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Eden by the Sea

Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and her husband, Paul, could have chosen any exquisite corner of the globe as the summer holiday retreat for their growing family.

Photography by Dan Cutrona

Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and her husband, Paul, could have chosen any exquisite corner of the globe as the summer holiday retreat for their growing family. They were the original post-war power couple: she, the daughter of the founder of what would become the Warner-Lambert pharmaceutical company; he, the only son of billionaire financier, Andrew Mellon. An invitation to their 4,000-acre horse farm estate in Virginia was coveted by society’s finest who admired Bunny’s splendid gardens, Paul’s breathtaking art collection of the European masters, and the thoroughbred race horses he bred and raised, one of which would later win the Kentucky Derby.

The Mellons chose Cape Cod. Specifically, and to no surprise of any who have reveled in the warm waters off Dead Neck Island in Osterville, they chose a bluff overlooking this picturesque estuary to Nantucket Sound as their summer Eden. Since its completion in the early 1950s, the meandering shorefront property has displayed the trademark, understated elegance of a family that values privacy, simple beauty, and the natural environment.  Houses and outbuildings are stained to look rustic and blend with the landscape. Security cameras are housed in weathered birdhouses, and sand has been imported to construct rolling dunes along the bluff.

Those of us who grew up boating by the compound, or picnicking on the nearby island the Mellons graciously preserved as a bird sanctuary, remember seeing President Kennedy’s boat tied up to their rustic pier. We wondered what it must be like to visit the Mellons and view the world from the perspective of their Oyster Harbors estate. Recently, in a rare and generous glimpse offered by the family, Cape Cod HOME had the privilege of finding out.

Although, at age 103, Mrs. Mellon now remains in Virginia, her grandson, Thomas Lloyd, reports she is ever eager to hear news of the property. Last year, she sold 26 acres, including the main house, to billionaire William Koch, but retained the house her children and grandchildren grew up in, along with her favorite artistic headquarters, “Dune House”, with its view to the river, the island, and the sparkling waters of the Sound.

For the loyal Cape Codders who have lovingly labored on her property for decades, Mrs. Mellon is known less as the famous designer of the White House Rose Garden or as style-setter for a generation than as their revered boss who always shared her horticultural expertise and was never afraid to get her hands dirty.

In his autobiography, Reflections In A Silver Spoon, Paul Mellon praised his wife’s down-to-earth sensibilities: “Bunny’s quest for comfort and informality has been nurtured with care; a little natural shabbiness is sometimes purposely overlooked. The result . . . is that the houses feel lived in and loved. More important to me than anything else, they are cheerful.”

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