open to let in a summer breeze. Even though it evokes summertime casualness, it’s still a glamorous room, with Texas fossil limestone walls, the original star medallion terrazzo floors, and a trompe loeil of clouds and blue sky on the ceiling.
Arm chairs upholstered in palm trees fabric by Clarence House; Clarence House palm trees fabric on windows, with gessoed, bark finished branch rods and leaf finials; acrylic base table; ottoman upholstered in Kravet wildcat pattern; twig chair by Erika Brunson, upholstered in Edelman leather.
The living room’s rich cinnamon and rust colors are like burnished oak leaves in fall. It would have been a mistake to try to decorate this room literally, with leaf patterned draperies and furniture, Grussendorf says. Instead, he made the most of the autumnal coloring that comes naturally from the mahogany wood paneling, basket weave mahogany floors, and raisin-colored marble fireplace surround and carved mantle, by adding a backdrop of cinnamon-colored silk draperies and sheers. Because the room is so dark and needed a lift, or a sparkle, I brought in a contemporary acrylic coffee table, Grussendorf says.
Adams-style plaster dentil molding on ceiling; pair of antique crystal chandeliers; Spectrum acrylic coffee table; pair of Chippendale-style chairs upholstered in Clarence House fabric; sofa is upholstered in Rogers & Goffigon silk; Jim Thompson silk pillows; rug is custom-designed Aubusson pattern by Larry Grussendorf; 19th century English fireside chair; antique gold leafed bull’s-eye mirror.
The foyer is two stories high, with a dramatic S-shaped staircase and a 10-foot leaded glass window. Very Hal Thompson, and very Great Gatsby. You can imagine dramatic, Hollywood-style entrances and exits in this room, so why upstage it with anything unnecessary? The colors I chose in here are brighter, sunnier colors, with creams, whites, and golds,
Grussendorf says. The window demands attention, so I didn’t want to do anything to detract from it. The original raisin-and-white marble floors were restored.
The 22-karat gold leaf wood chandelier by J. Robert Scott; Regency style center table; antique French settee; Mud, Clay and Sand painting by Jamali; pair of 18th century ball-and-claw chairs, and Italian pedestal table; original carved mahogany stair railing; Edward Fields runner.