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Beaulieu aka Ruth’s World

by habituallychic

07 . 08 . 19

If you’re tired of looking at everyone’s Instagram photos of themselves on a yacht in Capri, you’re in luck, I’m off to Newport, Rhode Island today. Expect lots of sailing and harbor photos mixed with magnificent mansions. One of the ones that I won’t be touring is Beaulieu. It’s the private domain of Ruth Buchanan Wheeler who’s lived in the home since her husband bought it without telling her in 1961. You might remember seeing it featured recently in Town & Country magazine and The New York Times.

Beaulieu House is located on Bellevue Avenue and was built in 1859 by New York architect Calvert Vaux for Peruvian merchant Federico Barreda. It was one of the earliest mansions in Newport although it was described as “the most pretentious and elaborate villa in Newport.” It was later owned by John Jacob Astor III and Cornelius Vanderbilt III after which it sat vacant in the 1950s. Wiley T. Buchanan Jr. who was then U.S. Ambassador to Austria and Luxembourg bought it in 1961 for $100,000 and was the one who built the large porch on the home. Fun fact, Buchanan’s grandson, Trevor Traina, is the current ambassador to Austria.

The house was decorated in the 1960s by Valerian Rybar and many of the same furnishings are still in use today and if upholstery needs updating, it’s done in the same exact fabric. The old wasp adage still holds true, do it right the first time and you don’t have to do it again.

Ruth who is now 100 years old hosts four generations of family members at Beaulieu each summer and refer to it on Instagram with the hashtag #ruthsworld. It looks like a bit like a place where time stood still but in the best possible way. A few of these photos from come from Instagram via family members and friends such as Trevor Traina, his wife Alexis Traina, and their friend and designer Ken Fulk.

Bettie Bearden Pardee has a great post about Closing Beaulieu for the Season which happens every September that worth reading.

“It’s really so old-fashioned in today’s world that it’s ludicrous, but I can say it does pay off. Every curtain, chair, picture and light fixture is covered. Even newspapers are put on the wool carpets because moths are not partial to newsprint. It looks exactly as though we had died and gone to heaven. It saves a lot of wear and tear. For instance, these curtains in the powder room have been up since 1962. Forty years. Can you see anything wrong with them? If they hadn’t been covered, they would have bleached out. We do it every year with many people helping. It is a big house. Ten bedrooms and six staff bedrooms. But it just gets done.”

– Ruth Buchanan Wheeler

It’s too bad this type of decorating and housekeeping is out of fashion in our current throw away culture. There are people who redecorate perfectly good rooms just so they can be photographed for another magazine. Some people ask me why I don’t post more of my apartment but it’s essentially the same as it’s been for years. We wasps don’t like change. If it ain’t broke, why fix it.

A younger photo of Ruth who is now 101 years old.

Photos by Douglas Friedman for Town & Country, Nick Mele for The New York Times, and Mick Hales for Private Newport. Other images via Instagram.