Living with antiques: No velvet ropes–a collection in New Jersey

Editorial Staff Furniture & Decorative Arts, Living with Antiques

from The Magazine ANTIQUES, September/October 2011 |

Called the last of the Georgians by the architect Robert A. M. Stern, Mott B. Schmidt dared to be unfashionable, stub­bornly designing traditional houses for town and country long after they were in favor.* Schmidt’s houses in the American Georgian manner usually relied on a restrained com­bination of red brick, dark shutters, and white trim accented with classical motifs drawn from English precedent. A wrought-iron balustrade or a carved pediment was as flamboyant as the architect got. After the excesses of the 1920s, Schmidt’s blue-blood clientele yearned for discretion.

  • Fig. 1. In the entrance hall of Dunwalke East, late eighteenth-century English carved and gilded looking glasses and George II style carved and gilded eagle console tables flank the doorway. Antiques dealer Fred B. Nadler (1931-2003), who worked with the present owners from 1994 until his death, owned the nineteenth-century carved and painted Venetian blackamoor. On the console tables are ormolu-mounted cut-glass urns filled with porcelain parrot tulips. The window sill at the left supports a Qianlong pe­riod Chinese porcelain tureen and cover in the pseudo-to­bacco leaf pattern, c. 1770. Visible through the open door is a monumental cast-iron urn, probably American and dating to the late nineteenth century.


  • Fig. 2. Designed by Mott B. Schmidt (1899–1977), Dunwalke East was built in 1936 for the American statesman and financier C. Douglas Dillon (1909–2003). Two years later Schmidt designed a closely related house for the Rockefeller family, Hudson Pines in Pocantico Hills, New York. Carol Zipkin and Dexter Earle pur­chased Dunwalke East in late 1993.

  • Fig. 3. Flying staircases such as this one are a signature detail of Schmidt’s archi­tecture. On the stair wall is Gathering Wild Flowers, signed and dated 1888 by Émile Munier (1840–1895), a French artist who collaborated with William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905). The nineteenth-century carved wood chande­lier is Viennese. The cast-iron fern-pattern bench at the right, one of a pair, dates to the nineteenth century. Most of the cou­ple’s antique carpets are Aubussons and date to the late nineteenth century.

  • Fig. 4. “What is most unusual about this early nineteenth-century figure of the demon slayer Zhong Kui is that his tongue moves,” says Chinese porcelain specialist Michael Cohen. In Chinese mythology Zhong Kui was a Tang Dy­nasty scholar who committed suicide after failing the palace examination.


  • Fig. 5. In their living room the Earles re-created aspects of their former Fifth Avenue apartment. At far left are an eighteenth-century American mahogany child’s chair and a tiger-maple desk from the couple’s collection of miniature furniture and porcelain. In the fore­ground, center, is a Philadelphia carved walnut open armchair of c. 1770. It pre­viously belonged to Philadelphia collec­tor Henry S. McNeil Sr. Next to it is a carved mahogany tea table with a rect­angular tilt top, c. 1750. In the fore­ground, right, is a pair of carved mahog­any chinoiserie armchairs in the manner of Robert Manwaring (active 1760-1766) dating to c. 1765. On the table to the left of the camelback sofa, center, is a rare nineteenth-century Chinese blue-and-white goat tureen, one of a pair. On the far wall hangs On the Seafront of c. 1880 by Alexander Rossi (1870-1916), an English painter of genre scenes.


  • Fig. 6. This pair of Chinese porcelain nodding-head court maidens in bril­liantly enameled robes dates to c. 1740. Highlights of the Earles’ collection of Chinese export porcelain, much of it figural, they were made for the Europe­an market. Identical to a pair in the Vic­toria and Albert Museum in London, they were among the figures pictured on the cover of Ladies First! There’s Nothing Like a Dame, a catalogue published by Cohen and Cohen in 2007.


  • Fig. 7. In the entrance hall Le Gouter, signed and dated 1895 by Wil­liam Adolphe Bouguereau, is one of several idealized nineteenth-cen­tury portraits of children in the couple’s collection. Dating from the 1750s, English Chelsea red-anchor period porcelain plates with bo­tanical decoration flank a pair of Chinese porcelain spread-winged cockerels on French gilt-bronze mounts. The cockerels were made c. 1750 for the French market and were previously in the collection of Leo and Doris Hodroff. The English marble-topped console table dates to c. 1740. The two Philadelphia carved mahogany side chairs of c. 1750 are from the collection of Henry S. McNeil Sr. A chair from the set is in William Macpherson Hornor Jr.’s Blue Book, Phila­delphia Furniture (Pl. 333).


