Loving Lucie’s Legacy
The woman behind Caramoor’s style
The late Lucie Rosen among a few of her favorite things: shimmering, ornately embroidered gowns, sprays of ostrich feathers, and serious jewelry.
Photo by Cecil Beaton/Edward Steichen
When discussing Caramoor, one must consider the stylish love affair behind it—not only the windswept romance of Walter and Lucie Rosen who created the Katonah estate and established the Caramoor Center, but also the relationship between the rarefied Rosens and the extraordinary beauty they found in music and the arts, as well as the cultural renaissance they brought to the area, and the unerring style they left behind as their shared legacy.
In 1928, Walter and Lucie Rosen began gradually building their summer escape away from the madding bustle of Manhattan. When the Depression despaired the country, the Rosens modestly scaled down their original plans and created the sumptuous Italianate villa known as Caramoor. Walter filled the Rosen House with impossible wonders transported from European palazzos and grand manor homes during his travels. Each ornately carved door acts as a treasure chest, opening ponderously to reveal the riches therein. In Lucie, Walter found an intelligent woman both his equal and collaborator, and their love of art became the perfect complement to their love. But as a striking chandelier of Diana commandeering a chariot carried by golden steeds and seraphim leads the way into the house, it becomes clear that the Rosens weren’t collectors so much as curators.
Every house has a spirit; each room, a reflection of its owner. Perhaps to understand Lucie’s particular sense of fashion, the suspension of time is necessary when wandering through the rooms, even as she did—her willowy shadow seems to follow the lamplit recesses of the stuccoed hallways. She is palpable in the interior—tightly woven in the draping Renaissance tapestry that inspired her gowns and fluttering among Chinese silks of hand-painted birds in the guest rooms that reflected her avian penchant for feathery couture. In the library, bound volumes of Harper’s Bazaar are nestled between the gold-trellised spines of Tennyson and Balzac.
Ethereal portraits recall Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age; “She was a woman who was meant to be kissed on the eyes.” Brushstrokes of muted water colors by English artist Ambrose McAvoy feature Lucie’s auburn nimbus framing a fragile beauty that suggests a benevolent sprite. She’s a natural as a Renaissance Peter Pan, impishly sporting a Beaux Arts Ball costume. As realized by Henri Caro-Delvaille, Lucie is seated with her young children, Anne and Walter, Jr., who later perished in World War II.
To preserve their son’s memory, the Rosens staged a series of public concerts, which began in 1946 in the Music Room, spilled into the Spanish Courtyard, and continued to blossom. Lucie had performed in Europe and at Carnegie Hall, accomplished with the theremin (remember the otherworldly Dark Shadows theme?) and brought her passion to the enormous Music Room. The Rosens invited world-famous musicians and conductors to gather before the flocking crowds. For many, this artistic haven was an introduction to hearing live music. Oswald Birley’s stunning portrait of Lucie clad in an ivory Mariano Fortuny gown and clutching a spray of white feathers oversees the proceedings today. Following her husband’s death in 1951, Lucie continued to further her vision and built the Venetian Theater from a field of columns, where the legendary Marian Anderson sang at the opening.
In the Elizabethan Room, a brilliant eight-fold Chinese screen of pitted spinach jade from the 18th-century matches the jade servants’ buzzer in a guest room; another buzzer is encrusted with semi-precious stones, which leads us to affairs of jewelry. Lucie rarely accessorized without the many exquisite gifts that Walter showered upon her from Cartier and Marie Zimmerman, the metalwork and jewelry designer whose Classical and Chinese forms graced Lucie’s neck, wrists, and elegant fingers.
Today, a frolicking cape peeks out like a spoon of raspberry sorbet from the gowns in Lucie’s dressing room closet to steal a look into madam’s boudoir. Ah, to sleep, perchance to dream in Lucie’s master chamber, supine among the damasks and pillars on a bed that belonged to Pope Urban VIII and is evocative of a gondola slipping through Venice’s purple waters. Portraitist, photographer, and designer Cecil Beaton was so moved to capture Lucie as a fairy poised to make her entrance at a party in a gown of buttercup yellow, rendered by water color pencil. Beaton once said rather tidily, “the truly fashionable are beyond fashion.”
The fact that the Rosens generously shared their love of beauty and the arts is obvious. That Lucie and her husband did it in such a unique fashion provides us with an opportunity to delight in every detail of Caramoor, stylish hostess included.
TIMELESS TREASURES Lucie’s couture collection at Caramoor