Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Washington Social Diary

The morning view from the guest room of Jean Perin's home.
by Carol Joynt

This is what happens in Washington when the calendar begins to move toward autumn: we think of Virginia, especially the verdant Piedmont region, which stretches from nearby Leesburg down to practically the North Carolina border, with the Blue Ridge to the West and the Potomac to the east. Within these boundaries are sprawling estates, fox hunts, cattle ranches, vineyards, an evolving colony of artists, trees bearing a dozen or more varieties of apples and pears; abundant good food and a ravishing palette of autumn color. There’s also, I learned over Labor Day weekend, the lure of luxury – in particular, world class jewelry.

Manhattanites may claim jewelry designer Elizabeth Locke as theirs, but the truth is the lovely pieces she sells on Madison Avenue – and in stores from Charleston to Beverly Hills - are conceived and designed at practically the banks of the languorous Shenandoah River. All within a few miles of each other are her home in Millwood and her company headquarters in Boyce. To say it’s a one stoplight rural area is an understatement. We’re talking one stop sign and a railroad track.
Clay Hill, a 19th Century Virginia farm house, lovingly preserved by Elizabeth Locke and John Staelin.
Another view of Clay Hill.
While Elizabeth is a native of the area, which is hard-core hunt country, and her local clients and friends are the landed gentry, her designs are not gold stirrup earrings and horse head pins. Oh, no. These are sophisticated baubles for a lux lifestyle: gems, precious stones, glass intaglios, ancient Roman and Greek coins, South Sea pearls, antique mosaics and lots of gleaming yellow gold. They reflect the sensibility of Elizabeth, who is, above all, a passport-wielding citizen of the world.

Still, home is where the heart is and for Elizabeth and husband John Staelin their 19th century “farmhouse,” Clay Hill, is another beloved work of art, one they just lavished with a complete upgrade and redo. Anybody who’s ever renovated a house knows completion of the project is a moment for celebration (after months of threatening murder and contemplating suicide).

Jean Perin
For Elizabeth and John the job’s end was reason to pitch a big tent, hire a caterer and dance band, and toss a swell party for more than 100 friends. An added bonus was that it occurred on one of the more spectacular days of the summer, with dry and cool air, and a painter’s sunset.

Elizabeth invited me when she learned I would be a houseguest of our mutual friend Jean Perin who, along with Alison Martin, did the interior makeover of Clay Hill. My friendship with Jeannie dates from the early 80s, when I lived in Upperville and she lived outside Middleburg.

Over the years I relocated to Georgetown and Jeannie settled in Upperville, where she created one of Virginia’s most exquisite mini-estates. Not only is she a gifted interior designer, but also she makes poetry with landscaping. Garden groups come from all over to admire Les Jardins de Jean Perin. It’s a treat to be her houseguest. Each morning I woke to a view that was a landscape painting.

Given the holiday it was surprisingly easy to get out of the city Friday. I arrived in time for an afternoon swim and a chance to savor twilight, a quiet intruded upon only by birds, frogs and crickets. A family of deer romped across the field.

Jeannie is Bunny Mellon’s next door neighbor, though in this part of the world “next door” can mean separated by dozens of acres, even hundreds. Her many beautiful views include the Mellon jet landing strip, designed to accommodate the latest Gulf Stream. Only in the land of Mellon could a private airfield be considered beautiful; even the trees are so artfully tended they define well pruned.
Splendor in the grass: Jean Perin's Upperville, Va. home.
A bench in Jean Perin's garden.
Jean Perin's driveway.
Bunny Mellon's private runway and "airport."
The pool house.
A corner of Jean Perin's pool terrace. The pool shower.
Looking into the house from the pool terrace.
The sky over Upperville, Labor Day weekend.
Bunny Mellon's private runway and "airport."
Jean Perin's sun room.
A guest room at Jean Perin's home.
In advance of the Clay Hill party Jeannie had some plans for us, but first thing Saturday morning she said, “you must go to see Elizabeth’s store in Boyce.” Good advice.

It’s a sweet town but completely rural and the last place one expects to find a high-end jewelry emporium that’s done up like an Italian palazzo, but that’s what I found, complete with columns, a hand-painted faux-marble floor, swaths of gold silk, an elaborate ceiling and cases of precious gems.

Bit of the décor are loopy due to a side story Elizabeth created of an imaginary twin sister who is a wayward Contessa, thus the haute invitations tacked to the mirror in the faux bathroom, an alluring boudoir and a shrine to Elvis. If you arrive minus appropriate clothing, never fear; the shop sells stylish caftans that go well with palazzos, gold and gems.
The Elizabeth Locke store in Boyce, Va.
The town of Boyce, Va.
Inside the Elizabeth Locke store.
Elizabeth Locke couture: caftans.
The boudoir in the shop.
The dressing room made to look like something else. The mirror with haute invites.
An invitation from the Queen.
Clockwise from above: A display case in the Elizabeth Locke store; Gold jewelry designed by Elizabeth Locke; At the Elizabeth Locke store, part of a side story: homage to Elvis.
A natural model, Elizabeth Locke's cat poses for the camera.
The store is open on weekends. It’s less than a half hour from Middleburg and a 70-minute drive from Washington, but loyal customers have been known to fly in private to do their shopping.