  • Fig. 8. Dutch artist Melchior de Hondecoeter (1636-1695) de­picted Chinese and Egyptian geese, Muscovy ducks, and other birds in a classical landscape in this oil on canvas of the 1680s. Dating to c. 1790, the English inlaid mahogany demilune side­board supports a magnificent enameled and gilded Chinese porcelain tureen in the form of a long-neck goose. It was prob­ably made for the Spanish or Portuguese market around 1760 and may have originally pos­sessed a stand. At left is a pair of Qianlong period famille rose figures of boys, c. 1740. The fa­mille rose figures of a lady and a laughing man, right, both dat­ing to c. 1760, are exceptional for their high degree of natural­ism. The English mahogany side chairs are from c. 1780.


  • Fig. 9. Jean Béraud (1849-1935) depicts the gloom and gaiety of Paris in winter in Sor­tie du Conservatoire sous la niège, a street scene set outside the Conservatoire National de Musique et de Déclamation, located at the corner of Rue Begère and Rue du Faubourg-Poissonière when the oil on canvas was painted in the 1880s.


  • Fig. 10. Galerie Durand-Ruel acquired Trouville, une famille sur la plage by Eugène Boudin (1824-1898), an oil on wood panel of 1881, from the artist in 1889.



    Fig. 11. The eighteenth-century mahogany sideboard and the inlaid mahogany serpentine-front corner cupboard of c. 1800 in the dining room belonged to the Dillons, who also selected the floral silk covering on the walls and drap­ing the windows. Displayed on the sideboard is part of the Earles’ extensive collection of Kangxi and Qianlong period blue-and-white Chinese porce­lain dating from c. 1662 to 1796. The carved marble mantel also supports eighteenth- century Chinese blue-and-white porcelain including miniature cockerels, and a c. 1740 plate depicting tea production. Above the sideboard is an English carved and gilded looking glass with a straight broken-arch pediment of c. 1745. The Earles’ children are depicted in Ying-He Liu’s portrait of 1999 at the right. The two side chairs against the back wall are Irish.


  • Fig. 12. Four eighteenth-century carved gritstone putti anchor the corners of the rose garden. This Flemish example, possibly by Johannes Claudius de Cock (1668-1735), represents Ameri­ca. The figure wears a feathered headdress and holds a purse of coins representing the New World’s rich natural resources.


  • Fig. 13. Overlooking the rose garden, this carved stone cornu­copia, one of a pair, is one of many pieces acquired by the Dillons and kept by the Earles.

  • Fig. 14. Fabricated by the Eng­lish firm Alitex, the greenhouse is fitted with antique architec­tural fragments. Its entrance is flanked by a pair of English carved stone finials of c. 1880 fashioned as artichokes.


  • Fig. 15. A semi-maze effect is created with clipped boxwood in the peony garden, installed by the first Mrs. Dillon, the former Phyllis Chess Ellsworth (1910-1982), and partially replanted by the Earles. A selection of nineteenth-century garden orna­ments includes the cast-iron fountain with a base support fashioned as three cranes, by J. W. Fiske and Company.


  • Fig. 16. The first Mrs. Douglas Dillon collaborated with local landscape architect John Charles Smith to install the rose garden, which displays portions of the Earles’ collec­tion of antique garden orna­ment. At the center is a bronze fountain cast in Italy by Raffa­ello Romanelli (1856-1928).


Built in 1936 for the American statesman and finan­cier C. Douglas Dillon, Dunwalke East in NewJersey’s Somerset Hills is among the best of Schmidt’s country houses, a taut play between grandeur and simplicity accomplished with a master’s economy of gesture (see Fig. 2). The house closely resembles Hudson Pines, a 1938 Schmidt commission in Pocantico Hills, New York, for the Rockefeller family, with whom Dillon had lifelong personal and professional ties.

Since 1994 Dunwalke East has been home to Carol Zipkin and Dexter Earle, former New Yorkers who wanted a pastoral upbringing for their son and daugh­ter. The Earles are model stewards of the thirty-three-acre estate, honoring architect and patron while bringing Dunwalke East into the present century with innova­tions of their own. Inviting in scale, the house provides a fine backdrop for their extensive collection of seven­teenth- through nineteenth-century Chinese porcelain, nineteenth-century French and English painting, and eighteenth-century English and American furniture.

The couple’s search for a place to live within fifty miles of Manhattan started when their children, now young adults, were toddlers. Their first visit to Dun­walke East in the fall of 1993 began inauspiciously. “It is too much for us,” Dexter said as they pulled into the pebbled drive. But after touring the seven-bedroom house with eight working fireplaces, the Earles were smitten. Their contractor supplied further reassurance. “It is the most beautiful house that I have ever seen. Just imagine what you can do with it,” he offered. “It is like a diamond ring. The longer you look at it, the smaller it seems,” their realtor added encouragingly.

