Tea in the Huntington’s Large Drawing Room (SMR)

by Nancy Armitage

The Drawing Room of a large manor or estate should be decorated with the finest things that the owner has. This philosophy was written by Edith Wharton in her book, The Decoration of Houses. With Mr. & Mrs. Henry E. Huntington (Arabella), everything they owned was of the finest quality & beauty.

In 1910, when Mr. Huntington moved in to the 1920’s the Huntingtons had lovely tea parties in the Large Drawing Room. They were also called “At-Homes. The Large Drawing Room was also used for after-dinner coffee & entertainment. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

The H. E. Huntington’s Large Drawing Room was used for several different purposes. They used it sometimes to receive guests but usually that was done in the Large Library. They enjoyed Afternoon Tea or what they called “5 o’clock Tea” was served by the Huntington’s butler; also after-dinner tea & entertainment was often located in the Large Drawing Room in the Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch, CA.

“The Blue Boy” painting was delivered to Mr. & Mrs. H.E. Huntington (Arabella) in March of 1922 by Sir Joseph Duveen himself. Duveen was their art dealer, friend, & interior decorator. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

While the Huntingtons lived at the Huntington Mansion: The Large Drawing Room paid tribute to 5 of Gainsborough’s paintings: “Blue Boy”, The Cottage Door”, “Duchess of Cumberland”, “Hon. & Mrs. Henry Fane”, & “Hon. Lavinia Brigham”. Mr. Huntington was particularly proud of “Blue Boy” who arrived at the San Marino Ranch in March 21, 1922. “The Blue Boy” was hung in the Large Drawing Room by March 22, 1922. Other oil paintings located in the Large Drawing Room were “The Fortune Teller” by Reynolds, & “Marriage of the Adriatic” by Turner. The famous “Pinkie” painting by Reynolds was also located in this room; but Mr. Huntington did not buy “Pinkie” until 1927. Mrs. Huntington did not get to enjoy “Pinkie” at the San Marino Ranch mansion, because she died in 1924.

The “Pinkie” painting was once located in the Huntington’s Large Drawing Room, H. E. Huntington acquired this masterpiece in 1927. The “Blue Boy” hung on one side of the Large Drawing Room north wall & “Pinkie” on the other side. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

The cool color palette they choose for the Large Drawing Room were blue, grey, white, & gold (gilt). A large Louis XIV figured rug (Savonnerie) decorated the floor, the 3 windows were covered with heavy grey, satin brocade curtains. That was very clever of the decorators, (Sir Joseph Duveen & Mrs. Arabella Huntington) to have subdued curtains & white walls, called “the Kings white” to show up the paintings.

Motif relief in the Large Drawing Room of the Huntington Mansion (now the Huntington Gallery), San Marino, CA. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

The Huntington’s Large Drawing Room was most likely their Music Drawing Room or “Entertainment Room”. On the walls have embossed motif reliefs depicting entertainment: Irish harp, a guitar, an artist’s palette, etc. These creative motif reliefs hint that is was a Music Room. Also, one of the Louis XV marquetry tables hints that it was a Music Room with it “Musical Trophies & Flowers” engravings.

This is an example of a Chinese Cloisonné vase, Mrs. Huntington had many of these lovely vases.. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Mr. Huntington like to smoked cigars. In the Edwardian years, after formal dinners men would retire to a Smoking Drawing Room to enjoy cigars with cognac or brandy. Mrs. Huntington did not like cigar smoke in the house, so Mr. Huntington & his men friends probably went out on the front terrace, or more likely to the Billards House/ Bowling Alley. The Billards House and Bowling Alley was a narrow building running north & south, located just north of the rose garden & west of the Huntington Mansion (Huntington Library now). The Billards/Bowling Alley was decorated like a Gentlemen’s Hunting Lodge. The women most likely retired to the Small Drawing Room to have after-dinner cordials like Creme de Menthe (mint-flavored) or Curacao (orange-flavored). A short while later, the men & women joined each other again for some kind of entertainment or cards in the Large Drawing Room.

