Friday, February 21, 2014

Mayfields: A Cradle in the History of Decorating Civilization

Mayfields, as it appears today.
Image via Elle Décor.
Sometimes there is a Design Vortex of sorts, where everything comes together with a new (or extensively renovated) house.  A great architect, a talented decorator, sensitive landscape designers, a good builder, and clients with the best taste (and some money), are all critical factors in a successful residence.  Such was the case for Mayfields, the Far Hills, New Jersey, childhood home of Dorothy May Kinnicutt, later to be better know as the legendary interior designer Sister Parish.

Mrs. Parish, with Albert Hadley, was my former employer, and Mayfields was often used as a reference for country house projects when I worked there as an architect in the 1980s, what we who worked there during that period call the Golden Age of Parish-Hadley.  Whether it was white-washing the fieldstone facing, providing the opportunity for three seating areas in the living room, or including a designated space for a visiting chauffeur to have lunch, the precedents at Mayfields were often recalled as a standard for comfortable country house living.

Mrs. Parish was quoted to say, "The most monumentous event of my life occurred in 1920, when I was 10 [sic].  It was the day we moved from Morristown to Mayfields, our new and wondrous stone house set on miles and miles of rolling country in Far Hills, New Jersey."  The architects were the New York City firm Cross & Cross with the landscape designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman and Marian Cruger Coffin.

"Mayfields was to be my parents' last and most important home, the ideal house for Daddy to express his love and knowledge of good furniture, for Mother to show her superb taste, for them to fulfill their fondest dreams of the most beautiful gardens, most fulfilling house, and the ideal setting for themselves and their children."

Mayfields, along with more country houses, city residences, and other buildings by Cross & Cross are featured in a new book NEW YORK TRANSFORMED: THE ARCHITECTURE OF CROSS & CROSS by Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker.  Published by The Monacelli Press with a release date of March 18, 2014, it may be purchased at a discount rate here.  An earlier view of the house, when the stone was white washed, is shown, along with floor plans, and recent photos.  Those interested in the history of 20th century design will especially appreciate this monograph of an important architectural firm, not particularly known outside the greater New York City area.


  1. I look forward to perusing this book. Cross and Cross' attention to detail is impressive. Mayfields is indeed a charming house, and its landscaper, Ellen Biddle Shipman, also designed the grounds of Stan Hywet in Akron, that I wrote about a while ago.

    Cross and Cross also built several buildings in New Haven, one of which, 435 College Street, coincidentally faces Calhoun College, the subject of my last post.

    Funny how all these subjects keep recurring and intertwining.

    1. J., yes, intertwining is always interesting. I appreciate your comments. Thank you.

  2. John,
    This is just fantastic news! What a wonderful life Mrs. Parish must have had- I can only imagine how beautiful that whitewashed stone must have been, and what an impression it must have made on her- you know, on that last project, which I had unsuccessfully attempted to involve you in, I had begged and pleaded with my client to paint the new brick masonry in a sand infused white- which would have saved many many hours of tedious brick selection- however, the large house across the road was already white- and the previous house my client had lived in was in a beige stucco- so they really wanted the reddish brick, which came out to be more of a sepia tone- but I will still be pushing for creeping fig to be trained onto the new construction, or the standard old English ivy seen in many Charleston gardens. Thanks for the heads up on this new book, I really adore collecting esoteric books on famous architects of the past, David Adler, Maurice Fatio, et cetera-

    1. D., there is a trend, it seems, to make the absolute wrong choice in facing materials/colors these days; I don't know why there is such a problem, except in the cases where the builder makes the decision.

      In genera, white is often a good choice for the exterior of a house, especially if there is good landscaping, or at least a background of trees. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Mayfields could almost be a Cotswolds house, although obviously the original colour has now changed to allow it. Anyway, it certainly looks older that a hundred years, and very pleasing it is too.

    1. C., there is some brick as well as stone, both still with traces of white wash, but it would have been a very handsome house if it had been made entirely of a creamy fieldstone like those in the Cotswolds. I have worked on nearby houses of gray stone and of creamy stone, so now I am unsure of the stone of Mayfields and if it was painted from the very beginning.


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