Mitchell Owens for Architectural Digest.
When President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, set about restoring the White House, they relied on renowned style gurus Stephane Boudin, Henry Francis du Pont and Sister Parish. But when it came to creating their own home, a modest ranch house they built on 39 acres in Virginia hunt country, the equestrian first lady relied on her own talents, noting, "I designed it all myself."
On February 19, RR Auction in Boston is selling albums filled with documents and photographs detailing the planning, construction, and furnishing of the Kennedys' retreat on Rattlesnake Mountain, near Middleburg, Va. Local architect Keith Williams drew up the plans for the house, following the first lady's rough sketches and incorporating ideas from pages that she tore out of Maison & Jardin and Better Homes & Gardens; the simple kitchen, on the other hand, Jackie Kennedy modeled after one at the home of her mother, Janet Auchincloss.
Though absolutely plainspoken in its details and materials, the five-bedroom (plus two staff bedrooms), stucco-clad, one-story house had all the suburban mod cons that a prosperous Cold War-era family would want, such as French doors, a long flagstone terrace off the living room and dining room, and a bomb shelter. "The house may not be perfectly proportioned, but it has everything," the first lady wrote about the house she would eventually call Wexford, after the Irish county from which the president's family immigrated in the mid-19th century. "All the places we need to get away from each other. So husband can have meetings. Children watch TV. Wife paint or work at desk. Nurse have own room. Help a place to sit. All things so much bigger houses don't have. I think it's brilliant!" (And it's all still there: The house is on the market for $7.95 million through Virginia's Atoka Properties.)
As the auction's documentation illustrates -- so do fascinating home movies that are posted on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum's website -- the Kennedys' decor wouldn't have looked out of place on an episode of, say, Leave It to Beaver. A sparse mix of modern upholstery and antiques found its way into the pink-painted living room, while the dining room had Louis XVI-style caned chairs and -- souvenirs of the first lady's 1962 trip to India -- small paintings depicting sexual couplings from the Kama Sutra. (Okay, June Cleaver could never have gotten away with that.) Jackie Kennedy's bedroom was decorated en suite, with a single floral fabric used for the walls, curtains, and upholstery, and it was accented with black Victorian papier-mâché furniture and a button-tufted chaise longue like that in her White House dressing room. Daughter Caroline's frilly bedroom had pastel-painted French Provincial-style furniture of the sort that was a girlhood fixture in the 1960s, and the terraces hosted green Adirondack chairs, white café tables shaded by yellow umbrellas, and a swing set.
The house, which cost more than $100,000 to build, was ready for occupancy in spring 1963, and though Jackie Kennedy visited over the coming months, the family didn't spend a weekend there together until October 25. (The president reportedly didn't like the place at all.) A month later, he was assassinated in Dallas, and the following year his widow sold the house.
For more information about the auction, go to rrauction.com.
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