Tea lights or candelabras are perfect mood lighting for afternoon tea or after-dinner entertainment. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

In 1920’s etiquette books, described candlelight at afternoon tea in the Drawing Room. They suggest that the hostess close up her curtains for more subdued lighting & have lovely classical music playing. Many used candlelight, as in “tea lights” (little votive candles) to light up the Drawing Room for a calm mood & lovely ambiance. These afternoon teas or “At-Homes”, or “5 o’clock teas” were usually given between 4-6 oclock or 5-7 o’clock. Men were also invited to these tea receptions. Sometimes entertainment was provided like a harp or violinists & refreshments were served.

A lovely white flower arrangement, made of white roses, white hydrangeas, & white Easter lilies. I loved how the flower arrangers used some beautiful philodendron leaves to add greenery at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Barbara, CA. At the Huntington’s Mansion, their house staff created flowers arrangements on a weekly basis and for entertaining also. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

“Do come in for a cup of tea” Emily Post in her 1922 Etiquette Book writes: ‘This is Best Society’s favorite form of invitation. It is used on nearly every occasion whether there is to be music or a distinguished visitor, or whether a hostess has merely an inclination to see her friends. She writes on her personal visiting card: ‘Do come in on Friday for a cup of tea & hear Ellwin play or Farrish sing, or to meet Senator West or Lady X….But if the tea is of any size, from 20 upwards, the [tea] table is set in the Dining-Room.’

Mr. & Mrs. Henry E. Huntington’s Large Drawing Room, which is where the famous “Blue Boy” painting used to be hung. Illustration & photo by Nancy Armitage

In the large Drawing Room, Mrs. Huntington had seating for 19 guests for tea & conversation. A room that had comfort & luxury, the Drawing Room contained: 2 gilded French sofas, 12 Drawing room Louis XIV chairs, 6 large & 6 small Boucher chairs tapestry backs & Ouvry seats. Also, there were 2 carved gilded side chairs (Louis XV) & “The Bishops Table” (Louis XV) with a leather top & bronze mounts by Caffieri. Information from Mr. Huntington ‘s Mansion inventory book.

This lovely writing table in the Huntington Collection. Check out the amazing inlaid wood surface with creativity objects . This could be the “Louis VI writing table mentioned in HEH’s inventory book (1927). The writing table had gold bronze mounted, elaborate inlaid top measuring 16″x 31″ x 28”,; this table is mentioned in Mr. Huntington mansion inventory book. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

A lovely romantic atmosphere in the room was created by candlelight & nude figurines. The fireplace was on the west side of the room with a blue & ormolu mounted mantle clock with miniatures (Louis XV) & 2 3-light candelabra, of blue & gold Bronze (on mantle). At the base of the fireplace was a pair of gold bronze Louis XVI ormolu mounted andirons-female figures & cupids.

Mrs. Arabella Huntington loved French Art Objects especially with cupids & children. Two similar gold candelabras with cupidss sits in the Huntington’s Large Drawing Room today. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Mr. & Mrs. Huntington had live-in secretaries; they worked on “entertainments” for the Huntington. Making party invitations, designing luncheon & dinner menus, & the Huntington’s letter writing correspondence also. Mr. Huntington’s private secretary was George Hapgood, nicknamed “Happy” (per Head butler, Alfonso Gomez). Mrs. Huntington’s private secretary was Miss Caroline “Carrie” M. Campbell. The lovely French Louis VI write table with elaborate inlaid top (picture and described below), might have been used by Mrs. Huntington or her social secretary, Miss Campbell.

Mr. & Mrs. Henry E. Huntington (Arabella) had a orchid house, a rose house, & a green house. They had amazing varieties of orchids at the San Marino Ranch. Mrs. Huntington loved to display her orchids whenever possible. This photo was taken at the Santa Barbara Biltmore Hotel. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

In the Large Drawing Room, there were many writing tables & marble topped furniture pieces of Louis XVI, which they may have used such as: Louis XVI secretaire by Carlin 52 1/2″ high, white marble top 15″ x 35″; Louis XVI Commode by Carlin 39″ high with white marble top 56″x 24″; Louis XVI commode by Riesender mottled marble-top 55″ x 23″ x 34″ high; Louis VI writing table with gold bronze mounted elaborate inlaid top 16″x 31″ x28″ high. The Huntingtons other activities beside letter writing were playing cards, dominos, reading, & after-dinner music.