Nearby in Millwood is the Locke Store (same name but no relation) where I stopped both coming and going, because the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies were that good. They have other well made prepared foods, including potpie, meat loaf, chicken salad, assorted sandwiches, apple crisp; also wine, beer sodas and coffee. Carry your food across the street for a picnic by the cascading race of the restored 18th Century Burwell-Morgan Mill. That would be a perfect autumn day – history, jewels and a picnic.
The Locke Store in Millwood, Va.
Fresh meat loaf at the Locke Store.
Inside the Locke Store.
Cookies, pies and crisps.
The Burwell-Morgan Mill.
A nice place to picnic: along the Mill race. Millwood's Locke Store, viewed from the Mill.
After the visit to Boyce and Millwood I headed down country roads to Warrenton to meet Jeannie at the hilltop estate of local newspaper publisher Nick Arundel, who hosted a trail ride and picnic barbecue for about 30 friends.

The views were breathtaking. It had to be a pleasure for both animals and humans to have a morning of laid-back meandering in the gorgeous weather. The barbecue featured pulled pork on buns, Cole slaw, baked beans, potato salad, brownies, lemonade, wine and entertainment by two playful, barking dogs. We sat at tables under apple trees heavy with fruit. Atlantic Media Company executive Elizabeth Keffer, a weekend resident of The Plains, was dressed in a way that summed up the incongruity of what’s meant by a “weekend off” in Washington. Slung from the back of her breeches was a Blackberry.
Nick Arundel's trail ride BBQ lunch.
Elizabeth Keffer and her family.
Hey, let's play.
Apples, ready for picking.
The view from Nick Arundel's hilltop.
The view from a Virginia country road on Labor Day weekend.
The Shenandoah River at evening.
In the afternoon Jeannie watered her garden while I napped, and then we were off to the main event: Elizabeth and John’s party. It started at 7, with the first stop for guests a tour of the house, followed by cocktails and canapés on the lawn. The setting sun was the star but the outdoor tableau also included torch lamps, garden furniture adorned with silk pillows, a lily pond with pretty goldfish and a stunning greenhouse, which seemed to draw everyone.

The menu card was a salute to those who did the Clay Hill renovation.
The seated dinner was at tables of eight, under a tent adorned with tiny white lights and hanging candle sconces. The feast from Home Farm caterers included huge bowls of salads, rare tenderloin, corn pudding; plates of pates, mousses, cheeses and breads.

To my right was a man from New York, Thomas Schumacher, who is president of Disney’s Theatrical Group. We talked about fox hunting and he asked if in Virginia the hunt still involves killing the fox. To my left was an expert, Harry Atherton, lifelong Virginian, cattle farmer, fox hunter and former county supervisor – by way of Harvard. Over the din of the band I said to Harry, “Thomas wants to know if they still kill the foxes out here?” Harry smiled. “You betcha.” Note to world: Virginians are not timid about their blood sports.

Fueled by wine, bourbon and bonhomie, the dinner conversation continued lively and loud. When she learned I was from Washington, a woman wanted to know, “What side of the fence are you on?” It was an interesting question because no one in Washington ever asks. How did I answer? Well, let’s just leave it here: what’s said in Millwood stays in Millwood.

About that time the band picked up the pace, the dance floor filled, Elizabeth Locke floated from table to table, hugging her friends, and the party rolled merrily on into the night under a starry starry sky.
Jewelry designer Elizabeth Locke, getting ready for her party. Elizabeth Locke: ready to greet her guests.
The new Clay Hill kitchen, designed by Jean Perin.
The breakfast room, designed by Jean Perin.
The den, designed by Alison Martin.
The entry hall of Clay Hill, designed by Alison Martin
In the bedroom... A good place to read a book.
The painted ceiling of the Clay Hill master bedroom.
The view from an upstairs window at Clay Hill. At Elizabeth Locke's home, everyone wears jewelry.
Among the guests were Cindy Aclund, Peter Aclund, Elizabeth Allen, George Armfield, Anne Douglas Atherton, Gordon Beall, Bunny Benham, Ilona Benham, Rick Bonner, Lily Bowles, Jamie Bowles, Phillip Bowles, David Boyce, Wally Brewer, Sue Burgess, Belinda Burwell, Harry, Barbara, Sharon and Tom Byrd, Rick Catlett, Franny Crawford, John Crawford, Jimmy Day, John Doyle, Bob Duke, Nick Dunning, Angelina and Henri Eschauzier, Carolyn and Mazen Farouki, Barbara and Andy Ferrari, Cleo Gewirz, Andrea Gilman, Jeannie Gilpin, Ann and Fred Glaize, Lisa and Bob Goshen, Lida Higginson, John Howe, Jenny and Rob Irwin, Bo and Annie Izard, Barbara and Michael King-Harman, Matthew Klein, Pam Klein, Ludwigg Kuttner, Andy and Vicky Lewis, Kathleen Lofdahl, Merrin Lowe, Debe and Jed Lykes, Malcolm Magruder.

