A long allée bordered by towering linden trees stretches out from the gates to the entrance of Westbury House, framing its Charles II façade. Tall, imposing iron gates announce that you’re now entering a secluded and spectacular estate known as Old Westbury Gardens located in the very exclusive village of Old Westbury in Long Island, New York. Old Westbury Gardens is so picturesque it’s been chosen for the settings of several movies, including Love Story and Age of Innocence.
Westbury House became the home of newlyweds John "Jay" Phipps (son to a partner of Carnegie Steel) and Margarita Grace (daughter of the founder of the Grace Shipping Lines) in 1903. The Phipps family joined the Old Westbury neighborhood whose prominent inhabitants included the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys, and the Winthrops ... to name just a few.
Phipps wanted his homesick British wife to feel at home in Long Island, so he turned to British designer George Crawley to design his home. The result was the Charles II style, an 18th century architecture mix of classical and baroque motifs. Crawley wanted to create a gracious country manor that looked like it had been standing there for centuries. A symmetrical brick façade of classical windows, corniced roof, and center Palladian window surround a baroque entry porch of clustered columns, producing a home that was at once elegant and impressive without being imposing.
Many of the furnishings were imported from London. The White Drawing Room contains Chippendale flourishes, including an elaborate Chinese Chippendale mirror and window cornices. The chandeliers are Waterford crystal. The very light and airy drawing room was a favorite and became the gathering spot for tea for the family and their close friends.
When the weather was warm, the family gathered in the West Porch, a glass-enclosed sunroom. Covering the room is an impressive coffered oak ceiling, supported by ionic columns. In between the columns, the glass walls could be opened up by hydraulics. They descended into the basement, making the room an open porch to the gardens outside.
For formal entertainment, the Phipps family used the Red Ballroom. The room took its name from the scarlet damask-covered walls. The grand piano and wide expanse of teak parquet floor encouraged dancing in many a party. The French doors open up to the back terraces with a long view of another allée of linden trees and rolling velvet green lawns.
The grand dining room boasts of a marble fireplace with oak carvings over the mantle sculpted by the famous English carver, Grinling Gibbons. On the east wall is a John Singer Sargent painting of Margarita Phipps’ mother, Annie Phipps. A mahogany dining set graces the room and is laid out with Tiffany silver, crystal and Spode china. A mural of a blue sky inset white plaster mouldings provides the crowning touch of the elegant room.
The second floor holds several bedrooms, a boudoir, and dressing room. The most distinguishing feature of the master bedroom is the mahogany Chippendale tester bed. The carved Chippendale Chinese details are echoed in the window cornices. The cornflower blue and cream palette balances out the dark mahogany furniture. A painting of the Phipps’s only daughter, Peggy, hangs over the fireplace mantel.
The view from the Red Ballroom is the South Terrace (pictured above), filled with formal English box hedges, Greek statuary, and manicured lawns. Behind the tall hedges lies a walled garden (see photo below). Depending on the season, the garden grows lilacs and tulips in the spring, roses and bearded irises in early summer, dahlias in early fall, and asters in late fall.
Walk a little further into the grounds and you will find a lotus pond, reflecting pool, statuary such as Diana the Huntress, a children's thatched cottage, and the Temple of Love. In whatever direction you stroll or whichever room you look out of from the house, there will always be a spectacular vista to look upon when you visit Old Westbury Gardens.
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