Collector Bunny Mellon was a very, very well-to-do lady, granddaughter of the gent who invented Listerine. She had a charmed life (and a bunch of beautiful homes) and was a knowledgeable and skilled admirer of plants and gardening.
The above photos are from Bunny’s Oak Spring Farms, a 4000 acre Virginia estate. Bunny lived there until her death at 103.
She apparently valued privacy above all else, a preference shared by her late (billionaire) husband Paul, making their estate a favourite of some of the fanciest and most privacy-seeking people going around. John and Jackie Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles all apparently popped into Oak Spring Farms at one time or another to admire Bunny’s lovely comfy-couch-filled home, amazing art collection and world class gardens.
The library at Oak Spring is a world class repository for all things horticultural. It contains “3,500 rare historical manuscripts and books, some dating from the 15th century, and 10,000 modern reference works, items Bunny began collecting decades ago,” according to Vanity Fair.
Bunny herself was a topiary devotee, famous for her carefully cultivated herbs and a lover of edible plants, trees and pretty weeds.
Bunny also had a penchant for collecting gorgeous and whimsical ceramics. When she died, some of her collection went on sale at Sotheby’s. You can see what was sold here : Property from the Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon: Interiors : it’s quite amazing and a total joy to behold over some toast and tea. A delicious kind of armchair diversion into the lives of the rich and philanthropic.
Bunny’s decorating philosophy was ’Nothing should be noticed’ and indeed her home looks very cosy and light and airy, whilst still being dotted with gazillion dollar paintings and non-shouty, pricey collectibles.
“I loved your house, but I don’t like mine,” Jackie Kennedy apparently told Bunny over the phone after visiting one of her homes. Thus Bunny became Jackie’s decorating brains trust and a firm friendship followed.
“One day when Mellon was in the [Kennedy} Rose Garden removing old soil, she cut into a “mysterious cable,” as she recollects. It was the hotline used to put the nation’s military on alert. “The scene was suddenly alive with security guards.”” Vanity Fair said.
And how gorgeous are these homes? Its not surprising Jackie had a bit of cosy envy. I love this ‘another era style’ – so refreshing and gently cluttered in this age of samey-samey, minimalist decorating.
Bunny was such magpie and collector of things – spot the en masse umbrellas, vegetable-themed things, porcelain, walking sticks, garden statues, florals, baskets. She even collected trees.
The New York Times noted Bunny’s love of “imperfect perfection” in this 2014 feature about the auction of Bunny’s things.
“Bunny wanted the space to present her own perfected self,” Mac Griswold, the cultural landscape historian and writer, was saying on Monday evening. “She had a highly developed sense of imperfect perfection.”
Ms. Griswold was standing in a glittering evening jacket at a dinner party hosted by Architectural Digest in a room at Sotheby’s auction house. All around her, dozens of specially invited tastemakers perused thousands of objects — French furniture, porcelain, silver, rugs, crystal, weather vanes and jewels — demonstrative of Mrs. Mellon’s mania for acquisition, her refined and highly particular eye, and her evolved appetite for objects whose most ostentatious quality was often their simplicity.”
Still Life of Moths, Insects, and a Parma Violet, Jan van Kessel the Elder, before 1679; estimate $70,000 to $90,000.
Bunny Mellon’s vast collection of 18th-century European botanical wares
Jan van Kessel’s Study of Butterflies, Lady Bird Beetle, Beetle and Other Insects
Vanity Fair checked her preppy-with-a-touch of sparkle style during a (carefully guarded) 2010 visit to Oak Spring…
“Mellon seems miraculously able for a 99-year-old. In dark blue from head to toe, she is wearing a cashmere crewneck sweater, slacks, and tennis shoes; a white Schlumberger cuff flashes from her left wrist. Her reddish hair looks freshly coiffed. I get a warm kiss and she grasps my hand. “It’s so nice to see you,” she says in a high-pitched, honeyed voice that is only slightly shaky from age.”
Exterior of Chez Bunny
Of her gardening philosophy, she told The New York Times:
“Color must fit into a scheme, and not be the first thing.” And: “Vegetables are as important as flowers.”
A cottage on the grounds of Oak Spring Farm
Wider shot of these amazing things
Here’s some more Bunny reading and viewing for you, in case that’s helpful!
Inside Bunny Mellon’s World
Bunny Mellon’s Secret Garden
How Bunny Mellon Lived
Property from the Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon: Interiors
The Eloquence of Silence
Inside Bunny Mellon’s Oak Spring Farm Estate
Bunny Mellon’s Life Told In Land
Bunny Mellon: The Secret Keeper
Ten Things We Learned From Bunny Mellon’s Monster Estate Sale
The Mellon Legacy