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Weekend Project: Getting To Know Bunny Mellon

April 8, 2017
Bunny Mellon

Bunny Mellon Bunny Mellon Bunny Mellon


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.”


Bunny Mellon estate

Still Life of Moths, Insects, and a Parma Violet, Jan van Kessel the Elder, before 1679; estimate $70,000 to $90,000.

Bunny Mellon estate

Bunny Mellon’s vast collection of 18th-century European botanical wares

Bunny estate

Jan van Kessel’s Study of Butterflies, Lady Bird Beetle, Beetle and Other Insects
Grandma Moses painting via Bunny

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.”

Bunny Mellon home
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.”

Bunny Mellon home

A cottage on the grounds of Oak Spring Farm

Bunny Mellon home

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


x Pip


  • Reply Kate Forster April 10, 2017 at 7:50 AM

    I really loved this. Bunny Mellon is like Dame Elisabeth Murdoch. Garden, trees, family. Years ago, before Dame Murdoch died, I went to Cruden Farm open day and met her. She was sitting on the porch greeting people in her cute way, wearing a shawl. I spied through the window and saw her kitchen and there were children’s drawings stuck to the fridge. It made me happy to see the simplicity of her life, despite the extraordinariness of it all.

    • Reply Meet Me At Mikes April 11, 2017 at 1:56 PM

      Oh how lovely that sounds. I love these old ducks. I read a thing about Bunny that said she was talking to her tree pruner via walky talkies – telling them how to prune the tree from afar. So cute! The I saw some kids with walky talkies in Aldi. It was a walky talkie weekend. x

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