Brightly colored roses. Photo credit : Nancy Armitage

Mrs. Arabella Huntington Large Spring Luncheon Tea (May 1920)

Mr. H. E. Huntington brother-in-law (E. Burke Holladay) kept somewhat detailed journals about the whereabouts of the Huntingtons. Carrie Huntington Holladay was Burke’s wife. On Thursday, May 6, 1920 – Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington “Belle” was her nickname hosted a Large Ladies Luncheon at the Huntington Mansion at the San Marino Ranch. Burke writes in his journal, “Carrie went over to Belle’s & attended a luncheon given there. Edwards [HEH] & Mary Lewis [HEH’s cousin] went with me to San Gabriel & saw the Mission Play [at the San Gabriel Playhouse]. Fred k’ Warde part of Junipero Serra”. Document: HEH Collection HEH MS 10968 (Burke Holladay Journals). The number of guests attending Mrs. Huntington’s Spring Luncheon could have been 30-200 guests, I have no idea. She had numerous fine china plate sets with 60 plates in each set. She had Haviland, Coalport, French Sevres, Copeland and Garrett/Spode, so many set of fine bone china plates and porcelain plates. If the number of people was over 60, Mrs. Huntington had many plates with gold pink & white roses, using several different fine china sets.

This is a example of a elaborate large silver tea set during the Gilded Age.

A prized piece & probably often used was a large silver French tea set valued at $1,250.00 in 1927. This tea set with a large tray with handles, kettle & stand, teapot, coffee pot, sugar bowl & cover, cream pitcher, milk pitcher, slop bowl, & tea caddy (holds the loose tea).

The Huntington’s Large Drawing Room, The painting on the right is where “The Blue Boy” used to be hung, when the Huntington lived at the Huntington Mansion. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

The tea curate is a 3-tiered tea stand, sometimes top plate covered with a silver dome.

Emily Post’s Etiquette in Society – Book of 1922 informs us: “Things people eat at tea” (1922) “The top dish on the ‘curate’ should be a covered one, and holds hot bread of some sort; the 2 lower dishes may be covered or not, according to whether the additional food is hot or cold; the 2nd dish usually holds (tea) sandwiches, & the 3th cake. Or, perhaps all the dishes hold cake; little fancy cakes for instance, and pastries, and slices of layer cakes. Many prefer a simpler diet & have bread & butter, or toasted crackers, supplemented by plain cookies. Others pile the ‘curate’ until it literally staggers, under pastries, cream cakes, sandwiches, or pate de foie gras or mayonnaise. Other, again, like marmalade, jam, or honey on bread & butter or on buttered toast or muffins. This necessitates little butter knives & a dish of jam added to the already overloaded tea tray.”

One of Mrs. Huntington’s French Sevres porcelain plates. Illustration and photo by Nancy Armitage

The Huntingtons had a large number of porcelain fine bone china “Breakfast sets” (for tea & coffee). They were used in numerous rooms in the Huntington Mansion. A large number of these tea or coffee sets were used by Huntington’s house guests. In the morning, Mr. Huntington & Mr. Hapgood (his social secretary) might be doing some business in his “office” (Small Library), asking for a cup of coffee or tea. Mrs. Huntington could have been upstairs in her boudoir, drinking coffee & looking over daily menus while getting dressed for the day. Miss Campbell (Mrs. Huntington social secretary) could have been sipping on coffee while preparing to make a Automobile Picnic.

