Treasuring The Dunes
An Osterville interior decorator works with Bunny Mellon’s family to restore a famous Oyster Harbors cottage.
The Dune House has long been a cherished seaside retreat for family and friends on Paul and Bunny Mellon’s Osterville estate. Since the days when Jackie Kennedy Onassis would come to savor peace and quiet in the rambling cottage on the dunes, this has been a special place for relaxed summer days.
Mrs. Mellon—who is a still active, vibrant 103-year-old—especially loved the Dune House on the family’s sprawling Cape estate during the decades when she and Paul came to Osterville for the summer. According to her grandson, Thomas Lloyd, whose family started restoring the family’s Putnam House and Dune House to their former glory recently, the latter cottage’s collection of small rooms that open out one to the other with simple, understated elegance was the place where his grandparents would retreat when the ebb and flow of the summer season became too much.
“My grandparents would come here all by themselves and she would cook hot dogs for their dinner,” Thomas says on a recent visit to Oyster Harbors with his wife, Rickie Niceta Lloyd, and their two children. On a tour through Dune House, Thomas shares stories of the days when famous guests came to stay.
Every room was artfully built and decorated under Mrs. Mellon’s artistic eye to make the most of the stunning beauty outside; natural light pours through windows that open out to the ocean on one side and beautifully planted and maintained courtyard gardens and a wildflower meadow on the other. Mrs. Mellon’s gardening skills are legendary; Jackie Kennedy consulted her when the Rose Garden was being redesigned early in JFK’s presidency and she once designed a garden for a famous European castle.
Everywhere you look there is something lovely to see; even from the bathroom windows, which are fitted with special screens that slide into the wall, allowing for sunlight and sea breezes to stream in at all hours of the day. The guest bedroom and bathroom have recently been restored to their former beauty—along with other rooms in both Dune and Putnam House—by Osterville interior decorator, Hope Van der Wolk. Rickie Lloyd chose Van der Wolk after reading a cover story in Cape Cod HOME (“Reclaiming an Osterville Mansion’s Glamour,” Spring, 2011) about the designer’s transformation of an aging Osterville mansion.
Hope, who once worked for American interior design icon Sister Parish in Manhattan, and who is well-known on the Cape for her discerning eye and artistic sensibilities, is working on the interiors of both houses with an eye to recreating Mrs. Mellon’s understated, coastal-hued sophistication. “In both houses, my intent is to freshen up the interiors without really changing things,” says Hope. The interior decorator’s studio is in shared space with Van der Wolks, a Main Street, Osterville shop owned by her brother, Peter Van der Wolk. Ironically, Hope’s office and design studio are actually located in a spacious room at the back of Van der Wolks that used to be Paul Mellon’s summer boardroom.
“For both spaces, I always design with Mrs. Mellon’s legacy in mind and try to carry on the integrity of what she did so beautifully,” Hope says, noting that famed American interior decorator, Billy Baldwin, was one of the original designers on the estate. “It is fun for me to see all Baldwin’s and Mrs. Mellon’s details—such as whimsical flounces and hand-tied bows and poufs in the tufts of upholstered furniture,” the designer notes, pointing to a charming sitting room chair that has been reupholstered with Mrs. Mellon’s signature treatments in mind. Fortunately, Olander and Son, the upholstery company that executed the original details of the furniture is still in business today and was able to recreate these special treatments.
Tucked in the dunes and surrounded by beach grass, Rosa rugosa, and a wildflower meadow, it feels as if Dune House has always been there. It is a structure that respects and enhances the environment, rather than subduing it. “The overriding feeling that I had coming into this house was that I just felt the love, care, and attention to detail both inside and out,” says Hope. “The whole place is just kind of unexpected—you feel as if you are totally alone, almost as if you could be on a remote coast of a distant land, rather than on Cape Cod.”
Since it was built back in the 1950s, Dune House was in need of some restoration and overall refreshing. “Everything was a little timeworn, feeling the affects of the sun and salt air, ” says Hope. One of the first projects for the cottage’s updating was the complete overhaul of the guest bedroom and bathroom. “There is such a sweet, charming play going on between these two spaces,” says the designer, noting that she was immediately taken by the appearance of the same French toile in both rooms.
Called Pillement Toile, the fabric is a whimsical print of indigo blue animals set in a trellis on an ivory cotton background. The fabric was used as bed dressings and for the headboard—and as wall coverings in the bathroom. The Lloyds and Hope chose to recreate the same aesthetic, hoping to find the exact, or a similar fabric as the primary design element, tying both spaces together.
“Given that the toile fabric had been selected so long ago, I was unsure if it would still be available,” says Hope. “After searching the fabric showrooms, I was delighted to find it on the Quadrille (a fabric house) website. It had not been in the showroom for years, but luckily was still available.”
After ordering the toile from France, the designer got to work with one of the painters from the estate’s experienced crew, who has worked with Mrs. Mellon for years. “We pretty much had to strip the cottage bare and then we began matching the paint colors as best we could,” says Hope. “I worked with Ronald Brumfield—his father had also been a painter for Mrs. Mellon. She has a fine eye for color and was very particular. For instance, she would
bring a white rose to one of the painters, point to the color of a particular petal and ask for that color for the walls.”
Hope notes that in the past the estate’s painting team had a supply of special pigments. “For these rooms, we used C2 paints and combined different whites. We mixed the colors for the guest bedroom and bathroom and tried to get as close as we could to the original tone,” says Hope, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate. She adds that throughout both spaces, neutral, yet warm hues complement the colors of the toile. A new wool carpet in soft ivory was custom-ordered from Patterson, Flynn & Martin. “At first glance, it looks like wall-to-wall carpeting, but it was cut to fit the space and bound with cotton, allowing for the piece to be pulled up if necessary, giving the room a more finished look,” Hope explains.
While waiting for the fabric to arrive from France, the search was on for someone who could upholster the bathroom walls. “An interior designer friend of mine in Boston had worked with a great European upholsterer now in Boston, who had learned his skills at his mother’s side while she upholstered the walls of Versailles,” says Hope. “His name is Bruno Jouenne and the name of his Boston company is Soft Walls Associates.”
The process of actually putting the fabric onto the walls is a complicated and exact skill, requiring careful measurements and placement, especially in a room that is exposed to sea air from several windows as well as from the shower and bath. “Bruno came, did all the measurements, and we decided on some inspired details, like the double self-welt trim, which created a very clean, yet old-fashioned elegant look,” says Hope.
The installation process is laborious. “First you build a frame structure on the walls and then you add padding. Putting up the fabric takes real artistry,” Hope explains, noting that this step took several days. But the time and attention to detail was worth it, especially when their designer heard from the Lloyds that Mrs. Mellon loved hearing how one of her favorite spaces had been transformed. “Mrs. Mellon designed a garden at Versailles,” Hope says, “When Thomas told her about this gentleman with Versailles-inspired training, she was thrilled.”
Hope and the Lloyds are still working on the final touches for the bedroom and bath, including a quilted bedspread in the same toile pattern and the hanging of artwork, which will be chosen by Thomas’s father, Stacey Lloyd. “Everything is being done with love and care,” says Hope of this ongoing project of a lifetime.
Thomas says his grandmother loves hearing “every detail” about the new life being breathed into her beloved Cape Cod refuge. Before heading for a swim with his son, he says of his partnership with Hope Van der Wolk: “It has been so great working with Hope. She just understands everything about my grandmother’s world.”
This is the first in a special series of articles in Cape Cod HOME on the restoration of the homes and gardens on the Mellon estate.