Friday, December 16, 2011

The Furnishings: Mercer House

A framed ormolu fitting from the State Carriage of the Emperor Napoleon used at his Coronation, December 2, 1804.
In this second part of The Devoted Classicist essay on Mercer House, the Savannah, Georgia, home of the late Jim Williams, a closer look at the individual furnishings will be taken.  But if the reader has missed the first segment, part of the Notable Homes series, take a look here.  Unless otherwise noted, all these photos and accompanying descriptions come from the auction catalog prepared for the sale held October 20, 2000, at Sotheby's, New York City, Sale 7527.
It is unknown if the interiors were changed much from the time of Mr. Williams' occupancy.  Typically, items not in the sale are removed from the general views shown in the auction catalog, but it is assumed that at least an attempt was made to show the house as intact as possible since interior design was important to Mr. Williams.
The Entrance Hall of Mercer House, looking out the front doors to Monterey Square.
The house at 429 Bull Street faced Monterey Square, the last remaining trust lot (an entire city block) that still remained in private ownership.
A George III mahogany linen press with flame-veneered oval panels.  Some replacements are noted.
The Entrance Hall, with a view to the rear.
A pair of George III style carved giltwood torcheres, circa 1900.
A Regency inlaid mahogany and parcel-gilt side table, first quarter of the 19th century.
A Brussels tapestry, 18th century, woven with silk, wool, and metallic threads, depicting Diana and her nymphs bathing by a fountain.  The bottom border is missing.
One of the stars of the auction was this set of nine pastels on paper depicting members of the Southwell and Percival families, ascribed to artist Henrietta Dering Johnston, c. 1674-1729, with seven in their original black frames.  The artist's name is widely recognized in the South Carolina lowcountry although only forty portraits are known.  Mr. Williams acquired this set at the 1980 sale of the contents of Belvedere House in Ireland, the ancestral home of Henrietta's first husband Robert Dering. She immigrated to Charleston, South Carolina in 1708 with her second husband The Reverend Gideon Johnston.   Henrietta de Beaulieu Dering Johnston is the earliest documented woman artist in colonial America and the first American pastelist.
The Drawing Room.
A George I chinoiserie japanned cabinet, circa 1720, on a later George I style stand.
Three Chinese sang-de-boeuf glazed porcelain vases, 19th century.
A view into the Music Room and the Library beyond.
A pair of Regence fauteuils, circa 1730, upholstered in contemporary needlework.
Another view of the Music Room.
A Brussels tapestry, early 18th century, depicting a couple, perhaps Venus and Adonis, embracing with Cupid upholding a shield emblazoned with a heart.  The bottom border is missing.
A William IV mahogany sideboard, Irish, circa 1835.
A pair of Regency giltwood torcheres with later circular painted tops.

The Blue Drawing Room.
A Louis XV ormolu-mounted Boulle marquetry bracket clock with conforming bracket, signed Laurent Dey, a master of the Paris Clockmaker's Guild.
A white statuary marble bust of Edward VII, English, dated 1906, by Walter Merrett.
A green marble column, late 19th century.

A view of the Dining Room.
A pair of paintings by Thomas Hudson, portraits of Mr. and Mrs. James Hilhouse of Cornwallis House, Clifton.
A Regency gilt-metal mounted Dining Room pedestal, circa 1815, in the manner of Thomas Hope.
A Regency mahogany dining table, first quarter 19th century, in two parts.
A set of eight George II style red-japanned and parcel-gilt dining chairs, modern.

A view of the Second Floor Hall.
A portrait of the Reverend Rhodes by Thomas Hudson.
A George III mahogany sofa, circa 1770.
A pair of carved polychrome and giltwood lamps in the Chinese taste.
A pair of painted wood and tole pedestals.
A Louis XVI style painted and parcel-gilt mirror, continental, late 19th century.

A view of the second floor room known as the Ballroom.
A pair of rococo style giltwood and composition pier mirrors, American, mid-19th century, 9 ft high.
A painted and gilt center table with a marble top, modern.

