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…

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…


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