Kim and Bunny Nash, Susan Mathews, Alex and Kathryn Nyerges, George Ohrstrom, John and Laurie Morrison, Howard and Candy Means, Ross Mulry, Tuck Mulry, Angele Parlange, Jean Perin, Anne Randolph, Ann and Charlie Reed, Pam Reynolds, Major Reynolds, Tressa and Hank Reuling, Robin Richards, Simon Riemersma, Gillian Russell, Richard Riemenschneider, Nancy Talley, Walker Thomas, Charles and Betty Schutte, Barbara Sieg, Steve Sparkland and Prudie Squier, Patty and Phillip Thomas, Ann and Tom Throckmorton, Bill Thomas, Terry Trimble, Frances and George Wheeler, Stephen Wheelock, Matthew White, Rachel Williams, Sherry Wise, Fred Underwood, Karel Wennick.
The pond and tent before dinner.
A view toward the greenhouse.
Ludwigg Kuttner and his wife, Beatrix Ost
Jean Perin, Merin Lowe, and Rachel Williams.
Tommie Duke Kitty Armfield and Rick Bonner
Bunny Nash.
Stephen Wheelock. Charlie Reed and Ann Reed.
Contemplating a descent on steep stairs. Taking the plunge.
Karel Wennink and Laurie Volk.
Patty Thomas. Lily Bowles - she put her stilettos on for the dancing.
Matthew White and Thomas Schumacher.
Celebrating: Kathleen Lofdahl, Clay Hill contractor John Doyle, and Clay Hill architect Gary Lofdohl.
Bobby Turner. Pat Turner.
J.P. Carr and Ann Glaize
Henri Eschauzier and Charles Schutte.
Andi Gilman. George Orhstrom.
Thomas and Elizabeth Allen.
Sherry Wise and Lisa Goshen.
Gathering by the greenhouse.
The goldfish pond. Hanging sconces in the party tent.
Risotto balls from Home Farm caterers.
The essential Virginia ham biscuit from Home Farm.
Clay Hill at sunset.
The side steps. Cocktails at twilight.
Bringing in the food.
Tenderloin with onion crisps and horseradish cream sauce on the side.
Before sitting down to dinner.
Tables for eight.
The buffet Harry Atherton charms a party guest.
The band.
Taking it easy to a slow song.
Elizabeth Locke giving hugs to friends. John Staelin entertains his guests.
John Staelin wearing his "fun meter." By 9 pm John Staelin's "fun meter" had moved to "max."
Painter Tom Neel

Over thirty years of living in and visiting the Piedmont region of Virginia I’ve noticed two booming communities: food and art. Its actually through the food that I’ve discovered the art, because in his gallery at The Inn at Little Washington, chef and owner Patrick O’Connell has been very supportive of local artists, painters in particular. That’s where I first noticed the work of Tom Neel. His landscapes seem to capture every nuance of what makes the Piedmont special and indelible: the vistas of hills and mountains, changing seasons, colorful fields, farm animals, country roads, and the sensational play of light at sunrise and sunset.

The "whimsical realism" painting Tom Neel created for The Inn at Little Washington's 30th anniversary.
Tom calls himself the Piedmont’s “premier landscape artist.” That may be. I’m not the judge, but I am a fan, one of a crowd that includes other artists, local gentry, farmers and captains of industry.

I met Tom for lunch at Forlano’s in The Plains, Va., where his wife, Linda, owns a gallery called Live an Artful Life, which offers two floors of his paintings. Linda is why he’s in Virginia, after residing first in Washington and Maryland and a career in the automotive industry. Before he was an artist with oil paints Tom was an artist in the mechanics of tending to Ferraris. He also nosed around in drag racing, photography and building dollhouses. “It was like I was trying to do everything but paint,” he said.

That all changed 25 years ago when he sold his first landscape, a watercolor. “In 1994 I was able to give up all distractions and go full time into painting.” He considers the Piedmont region to be “stunningly beautiful. I’m constantly trying to look at my surroundings in a different way.”

Tom says he makes a work week of painting, setting it aside only to mow the grass. “I'm one of the most commissioned artists in the area.” When asked what people commission him to paint, Tom smiled. “Mostly their farms, a drive they like to take, their jets; I've done all kinds of things.” One imaginative collector commissioned him to paint a favorite golf hole.

Tom Neel’s next exhibition, “Country Drives,” opens next week at the family gallery.
Tom Neel at lunch at Forlano's.
The "Live An Artful Life" gallery in The Plains, Va.
Linda and Tom Neel.
Tom Neel paintings photographed at his gallery.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

Visit her at: caroljoynt.com. Follow Carol on Twitter.