The Master Bedroom.
A continental turned beechwood stool, late 17th century, with a crewelwork cover.
A carved walnut and parcel-gilt column lamp, part 17th century.

Information on auctions at Sotheby's, past and future, can be viewed on their website here.

This house is now known as the Mercer Williams House Museum.  More information about opening times, admission, etc., may be viewed on their website here.


  1. As always, thanks so much. I want to be there. This is so appealing to me, even more than usual, the master most of all.

  2. Classicist, this series that began with the Fiorentina sale (I think) is fascinating. I ordered the Villa Fiorentina catalogue after reading your post about it. What struck me on perusing it, is that how ordinary the contents of the house were when seen in catalogue form, but how extraordinary was the combination of furnishings, architecture and decorator (Baldwin) when seen in the few photographs that were published.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

  3. A beautiful home and a distinguished career, and basically thrown away because of the proximity of a gun, whatever William's state of guilt.

    About the pictures of Mercer House, I like the tout ensemble, although I find it hard to focus in on a particular favorite piece. The house itself is spectacular, especially the quality of light through the rooms, and the clean look of the windows. Interior shutters are definitely the way to go, although I wonder if in the last century they were draped anyway.
    --Road to Parnassus

  4. Terry, I agree that the Master Bedroom is very appealing, perhaps because it is more personal in its decoration. By the way, few of the furnishings of this room were included in the auction.

  5. Blue, actually the series began with Cragwood last June. But it did gain a lot of momentum with La Fiorentina. There are more in wait, too, that I think you'll appreciate.

    I have met many who have a great eye for furniture and/or fabric, for example, and that is a gift. But there are fewer that have developed the talent to successfully put it all together cohesively and interestingly, room after room, in a whole house. With enough money, a good room can be achieved, but it takes talent to produce the decoration of a whole house. And I think that is what interior design is all about, not just retail sales, but putting it all together.

    You are certainly right about Billy Baldwin and the vacation house for the Lawrences. Many items were relatively ordinary, but it was the manner in which they were finished and arranged that provided the spark.

    And the value of good architecture should never be underestimated in interior design.

  6. Parnassus, the thick masonry exterior walls allowed for interior shutters that folded into the reveals of the window openings as you can see in some of the photos. But you are correct that all the windows would most certainly have had curtains in addition. Sometimes there was a heavy set of curtains for the winter and a lighter weight set for the summer. As much as I like curtains, these windows were attractive without them. And as an antiques dealer, I feel certain that Mr. Williams considered the disbursement of resources in making his choices in decoration.

  7. Equisite pieces, all of them. It's amazing how the William IV mahogany side board looks so much more interesting in situ, and how perfectly it suits a try of bottles. The singular pedestal looks quite in place on its own too.

  8. What a FAB follow up to your last post dahhling!

  9. My grandparents bought Tombee Plantation from Jim Williams in 1976. It is outside of Beaufort, SC. He spent years restoring it and it was one of his favorite houses. My grandparents became good friends of Jim's and bought many things from his store over the years. They also went to his amazing annual Christmas party at Mercer house. My grandfather always believed in Jim's innocence.
    Thanks for this post and the previous one on Mercer House. My husband and I visited it a couple of years ago on a trip to Savannah - it was the first time I had been there in years. It felt different without Jim....

  10. Columnist, I had the same impression. It just goes to show that a Brussels tapestry does indeed make a fine backdrop.

    HRH, thanks for your unfailing encouragement.

    Helen, your comments are greatly appreciated. I remember your Mother's Day post on WHITEHAVEN blog that pictured Tombee Plantation, but did not know of the Williams connection.

  11. The pieces I like best are the torcherers, there are two pairs of them.

  12. Este blog é uma representação exata de competências. Eu gosto da sua recomendação. Um grande conceito que reflete os pensamentos do escritor. Consultoria RH

  13. Obrigado. (Sorry for my limited Portuguese, but your readership is appreciated).


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