Winfield House in London - The US Ambassador's Residence

Winfield House in London – The US Ambassador’s Residence

Are you still watching? How about that little Gabby Douglas? And Kayla Harrison? And Michael Phelps? I’ve never needed a reason to be proud of my country, but these young American athletes are sure making it easy. Elsewhere in London, the U. S. ambassador to the Court of St. James […]

Are you still watching? How about that little Gabby Douglas? And Kayla Harrison? And Michael Phelps? I’ve never needed a reason to be proud of my country, but these young American athletes are sure making it easy.

Elsewhere in London, the U. S. ambassador to the Court of St. James does us proud in the diplomatic arena. While he may not get his picture on a Wheaties box, he sure gets to live in a swell house. Earlier this summer His Grace and I paid him a visit at Winfield House.

Winfield House
Winfield House, on 12 acres in Regent's Park, is home to the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. Next to Buckingham Palace, it has the largest private gardens in all of London.

Ambassador Louis Susman and his wife Marjorie are old Chicago friends of the Cowboy’s (aka His Grace, my sweetheart, for new readers).  When we were visiting in June, “Lou”, to his friends, was kind enough to invite us for a drink. Oh my goodness what a house, what an art collection, what a history. As I was gushing about it later to a friend he said, “It makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?” Yes by golly it jolly well does.

I would sooner have died than asked to take a picture, so I was thrilled to be gifted with the beautiful tome Winfield House, from which most of these photos are taken.

Entrance to Winfield House
The Reception Hall is at the entrance to Winfield House.

Written by Maria Tuttle (wife of former Ambassador Robert Tuttle) and Marcus Binney, with photographs by James Mortimer, the book is a meticulously executed and glorious tribute to a house whose inhabitants and history are as interesting as its furnishings and art are beautiful and compelling. Yes those are Rothkos up there flanking the doors.

Set on 12 acres in Regent’s Park, the house was built in 1937 by heiress Barbara Woolworth Hutton. Then married to Danish Count Court Haugwitz-Reventlow, she wanted a safe haven for their year-old son Lance. At the time the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping and death four years earlier was still a fresh horror. The quiet park’s location seemed secure and was patrolled by Royal Parks police at night.

The Yellow Room at Winfield House
The Yellow Room at Winfield House, with the 18th century French boiserie paneling Barbara Hutton had favored. The fabulous curtains and pelmets were added by Billy Haines in the Annenberg era.

Hutton filed to divorce Reventlow (by all accounts a very bad guy) in 1938. With the approach of  war she returned to America, while Winfield House served Britain in various capacities, from hospital to officers’ club. Cary Grant (by all accounts a sweetheart) married Hutton in 1942. Three years later, however, she gave up both Grant and Winfield House, and donated the property to the U.S. government for use as the ambassador’s residence.

Barbara Hutton and Cary Grant
Barbara Hutton and Cary Grant

Among Winfield’s storied stewards over the years have been the high-powered-super-social David and Evangeline Bruce, and the publishing magnate-TV Guide titan Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore.

Green Room at Winfield House
Off the Yellow Room is the spectacular Green Room, with its 18th century Chinoiserie wallpaper and pale pink silk upholstery. French doors opening onto the lawn, host of many a 4th of July barbeque and Easter Egg hunt for friends and embassy employees.

By the time the Annenbergs arrived at Winfield in 1969, recalled Mrs. Annenberg in the book, “Time had eroded some of its elegance. As our gift to the nation… we began the task of restoration with a team of very distinguished interior designers, Billy Haines (a former silent-film star), Ted Graber and Dudley Poplak.” It was Haines’s last major hurrah. And though each occupant has made her own mark, the house you see today is much the Haines-Annenberg legacy, on the Annenbergs’ nickel, and now maintained in part by the Annenberg Foundation.

The Green Room, above, nearly made me faint. More on this in the next “Fabulous Rooms” post, coming soon. Meanwhile, gosh, look who’s here…

obamas_prince_of_wales_duchess_of_cornwall_winfield_house
The Susmans, the Obamas, Prince Charles and Camilla in the Green Room at Winfield House. Official White House photo by Pete Souza, May 24, 2012.

This is right where we sat with Ambassador Susman when we visited about a month after the Obamas’ London trip in May. HG sat where Marjorie Susman is sitting; I sat where the president is sitting; and the ambassador sat in place of Camilla and her hat.

And there we were, a long way from Tarboro.

James Brown was from a small Southern town, too. I wonder if he felt that way when he sang there.

James Brown sings at Winfield House
James Brown singing at Winfield House. Good God, y'all.

Yes Winfield has its share of distinguished visitors…

HRH Queen Elizabeth and HRH Prince Philip arrive at Winfield House
The Tuttles receive the Queen and Prince Philip.

and elegant parties…

Dining Room at WInfield House
The state dining room's gilded boiserie was a holdover from Hutton's day, and the impressively appliqued pelmets and curtains were a Haines touch. The shades of blue, gray, aqua and gold are lovely and subtle.

The big showy flowers are on a pedestal at one end of the table, while the table itself is decorated with small, simple bouquets of lily-in-the-valley. That’s about it from the “small, simple” department…

Bedroom at Winfield House
This bedroom is thought to be part of Barbara Hutton's original suite.
Marble bath at Winfield House
This elaborate marble bath shows the strong Art Deco influence asserting itself at the time of the house's construction.

