Class and Leisureat America's First ResortNewport, Rhode Island1870-1914

Ogden Codman Jr.

Ogden Codman Jr. (1868-1951) was a noted American Renaissance architect and interior decorator.

Codman was born to a wealthy Boston family. He spent his teenage years in France. Upon returning to America in 1884, he studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Codman was influenced by two uncles, one an architect and one a decorator. He admired Italian architecture of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries; French architecture; and the architecture of Boston.

After brief apprenticeships at architectural firms, Codman started his own business in Boston. He met author Edith Wharton on a business trip to Newport, Rhode Island. Wharton became one of his first Newport clients.

Wharton and Codman collaborated on redesigning the interior of her New York City townhouse at 882-884 Park Avenue and her Newport home, Land's End.

In her autobiography, A Backward Glance, Wharton wrote:

"We asked him to alter and decorate the house—a somewhat new departure, since the architects of that day looked down on house-decoration as a branch of dress-making, and left the field up to the upholsterers, who crammed every room with curtains, lambrequins, jardinières of artificial plants, wobbly velvet-covered tables littered with silver gew-gaws, and festoons of lace on mantelpieces and dressing tables."

Wharton introduced Codman to Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who subsequently hired Codman to design the second and third floor rooms of his Newport summer home, The Breakers. Codman designed the rooms in an eighteenth century French and Italian classical style that he later espoused in his book, The Decoration of Houses, co-authored with Edith Wharton.

Codman's other Newport commissions included a garden trellis for Wakehurst, the summer home of James J. Van Alen.

Codman married Leila Griswold Webb, widow of railroad magnate H. Walter Webb. She died in 1910. In later years, he made his home at Château de Grègy in France.

Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001