Fireplace Mantel

This weekend Sally and I (with the good help of our son Drew) performed one of our Fall rituals – dismantling and saying goodbye to our screened porch until next spring.

screened porch; photographer John Kelsey

screened porch; photographer John Kelsey

If I’d had my druthers, I’d have spent the weekend at the Kemble Inn in Lenox.

Kemble Inn in the Fall

Leisurely exploring the grounds.

Kemble Inn, Lenox, Ma

Appreciating the fall flowers.

Kemble Inn, looking back toward the terrace

And savoring the fall foliage from the terrace.

view from the terrace

Or from my bedroom window.

view from the terrace

Even though the fall leaves in the Berkshires are past their peak colors, there are many attractions to make the trip worthwhile. This summer, Sally and I stayed at the Inn while we spent a wonderful weekend visiting her brother, who was hiking the Appalachian Trail. We took in two concerts at Tanglewood and visited two lovely Trustees of Reservations properties, Ashintully Gardens and Naumkeag. My blog post about our visit can be seen here.

Another nearby Trustees of Reservations property of interest is The Mission House in downtown Stockbridge. Finished in 1642 for missionary John Sargent, it remained in the Sargent family unit it was purchased by Mabel Choate who relocated the property to it’s present location. She then worked with landscape architect Fletcher Steele to design the Colonial Revival garden you see today.

Mission House, Stockbridge, MA

The Norman Rockwell Museum located on the Linwood House estate is must. Linwood was designed in 1885 by Stanford White for the Butler family.

Linwood House; photographer John Kelsey

Linwood House; photographer John Kelsey

Peering thru the glass at the front door…

Linwood House; photographer John Kelsey

The Norman Rockwell Museum, designed by Robert Stern in 1993. (Classic design ages so well, doesn’t it?) has all of Rockwell’s iconic paintings including many I had never seen before. I was amazed to learn how carefully he constructed his paintings.

norman rockwell museum

His studio.

Norman Rockwell Studio.

So carefully preserved.

Norman Rockwell Studio.

Equally fascinating is Spring Lawn, immediately adjacent to the Inn. Designed by John Alexander in the classical Beaux Art style. It appears to be slated for future development as an inn and spa.

Spring Lawn mansion; photographer John Kelsey

Spring Lawn’s interior stair.

Spring Lawn, Lenox, MA

On the other hand, should you just want to lounge around the Inn, the accommodations will not disappoint. From the moment you step thru the front door you sense the Inn’s graciousness and history. This is the main lounge, which over looks the Inn’s terrace and grounds.

Kemble Inn, Main Lounge

Grand Foyer

Kemble Inn, Grand Foyer

The Piano Bar is the perfect place for coffee and dessert after dinner.

Kemble Inn, Lounge/Piano Bar

I returned home with several ideas for cabinet door glass.

Kemble Inn, Window detail; photographer John Kelsey

Kemble Inn, Window detail; photographer John Kelsey

We both loved the details in the dining room. Actually quite restrained for a Victorian Era home.

Kemble Inn, dining room; photographer John Kelsey

Couldn’t get enough of the ceiling light fixtures…

Kemble Inn dining room light fixture; photographer Sally Wilson

Or the bar cart… A little Art Deco perhaps?

Kemble Inn  bar cart; photographer John Kelsey

Which of course leads to my favorite part – the food and wine… The Inn is blessed with a wonderful menu (beautifully prepared) and wine list. I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Table Six at the Kemble Inn; photographer John Kelsey

Table Six at the Kemble Inn; photographer John Kelsey

OH yeah! Breakfast!!!

Table Six at the Kemble Inn; photographer John Kelsey

Very cool wine chiller idea!

Table Six at the Kemble Inn; photographer John Kelsey

We could linger on the front stoop and continue chatting…

Kemble Inn front door; Photographer  John  Kelsey

You get the idea. Sally and I would go back in a heart beat.



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This past weekend, four generations of the Wilson/Kelsey clan gathered at the Inn at Castle Hill in Ipswich for a weekend of fun and relaxation.

inn at castle hill, source unknown

 The weather was so delightful, much of it was spent on the Inn’s large wrap around porch that overlooks the backside of Crane Beach and island.

four generations; photographer, John Kelsey

While many of you may have visited Castle Hill to see the beautiful summer home and grand allée designed by David Adler for the Crane family, on this visit my objectives were different – jettison the car and walk.

