14 February 2010


The doyenne of the English Country House Revival in the 1930's grew up loving houses-one especially-the Langhorne family home in Virginia.

Christmas 1909 
painted by Hoffbaur

'Mirador, Mirth and Misery, my aunts used to say. Mirador is deep in me I feel it in my bonese even now. Nothing else has ever been as important. I'm not really interested in England or America, only in Virginia and Mirador. They're my roots and my soul.

The "aunts" were the famous LANGHORNE sisters-one,Nancy Astor, the first woman Member of Parliament and chatelaine of the Astor's Cliveden in England & another was the beautiful Irene Gibson, wife and muse of the artist Charles Dana Gibson. The 5 lovely sisters were raised in the cool green Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

As a child, Nancy Perkins, relished travelling to Mirador when she 'felt poorly.'
From Richmond to Greenwood, it was a four hour train trip to the magical home of her grandfather Chiswell Langhorne, MIRADOR.

Nancy Keen Perkins

Nancy was born in a small cottage on the grounds of Mirador. Her mother, Elizabeth,Lizzie, was the eldest sister and married Thomas, member of the old Virginia Perkins. Nancy and her two siblings spent their childhood in a modest but stylish home in Richmond. Nancy remembered her mother being ahead of her time(the early 1900's),doing up the rooms of their Richmond Virginia home entirely in shades of light grey with all the interior doors in two shades of grey. It was one of Nancy's first observations of the house in good taste. The atmosphere rather than the decor of Mirador created the magic Nancy remembers of the family home. Her grandmother Nancy, Nanere, had decorated the house elegantly with dark mahoganies and Victorian furniture.Nanere was a loving, playful grandmother- sadly -Nanere died suddenly when Nancy was seven. Grandfather Chiswell always seemed to have some child or grandchild in residence at Mirador to entertain. Chiswell had created an atmosphere at Mirador that evoked the fond memories of the South of his childhood. This nostalgic Old South coupled with the effervescence of his young generation of Langhornes made Mirador the place neighbours and visitors wanted to be.

  the Perkins family, Nancy is front center

Chiswell Langhorne(center) and Family
the Langhorne's at Mirador
Nancy is front center

The grandeur of Mirador was made possible by Chiswell's determination to reinstate the family wealth, decimated by the Civil War. The coming of the railway and his business savvy, along with his brother's engineering expertise restored the Langhorne wealth in full. Chiswell's daughters-especially Irene-were known North and South as the remarkable & beautiful Langhorne sisters.Lizzie was said to be the most beautiful of all the girls, but is was Aunt Nancy and Aunt Irene that made the matrimonial matches father Chiswell thought was their due.

1909 at Aunt Nora's wedding

Nancy's life at Mirador provided the happiest of her childhood memories. In the brilliant book about Nancy by Robert Becker, Nancy remembers terrible rows between her parents-with her mother taking the girls to Europe for several years after her father Thomas moved out of the Richmond family home. The three Perkins ladies returned to find Thomas Perkins terminally ill and he died in 1914. Within weeks Nancy's beloved mother Lizzie died.

The Fields on their wedding day

At 16, Nancy moved to New York to live with her Aunt Irene Gibson and a year later debuted with her cousin Babs.
Nancy spent summers at Mirador with Chiswell- known to all as 'Chillie.' He must have been the steady force in Nancy's young life. She revered him and it is obvious too- that Mirador was home for Nancy Perkins. Young Nancy married the dashing and wealthy Henry Field, of Marshall Field's Department Stores in February 1917, but Henry tragically died in a routine surgery in July of the same year. At the age of 20, Nancy Perkins Field was a widow-a wealthy one at that. It is here in the story that Nancy's life takes its' well known turn as the wife Ronald Tree and chatelaine of her famously beautiful homes- Kelmarsh Hall and Ditchley. She went on to become owner of  Lady Colefax's decorating business, partnering with John Fowler, to create Colefax and Fowler- going on to claim ownership of some of the most legendarily beautiful rooms of the day. Later as Nancy Lancaster  she was the lady of Haseley Court- another quintessentially English Country home she was already credited with creating.


as photographed during Nancy and Ronald Tree's ownership

Throughout all of Nancy's conquests Mirador remained her talisman. Nancy was steeped in the mystique of the South, especially Chillie Langhorne's Virginia. She said 'I've never stayed in a seat once in my life when the band played Dixie.' Nancy's grandfather had instilled all this old South house reverence in his granddaughter. As a child she had visited the old plantations of Virginia: 'many of them were ramshackle and their gardens were completely overgrown; that was their beauty, that was their charm... It was the most romantic thing in the world to me.'

Nancy replaced the box hedges that Chillie had removed- but was insistent the worn,broken walkway just as she found it.

photographed during Nancy Tree's ownership

In 1922, Nancy's dream of owning Mirador materialized when her Aunt Phyliss sold the now Nancy Tree the family home.'I always adored Mirador.' The house began as a sturdy two storey brick house in the 1830's and when the flush with funds Chillie acquired the house, he added two single storey wings. Bathrooms were installed one the first floor. The house was lovely, but it was in hands of Nancy's ownership and the advice of William Delano that Mirador became the grand house Nancy envisioned it to be.

 Ronald and Nancy Tree in front of Mirador
circa 1925

The two set to work with advice from all the Langhorne sisters about what Not To Do. Symmetry was restored to the front facade and a long back porch running the width of the house was incorporated into the house's interior, adding much needed pantries, cupboards and big baths. Nancy recalled always bathing in four scant inches of water at Mirador, dreaming of large taps-She got them. Nancy added 'laundry taps in the bathrooms and the water gushed out.'

 The remodelled Hallway and Staircase of Mirador
rendered by Scaisbrooke Langhorne Abbott

From all these changes the hall became ill proportioned- presenting no problem, Nancy suggested to Delano " Couldn't you hollow out the middle of the hall, make it round and two storeys tall and put a skylight at the top?"

Mirador's Entry
as photographed during Nancy Tree's ownership

A haunted Guest Room where Mirador's guests would tell of having their faces slapped while they slept, was wisely turned into a formal drawing room called The Gold Room but Nancy's favourite room at her Mirador was the Main Sitting Room.

 the Main Sitting Room
rendered by S.Langhorne Abbott

The old Parlour lovingly used in Chillie Langhorne's day was now the Main Sitting Room. Here-Nancy lavished her ideas about the Virginia plantation rooms of her childhood. This room was full of mismatched chintzes-all of them-old and faded. The irrepressible had Nancy hunted the fabrics down from her Mirador neighbours. The result was a room whose ambiance reflected that of an old lovingly lived in one- Nancy's first of many rooms creating this effect.

"Such a time as I have had moving things. I begin doing it early in the morning (and continue) until late at night. We are living upstairs and very gradually getting straight. I have a man repairing furniture and two making curtains and covers,etc. It is all so lovely."- Nancy to her sister Alice, written from Mirador in 1922.

 The Main Sitting Room

Nancy Lancaster's Sitting Room  
Haseley Court, 30 years later

The Library at Mirador
rendering by S.Langhorne Abbott

The panelled walls of Mirador's Dining Room were painted a buff colour, a rug of a buff colour was added, while all the furniture was of mahogany. Lighting in the Dining Room was provided by candles in the chandelier and candles in the Irish crystal of Waterford. More than thirty years later the beloved colour of the Mirador Dining Room was used in the Haseley Court Dining Room.

 Haseley Court's Dining Room all in buff

Nancy's own bedroom at Mirador was a simple one. White panelling and aquamarine chintz would have suited the Virginia summers, an invitation for the cool nights of the Blue Ridge summer. The furniture of Mirador was a mix of pieces: there were three poster beds from the original owners of Mirador, her grandparents Victoriana and Georgian pieces Nancy's Aunt Phyllis had purchased. The old Virginian formality of dark wood and Georgian browns prevailed at Mirador. Nancy was determined to have it that way- working to maintain her girlhood ideal of Virginia's plantations.

 Nancy's Mirador Bedroom

 rendering by S.Langhorne Abbott

During the years of World War II, Mirador became the home of the British Ambassador, Lord Halifax, on Nancy's invitation. By then the gardens of Mirador Nancy had lovingly restored and expanded were maturing, a friend remembered, the garden is a dream... the box had grown, walking back towards the house, I couldn't see the library windows.'  The dream -now a reality- just as Nancy had envisioned it.

Nancy (far right.) with Steward Wood, Mirador's butler & guest
Dorothea,Lady Head, in the late 1930's

Nancy finally sold Mirador in 1950, she had become a British citizen and it became impractical to maintain the estate. Under Nancy Lancaster's formidable hands, Mirador boasted more than a thousand acres, held romantic gardens, a gracious Virginia estate and the realized dream of a small child held spellbound by the love of a home-Mirador.

