Frances Palmer and I took our annual spring field trip last weekend. Last year, we toured Monticello; this time we visited Patterns, a striking Delaware home belonging to Elise and Pete du Pont. They are both lawyers; he is the former governor of Delaware. The house, designed by Chicago architect I.W. Colburn, was built in the sixties; it is an inspired blend of Mies, Palladio, and American mid-century modern. What's truly unusual, though, is that Patterns is the result of three equally strong, interwoven visions: that of architect, landscape designer, and client. (The view above is looking through to the entrance from the back; the client bought the pots from the redoubtable Penelope Hobhouse and planted them with bright red maples; spring bulbs burst forth underneath.)

This turned out to be the perfect time of the year to see both house and garden, as the bones of the structure were not fuzzed up by trees and plants. And inside, the light coming through overcast skies was silky. It was a treat to see a project I have wanted for years to visit, and the owners were generous with their hospitality. I was thrilled when Elise du Pont happily granted permission to post the photographs at Slow Love Life; I'm delighted to share the good fortune of my visit with my readers.

One of the first things that strikes the visitor on arriving at the house is, appropriately, the patterns of brick and stone work; the theme of circles and squares is carried inside as well.

Years after the house was built, Elise du Pont hired Dan Kiley for help with the daunting hillside landscape. He refused, at first, as he was retiring. But he was never one to resist a beautiful client; thus began their collaboration. Kiley is one of the great American garden designers of the twentieth century. Patterns has been published in plan, but it has never been documented and archived photographically, in several seasons. Naturally, I longed to give it the House and Garden treatment...I am having a moment. We'll see how this story works without paper and ink.

Patterns is about gardening--and homemaking--on a very large scale, of course. But it is always useful to learn from the masters of design. And I saw plenty of ideas that anyone could bring into the most modest of gardens or houses.

I remarked to Elise, as we set off on our tour, how impressive it was that Kiley was never intimidated by large expanses; he seemed to know how to leave a large imprint. She reminded me of how important all his corporate work was in training him to embrace the big picture. Large scale never daunted Kiley; in fact, it inspired his best work.

Kiley's gardens are always formal and geometric; he establishes clear axes, demarcating stages in the experience of the site. In this way he carried the radical and dramatic approach of Versailles' LeNotre into the American garden. At Patterns, the trick was to respond to the modernist lines of the house, and then spill off down the hill, through the woods, and towards the Brandywine river. He accomplished this by clearing out much of the underbrush of weedy growth and poison ivy to open up views to the river, and then carving a gently descending path through the view. The design around the house is quite tight and articulated in brick and grass; the axes had to fall "wherever you find them" along the contours of the land, as Elise remembered him saying.

Kiley ranked three kinds of boxwood, which will eventually billow in different sizes, to march down the upper hillside. Then the design relaxes lower into the woods. The temple at the edge of the pond was sited by one of Kiley's students, now of the firm Raycroft/ Meyer.

Deer are kept out by a simple electric wire strung around the acreage. That allows for the underplanting of shrubs and bulbs, just beginning to come up. One area is called Hellebore Hill because there are so many colors and varieties of this shy plant, nodding under the trees and straggling along the path. I spotted blacks, white, purples, pinks, and double ruffled.

Elise often brings the hellebore inside and floats them in bowls, which is a great way to see their usually hidden, drooping faces. Here they sit atop a milk can that she had enameled in a deep purple glaze; the front doors are painted the same hue. The spine of hallway connecting the rooms are laid down in black glazed tile.

Bulbs are forced under glass cloches (bell jars) throughout the winter so that the blooms can be brought indoors while there is still snow on the ground.

The house was full of flowers; I love the glass milk bottles, stuffed with daffodils, in their wire carrying crate. This is a house where indoors and outdoors meld seamlessly. Outdoors, there are moments of decorating, and indoors there are moments of garden.

Kiley laid out a potager to the side of a double allee of trees planted along the drive at the entrance of the house. The hedge is trimmed high enough to keep out the deer. Vegetable gardens are not generally well-designed, but this one not only works hard, providing fresh produce for family and friends, but it is also beautiful to look at, even with very little coming up.

It has been a long, cold, wet spring, so everything is coming along slowly in the vegetable garden. Elise spotted these inexpensive cement creatures guarding the entrance to the garden at a roadside nursery and gave them a coat of turquoise and gold paint.

Before too long, these tuteurs will be covered with peas and beans.