Dexter, who retired as a partner from the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, and Carol, who enjoyed her own successful career in finance, first at Bankers Trust and later at the Ford Foundation and Alliance Capital Manage­ment, began collecting in the early 1980s.

“We squished into a little Fiat with a friend who worked at Mallett on New Bond Street and zipped around London. The dollar was king then. We bought a slew of antiques for our New York apart­ment. It was really the beginning of our interest in English furniture,” Dexter recalls.

After moving to NewJersey, Carol formed a close friendship with the antiques dealer Fred B. Nadler, whom she met when he kept a small shop in Ber­nardsville. A gifted stylist and a connoisseur of the best Chinese export porcelain, Nadler’s opulent displays were fixtures of New York’s Winter Antiques Show for nearly three decades beginning in the mid-1960s. Nadler supplied well-heeled clients from Pennsylvania to Texas. At the on-site sale of Colonel Edgar and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch’s collection at Pokety Farms in Maryland in 1980, the dealer claimed a forty-eight-piece Chinese export partial dinner service in the rare rose Fitzhugh pattern. Years earlier, at one of Ronald Bourgeault’s first auctions in New Hampshire, Nadler outbid rivals Horace and Elinor Gordon for a Chinese export porcelain cider jug made for the American market.

Friend and confidante, Nadler advised the Earles not only on what to buy but where to put it. For upholstery, he sagely recommended that they use a favorite Scalamandré silk damask throughout the house, a solution that has allowed the Earles to move furniture from room to room, and from residence to residence, over many years. “Dexter would leave for work and Fred would arrive with treasures and gifts. He never came empty-handed. We spoke morning and night and he visited several times a week. Fred was espe­cially close to our children,” Carol recalls.

Unlike the Dillons-infrequent visitors to Dun­walke East who also kept properties in New York, Florida, Maine, and France-the Earles spend much of the year at their New Jersey house, enjoying every season and vista. “When we arrived, there was a huge kitchen garden planted with Douglas Dillon’s favorite asparagus and rhubarb, a clothesline, and a cinderblock garage where the limos parked,” Dexter says. Clearly, the Dillons rarely visited the rear of the house.

“Our children romped everywhere. No room was off limits,” says Carol, emphasizing the informality the family brought to their new quarters. “People wonder how we live with antiques,” she continues. “The answer is that it works for us. We have done a great deal of entertaining of all sorts over the years and have always encouraged our guests to enjoy the house as we do. There is no velvet rope.” Framed snapshots, children’s drawings, and souvenirs of summer sojourns abroad speak to the Earles’ devotion to family. Carol’s flair is evident in her collection of bespoke fashion created by New York designer Constance McCardle, who often incorporates antique fabric into her wearable art.

* Robert A. M. Stern, “Introduction,” in Mark Alan Hewitt The Architec­ture of Mott B. Schmidt (Rizzoli, New York, 1991), p. x. Hewitt, a practic­ing architect in Bernardsville, New Jersey, provided additional information on Mott Schmidt and his work for the Dillon and Rockefeller families for this article.

For Carol, objects and memories are inextri­cably intertwined. When Nadler died in 2003, she acquired a handful of items from his private collection by which to remember him. These mementos include a carved and painted blackamoor nicknamed Curly for his tangled mop of hair and a pair of early nineteenth-century Chinese mille­fleurs fishbowls that have been pressed into service as planters. With Nadler in mind, the Earles purchased pairs of famille verte Ho-Ho boys, Chinese porcelain figures that the dealer liked to display in his bath.

The Earles also wanted pieces by which to remember the Dillons. A pair of eighteenth-century carved and gilded eagle pier mirrors and matching George II style carved and gilded eagle console tables in the entrance hall are original to Dunwalke East, as is the sideboard and serpentine-front corner cupboard in the dining room (see Figs. 1, 11). They have also been acquiring antique eagle garden ornaments of the sort that have long roosted at Dunwalke, the adjacent estate of Douglas Dillon’s father, financier Clarence Dillon (1882-1979) (see Fig. 2). The senior Dillon’s house was designed by Cross and Cross and completed in 1928.

