The Mount: Edith Wharton and the American Renaissance


Kay Davis
University of Virginia
© 2001-2003


The Mount > Interior > Grounds > Gardens

The Mount

The Mount was the product of Edith Wharton's design philosophies and the work of three other individuals:

  • Francis L.V. Hoppin, who designed the house, outbuildings, gate, and gardens

  • Odgen Codman Jr., who designed the interior

  • Beatrix Jones Farrand (Wharton's niece), who designed the kitchen garden and the drive

The Mount would have become the next collaborative project for Wharton and Codman, but there was a dispute over Codman's fees, and he subsequently lost the commission to design the house. He did, however, submit an intial set of sketches.

Hoppin & Koen

Wharton hired the New York firm of Hoppin & Koen to design The Mount. A Rhode Island native, Francis Hoppin studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's School of Architecture and trained in his brother Howard's architectural firm in Providence. Hoppin also was an apprentice in the McKim, Mead, and White firm.

Francis L.V. Hoppin
Francis L.V. Hoppin

In 1894, Hoppin and another McKim, Mead, and White apprentice, Terrence Koen, began their practice in New York City. Hoppin & Koen were best known for their country and city residences. The Mount was one of their earliest house commissions.(34)

Hoppin & Koen's residence designs displayed an interest in the Adam and Georgian styles. (35) This was in keeping with Wharton's design preferences for American houses.

The Georgian Style

Writing in the Newport Daily News on the virtues of the Georgian style, five years before she commissioned The Mount, Wharton remarked:

The true Georgian house is rectangular, thus providing more accommodation in any given space than any of the gabled and pinnacled structures which at present adorn our streets. Relying for its effect upon the proper adjustment of its parts, it requires far less outward ornament than the willfully irregular house, which can only be saved from looking like an aggregation of woodsheds around a central cow-barn by a liberal display of expensive ornamentation. (36)

Wharton believed that English Georgian was the ideal style to adapt to the American landscape:

The Georgian house is above all sincere. It does not affect to be a castle, a fortress, or a farmhouse ...the Georgian house, in addition to its other merits, possesses the important one of affording more space, light and comfort for a given price than any other structure with the slightest architectural pretensions.(37)

Hoppin & Koen used the Georgian-style Belton House (1684-1686) in Lincolnshire, England, as a model for The Mount.

Belton House
Belton House

The Mount
The Mount

Belton House

octagonal cupola

H plan

made of stone

built on flat ground
The Mount

octagonal cupola

H plan

made of wood

built on a hillside

The Best of Many Sources
The Mount follows the principles of scientific eclecticism, synthesizing the best of many sources.

  • The house is white with green shutters, a common motif in nineteenth-century New England houses.

  • The interior is based on French, English, and Italian sources.

  • There is a French courtyard, an Italianate terrace, and an Italian garden.

  • The drive is similar to those found on European country estates.

Notes Scott Marshall, an architectural historian and senior vice president at the Mount, "Much of the genius of Edith's design of The Mount is in the skillful blending of the best of French, English, and Italian classical design elements to create a new American vocabulary." (38)

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