Elise du Pont is an avid horticulturalist and a member of an exclusive group called The Rares. In the small world department: many of her plants come from Ed Bowen of Opus Plants, my friend up in Rhode Island. I may have propagated some of them when I worked in his nursery. Throughout our walk, she happily pointed out some of the rare specimens that were beginning to make their way out of the earth, prodding them with her walking stick. Check out, too, the colors in her clothing--the purple lining of the camel hair coat against the green jacket. She is a Rare herself. Hers is not a  "made to order" garden; it bears all the earmarks of being well-loved, and tended with a critical, demanding eye.

She is old-fashioned enough to be a skilled needleworker, and her gleefully patterned designs are on pillows scattered throughout the library. But she also attended law school when she was in her forties, raising her children and being a politician's supportive wife; she gained a degree in three years from the University of Pennsylvania.

Elise is what makes Patterns a success. The eye of the client is the third, and crowning, element in designing any house and garden. If any design is to thrive, no matter how well-planned it is in the first place, it has to continue to grow and evolve. Things are always dying, or not turning out the way you would expect them to, or fading and falling apart, so they have to be replaced, altered or refined. And they have to be lived in.

The designer can only lay down the structure and fill in the plants or the fabrics. The character, the personality of a house and garden--if it is to have one-- must come from the owner. Throughout the garden, and especially around the house, there are small tableaux created with troughs and statuary; the garden is, in a way, decorated as well as planted.

Some of the touches are delightfully quirky, too. If you can't express yourself in your house and garden...or your clothing...well, where else can you be so free? Elise is not shy in expressing herself, either politically, personally, horticulturally or decoratively. Thank goodness. This sort of "being completely oneself" is in danger of becoming a lost art.

We've also somehow gotten the idea that there is a "correct" way to decorate, and we herd ourselves into an eternal repetition of trends, or we box ourselves in with labels: we are modern, or classical, or country. One thing only. Sadly. Why live in a pigeonhole?

And why not play with the things you have collected over the years? It doesn't matter if they are costly or humble; they are your treasures. I often heard about clients photographing tabletops so that they could recreate the exact placements of books and objects. They were too afraid of putting things down wrong. But that's the fun of making a home. You can always change it.

Everything--whether a garden scene or a table setting and placement--bears the owner's distinctive stamp. And everything is done to the highest possible standards, even the way the table is set for our delicious welcome breakfast.

What makes Patterns truly splendid is Elise's flair for color and pattern; her paint and fabric choices throughout are marvelous, not what you'd expect in a modernist house. The dining room floor carries out the circle and square pattern. The walls and velvet curtains are the color of ripe melon. The room has a burnished glow in candlelight; there is a bit of whimsical purple "calligraphy" in the trimming at the bottom of the curtain--she added it when the curtains began to fade from the sunlight.

The entire house is built on a grid of square spaces, 20x20, so you get a pleasing, restful sense of repetition in the volumes. But the decor keeps the spaces from feeling boring or dull.

The living room is a sort of robin's egg blue. Elise has long been a collector of Frances Palmer's handmade work, particularly her creamware. Needless to say, Frances was thrilled to see her vases full of flowers on display all over the house.

I love the way the ornate shapes of the family antiques are set off by the clean, spare lines of a modern envelope. This kind of decorating isn't easy to pull off. Of course it helps to have the means to buy--or inherit--excellent antiques and beautiful decorative objects. But plenty of people have money--and no idea how to enjoy it or live with it. When I'm in a house like this, I feel inspired to be freer in expressing my own aesthetic sensibilities, to let myself simply enjoy the freewheeling process of creating living, lively spaces, whether indoors or out.

Patterns is a well-loved house and garden. What a pleasure.


Concrete Jungle said...

The garden is breath taking...love to see it in all seasons!

Tara Dillard said...

Curious about the railroad tie wall & the size of the gravel in the path at its base. Wonder what the long range pruning ideas are for the potted red maples. Good to see plantings closest to the home are NOT 'foundation' plantings, & require little mulch.

Good landscape design, quite easy, is about contrasts & axis flowing from inside the home.

Big leaves next to small. Green leaves next to burgundy.
Woodland garden next to formal.
Circular pots placed at the entry of a square lawn.
Square pots placed at the entry of a round lawn.

Views into the home, from the garden, as fabulous as the views of the garden, from inside the home.

Repetition of form, color, theme & etc. Copy from the past. Design your landscape for winter.

Done correctly property value increases & HVAC expense decreases.

Monet designed his own garden because he couldn't afford a designer. Lucky us.

If Elise Du Pont, just a hunch, hadn't been so busy with other pursuits/obligations I think SHE would have designed her own garden better than Dan Kiley.

Lucky us, she decided to garden at all. And share !

