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Winterthur’s Chandler Farm Houses Beauty and History

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Photos courtesy of Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Now home to Winterthur’s director, the Brandywine Valley farmhouse residence was once a symbol of agricultural prosperity.

Before Chandler Farm became the formal residence of the director and chief executive of Winterthur, it was a brick-and-mortar symbol of agricultural prosperity in the Brandywine Valley in the early 19th century.

Thanks to the fertile imaginations of the latest resident and the designer she recruited, the farmhouse is now a hub for post-pandemic entertainment and a comfortable family home.

“It tells a very different story than you find in the museum or the galleries,” says Carol B. Cadou, who took the reins at Winterthur in 2018.

The farm was acquired by the du Ponts in the last century when the family was buying up land contiguous to Winterthur, then a private estate and home to herds of cattle and sheep. In 1958, Henry Francis du Pont, heir to a gunpowder fortune and esteemed collector of American furnishings, designated the elegant redbrick Federal-style farmhouse as the director’s residence for the museum he created from his boyhood home.

Chandler Farm

Restored and reimagined, Chandler Farm is now a hub for post-pandemic entertainment and a comfortable family home.

In a riches-to-rags plot twist, the house was rented out for more than a decade in the early 20th century. When Cadou came on board, it was in rough shape. The first priority was a new roof—“a roof is where it starts in terms of preserving a building,” she notes—along with new fire detection and HVAC systems. A wheelchair ramp was a must, ensuring visitors with mobility issues a welcome through the front door.

To transform the dark and dreary interior, she turned to New York–based designer Thomas Jayne, who, like Cadou, is a graduate of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. Jayne didn’t hesitate, agreeing to donate his time and expertise to the project, an homage to his Winterthur education, a major inspiration for his work. His husband, Rick Ellis, styled the home.

Chandler Farm

To transform the dark and dreary interior, New York-based designer Thomas Jayne—a gradutate of The Winterthur Program in American Material Culture—painted, repurposed and reupholstered with cheerful palettes.

The project took two years from start to finish, partly due to budget restrictions and partly because of Jayne’s schedule. The delay was not entirely unwelcome for Cadou, who became accustomed to the flow between rooms and the way light played through the windows.
“We wanted to take it slowly, because it allowed us to live in the rooms for a while,” she says.

Access to the talents of Winterthur’s staff artisans helped to stretch the $35,000 budget. Masons John and Dan Terranova reset bricks in the walkway that had been uprooted by trees. Their brother Ben did plasterwork in the house. Local upholsterers went to work on pieces gleaned from the museum’s 118 buildings. Cadou found the green silk on the armchairs by the living room fireplace in a dumpster at Mount Vernon, her previous workplace.

Access to the talents of Winterthur’s staff artisans helped to stretch the $35,000 budget.

Heavy draperies have been supplanted by simple linen swags trimmed in fringe that frame views of the countryside. Exuberantly patterned wallpaper—a reproduction from the 18th century—infuses a formal dining room with cheerful color. “I love dining there by candlelight,” she says.

Chandler Farm

Despite its formality, Chandler Farm is a family home. The landscape oil that hangs above the mantel in the living room is the work of Lucy Kettlewell, the aunt of Cadou’s husband Christopher. Cadou’s father crafted the wood chess table when he lived in Brazil. The Cadous’ young children, William and Lilly, made the pottery at school. It’s Cadou’s favorite room, a place where she unwinds surrounded by walls painted in serene pink, a Farrow & Ball hue called “Setting Plaster.”

Chandler Farm

A wall of images, pasted directly on the plaster by the staircase, was inspired by the Print Room in Castletown House in Ireland. Among them are photographs of cattle and sheep grazing on the farm. The herds were sold off in 1969, but Cadou thinks it would be wonderful to bring back livestock to Winterthur someday.

“One of the things we wanted was a space where we could explain Chandler Farm and its connection to Winterthur,” she says. “This wall does just that.”

Chandler Farm