The Mount: Edith Wharton’s Massachusetts Mansion

In this installment of “Larger Than Life: Architecture Through the Ages,” we visit a once-popular American author’s home in the Berkshires.
The Mount: Edith Wharton’s Massachusetts Mansion
What was farmland became, in the early 1900s, The Mount’s estate grounds, with an Italia-walled garden, formal, manicured hedges, and ornamental trees, flower gardens, and plenty of walking paths, all surrounded by a dense forest of hardwoods. Exterior stones used are primarily granite, limestone, and marble. (Courtesy of The Mount)
2/3/2024
Updated:
2/29/2024

Edith Wharton, one of the great writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, chose to live in Lenox, Massachusetts. This area of the western part of Massachusetts is known as The Berkshires. She named her home The Mount.

Wharton actively participated in designing and building her home. Built in 1903, The Mount presents a well-thought-out compilation of French, Italian, and English artistic traditions, but Wharton adapted the design to complement the 113 wooded acres on which it sits.

She wrote “The Decoration of Houses” (1897) with Boston architect Ogden Codman Jr., who then came on board to assist the author in designing her home with an eye for order, scale, and harmony. Wharton wanted practicality rather than extravagance, and wrote, “[Codman] shared my dislike of these sumptuary excesses, and thought as I did that interior decoration should be simple and architectural.”

The home’s elegant yet eclectic elements come out in the grand exterior staircase undergirded with local stone. And, although some marble is used, the main presentation is white with black shutters instead of a lavish exhibition of myriad materials.

Besides Codman, also assisting Wharton on the finalization of the exterior architecture was architect Francis L.V. Hoppin, from Rhode Island. He drew inspiration from Belton House, a still-preserved, 17th-century English country house in Lincolnshire, UK.

The Mount’s gatehouse and stable are Georgian Revival and were designed by the firm Hoppin & Koen to hold the author’s horses and carriages, and later her vehicles.

Wharton envisioned the grounds as a series of outdoor rooms. Her niece, Beatrix Jones Farrand, who became a well-known garden designer and landscape architect in the early 1900s, assisted with the grounds’ plans.

The size of a business complex at 16,850 square feet, The Mount has four stories at the entrance and three facing the garden view. Its exterior is ornamented simply, except for the centerpiece open cupola to view the vast grounds surrounding the house. The expansive terrace on the east façade is entirely Italian-inspired. (John Seakwood)
The size of a business complex at 16,850 square feet, The Mount has four stories at the entrance and three facing the garden view. Its exterior is ornamented simply, except for the centerpiece open cupola to view the vast grounds surrounding the house. The expansive terrace on the east façade is entirely Italian-inspired. (John Seakwood)
The Mount’s gallery space offers visitors an impressive arched formal entrance with painted moldings and a terrazzo floor. It was in this space that guests were greeted before they entered other parts of the home. The only hanging adornments are the decorative brass lighting fixtures. (Eric Limon Photography)
The Mount’s gallery space offers visitors an impressive arched formal entrance with painted moldings and a terrazzo floor. It was in this space that guests were greeted before they entered other parts of the home. The only hanging adornments are the decorative brass lighting fixtures. (Eric Limon Photography)
The drawing rooms of the 19th and early 20th centuries are the living rooms of today. Although no longer furnished with Wharton’s original pieces, the drawing room is decorated per photographs taken when she lived there. The pediments over the door, dental moldings around the ceiling, and elaborate ceiling moldings are classical French and Italian design elements. (Eric Limon Photography)
The drawing rooms of the 19th and early 20th centuries are the living rooms of today. Although no longer furnished with Wharton’s original pieces, the drawing room is decorated per photographs taken when she lived there. The pediments over the door, dental moldings around the ceiling, and elaborate ceiling moldings are classical French and Italian design elements. (Eric Limon Photography)
Opening onto the terrace, the dining room features round tables where Wharton encouraged intimate conversations. There is no overhead lighting such as chandeliers so that the focal point would be on the ornamental moldings and paintings. (Eric Limon Photography)
Opening onto the terrace, the dining room features round tables where Wharton encouraged intimate conversations. There is no overhead lighting such as chandeliers so that the focal point would be on the ornamental moldings and paintings. (Eric Limon Photography)
Wharton worked at a simple leather-topped desk in her library, which holds about 2,700 volumes. First edition books are on display throughout the library and include works in French, German, Italian, and English. They're on a variety of subjects, such as science, religion, poetry, literature, and gardening. (Eric Limon Photography)
Wharton worked at a simple leather-topped desk in her library, which holds about 2,700 volumes. First edition books are on display throughout the library and include works in French, German, Italian, and English. They're on a variety of subjects, such as science, religion, poetry, literature, and gardening. (Eric Limon Photography)
Understated elegance can be seen in the Wharton stairwell, which is cantilevered but not imposing. This main staircase against a parquet floor is off the grotto-like informal entryway hall, which features a deep, earth-tone terracotta floor. (Eric Limon Photography)
Understated elegance can be seen in the Wharton stairwell, which is cantilevered but not imposing. This main staircase against a parquet floor is off the grotto-like informal entryway hall, which features a deep, earth-tone terracotta floor. (Eric Limon Photography)
Wharton’s boudoir, off of her bedroom, served as private office space where she sometimes met with close friends. Here, she wrote letters, edited, and tended to business affairs. It is simply and comfortably proportioned, and the main feature is its French-imported red marble fireplace mantle. (John Seakwood)
Wharton’s boudoir, off of her bedroom, served as private office space where she sometimes met with close friends. Here, she wrote letters, edited, and tended to business affairs. It is simply and comfortably proportioned, and the main feature is its French-imported red marble fireplace mantle. (John Seakwood)
Would you like to see other kinds of arts and culture articles? Please email us your story ideas or feedback at [email protected] 
A 30-plus-year writer-journalist, Deena C. Bouknight works from her Western North Carolina mountain cottage and has contributed articles on food culture, travel, people, and more to local, regional, national, and international publications. She has written three novels, including the only historical fiction about the East Coast’s worst earthquake. Her website is DeenaBouknightWriting.com
Related Topics