Furniture collected for their former Manhattan apartment formed the foundation of their new living room, glazed a warm apricot color that is flattering at night and soothing by day (see Fig. 5). A pair of carved mahogany armchairs of about 1765, a recent purchase from Kentshire Galleries in New York, has undulating arms and Chinese fretwork backs. Other treasures in­clude a mahogany bureau cabinet of about 1755. Elsewhere in the house, a marble-topped console table of about 1740 and a carved and gilded looking glass of about 1745 stud an extensive collection of eighteenth-century English furniture. “Function tends to dictate form in furniture but mirrors are an exception. For me, they are the most interesting, most sculptural things you can buy from the eighteenth-century cabinetmaking world,” says New York dealer Clinton Howell, who sup­plied the looking glass.

Antique English, American, and Chinese furniture scaled for children and dolls adds a light touch. Among many intriguing ex­amples is a bombé block-front desk of padouk wood that was made in China for the Western market. Its topmost surface displays two dozen miniature blue-and-white porcelain vases that Carol collected over the years or received as gifts from Nadler.

Two unusual Chinese export plates of about 1735 are each embellished with a single colorful butterfly. The pair, a gift to Dexter, represents Carol’s initial foray into porcelain collecting. They were published by David Howard, the late British authority on Chinese export armorial wares.

After much searching on their behalf by Nadler, the Earles acquired a rare long-neck goose porcelain tureen with a brilliantly enameled and gilded body (see Fig. 8). The Chinese Qianlong period piece, among the best examples of its kind anywhere, dates to about 1760 and was probably made for the Spanish or Por­tuguese market. Nadler also supplied a pair of early nineteenth-century blue-and-white covered tureens in the shape of goats, a rare form (see Fig. 5).

After Nadler’s death the Earles refocused their collect­ing, acquiring singular works of porcelain, much of it sculptural, from the prominent specialists in export china Michael and Ewa Cohen of London. Some of the Earles’ recent purchases, such as a pair of nodding-head court ladies of about 1740 and a figure of the demon slayer Zhong Kui of about 1810, have moving components (see Figs. 4 and 6). “These mechanical pieces are a wonderful rarity in their collection,” Michael Cohen says.

Working primarily with the Richard Green Gallery in London, the couple has carefully chosen exqui­sitely rendered late nineteenth-century French and English paintings of everyday life that depict the vital­ity of the metropolis, the languor of the shore, and the intimacy of the garden enclosure.

“It is fantastically good,” Green Gallery researcher Susan Morris says of Sortie du Conservatoire sous la niège by Jean Béraud, one of Dexter’s favorite paintings (see Fig. 9). She notes the artist’s clever use of a subdued monochromatic palette to depict both the gloom and gaiety of Paris during winter’s darkest days.

One of the couple’s best paintings is Trouville, une famille sur la plage, an impressionist oil on panel of 1881 by Eugène Boudin, whose delicate flickering brushwork conveys the atmosphere of a breezy seaside day (Fig. 10).

Portraits of innocent children in idealized settings complete the paintings collection. The Earles hunted for years for an outstanding example by a favorite ex­ponent of the genre, William Adolphe Bouguereau. Signed and dated 1895, his Le Gouter charmingly depicts a little girl enjoying a treat (see Fig. 7).

The geometrical precision of Dunwalke East’s formal parterre gardens complements Schmidt’s crisp architectural silhouette (see Figs. 15, 16). The Earles have taken great pleasure in developing their gardens, even poring over meticulous notes left by Douglas Dillon’s first wife, the former Phyllis Chess Ellsworth, who collaborated with local landscape architect John Charles Smith to install a rose garden, peony garden, and an orchard.

Working first with Nadler and currently with Katonah, New York, dealer Bar­bara Israel, the couple has assembled an imaginative collection of antique garden ornament that ranges from a quartet of carved eighteenth-centu­ry gritstone figures of Dutch and Flemish origin (see Fig. 12) to a bronze tortoise fountain cast in Italy by Raffaello Romanelli (see Fig. 16). They recently added a custom-designed greenhouse fabricated by the Eng­lish firm Alitex and enhanced by antique architectural fragments, from a door salvaged from the old Peacock Alley at NewYork’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to a pair of English carved stone finials fashioned as artichokes of about 1880 (see Fig. 14). The greenhouse accommodates up to five hundred orchids, a passion that the Earles nurture in Hawaii, where they frequently vacation.

After settling into Dunwalke East, Dexter Earle met Douglas Dillon for lunch at Manhattan’s Knicker­bocker Club, where both were members. “He was a totally engaging person,” Dexter says, recalling Dillon’s fond descriptions of life at old Dunwalke Farm, where cattle once grazed by the hundreds. The men ce­mented the bond formed when Carol Zipkin and Dexter Earle accepted the privilege and responsibility of making Dunwalke East the joyful family redoubt that Mott B. Schmidt surely intended.