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A Designer Showcase at Ventfort Hall

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Photographs by Kevin Sprague

Vivian Kimmelman of Berkshire Home & Antiques created an Italian loggia, an indoor sitting room with an outdoor feel, from a skylit space mid-way up the grand staircase, that had perhaps been a fernery in the Morgans’ day.
When times are good, as they were in the late 90’s, saving Ventfort Hall, the neo-Renaissance house in Lenox that was built in 1893 for J.P. Morgan’s sister, seemed like the noble thing to do. In cash-strapped 2011, when a thousand not-for-profits vie for every philanthropic dollar, Ventfort’s saviors have been forced to rethink its raison d’etre.  It still presents itself as The Museum of the Gilded Age, though lacking a collection or any of the original Morgan furnishings, that sobriquet remains a bit of a stretch.  But that has not prevented the gilded-age “cottage” from transforming itself into a year-round venue for cultural programs, including several Boston Symphony Orchestra performances this summer (i.e., John Williams’ Concerto for Oboe, a piece that cries out for a more intimate setting than the Osawa Hall or the Tanglewood shed).
Rural Intelligence Road Trips
A debutante’s dressing room, designed by Katherine Morris of Morris House Antiques & Interiors, with walls painted with sepia-toned murals.
All of these special events, of course, will be held either in the garden or in the large, sober public spaces on the mansion’s main floor.  Which leaves the entire upstairs—a substantial stair landing, bedrooms, gentlemen’s sitting rooms, ladies’ parlors and dressing rooms, baths, with all their nooks and crannies (of which Ventfort has an uncommonly rich supply) empty and purposeless. 

So the powers at Ventfort have turned to a tried-and-true formula for raising funds by transforming the upstairs into a showcase for designers, antiques dealers, and artisans from throughout the Berkshires and slightly beyond (one, Barry Webber, of Marlborough Cottage Arts & Interiors, is from just over the Connecticut border).

Rural Intelligence Road Trips
Om: Nurturing Her Inner Garden Karen Beckwith‘s room, is hung ceiling-to-floor even over the window with a Beckwith-designed bamboo-leaf patterned textile.  The space is intended for an inward-directed, Zen-inclined woman writer.  The broad-in-the-beam easy chair permits her to sit in the lotus position.

Not only do designer showcases draw entrance-fee-paying diversion-seekers from far-and-wide, the effort the designers put into making their spaces presentable often further the restoration process.  At the very least, crumbling ceilings get a skim-coat of plaster at the designer’s expense.  In the end, rooms that might have once looked gloomy get cheered up.  And all those nooks and crannies, whose function, when empty, challenge the viewer’s imagination, suddenly come to life. The imaginary inhabitants may not be Morgans, but they do live a gilded life.

Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum
104 Walker Street, Lenox
Designer Showcase Opening
June 4, 3 - 5 p.m. tickets/$75
June 4, 5 - 8 p.m., tickets/$45
General Admission: June 5 - January 15
adults/$20 (Showcase only); $30 (both floors); 5 - 17/$7; no children under 5 admitted to Showcase

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 05/31/11 at 09:35 AM • Permalink