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A Touch of Spring and Modernism Comes to Ventfort Hall

By Nichole Dupont
iBerkshires Staff
01:34PM / Thursday, June 02, 2011

Cecil Pollen designed the 'bride's room' at Ventfort Hall.
LENOX, Mass. — It's officially spring at Ventfort Hall. The Gilded Age museum has heralded in the season not only with the help of Mother Nature but also with the ingenuity of 15 area interior designers, artists, antique dealers and artisans.

The Berkshire Designer Showcase kicks off the mansion's packed summer season with a nod to decadence and originality. "An Elegant Picnic at an English Country House" will premiere on Saturday, June 4, and will run through January 2012. According to showcase chairman Thomas Hayes, the exhibition was a long time coming, especially since Ventfort Hall was on the brink of demolition a few short years ago.
"The showcase idea came about on Tjasa's [Sprague] kitchen years ago, when there was a hole in her roof," he said. "Now it's finally come to fruition."

In the case of many of the refurbished spaces, fruition can be taken in a literal sense, as each space is accented with various floral and green themes. Ironically, according to Karen Beckwith of Karen Beckwith Art & Interiors, none of the designers really knew what the other was up to. The textured spring theme is a dream that emerged while the designers were putting the rooms together in the dead of a Berkshire winter.

"I started putting this room together in the middle of February," she said. "I think all of us were dying to see something green, something that brought spring a little closer."

Beckwith's meditation room is a convincing rendition of the calming qualities of spring. Central to the room's decor is a custom-designed "meditation chair" that harkens back to the 1940s movie-star era. The walls of the room are entirely covered with a willow tree fabric (Beckwith's own design) that gives visitors the impression that they are, indeed, sitting under a willow tree. While she was not commissioned by a person per se to do the room, Beckwith said she had an imaginary client in mind when she designed the space.

"My imaginary client is a woman in her mid-40s who has a very busy life — high-powered job, a screenwriter, married, kids. She needed a space to escape all of it. Amidst all of this Gilded Age fabulousness I wanted to make a room that felt real, approachable and modern," she said. "It's so funny because none of the designers knew what the other was doing and yet we were clearly all thinking green at the time."
The need to create a garden oasis was at the forefront of many of the designers' minds as they each were sent out into their respective spaces to create to their heart's content. Eric Hilton of Eric Hilton Ltd. took the whimsy of spring seriously with his room, designed to evoke the image of an indoor garden complete with a green-dyed felt rug textured with Astro Turf.

"This is my fantasy room if I were to have one," he said, sweeping his arm over the expanse of pinks and greens and floral-inspired light fixtures. "While I do most of my work in New York, I've done some projects in the Berkshires and this is a good way to let a few more people know about what I do. I'd rather do this than spend money on advertising. I want people to know that you can live with this and have it your home. That's the point. These houses need to be used. They can't just sit as museums; it's not good for these places to lock their doors at night."

Indeed, every inch of space in the mansion's vast expanse is being utilized to herald in the spring and, hopefully, a record-breaking season for the museum. However, it takes much more than expensive wicker, French lamps and sea grass rugs to draw in visitors and, of course, revenue.

Ladies' lounge by Allison Crane and Carol Newton Rumph.
Each designer, in addition to creating the space and providing all of the labor and materials – which in many cases included fresh paint and wallpaper jobs, among other renovations – and plunking down cash for escrow and a spot in the museum's program, also used some elbow grease to bring this "elegant picnic" to life.

Cecil Pollen, of Kitchens and Interiors, said perfection always comes at a price. While his room, the setting for a bride to get ready with her bridesmaids, looks playful, even flippant, achieving this effect was a challenge, he said.

"We had a lot of fun getting it ready," Pollen said. "But there is so much to consider. I had to put the wedding cake in Plexiglas because I could envision a little child coming in and swiping his finger across the bottom of it. It's a $30,000 cake. We had to re-do the fireplace. It was a disaster when we got here so we redid the whole thing.

"It's not just about the fun drawings and the whimsy, it's about the hard work and manpower that it takes to make beautiful things."

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