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

Cristina said...

enchanting! I did like every bit of the display - besides your own words, of course - but personally I did find the garden's (park?!!) geometry somehow a little "too geometrical", if you know what I mean.
absolutely loved all those blooming flowers and the very personal, bold style in decorating the inside as well as the outside.

Christa said...

Gorgeous, all of it. Thank you...

Polly in Salem said...

Dominique, Once again this makes me miss you and H&G so much. We are so blessed that you continue with this wonderful blog as a mission. Thank you, Frances, and Elise so much for sharing this wonderful spring experience. It is inspirational and makes me want to do my best in my small gardening efforts. Your photographs are outstanding!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

"Things are always dying, or not turning out the way you would expect them to, or fading and falling apart, so they have to be replaced, altered or refined."

Words that made for good gardens, and good lives.

Violet Cadburry said...

I too miss H&G and am so happy to have found your blog. What a beautiful home. The gardens are so formally quirky - love it. And, love the fact that the drapes weren't replaced because they were fading, but were embellished! Bliss.

Maikael said...

Just gorgeous! This post reminded me to pass along this information on "Slow Art Day," if you hadn't heard of it. Very much in the spirit of Slow Love Life, don't you think? http://slowartday.com/about.html

Susan, Montreal said...

What a stunning place – and what a beautiful job you have done bringing it to us, even without paper!
Thank you.

quintessence said...

What a fabulous tour of an incredible house and property. But the best part was the insight into Elise's fabulous personal style. I love that everything from her delightful breakfast table setting to her exquisite duck egg blue living room so perfectly expresses her aesthetic - that is indeed what it's all about!

Dirty Girl Gardening said...

Fabulous post... love the terraced shrubs! Gorgeous.

Judith Ross said...


Thank you for allowing us to join your exploration of this gorgeous setting! And as for having an H&G moment, do I sense a book of these fabulous places coming along?

Self-published, of course! :-)

Ginger G said...

... beautiful and inspiring - thank you for sharing.

Elizabeth said...


My Dog-Eared Pages said...

This is a GEM! Thanks so much for writing about Patterns. I am thrilled that we got to see it in the early spring. Who needs House & Garden? I loved your "moment" and learning more about Elise du Pont and her demanding eye. I will bookmark this and return again!! ; )

SweetRetreat said...

Wow! Again, how lucky we are to tag along on your special tours and read your wonderful descriptions.

Totally, except for the breakfast setting, not my taste but such fun to see.

Thank you.

Marcia said...

Thanks for sharing. I very much appreciate both Elise's and your sensibilities. Inspiring on many levels.

Sarah said...

Totally inspiring and gorgeous. You've given us a bazillion ideas here. It's BETTER than a dreary magazine article. So onward from your moment, and thank you for sharing it along with the delight here. xoxo

Lost in Provence said...

Amazing. Especially as the last photo and thoughts that went with it took me totally by surprise. How inspiring, all of it.

sixty-five said...

What a magnificent and thoroughly inspiring post. Thank you thank you!

Anonymous said...

I swear I could live in the smallest, not so nice house if I could have grounds and gardens like these....

page dickey said...

Dominique, Loved your piece on Patterns and Elise Du Pont. you are so right about its uniqueness inside and out, and bravo to Elise for pulling it all off.

Happy Spring. Page Dickey

karensandburg said...

be still my beating heart! wow, dominique, this is one of your most exciting posts. i was transfixed by the first picture, chin in hand, a feeling of longing -- the planters, the red branches, the path and entrance and ivy and on and on ...

and as i scrolled down, i felt like a child clapping her hands with delight at the stunning pictures and lovely narrative. oh to be with you and elise du pont. such creative energy. and how else but with a critical, demanding eye. looks like that eye doesn't get much rest, but why should it? she's having too much fun.

"being completely oneself is in danger of being a lost art." i couldn't agree more. our cultural messages dictate sameness and discourage originality. i saw a movie the other night and thought "another empty movie."

ok, my only complaint is you left me panting for more interior shots. Also, is there anywhere we can see pictures of the gardens in different seasons?

William said...


Thanks for giving a shout out to Dan Kiley - he was quite possibly the best landscape architect around during his time. I mean, in the 'modern' world. I had the privilege of working with him back in the late 80's and early 90's when I was just out of architecture school and working for I.M. Pei - before I became an evil greedy developer. His work is awesome. He deserves more 'shout outs' like yours - his work is totally under-appreciated.

david terry said...

Hey "william"...

You haven't seemed remarkably "evil" or "greedy" to me.

