05 July 2010

Kate decorates


 in keeping with the current little augury topic- all things Kate-
Let's take a look at Kate's decorating style.
A purist, No surprise there. And pure Americana at that-which really shouldn't surprise either.

a Hepburn welcome at Fenwick

Remember she did consider herself to be of the Campbell's Tomato Soup kind.

Kate by Snowdon 1991

 Well- she certainly loved red.

her Residences included- the Houghton family home, Fenwick, Old Saybrook,Connecticut, which was rebuilt after a 1938 hurricane flattened it. She would always return here for weekends, holidays- sharing with her brother Dick-who was a permanent resident. This was the place that all the Houghtons claimed as their own- with 19 rooms, 8 bathrooms, a screened patio it could hold the clan. In ME, Hepburn writes:

Then we all sleep in our old rooms:
I'm the east end, second floor.
Dick & Tor-top floor, east end and west end.
We're all here for better or for worse.
It's where I spend my free time.
You can see-it's a family house.
It's a bit odd but it seems to work.

She lived here exclusively at the end of her life.

after the 1938 Hurricane, among the ruins

The white brick house, 8,382 square feet was what might be expected. Years of accumulated family possessions- perhaps just a touch of Philadelphia Story elegance.The living room has colors of nature, with splashes of Hepburn's favorite red. A three-seater whitish slip covered couch has two white and four red pillows. Behind that, a library table filled with books. Behind that again, a long bookcase.On one white wicker chair is a black-and-white throw; on a wooden chair, a red throw. Near the fireplace: a small red-and-green sled. On a window seat: a vase with pretty glass flowers, greenish glass ball, rabbit, seagull, birds perched on wooden blocks. The inside echoes the outside. (Jacqueline Blais, USA Today)

 Views of Fenwick

On one white wicker chair is a black-and-white throw; on a wooden chair, a red throw. Near the fireplace: a small red-and-green sled. On a window seat: a vase with pretty glass flowers, greenish glass ball, rabbit, seagull, birds perched on wooden blocks. The inside echoes the outside. (Jacqueline Blais USA Today)

The big Fenwick Kitchen

another residence, in New York , was purchased early on in her marriage to Ogden Ludlow, "Luddy", in the now historic Turtle Bay area. Hepburn owned the  four story brownstone from around 1928 to just before she made Fenwick her permanent home. The townhouse held 4 bedrooms, 4 baths, maintained its original wood burning fireplaces and mantels. Decorated over a period of 50 years- it was eclectic to say the least-antiques, Americana, decoys, paintings by Hepburn, choice African furniture and artifacts.

in New York townhouse

In one of her last chapters Hepburn reminisces about the home she shared with Spencer Tracy-at times they maintained separate residences in L.A. and also had nested together in a guest house on St. Ives a part of George Cukor's estate. She spent most of her time there with him in his final years.

Spencer by Kate

 Kate in Tracy's horsehair rocker

The room she loved most was made of wormy chestnut planks. She had designed a desk for Tracy. She recycled some wooden valances she had made for Tracy's previous apartment, making them the top of the desk and the base of was made up of 2 three-drawer chests. From the leftover valances she had a knee hole cut and placed it in between the chests, while on top of the desks slots were made to hold papers.

 at the desk

Kate also designed a mantel of chestnut. She called for fires to be built year round, moved a red upholstered chair about that was her chair, while Tracy rocked in a black horsehair antique rocker Kate had reworked for him.The room was rounded out with a pine cupboard, an African chair, a "heavenly Navajo rug-pink red on white with black, some French blue, about 10 x 12."

 after St.Ives, some of her favorite pieces went to Fenwick

Kate at St.Ives

In 2004 Sotheby's had a two day sale of Property from the Estate of Katharine Hepburn. The sale made up furniture, paintings and decorations from all three of Hepburn's homes.

a Victorian mahogany armchair and gout stool from the townhouse, she called it "her throne," a Chippendale-style mahogany slant front desk from Fenwick, an American carved and painted wood figure of a swan from the Los Angeles home were included and sold for phenomenal prices.

