Villa Style

The answer to that childhood riddle was, “When it’s ajar.”

Now it’s so much more.

It seems that more and more, Sally and I are being asked by our clients to design little gems or architectural jewel boxes. The scale can vary from multiple rooms to highly customized projects within a room – such as the concealed/hidden doors I’ve been working on this fall. One is adding a new door in a way that it will blend seamlessly with an adjacent bar. The other we were asked to make two closet doors “disappear” in a living room.

Sally and I were fortunate enough to see several different interpretations/applications of hidden doors during our visit to France last fall. In certain instances, it seems the classical architects of the mid 18th Century did not want doors “messing up” their designs.

Here are two doors cut into the paneling at Petit Trianon. All you see are shadow lines and tiny door knobs. Note the scale and delicacy of the knobs, rosette and hinges. The integrity of the paneling and decorative onlay is preserved.

This door swings out of the room.

Petit Trianon, hidden door;  photographer John Kelsey

This door swings into the room.

hidden door, Petit Trianon; photographer john Kelsey

At Fontainebleau – upholstered wall and wainscot.

Napolean's bedroom, hidden door; photographer John Kelsey

Fontainebleau, hidden door; photographer John Kelsey

And Vaux Le Vicomte. I could get lost in this photo…

hidden door, Vaux le Vicomte; photographer, John Kelsey

let’s wind the tape forward to our contemporaries. My Belgian friends, Lefevre Interiors, are masters of their craft. look closely. The oh so tiny pulls give the concealed panels away.

traditional living room; Lefevre Interiors

A single pull… The person who hung this door is a true artist!

Lefevre Interiors; tradtional French paneling with hidden door

Axel Vervoordt hid a door in a book case, providing access to the office beyond.

Axel Vervoordt, Timeless Interiors; photographer Christian Sarramon

 Several years ago, Wilson Kelsey Design designed a small library in which the cherry paneling hid the all the plumbing shut off valves and electrical panels for a home. (photographer, Michael J Lee)  The panel with the artwork on it swings out, providing access to the utilities behind. Those were interesting details to work though… Pretty cool pocket doors, too!

concealed door in paneling; photographer Michael Lee

Back to this fall’s challenges… First the hidden closets in the living room. I had hoped to use the requirement to create a focal point for the room, pulling it all together, as the room currently lacks focus. The fireplace was existing, with “Gothic” overtones. The client likes French style… Another aspect of the overall project was to open up the wall to the right of the fireplace, connecting the small galley kitchen to the adjacent living/dining area. The new “L” is to the right of the proposed concealed doors and wood paneled mantel surround.

Proposed concealed doors by fireplace; Wilson Kelsey Design

The client didn’t like all the wood trim around the fireplace, but did want to tweak the look of the “L” by adding large corbels from Enkeboll to support the countertop. We designed what looks like built in cabinetry with bookshelves above for the closet doors. Overall not as elegant, but I am content. The closet doors are about 2 ¾” thick.

hidden closet final design, Wilson Kelsey Design

We will be sourcing the book bindings from Original Book Works in England.

faux book bindings, The Original Book Works

Looking at both elevations, if I could combine the mantel surround from the first elevation with the “L” and soffit bracket from the second elevation, I think we’d really be on t something! Save it for another job, John…

Moving on to the seconds hidden door challenge. I needed to design a door between the entrance to a wine cellar and a custom built in bar. There’s just over 36″ of available space. The client didn’t want anyone to know it was a door. I drew 4 options, starting with a simple wood panel solution and worked up to the base cabinet/shelving option. The wine cellar is on the left. The door will swing into the hall behind the bar, so no hardware will be visible. We started out using a standard 6′-8″ door.

sketch 1; Wilson Kelsey Design

sketch 2; Wilson Kelsey Design

sketch 3, Wilson Kelsey Design

sketch 4, Wilson Kelsey Design

The client loved Sketch #4. Working drawings are complete.

outswing concealed door, WIlson Kelsey Design

The job has been priced and the door is in fabrication.

Can’t wait for the Holiday Party in December!!!



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Since our Paris trip, Sally and I have had opportunities to use what we learned and and absorbed in a number of our projects. (Posts can be seen here and here.) We have designed a paneled living room, and a chinoiserie style mud room, a Hall of Mirrors powder room, several hidden doors and pieces of furniture. Today, I will stick with a china cabinet. It was designed for a project in Chestnut Hill. Sadly, the two pieces that were commissioned were not built. So…, if you know any one…

For inspiration, we drew from a hutch we had seen while visiting Petit Trianon. Particularly it’s cabinet doors, fiches hinges and hardware.

Petit Trianon; photographer, John Kelsey

Petit Trianon; photographer, John Kelsey

 And the stepped corners from this display case in the Louvre.

Louvre, display case; photographer John Kelsey

I drew two different sketches. One showing the cabinet in the context of the room setting. The cabinets show the stepped corners. One aspect of the design I was looking at were the esthetics of two doors (left) vs one door (right). The one door solution was selected.

french style cabinet a & b; Wilson Kelsey Design

I then drew larger partial elevations to prove to myself that the stepped corner worked visually and to check it’s proportion.

french style cabinet a & b; Wilson Kelsey Design

The base cabinet door was a raised panel door. The door panel trim on the left wold have been exquisite, but a custom knife needed to be made in order to mill the shape of the trim profile. The cost proved to be too much, so we settled for the style on the right, using a slightly modified panel trim profile I was able to find thru a local cabinet making shop.

With an approved design, I prepared a set of construction drawings, which the cabinet maker used to price the project. If the commission had gone forward, shop drawings would have been produced by the cabinet maker. Shop drawings are important because they provide an opportunity for demonstration of the cabinet maker’s understanding of the designer’s intent. Questions can be asked back and forth, details worked through, etc., such that there is  a clear understanding by all parties as to what the final piece will look like and how it will be built.

You can see that the upper cabinet door was tweaked, giving the piece an updated feel. Yet the idea came from the circle at the top of the Petit Trianon hutch above.

french cabinet construction drawing; Wilson Kelsey Design

This is an example of one of the horizontal detail sections I drew at full scale in order to sort thru the finer points of trim profiles, hinge clearances, etc.

fiche hinge detail, Wilson Kelsey Design

At any rate, since the cabinets were never built, I found myself wondering what if the finish were jazzed up a bit, a la Grange. Not sure exactly how, maybe inside the upper cabinet interior with it’s glass doors? Pop the trim between the base and upper cabinet?

One inspiration idea from a Grange piece Sally and I saw in the Paris Grange showroom window. Liking the high gloss black paint as a finish, too.

Grange Sideboard: photographer John Kelsey

Or possibly a wallpaper theme…

Wall paper and screen; photographer John Kelsey

Any thoughts?



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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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