"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
_ William Morris
, 19th century craftsman, designer, writer

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Scotty's Castle: Personality By Design

It's the little things that make a house a home and provide clues to the personalities and passions of the people who live there.

At Scotty's Castle, in Death Valley, California there was no shortage of personality and the historic 1930's era home (now open for tours) is alive with charm and character.

Owned and built by Bessie and Albert Johnson, millionaires from Chicago, the castle came to be named and regularly attributed to their flamboyant, cowboy friend, Walter Scott, better known as Death Valley Scotty. The tale of the entwined history of these friends is a legend unto itself -almost as amazing as the innovative engineering and design of the ambitious home. 

As our tour guide whisked us through the castle I tried to capture design elements that caught my eye. Unfortunately, the light (I know, excuses, excuses...) made it difficult to get great shots on the fly. I hope you will forgive the worst, and find inspiration in the best.   

As a long-time fan and collector of vintage California Pottery myself, these cups and saucers in the kitchen made my heart go pitter pat! The red pieces are especially hard to find.

 The tile work in the kitchen is a show piece. Imported from Spain (according to the guide) I think it's kind of interesting that a few of largest depict water scenes...probably nice when summer temps in the valley average 120-125 degrees Fahrenheit. Maybe that's where we got the phrase, If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Don't miss the Western-inspired metal work under the sink and of course that amazing collection of copper pots.

Even the tea kettle had a gorgeous design! Any industrial designers out there? I think this would be a winner today!

Beautifully hand-painted, imported dinner ware is featured on shelves that were meant to be occupied with books. However, since Scotty wasn't a reader but loved to cook and entertain, the library became the dining room. A good lesson in suiting your home to your passions.

Both the dinnerware and the metal work in the gate (pictured below) featured the initials J and S: Johnson & Scotty. Proving yet again, friends really are the family you choose. 

Dual weather vanes depict scenes of cowboys and gold mines -the shared passions of both men. What would your weather vane show?

I have to admit I was surprised how much I enjoyed this tour and this house. Since there aren't many man-made attractions in Death Valley, I sort of figured we'd experience a slap dash touristy stop -but that wasn't the case at all. The home was a feat of engineering in it's day and remains a work of art today.

No detail was deemed too small or unworthy of consideration. Latches, drawer and cupboard pulls, hinges and sconces were thoughtful, creative and charming.


Real style endures.

Mystery hardware. This charming scalloped piece of metal work was attached on the outside of Scotty's bedroom. There is a hole in the wall centered behind the fixture. Scotty told folks it was to shoot buckshot at bandits in two directions at once. The real story has something to do with ventilation.

Tile work!

Tile rimming the outside fountain.

Not sure why you'd want a tile of a man about to bash a bird with a club, but I suppose it's conversation piece (?)! This was featured on the mantle of the fireplace in the guest room.

Wood work both inside and outside the home featured decorative carving. The design has a rugged, masculine feel.

The headboard of the bed in Scotty's room is carved with local flora and fauna. According to legend, Scotty never actually slept there. He would enter the room from the living room to make guests think he was retiring, but would exit through a second door leading to the outside -and his own ranch house down the road. The room also held his wardrobe so he would come back and change clothes in the morning. A rather elaborate ruse to keep up appearances.

I like the contrast of rustic and refined: pleated satin lampshades and heavy carved wooden shutters.

This gate says Castle with a capital C.


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