As a child Nancy stood proudly inside the gates of Mirador while two tourists admired the fine house. While they took pictures of the house, young Nancy Perkins, felt she was in a movie, answering their questions with 'waves of pride. I was on the inside and they were out. I savored every inch of the chasm between us.' After relaying her tale to her grandfather Langhorne, he proceeded to give her ' a long lecture about Virginian hospitality. He was angry I hadn't invited them in for a cool refreshment on such a hot day, a chance to come into the house and rest. Because that's what Mirador really was- it's what the word mirador means-a resting place on the side of the mountain.'

resources this article on MIRADOR
Nancy Lancaster English Country House Style by Martin Wood
Nancy Lancaster Her Life, Her World, Her Art by Robert Becker
The Langhorne Sisters by James Fox
article by Augusta O. Patterson The Langhorne Home of Greenwood Viriginia, 1928 T&C
(all photographs are from the above resources)


  1. Dana Gibson, gdaughter of Charles Dana Gibson, has a shop in Richmond, VA. An interview with her would make an interesting follow up to this post.
    Thank you for sharing your work with us.
    Rebecca R. Dyer

  2. What a beautiful story full of ambiance you have told all about "house reverence." I love the face slapping ghosts of the haunted bedroom, the worn mis-matched chintzes and the broken worn walkway. And oh, that staircase!

  3. I say, LA, this is one of your best. Beautifully written and researched, in short: marvelous! I believe Mirador was improved with the Delano & Aldrich renovations, but probably lost some of its winsome-ness in the process of becoming a far-grander house than it began life. But who am I to say that a gal can't move up in the world if she wants to and has the gumption to do it? Nancy Perkins Field Tree Lancaster broke the mold, as far as I can tell...

  4. so how many tiny cracker box mcmansions did they build on the 1000 acres after the developer bulldozed mirador. i certainly hope this didn't happen as this is such a fantastic house and an even better story. thanx and keep up the good work. my first visit here but i'll be back.

  5. It is a terribly pretty house. I understand later owners mucked it up with unnecessary grandeur.

  6. Great post, nicely written and researched. What a great staircase to make an entrance!

  7. Rebecca- please follow up with my via my blog's email tish209@gmail.com. would love to do that!regards,pgt

  8. What a gorgeous home! I especially love the staircase and library. From what I can tell, it looks like this home is not available for public tour. Do you know if that's correct? I noticed that there is a public marker for the house, but that is all I can find. I would love to visit this home one day.

    Great post.

  9. M.
    the home is privately owned, at one point in internet research there was a figure of 14+ million for its purchase.pgt

    AAL-say it ain't so! but that seems to be the way of things.

  10. Le Style- I am fascinated by House Reverence-certainly Not a Southern thing, but it certainly existed in my own home with my father and many of our neighbors and friends-whether humble or heavenly. g

  11. Linda- I bet many sweeping ones were made on that staircase!

  12. TurnerPackRats, Yes the house still exists- there are some more current photographs online of the property. to see more, search Greenwood Mirador, or Langhorne Mirador.

    I love the photographs from the Patterson article when Nancy Tree owned the place.

  13. Loved today's post, and ALL of last week's about McQueen. I must say I am still horribly sad about that, feelling it close, mourning still.

    I caught up on some comments, and still can't figure exactly how to publish and answer. I am obviously a complete computer novice as well.

    Thea is a nick name, and pronounced with a full TH and a long E, like the-ology. Full given name is Theresa Lorraine with the french pronounciation, but a southern France TH, so there is a little bit of the h pronounced.... have I lost you yet??

    So, when we came here, the sharp, only T pronouciation of Teresa was all wrong and, thus the nicknames began... thea, talitha,, lisa, lisel, laure, lo, loulou, leelee ... I used to joke that I would eventually just be known as "l" !

    Oh, the agonies of a name......

  14. Greetings,

    I am glad I did not miss this posting of yours.
    So beautifully written and illustrated, I enjoyed every moment of my visit.

    Thank you.

  15. A truely glorious post and a fitting one for Mrs. Lancaster. I especially like the quote about Dixie. No one but a Southerner living in or longing for the South would comprehend.

  16. A great age passed into history when she sold that house.

  17. thank you for this beautiful post and this very interesting post

  18. OMG - love your blog! We have the same taste! Love reading your posts.

    I am beginning mine as well... But it is just the beginning...


    Oh and by the way, you MADE me buy "Five Sisters: The Langhorne Sisters of Virginia" by James Fox.

    Just did it - on Half.com on the cheap.


    Thanks !!!

  19. God in Heaven I love your blog. This post is exemplary.

  20. I wonder about the small panel door in the bedroom door. I've never seen anything like that and don't have any idea what it is for. Thanks for a wonderful post. I am a resident of Charlottesville now and greatly enjoy learning more about its gentile past. Ann

    1. hello, that is a little clever bit of trompe l'oeil of a "chamber pot" pgt



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