To see more of London’s diplomatic doings, there is a photo stream on Flickr of the ambassador, the U.S. Embassy and events at Winfield House. As grand as it is to be ambassador, these fellows work mighty hard.

A beautiful book on Billy Haines, Class Act, by Peter Schifando and Jean H. Mathison, was published by Pointed Leaf Press a few years ago and continues to inspire.

Indeed much about this house and the people who have worked and lived here is about the best of who we are as a country and who we aspire to be.  The same is true of the Olympics. Keeping the torch burning and what-not.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Michele Obama at Winfield House
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and First Lady Michelle Obama departing Winfield House.

The first lady’s dress is great. I am trying to forget that she said the first time she was proud of her country was when her husband was elected president. Maybe she hadn’t watched the Olympics, or been to Winfield House yet.

To be continued…

26 Comments

  1. Carol Post

    Love this article and the pictures yummy!Thanks!

  2. Bobbi Wooten

    Loved the photos – how I love England! But I must say, I don’t think Michelle Obama’s dress is appropriate at all – pattern, style – NO! Sometimes the JCrew look just isn’t appropriate.

    • Well you tell it, sister, and I’m happy to hear it, agree or disagree! Thank you for weighing in, Bobbi. My feeling was she looked young and stylish – which she is – but proper. I don’t see this as a J Crew look – but now you mention it I am curious about the designer. So do you think she should have been more prim and subdued? More suit-y like Mrs. Susman and the duchess?

  3. Lovely report….many thanks!

  4. Hazel MacKenzie Mason

    Frances, just “joined up” this past week and have loved every fun and funny thing you write! I need to get up to speed on His Grace, aka Cowboy….I WILL be reading previous entries!!! Love your Pinterest boards, too, and have repinned quite a few!

  5. Frances,

    Love these photos and your recounts of what was no doubt an incredible visit. Rooms from a bygone age, but so ready for daydreaming and inspiration. By the way, that is not a hat. Good for Camilla for doing her part to further awareness of the protection of bald eagles. Hats off, and somehow we have always been proud to be Americans…just sayin’.

  6. Loved the photos Frances. And of course the narrative…wanted to let you know I recently made the Cauliflower Soup….Unbelievable! Best ever.

    Cheers,

    Nancy

  7. Sounds like an AMAZING experience! Thanks, as always, for sharing! xxx h

  8. Beautiful photos, nicely written report as usual. I’ve been proud of this country since it opened its arms to my family in 1964, taking us in as one of its very own.

  9. Annie Gray

    Dear Frances, I had occasion to visit Winfield House several years ago when Will and Sarah Farrish were in residence…I was with my Houston friend, Nancy Allen, who was kind enough to take me along with a few other North Carolina friends for tea….what a lovely way to spend an afternoon in an absolutely exquisite house…..If I had been Barbara….I would have had great difficulty giving up both the house and Cary…..To be sure, she must have had second thoughts at some point !!!!

    • Annie Gray what fun you were there… and I agree about poor Barbara and Cary and house. There is a story that when Cary Grant returned to Winfield years later, he cried. He apologized for being so sentimental, but said he just felt so sad remembering a girl “who never knew a happy day in her life,” or words to that effect. 🙁

  10. Paul Boehmke

    I hope that marble bathroom has under tile heating!
    I am shivering just looking at it.

    • Oh brrr, Paul, I hope so too. You’ve spent enough time in England to know how cold it gets… Funnily enough my godmother wrote to say she and her husband spent 4 days at Winfield when their friends Phil and Linda Lader were there under Clinton. THAT was their bathroom. I’ll have to ask her…

  11. Frances, What a beautiful post–makes me want to hop on a plain for England. Great Job–you never disappoint.
    xo, Lissy

  12. What a lovely post and how fortunate for you to be included in a visit to such an exquisite house that serves to represent our Great Country. Regarding the commentary and slight reference to Mrs. Obama’s past reference to her pride in America. Will a slight lapse ever be placed behind us all and we can show that we all do not need to be reminded of our errors. Mrs. Obama looked lovely and very appropriate for not only representing her country but in displaying her youthful yet respectable style. She is a Breath of Fresh Air !

    • Thank you, Vicki, and yes I sure was (and am) fortunate. Thank you, too, for your comment about my reference to Mrs. Obama. How right you are that a generous spirit serves us all. Goodness knows I’ve had more lapses than I can count. Mrs. O’s efforts toward good nutrition and exercise are especially to be commended, and she was just days ago back at Winfield House leading exercises, playing sports, and horsing around with the children there. I absolutely admire her style and have never seen her looking less than just right.

  13. Grandmother, Mother, and I visited Winfield house in November of 1999. It was absolutely gorgeous and I still day dream about that WALLPAPER! I am inspired to get out my pictures from that special girls’ trip. Hope to see you soon! xoxo

  14. Wow. What an amazing opportunity to see Winfield House. It is glorious! Thank you so much for sharing. And I, too, am watching the Olympics and am overwhelmingly proud of the accomplishments of all of these athletes!

  15. The truly remarkable feature here is all the floral arrangements done by Head Gardener Stephen Crisp, using only the flowers from their own greenhouse and other materials at hand!

    • Oh John leave it to you to make this gorgeously important point. Thank you! Much to say about the talented Mr Crisp. We should come back to him – one of us!

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