 Kate at St.Ives

From the house in Fenwick comes an American brass and oak plant stand (est. $800/1,200) which Cynthia McFadden, a close friend of Miss Hepburn's and an executor of her estate notes, "Kate bought this plant stand about 20 years ago while we were scouring antique shops in North Salem, New York. She always loved the piece and had it constantly filled with her beloved wild flowers or with Casablanca lilies."   It was 2004 and Hepburn with all her confessions, quirks and personality bugaboos were highly prized. She was an ICON.

at auction

Never before seen by the public were 100 of Hepburn's own paintings and drawings at auction

She started painting in 1938, while on board Howard Hughes' yacht. It became a passion and she pursued it while on locations all over the world.

Sod-paintings, drawings, watercolors, sketchbooks and sculptures,depicting views of Fenwick, as well  scenes from the house on St.Ives. Also her is also her painting table, small easel, palettes, paint boxes and brushes.

By Kate

  self portrait

her final word on decorating-

 'Life's what's important. 
Walking, houses, family. 
Birth and pain and joy - and then death. 
Acting's just waiting for the custard pie. That's all! '

all the wonderful images are from All About Kate here


  1. I have that photograph of her holding the goldenrod by the Please Go Away sign, framed on my desk. I often gaze at it wistfully when I'm on the phone!

  2. Of course, American antiques.... very nice. Have to love the "please go away" sign. Fun post!

  3. Great post, LA -- I loved all the photos of this original. Classic old line WASP that she was. Reggie

  4. Another painter - I had no idea. Must have slipped my memory or she never mentioned it (?) in "Me" that I read so long ago. I liked the 'angular' quote from your other post. I've always had mixed feelings about the great lady. My favorite of her films - African Queen! Yours?

  5. Blogger is chewing up comments in emails and comment moderation.sorry about that because I love them(not you Blogger). Maybe they will reappear, but I doubt it. pgt

  6. Fascinating post! I have read much about Kate, you have really enriched the story!

    Love seeing so many of her own paintings and her talent. Yes a true icon!

    Art by Karena

  7. Oh this was so wonderful. Just marvelous!

  8. Pamela, & I on my bulletin board-how could I resist!

    Emily- thanks. Reggie Darling-Yes very WASPy and with quite a sting. I have to say my appreciation of colonial antiques has grown in the last year or so. I particularly like that corner cupboard and that desk she pieced together really appeals too.
    Author- In retrospect it should be no surprise though when I saw the sale images the first time I was. As I say-she was a real Yankee doodle dandy or as Reggie says WASP.

  9. Karena, Beautiful use of colors and I love the self portraits and the TRacy one.
    Le Style, Yes, much is there to admire and perhaps disdain- I have to say her feisty nature and prickliness appeal to me- I have had a few such delightful friends and comrades over the years! Love them all-especially the Tracy ones- Pat and Mike, Woman of the Year. It would be hard for me to pick.

  10. Never before and never again - she was the embodiment in every sense of the word: "original."

    I think I've read just about everything that has been written about her and I can't tell you how many times as a young woman, new to New York, I used to walk by Turtle Bay, not expecting to catch a glimpse, mind you, but simply to be near where she was or had been, with the silly, misguided notion that, somehow, a bit of that originality might rub off.

    An in-depth first rate post!

  11. I get such a sense of her everyday life from your post -- really homey and warm.

    Yet those auction house photos are icy cold. It seems so sad that her belongings were all auctioned off. Too bad they couldn't stay in the family home at Fenwick.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  12. EA, so true, a true original. Does anyone compare, then now? Let me know if you come up with someone. I thought of Tilda Swinton in light of some of the Kate things we now read about.

  13. Erica, Good point- I am certain much stayed in the family- but the house was sold- I know it was redone- lovingly so, and photographed in Town and Country ( I have a Kitchen photo I will post for you, but had mislaid the others from the article).

  14. Thank you so much for this resplendent post. I just love her.

  15. Casual, yet always regally elegant.

  16. Debra-good to hear from you! Janet-I could not agree more. pgt

  17. Dear Pgt, what a beautifully put together piece. I've always meant to buy a copy of Stories of My Life. I shall do now xx

  18. That house spoke so much about her. I wish they had made it into a museum for her fans. The new house is nothing like her. Thank you for sharing this!



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