Ventfort Hall, the Mansion and Gilded Age Museum, has been transformed room by room by regional designers, antiques dealers, artisans and artists for a Berkshire Designer Showcase that opens with a reception on Saturday, June 4, from 3 to 8 and that remains in place for nearly eight months until mid-January 2012.
Fourteen restored rooms and halls on the second floor of Ventfort Hall have been reimagined by Valerie J. Winig, Wingate Ltd.; Vivian Kimmelman, Berkshire Home & Antiques; Allison B. Crane, Places + Spaces, and Carol Newton Rumph, The Comfortable Home Interior; Barry Webber, Marlborough Cottage Arts and Interiors and The Source Collection, Inc.; Kate Morris, Morris House Antiques & Interiors, LLC; set designer Carl Sprague; Evan Hughes, Evan Hughes Design, LLC; Cecil Pollen, Designers Furniture Showcase, Ltd. DBA Kitchens & Interiors; Karen Beckwith, Karen Beckwith Arts & Interiors; Thomas and Kathleen Tetro, Corner House Antiques; Karen Cedar, Interior Design, Decoration & Display; Eric Hilton, Eric Hilton Ltd.; and the Lenox Garden Club 100th Anniversary Display Exhibit “Then and Now.”
Beckwith calls her unique project, OM, Nurturing Her Inner Garden.
What follows is her artist’s statement:
This is a design about story telling.
My name is Karen Beckwith. I am a professional interior designer based in Lenox, and I created a very personal space for meditation at Ventfort Hall, the Gilded Age Mansion and Museum in Lenox, in what was—once upon a time—the children’s nursery.
“]First, I needed to imagine a make-believe client with real functional needs and requirements for the space. Of course, when a designer works on a show house there really is no client; just designers doing their creative thing. So I made one up. Channeling a family member who is new to the practice of meditation, I projected her into the future as an older adult, imagining her as a mother and wife with a demanding career as a screen writer—a story teller—with a need to have a ‘room of her own’ to keep herself and her creativity fueled.
The ‘client’s’ two requests? Make it special, beautiful, and of high quality. Private. Plus: make no architectural changes or renovations. Hmmmm…..
The room, however, presented several design challenges within the existing architectural conditions. Planning for the functional activities—all of which require uninterrupted time—was not going to be easy: within this small room there were three entry & exit doors, with access into and out of the space on three walls, which effectively made the room an interior hallway between two bedrooms and the grand staircase landing. This was simply too much traffic for a meditation space! All three doors and the one off-center window had been installed over time at different header heights, so that none of the trim aligned. In addition, the practice of meditation is to sit quietly, typically on the floor. In this room, the tall height of the ceilings felt overwhelming if seated on the floor. Added together, these features made the existing room feel disconcerting.
I knew that cultivating a feeling of safety in the space would be paramount to successful inner exploration. What makes a girl feel safe?
For this designer, wonderful memories of childhood ‘forts’ where I played for hours of make believe inspired my design concept. My first, and possibly favorite, play ‘fort’ was underneath the skirt of a willow tree my Mom planted in our front yard. The willow tree and I grew up together. One day, at about age 6, I discovered a secret room inside the branches of the tree, and I quickly set up residency. My friends and I felt completely and utterly separated from the rest of the world playing there; our crazy games—and negotiations—were safe from judgment by the grown-ups. Why not employ this powerful connection of remembered play, privacy and retreat—in an environment provided by nature with images of my lovely willow? My childhood story, told in design for my story-telling-screen-writer ‘client’, in the former nursery seemed immediately appropriate.
Inspiration led me to develop a custom, non-repeating textile design of long willow branches printed in soft greens on white linen. I chose linen for its casual, natural appeal and I love the way it drapes. The branches, which I rendered in graphite on paper, sway gracefully about 2’ above the floor and lower the sight line of the room—counteracting the high ceilings as it celebrates them. To ‘fix’ the un-aligned trim and ‘hide’ one of the doors, we hung the fabric around the entire perimeter from a cleat fastened to the bottom of the crown molding, allowing the fabric to float over the opening and trim. Gone! Catching the fabric in simple hardware to ‘reveal’ the other two doors allows access, but maintains the magic of being inside the willow tree.
”]Next I designed all the furnishings in the room of tightly edited materials and colors for the sake of simplicity, again keeping the sight line low to the floor. I planned for a symmetrical arrangement of elements to make the room feel balanced and peaceful. Balance can be literal for many people—in a room as well as in life. So: two storage dressers on each side of a writing/drawing table, all centered on the back wall. In equal measure, an altar table lines the opposing wall. The focal point of the room is a round meditation ottoman, which I designed and had custom upholstered. In form, the ottoman winks at 1940s Hollywood modern-girl-glamour, but feels organic enough for a Whole Foods shopper in natural linen. A table cantilevered over the ottoman thoughtfully offers anything needed.
To keep the focus inward, I skipped over the beautiful view at the window with a sheer handkerchief-linen version of the printed willow, carefully matching the pattern in a Gothic Arch that mirrors the window shape. The view, it was decided, distracted from the task at hand; covering it felt like the riskiest of all my choices but it works. A chunky basket-weave sea grass blankets the floor, providing both texture and outdoor nature. The ceiling is painted a summer sky cerulean, and from a newly installed medallion hangs…..the full moon. There is no monitor—computer or television—here; and at the ‘client’s request’, there is no phone either. It is a room unplugged, except for gentle music. Books, wooden pencils, journals, scented candles, pillows and comfort invite peace at home.
I wanted this room to feel honest and real within the gilded fabulousness of Ventfort Hall. “OM, Nurturing Her Inner Garden” is a softly modern design for a modern gal against the backdrop of a grand past. This wondrous house is a standing miracle of effort and focus, a product of the hard work of many intensely dedicated hands and talents. I am deeply grateful to be given the opportunity to tell my story here.