But before we walk together, let’s spend a few moments at the Inn. The Crane family purchased the property in 1910, ultimately accumulating 2,100 acres of land including Choate Island, located in the salt marshes behind Castle Island. The family lived in the inn (known as the Brown House) while the estate was being built on the top of the hill. Two structures were actually built, the first being done in the Italianate style. David Adler was retained to design both the exterior and interior of the second English style structure we see today. The family continued to occupy the inn thru the 1950’s. Ultimately, much of the property was deeded to the Trustees of Reservations. In 1998, the Ipswich based architectural firm, Carpenter MacNeill, was retained to help guide the renovation and conversion of the Brown House into a small luxury inn. It’s accommodations are wonderfully warm and elegant. Listen carefully, you can hear echoes of the house’s rich history.

The cozy lounge. We would all linger here in front of the warm fire after returning from dinner.

Inn at Castle Hill Lounge; photographer, John Kelsey

It’s welcoming foyer.

Inn at Castle Hill Foyer; photographer, John Kelsey

The view toward the sunny breakfast room.

Inn at Castle Hill view to breakfast room; photographer, John Kelsey

The breakfast room.

Inn at Castle Hill breakfast room; photographer, John Kelsey

But as I said, my objective was to walk slowly to see what the grounds revealed. Honestly, I only scratched it’s surface…

I began by following the resident flock of turkeys as they crossed the yard in front of the Inn.

Turkeys at Castle Hill; photographer, John Kelsey

When you follow a flock of turkeys, you definitely slow down…

I found myself admiring the root structure of  several old, old beech trees, thinking, “There’s a custom rug here.”

beech tree roots; photographer John Kelsey

The tree’s folds of bark reminded me of the skin of a wise old elephant and I thought,”If this tree could talk, the stories it could tell.”

beech tree bark; photographer John Kelsey

I found myself on my hands and knees, admiring tiny fall asters in all their glory.

fall aster: photographer John Kelsey

The counterpoints to the detail and intimacy were the vistas that would slowly unfold before my eyes, the change in scale making them all the more beautiful and breath-taking.

Inn at Castle Hill vista: photographer, John Kelsey

Fox Creek behind the Hill. (I’ve had some amazing striped bass fishing in this little creek in the spring.)

Fox Creek behind Castle Hill; photographer John Kelsey

Overlooking the old garden plot and farm buildings.

Castle Hill Garden plot and farm buildings; photographer, John Kelsey

The garden called to me and I heeded it’s call. Aspects of the garden reminded me of Ashintully Gardens and Naumkeag, other Trustees of Reservations properties Sally and I had visited earlier in the summer. Note the trellis on the right and small tower structure in the far right corner of the garden.

castle hill garden plot; photographer John Kelsey

Loved the rustic stone cobble columns!

castle hill garden trellis, photographer John Kelsey

The trellis was made of cedar trees, carefully trimmed to fit. Note the copper cap on the column. Such attention to detail!!!

trellis detail; photographer John Kelsey

The small niche in the top of the back wall receive/hold the cedar logs in their proper place.

trellis detail; photographer John Kelsey

Of course, there is a fountain!!!

Castle Hill fountain under trellis; photographer John Kelsey

The old Lion’s head… Such wonderful patina!!!

Lion's head at Castle Hill; photographer John Kelsey

At each end of the Garden were towers built into the garden’s retaining wall. I’m sure back in the day, they afforded spectacular views of the surrounding country side.

Castle Hill Garden Tower; photographer John Kelsey

Tower stair… Elegant in it’s functionality and simplicity.

Garden Tower Stair; photographer John Kelsey

Mmmm, rustic gate and hinges…

Rustic gate and strap hinges; photographer John Kelsey

The trail continued to beckon and tease…

Peak of Castle Hill; photographer John Kelsey

The Italian Gardens are currently under restoration.

Castle Hill Italian Gardens: Photographer John Kelsey

Castle Hill Italian Gardens: Photographer John Kelsey

I was drawn to the play of light and shadow on the trellis.

Castle Hill Italian Gardens: Photographer John Kelsey

Across the road, the Rose Garden awaits it’s return to former glory.