I've just scanned the Stephane Reynaud recipe/technique for pork-roast-in-hay and will be sending it to you (thanks for the email address...I sort of loathe this whole supposed 'anonymity' business on the internet).

Tomorrow, I go for my annual trip to court to re-instate the restraining order on My Sexual Stalker (trust me...I was as surprised as anyone to find that I had one). Then, I throw a funeral and reception on thursday.

that siad?...it's a pleasure to come to this blog, find someone who wants Reynauld's recipe, and also see that good photograph of Mrs. DuPont....grinning (that's a genuine smile) in her coat with the purple lining.

That photograph considerably cheered up my preparing-court-documents afternoon.

I took one look and thought "Now THAT is real smile.....".

Sincerely (I do it, occasionally),

David Terry

c said...

David you crack me up! Good luck with your yearly (I know, you said annual - I ddin't want to repeat it ... no pun intended) sexual stalker annoyance.

Dominique, how does one say thank you for the incredible "worlds" you share with us?

I was stunned looking at the photos, my mouth watering really. I love geometrical gardens, is there such a term? And that trough with its plantings ... I'm copying it! My small garden can actually handle something as lovely as that.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

pamingram said...


My husband is a retired landscape architect and dan kiley is one of his heroes. we have scanned this - (gosh blog is such an unattractive descriptive)-wonderful photomontage...and your beautiful observations. overwhelming. jake doesn't gasp when he sees boxwoods, but he did so as he saw them cascade down the hillside at Patterns and we both are in love with all the individual quirky- not the right word- you used all the right words so i don't have any left at my disposal-(not that i have your skill to do so) touches...we were struck by the color- you described as melon and the intervention of purple when things began to fade and the wondrous vignette/tableaus of statuary and troughs and who can resist a table napkin labeled Blitzen? and yes,the potager just did us in...sigh. we have a wondrous kitchen garden but how extraordinary to see the bones of such an exquisite landscape and those tuteurs make us weep with desire. thank you and Elise for this beautiful gift. We are partial to the brick( our home is brick, but circa 1930, not modernist) and admire the geometry, while we tend to allow far more laissez-faire in our use of native plants intersecting among the structural geometry...we are in awe of this masterful and yet warmly inviting space. thank you. eversomuch, psi

Beth said...

Hi, Dominique, your use of the word "archive" made me wonder whether Patterns is in the Smithsonian's Archives of American Gardens. I checked, and it appears to me that the garden was accessioned into the AAG collection in 2001. But YOUR photos are much better than the ones I saw there!

cice said...

Loved your blog today Dominique!!! What a gift you have given us to see into "the world" of Mrs. DuPont. Thank you so much for sharing it with us and inspiring us to "play" more in our own backyards.
It truly is all about playing and finding inspiration. Thank you Mrs. Dupont, you inspire me to listen more deeply, look more carefully and open to greater possabilities!!

pve design said...

just breathtakingly beautiful.

mary said...

I am inspired and invigorated by both Mrs. Dupont (what an amazing lady) and this post. Thanks a million for sharing this great experience.

Judith said...

Thank you, it was a lovely and inspiring way to begin the day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dominique,
James Shearron here.… I just had to write in about this house. Do you remember when we published an old photo from the HG archives of the Trompe Le'oil Library Nook at this house? Was it still there? I first saw this house as boy when House & Garden published it in the 60s (?) , its remained one of my favorites. I.W. Colburn was the local favorite in my home town, I was in many of his houses growing up, his work was truly inspiring. Thank you for the tour I have longed for!

All my best to you,

Diane said...

I have always enjoyed your blog but this is so sycophantic that I could hardly bear to read it. And while it is purely a matter of taste, I found the garden fairly hideous. Wish I could day something nicer but I'm afraid this is awful.

Thea said...

i love touring the brandywine valley of Delaware; the DuPont family was a driving force in that area. I especially love Winterthur's grounds. I must say, though, that this house's architecture appears relatively modest compared to other DuPont properties. But I see how practical it is, compared to a mansion. In terms of the garden, I'm just not sure. It is lovely, but a hill of boxwoods amidst such lovely woodlands... it didn't work for me.

david terry said...


Having read the previous two comments, I'll admit that I looked at those pictures of the house, patios, and garden at "Patterns", and I immediately thought it was too bad the name "Chequers" (google it) had already been taken.


David Terry

Amy said...

Wow oh wow, what a stunning garden! Thank you for sharing your photos, insight and humor. It's such a joy to see so many people delight in nature's beauty! All the best and happy spring! *Amy

Dominique said...

