An Affair With a House by Bunny Williams is one of my favorite books. The book jacket says, “For thirty years Bunny has had a passionate affair with an 18th century New England house. From the moment she walked up the driveway it was love at first sight, even though the property was in sad shape. In this book, the respected decorator describes how she and her husband, antiques dealer John Rosselli, restored the well-worn house room by room…” The house, pictured above, would be a dream house for me. It has loads of character and such a presence on the expansive lawn. My favorite part of the property is the conservatory. We can’t all have a conservatory, but it is such fun to dream. Have you ever walked into a green house to buy plants and suddenly the air is so fresh and the fragrance of the flowers mixed with the smell of the soil is beyond description? I imagine that her conservatory is like that! Below is a photo of Bunny and her husband, John.
Let’s pretend that we have been invited over for supper. The table is set in the conservatory. Bunny says in her book, “I usually have dozens of votives on the table and in brackets around the room. The flickering lights dance across the stone surface and are reflected in the glass as darkness falls.”
She was driving to the grocery store one day when she saw three of the windows leaning against the outside wall of an antiques shop. She bought them, had two more made to match, and added them to a greenhouse that she had tacked to her barn years before. They added skylights to the roof and paved the room with antique French terra cotta tiles and put the heating system under the floor. The huge stone table that sits in the middle of the room can seat twelve for dinner and if she adds plywood extensions and cover them with cloth, the table can seat eighteen.
Maybe this is how the room would look if we were invited for lunch…
The Italian oak chairs are slipcovered in cotton duck for easy laundering. Notice the vines growing up and over the arched window and the material suspended on a wire track to soften the sun that pours in through the skylights.
She puts potted plants down the center of the table. How perfect!
I have always wanted a white garden. White gardens are good because they are luminous at night. Candle light and a moonlight streaming in through the skylights would be just spectacular.
Here you see the windows and the garden that is in front. These must be some very happy plants!
John Rosselli is an accomplished cook. Here is a good recipe in the chapter, “Dessert in the Conservatory”:
Peach Crisp (serves 4 to 6)
For the batter:
3/4 stick unsalted butter, cut into bits
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 cups peaches, peeled and sliced
1 cup granulated white sugar
Preheat the oven to 350. Place butter in the center of an 8 x 10 oval baking dish. Set the dish in the warm oven until the butter has melted. Remove the dish from the oven.
In a medium bowl, combine all other batter ingredients until just mixed together. Spoon batter into the baking dish over the melted butter. Mix the sliced peaches with sugar, and fold them into the batter.
Bake for one hour,until the top is browned and crisp. Serve warm or at room temperature. NOTE: other fruits such as rhubarb, fresh blackberries, fresh strawberries, and fresh blueberries can be substituted for the peaches.
If you would like to visit a public conservatory, I recommend Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square Pennsylvania. In the photo above, it is probably planted for summer. Every season at Longwood is spectacular. The conservatory is the jewel of the gardens. Here it is pictured in fall. “Mums” the word!
Thank you for letting me share two of my favorite places with you. I have been to Longwood many times, but I will have to visit Bunny Williams’ conservatory by looking at the pages of her wonderful book. Create and be happy!