Castle Hill  Rose Garden: Photographer John Kelsey

Take the time to look closely. Close your eyes… Smell the roses…

Castle Hill  Rose Garden: Photographer John Kelsey

Just around the corner, you cross the property’s Grand Allée that leads to the ocean. Look to the right, tucked into the hillside is the restored Casino. Earlier in the summer Sally and I attended the kick off concert for Castle Hill’s resurrected Summer Concert Series in the Casino. Wonderful, intimate, romantic. We will do more next year. Originally, where you see grass in the middle, there was a swimming pool and grass was where the stone walk way is today. The cost of that portion of the restoration was prohibitive… It must have been magnificent!

Castle Hill restored Casino; photographer John Kelsey

I leave you with the beautiful picture Sally took, looking back over her shoulder after walking the same circuit I had done. The sun shining gloriously, fall foliage coming into it’s prime. Food for the Soul…

Castle Hill restored Casino; photographer Sally Wilson



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Our work pace has slowed sufficiently that I’ve taken a few hours each of the past two days to sort and organize images for an update to the Work in Progress section of our website. At one point the realization came to me, “So, this is why there’s been no time to blog these past 5 months!” The sorting and organizing should make it easier to write more blog posts as well.

I thought I’d start with a kitchen/bath and “Oh by the way, I’ve never liked the way the fireplace and closet doors by the fireplace looked.” project that is just ramping up in Charlestown. The kitchen and bathrooms are relatively simple, while the fireplace/closet door problem is more challenging. (And more fun…) Right now, the fireplace elevation looks like two doors in a wall with the fireplace in-between. Overall, the room lacks focus and has no organizing/interesting architectural detail to speak of. The client’s taste leans toward Late 1700’s French Neoclassical and English Georgian (with a little New England sea captain thrown in for good measure…). “Casual elegance” were the descriptive adjectives written in their programming form.

The obvious solution is to build a mantel surround that ties together and conceals the two doors, thus bringing coherence to the elevation and creating a focal point for the room.

With that in mind, I began to cast about for ideas and inspiration. One source I always turn to when paneling is involved is the work of my Belgian friend Greet Lefevre and Lefeve Interiors. What I’m seeing here is how the paneling frames and bridges over the mantel as well as the finish, which is saying casual elegance to me.

Lefevre Interiors, living room paneling details

Here, Greet steps the formality down even further.

Lefevre Interiors, mantel surround paneling

We can’t forget the Georgian, New England sea captain. What a contrast in styles!!! This is an example of the work of American architect Phillip Trammell Shutze.  I can see a connection is aspects of the paneling between this and the image above.

Swan House, Phillip Trammell Shutze

Winterthur never disappoints. Typical of many early colonial homes, one wall would receive paneling while the rest of the walls in the room would be plaster. Both this image and the Swan House image give clues as to proportion and detail when dealing with a lower ceiling height. (My favorite reference book on Winterthur is Winterthur Style Source Book, Traditional American Rooms, by Brent Hull and Christine Franck.)

accent paneled wall, Winterthur

While not necessarily using specific details from any of these images, I created the first of two “cartoons”. The doors by the existing stone fireplace are concealed as full height “wall panels”set within flat stock door jambs. the existing stone mantel is deep enough that I can pad the wall around and above it such that this paneling sit slightly in front of the plane of the door jambs. The full height doors and the long shadow lines created by the trimmed fireplace give vertical lift to the room and create a focal point for the room.

French Neoclassical fireplace surround A, Wilson Kelsey Design

Adjacent to the surround is the kitchen, which will be opened up so it is visually connected to the living/dining room. I have designed the living/dining side of the counter to feel/look like a kitchen island to which one can pull up chairs.

Cartoon 2 illustrates my premise that sometimes you need to draw an idea simply to prove to yourself that it isn’t as good an idea or is an inappropriate solution. The idea was to study the effect of further panelizing the doors and to see what would happen if the counter were to be de-emphasized. Too busy and too weak…

French influence fireplace surround B, Wilson Kelsey Design

The contractor LOVES cartoon 1. The client feels #1 is the best choice, too, but is concerned that it may be too formal. My feeling is with the proper trim profiles (simple and not fussy) and the right paint color (a warm griege with a glaze) the room will snap together fulfilling the goal of casual elegance.

What say you?


John Kelsey, Wilson Kelsey Design

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