In 1974, Town & Country featured Beaulieu, one of Newport Rhode Island’s most storied cottages, purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Wiley T. Buchanan Jr. over 50 years ago. In 2016, the family’s summer home had hardly changed, and T&C revisited Beaulieu with an inspiring message: “Do it once and do it well.”
Built in the mid 1800s, Beaulieu was designed to resemble a French château. It is one of the oldest homes still in private hands on Bellevue Avenue, and its grounds remain just as the landscape architect Calvert Vaux originally designed them. Interior designer Valerian Rybar, known as the world’s most expensive decorator, is responsible for the timeless interiors.
Last fall, my friend and doyenne of Newport, Bettie Bearden Pardee, featured Beaulieu on her blog Private Newport stating “Everything about Beaulieu invites you to step back in time and reflect on a Newport lifestyle that existed many years ago.” And Beaulieu’s chatelaine Ruth Buchanan, now a vibrant centenarian, continues to live a version of that life today, imparting traditions to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
“Mother still rules the house with an iron fist. She lives in fear someone will change the color of the kitchen. It’s a little bit like living in a museum, but with an emphasis on living. My children, grandchildren, and I play ball in the yard and run around the house, the way I did and my mother did,” said Dede Wilsey.
Beaulieu has hosted countless fêtes, dances, luncheons, garden parties, formal dinners and cocktail parties. “My grandparents entertained beautifully, said Trevor Traina, Ruth Buchanan’s grandson. “Their signature party was a Fourth of July white tie ball, which started at 10 p.m. They would give a small dinner first. As children, we were allowed to sit with our nannies at the top of the gigantic internal staircase and look down and listen to the music and watch people dance. Today we live differently from the way my grandparents did. When they first moved in, they had two butlers. Now there’s a cook, a housekeeper, and people who come in during the day to help polish the marble. My grandmother still has a butler, but as she likes to put it, ‘Compared to how I used to live here, today we’re camping.'”
One tradition that has not changed, much to the bemusement of her friends, is the elaborate, two-week process known as “closing up the house” that occurs every September as the summer season ends. Bettie reports that Mrs. Buchanan is the only one left in Newport who still carries out this ancient regimen. “It’s really so old-fashioned in today’s world that it’s ludicrous, but I can say it does pay off,” said Buchanan. “Every curtain, chair, picture, and light fixture is covered. Even newspapers are put on the wool carpets because moths are not partial to newsprint. It looks exactly as though we had died and gone to heaven.”
“In today’s age, who closes up a house at the end of a season? Who drapes the furniture and covers the paintings? It’s kind of the end of an era,” said Trevor Traina. “The house has a patina. Certain rooms have faded, and certain pillows are a little bit shallower than they used to be, but everything still works, and everything still looks right and appropriate. The definition of a great house is a place where everyone can convene and where family relationships are nurtured.”
To read more about Beaulieu, please visit Town & Country and Bettie Bearden Pardee’s blog, Private Newport. I also highly recommend Bettie’s book Private Newport… it features an entire chapter on Beaulieu! And to bring a little bit of Newport into your home, please click here to learn more about the iconic Parterre Bench by Bettie Bearden Pardee.