This is what I love about design: to each her own. But strong reactions are what we love. I won't make a case for the box marching into the woods. They are their own best argument--or not! But regardless, the treat is in being exposed to new ideas. I would defend myself against the charge of "sycophantic" though, and I'm sorry it seemed that way. Polite, and enthusiastic, and engaged, was what I like to go for. As for Chequers, oh hilarious one....that and a big fat cigar....

Warren said...

Having grown up in Delaware and spent a lot of time at places like Longwood Gardens and Winterthur where the gardens are quite overwhelming in their own style, it's great to see how this particular DuPont family dared to blend the European classic with the modern in both architecture and garden. They achieved something truly personal, relevant and intimately livable. And as Mel Brooks said more succinctly, "It's good to be king!"

Dominique said...

And I love the scale of the place--that it isn't an enormous pile! Especially for a king and queen. James--How lovely to hear from you, since those House and Garden days. I have been following your career with pleasure. And yes, that hallway is still whimsically painted...and no wonder I kept thinking, why does that look familiar? thank you!

Dona M said...

What a pleasure to view and read, with your personal descriptions it seemed more intimate then a magazine article. I especially enjoyed this individual vision of patterns taken both inside and out. Including the photo of elegant Elsie made me feel I was so fortunate to be able to share a behind the scenes home rather then a public place. A real showing of creative living (and yes, it helps to have the money to back the vision)

Exam Result 2011 said...

Oh My God !!!! its very beautiful location. really amazing this post i love it. i inspire in this post. cool sharing so thanks

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

One of the above-responses reminded me of the second thing I thought after going through this posting.

Like several of your other readers, I'm quite familiar with Winterthur, Longwood gardens, and several other bigass testaments to DuPont-dom in the Brandywine Valley area (For ten summers, I was the interim-head of the English department at a prominent boreding skool thereabouts).

My Second thought was "I bet several of the owner's predictably-genteel (and rigorously uninnnovative) Du Pont great-aunts had FITS when, in the mid 60's...and that was, after all, fifty years ago), they saw what Peter and Elise had DONE with great-grandmother Mynor's signed-Sheraton sideboard, etcetera.

I bet a shiny red apple that Peter and Elise du Pont caught a lot of flak from various elderly relatives for not steadfastly duplicating the "sort of houses WE live in".

I know a wealthy family in which the younger (at that time) members of the family were roundly castigated by their elderly relatives for using family money to build a house which was far more likely to end up in Architectural Digest than in Town&Country. From their relative's reactions, you would have thought they'd built a 5-story whorehouse on the property (the old house had burnt) and stuck an "Open For Business!" sign out in front.

In any case, "your" du Ponts seem like fun. That's always nice to encounter these days.


David Terry

c said...

This is probably the 5th time in 2 days that I read your words and enjoy these images.

I think I know why I keep coming back to this post - it's the same reason why I subscribed to H&G for eons: your words in the editorial and the photographs of plants and flowers and nooks in gardens .... (the decorating part was hardly ever to my taste). I am very partial to modern and I'm more of a minimalist when it comes to interiors. This house does it for me in the geometrical clean lines of both house and garden.

So, for me, you achieved it - the H&G treatment w/o paper. How did I manage to miss that sentence 3 or 4 times?

jayneonweedstreet said...

What a treat for an artist to see her work in an extraordinary home, and an honor for you both to be invited to a personal tour. Thank you for sending these wonderful photographs of a unique garden into cyberspace for all of us sitting at our computers (or I Pads or phones) to enjoy!

karensandburg said...

well put "c". i too have returned to this post. i'm impressed with elise du ponts aesthetic, especially bold for someone who was probably, as david terry pointed out, from a very traditional background with clear expectations for what good design meant. well, elise liked to paint outside the lines, naughty girl, to the delight of us all (well, except for a few).

(and my crazy heart is still hoping for more interior shots.)

splatt75 said...

i don't know if i've ever "commented" online about anything before...almost in tears to have stumbled on something so beautiful at as Patterns at this difficult time in my life, so far away from anything like it that i knew in another life...thank you for sharing- and slowing me down....

jayneonweedstreet said...

David and Karen's remarks make me want to comment on the wonderful second to last photo which depicts a "deportment chair". We have a couple for sale in our antique shop so I am familiar with them. Its addition to the room makes me smile!

Tricia said...

Your patterns post grabbed and held me close. I have disected each picture twice already and I still want more. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful experience. I know I will be visiting this post again and again.

Harry Wolf, FAIA said...

Lovely tribute to my great friend Dan Kiley. I leave LA for Boston next week for the opening of the travelling show of his work organized by the Cultural Landscape Foundation.