The Huntington & their houseguests often went for automobile rides. They would ride around their San Marino ranch property & around Long Beach, Los Angeles, Santa Monica & Malibu. Sir Joseph Duveen as a houseguest & Huntington’s house decorator with Mrs. Huntington could have been in the Large Drawing Room with fabrics, objects, & color swatches, drinking English tea. Carrie & Burke Holladay (HEH’s sister) before 1916 were house quests at the Huntington Mansion for a month at a time. They could have been upstairs in the Guest Sitting Room enjoying a cup of coffee, while looking out the window at Santa Catalina Island in the a distance. Maybe Princess Clara Hatzfeldt & entourage in the Huntington Guest Cottage having a cup of tea in the Large Hall.

The Drawing-Room double door to the main hall of the Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch (Now the Huntington Gallery at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Before June 23, 1925, Mr. Huntington received a letter from a librarian, she didn’t have a proper “Letter of Introduction”. But she inquired to met with him & visit the “Blue Boy”, which was located at the time in the Large Drawing Room. Mr. Hapgood (HEH’s social secy.) wrote her back. His letter is as followed “June 23, 1925 Mrs. Cora Case Porter Manhattan Place Los Angeles. “….he [Mr. Huntington] will be glad to have you see them if you can come Friday afternoon, the 26th at 2:30 in the afternoon. He will be glad to have your friend accompany you. Yours truly, _____Sec. “Document: HEH Coll. MS Box 176 Correspondence

If a visit went well, Mr. Huntington could have invited a visitor for a cup of tea. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage.

Mr. Henry E. Huntington’s rare book called Practical Cooking & Dinner Giving by Mary Henderson (1877), helps us to understand the purposes of a Drawing Room. She gives an example for having a dinner party, & tells how the hostess & guests mingle & introductions are made in the Drawing Room. Then after the dinner is over, the men & women drink tea in the Drawing Room:

A orange flavored – chocolate covered “petit fours” small cake, which is delicious with a cup of tea.

In The Drawing Room before Dinner is served: (1877)

“When the guests are assembled in the Drawing-Room, if the company be large, the host or hostess can quietly intimate to the gentlemen what ladies they will respectively accompany to the Dining Room [arm & arm]. After a few moments of conversation & introductions, the dinner is to be announced [by the Butler], when the host should offer his arm to the lady Guest of Honor, the hostess taking the arm of the gentlemen Guest of Honor, & now the host leading the way, all should follow, the hostess, with her escort, being the last to leave the Drawing-Room. They should find their places at table with as little confusion as possible, not sitting down until the hostess is seated.

The Huntington’s Large Drawing Room with a grand crystal drop chandelier.. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

After-Dinner Tea in the Drawing Room (1877)

Instructions also in Henderson book called Practical Cooking & Dinner Giving (1877)

“After dinner is over, the hostess giving the signal by moving back her chair, all should leave the Dining-Room. The host may then invited the gentlemen to the smoking-room or Library. The ladies should repair to the Drawing-Room. A short time there after [perhaps half an hour], the butler should bring to the Drawing Room the tea-service on a salver, with a cake-basket filled with fancy biscuits, or rather crackers [with cheeses] or little cakes [petit fours cakes with Royal icing] [& French chocolate bonbons]. Placing them on the table, he may then announce to the host that tea is served. The gentlemen join the ladies & after a chat of a few minutes over the tea, all the guests may take their departure. if the attendant is a waiting-maid, & the tea-service rather heavy, she might bring two or three cups filled with tea, & a small sugar-bowl & cream-pitcher, also the cake-basket, on a small salver, & when the cups are passed, return for more.”

A crystal dish of French chocolate Bon-Bon candies, like Sees candies or truffles.


HEH Coll. MS38/6 uncat (Mr. H.E. Huntington’s mansion inventory brown book)

HEH Collection HEH MS 10968 (Burke Holladay Journal)

Document: HEH Coll. MS Box 176 Correspondence [Letter written for HEH by Mr. Hapgood to Mrs. Cora Case Porter (1925)

Book: The Decoration of Houses by Edith Wharton (1922)

Book: Etiquette of Society, Business, in Politics, & at home by Emily Post (Mrs. Price Post), a matters & social rules book, Funk & Wagnalls Com, NY & London (1922)

Book: Henderson book called Practical Cooking & Dinner Giving (1877)

A tea set: teapot & teacups & saucers at the ready. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: