Smoke & Mirrors: Modern Chic

Bedroom of Fernande Cabanel, design by É.-J. Ruhlmann (French 1879–1933). Photo courtesy Jared Goss.

Bedroom of Fernande Cabanel, design by É.-J. Ruhlmann (French 1879–1933). Photo courtesy Jared Goss.

The seventh annual Winterthur Design Conference, on September 21 and 22, focuses on 20th-century interiors and use of shadow, reflection, and mystery as a source of inspiration. It’s not too late to join us on Saturday for a dynamic day of lectures and workshops at Winterthur, followed by an optional day of private house tours Sunday.

Winterthur is pleased to welcome guest lecturers Gil Shafer III, architect; Jared Goss, associate curator, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Jeffrey Simpson, historian and author; and Carey Maloney, interior designer,
M (Group), all of whom will be joining a host of Winterthur’s own esteemed staff.

An antique mantelpiece graces this dining room, which features a sepia-toned scenic wallpaper by de Gournay depicting scenes of India. Photo courtesy Gil Schafer.

An antique mantelpiece graces this dining room, which features a
sepia-toned scenic wallpaper by de Gournay depicting scenes of India. Photo
courtesy Gil Schafer.

This year’s private house tour—an add-on for conference attendees, but not to be missed!—promises to be an extraordinary day. The first part of the day focuses on three houses by two fascinating architects. All are positioned near the Hoopes Reservoir, an area developed after 1932. Two of the houses were designed by the James Harrison Wilson Thompson (1906–67). Thompson, a trained architect born in Greenville, Delaware, became famous as the King of Thai Silk. His double life as a CIA operative was exposed after he disappeared mysteriously in the Malaysian jungle. Jim Thompson’s early career as an architect is relatively unknown. A 1928 graduate of Princeton, he attended but did not graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture. From 1931 to 1940, he practiced with the New York firm of Holden, McLaughlin & Associates. His Delaware clients included du Pont family members and old Wilmington families. Thompson’s houses share a design vocabulary, mixing traditional and modern elements. They tend to be shallow and wide, which allows maximum light into the rooms. He used relatively simple shapes and historical details deliberately and decoratively. The house designed by William Lawrence Bottomley, the skilled classical architect, stands in contrast to the first two. While Thompson’s architectural career is rather obscure, Bottomley is among the most well-known designers of the 1930s era, as the 2007 monograph by Susan Hume Frazer (Acanthus Press, 2007) attests. The second half of the tour takes place in Westover Hills, which is on the outskirts of Wilmington and is the location of many Wallace & Warner–designed houses. Writing on Westover Hills, W. Barksdale Maynard noted in Buildings of Delaware (University of Virginia Press, 2008), “By 1929, there were an estimated sixty-eight millionaires in Delaware, and many of them lived in this exclusive tract.”

A cocktail party at a private house ends the day.

For more information or to register, please call Information and Tours Office at 800.448.3883 or visit

Post by Maggie Lidz, Estate Historian and Garden Objects Curator

This entry was posted in Architecture, Conferences, Decorative Arts, Design and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Smoke & Mirrors: Modern Chic

  1. ryan says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. I never knew that Jim Thompson was an architect when he was younger. But now I can see why he was so interested in Thai architecture.

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