Shortly after I moved to Orlando, I learned I lived near the Tiffany museum.
“Cool!” I thought imagining cases loaded with glimmering unaffordable jewelry on cushions of turquoise.
Not THAT Tiffany, the locals corrected, Tiffany as in those leaded-glass, art-deco lamps.
“It’s a lamp museum?”
I soon learned that the eponymous lamps, for which Louis C. Tiffany is most well known, are not actually his most impressive work. He designed a bejeweled chapel for goodness sakes.
Arguably, the artist’s most important work of art, my tour guide told me this week as a I toured the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, in Winter Park, FL, which houses the Tiffany collection, was his country home, Laurelton Hall.
House as work of art? Now that got my attention.
However, my cynicism knob cranked to high when the museum’s public affairs officer said the genius of Laurelton Hall lay in how Tiffany integrated nature into his home design.
Sure. That’s what all designers say. I would have to see for myself.
“You know, when I first heard about this Tiffany museum …” I confess to my guide.
“You thought it was a jewelry museum,” she interrupted.
“I’m not the first?”
“The confusion is not by accident,” she said. Louis Tiffany was the son of the jewelry magnate Charles Tiffany. “Some visitors think it’s a museum all about lamps.”
“Now that’s ridiculous!”
I was glad to have all that out of the way before the director of the museum himself, Laurence Ruggiero, showed me the parts of the museum that pay tribute to Laurelton Hall.
Tiffany finished the Oyster Bay, Long Island home in 1905. It burned down in 1957, but parts were salvaged and reassembled at the Morse Museum. The recreated rooms and outdoor spaces capture what the late 19th and early 20th century artist ostensibly did best: make nature more perfect.
“Nature is the given,” Ruggiero said channeling Tiffany. “That doesn’t mean you have to like it.”
No kidding! All month, I’ve been leaving my doors open because my air conditioning was down. I’ve been shooing out bugs and lizards, swatting mosquitoes and scratching bites, so am not currently keen on integrating more nature in my home.
However, because Ruggiero is a refined and elegant man, I refrain from regaling him with my personal problems. Instead I just add, “Living with the elements can be overrated, in my experience. If nature was so wonderful, who would need shelter?”
“We’re stuck with nature, like it or not,” Ruggiero said Tiffany would say. “When Tiffany didn’t like it, he did nature one better.”
He leads me to the dining room, where a great transom bearing leaded-glass wisteria vines lines the wall below the ceiling, mimicking wisteria hanging from the eaves.
At Laurelton Hall, real wisteria grew just beyond the glass panels, I learn.
“Wisteria doesn’t look so good all the time,” Ruggiero said, referring to the months when the cascading purple flower is not in bloom or is dying back. “So Tiffany made better wisteria.”
“When it did look good, you got a double dose!” I say. The sound of the light bulb click is audible.
“He wasn’t trying to make art look natural,” said Ruggiero. “That’s too simple. He wanted to make nature more perfect; that was his art.”
Now that summer is almost here, and many of us are making the outdoors a bigger part of our living space, I asked Ruggiero to show me more lessons from Laurelton Hall that the rest of us could adopt as we try to more perfectly connect our indoors to our outdoors – minus the pests:
• Landscape first. Unlike most homeowners, Tiffany designed the landscape on his property first, then built the house to conform. The house was secondary to the landscape.
• Bring water indoors. A waterway ran all through the house and the 5,000-acre grounds, creating outdoor fountains and an indoor stream, which visitors had to step over in the entryway. Tiffany saw water as a symbolic foundational element, said Ruggiero.
• Rough up the edges. Cantilevered – as opposed to straight – exterior walls allowed the house’s structure to intrude into nature, making overhangs that covered exterior spaces and formed outdoor rooms, porches and patios.
• Invite the light. Large windows with no drapes or blinds and skylights made Laurelton Hall feel open on all sides. Views spilled onto gardens and terraces that extended the interior. Tiffany’s Daffodil Terrace, a colonnade visible and accessible from the dining room, with columns bearing capitals decorated with cast-glass daffodils, is an acclaimed example.
• Add mixed seasonal greens. Tiffany kept large greenhouses and rotated an abundance of plants and flowers throughout the mansion with the seasons.
• Connect the dots. Putting the same foliage on both sides of a window was another way Tiffany merged the inside and out. “If he planted tulips outside the window, he would also have tulips lining the window inside,” said Ruggieri. He loved to associate materials outside and in. “You pick up on the psychological continuity even if you don’t notice it.”
• Freeze nature at its peak. Nature fades. Flowers die. Leaves wither. But Tiffany’s leaded-glass lamps, ceramics, enamels, mosaics, and textiles have frozen nature at her perfect peak.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.
Echoes of nature: The transoms on the south side of the dining room were leaded glass windows depicting wisteria falling over the eaves. The glass panels echoed the live wisteria that grew just beyond the window. Photo courtesy Morse Museum.
Freeze that beauty: The daffodil-encrusted capitals on these terrace columns, salvaged from the original Laurelton Hall, show artist Louis Tiffany’s gift for capturing nature at its prime. Photo courtesy Morse Museum.