Come Spy With Me
For house and garden voyeurs the best movie of the season is Summer Hours, which begins with children on a treasure hunt racing through their grandmother’s garden. Despite the cozy opening scene, the film tackles a lot of big themes (France, globalization, the death of a beautiful but no-longer-viable way of life) and the small things that fall prey to them (a couple of Corots, a Georg Jensen tea set, a Majorelle desk, a Josef Hoffmann cabinet). Early in the film we see these precious objects in daily use at the slightly disheveled (by American haute bourgeois standards) country place of Madame Berthier, where they are treated not as works of art but as functional commonplaces. Later in the film, we see the desk spotlit in a display at Paris’s Musee d’Orsay. In this setting, its virtues are impossible to miss, yet it seems almost artificial, as if it had been embalmed. Little wonder tour groups barely glance its way as their guide hustles them to whatever is next.
Thanks to the generous owners of the many superlative houses and gardens on tour this weekend, we, their Nosy Neighbors, have no shortage of interesting places to snoop.
If there’s a more idyllic town in all New England than Litchfield, Connecticut, I’ve yet to see it. Litchfield Open House Tour to benefit the Connecticut Junior Republic has been going strong for 62 years, so they’ve gotten the wrinkles ironed out. It always includes several of the finest old houses in town, such as the 1754 Oliver Wolcott House shown here, the earliest extant Georgian house in the area. What follows is a quote from the tour website: “The house was constructed on land bequeathed to [Oliver] by his father, Roger, who was Colonial High Sheriff of Litchfield, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Governor of Connecticut from 1796 until his death in December 1797. On September 23, 1780, while en-route to West Point to meet with Benedict Arnold, George Washington stopped at this house to have dinner and to sleep. The property also has an orchard where the women and children of Litchfield gathered to melt down a statue of George, III, to make bullets for the Revolutionary War soldiers to use against the British.” Seriously, you cannot make this stuff up. Four other houses, all within walking distance of the village green, are included in the tour. Those who attend the benefit Friday-evening tour and cocktail party get inside a sixth property, and, I promise you, it is a gem.
Preview Tour; Friday, July 10, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m., followed by a cocktail reception from 7 - 9:30 p.m.
Tickets from $75.
Saturday, July 11, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine, self-guided walking tour starts at the Information Booth on the Litchfield Green.
Tickets: $25/advance sale; $30/day of tour
Hidden Treasures of the Berkshires, a tour in its 19th season, organized by the Lenox Garden Club is being held this year in the towns of Sheffield and Ashley Falls. Properties include an old dairy farm, a former marble quarry, and a 1737 grist mill, with features ranging from a dramatic waterfall to a garden that echos the architecture of a modern house it surrounds.
Saturday, July 11, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., rain or shine
Tickets, $35 available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church, 1156 Ashley Fall Road, Ashley Falls, MA.
Winner for most unusual and, in its way, romantic property has to be the Hudson Athens Lighthouse Tour. A Hudson Cruise Boat departs from the Henry Hudson Riverfront Park in Hudson on the hour every hour between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. for the 10 minute ride out to the lighthouse. The tour takes about one hour and features a talk by Emily Brunner, who has actually lived there. There’s a picnic table for those who wish to linger. This is one tour that’s suitable for kids.
Adults/$20; children/$10; members/$10 and $5
Reservations essential; 518.822.1014 or 518.828.5294