by Nancy Armitage
Mrs. Collis P. Huntington (Arabella) was quite the master at Victorian self-care in the 1890’s & thru her life. This fact really shows up at the C. P. Huntington’s “Palace of a Residence”. The Huntington mansion was located at the corner of E. 57th & 5th Avenue in New York City, New York.
The Huntington Mansion (NYC) completed in 1895, Mr. & Mrs. Collis Huntington (Arabella) had just finished building this massive Gilded Age mansion. She loved pretty things & loved to be surrounded by beautiful objects of art, painting & sculpture. She loved to be surrounded by beautiful fragrances of flowers, roses, herbs, French soaps & aromatic smells.
Have you ever heard of “Mrs. Huntington’s Diana’s Pool”?? It was written up in the New York Times. It was quite impressive for the year 1895. Remember Mrs. Arabella Huntington had stayed at the finest hotels in the world since the 1870’s: Browns Hotel in Mayfair-London, Paris Ritz in France, Hotel, The Palace in San Francisco, the Continental in Paris, The Plaza Hotel (NYC), & 5th Ave. Hotel (NYC). She knew what she wanted in her “home bathroom” for ultimate luxury & elegance!
Sensory of delights
“Self-care” defined is a fairly new word in our society. It means different things to different people. Self care means anything you can do to promote your good health- physically, socially, mentally & emotionally. You could take a walk, do yoga, smell a rose (aromatherapy), light tea candles (votives) or scented candle, or take a bath. In Victorian days, they would go to Apothecary store to buy dried herbs & flower blossoms. To make they own herbal tea, fragrant potpourri, rose or herb candles, lavender sleep pillows, & savory herb bags for soup. They would buy fragrant lavender blossoms, dried rose petals, & spearmint. Just smelling the herbs thru the canvas bags would be aromatherapy & make you feel good.
Self-care is quite tactile to me personally. Seeing, Smelling, Touching, Hearing, & Tasting. Our senses make us feel alive, happy, & well. For instances, when you go to Hawaii, & your senses are completely filled with delight thru all your senses. You are sometimes greeted in Hawaii Islands with a fragrant orchid wreath around your neck. You smell amazing exotic scents like white gardenia, pikake, & fragrant orchids. You see the amazing bright turquoise blue ocean & experience stunning multi-color sunsets. Feeling the soft sand between your toes on the lovely beach. Filling your nose up with fresh salty air & fragrant exotic Hawaiian flowers. Feeding our bodies up with beautiful Hawaiian food of fresh fish, fresh salads, greens, & macadamia nuts. You get to taste interesting foods you might have never tasted before.
Being a world-traveler, Mrs. Arabella Huntington had been seduced by 1st class steamships & hotel royal treatments. The scent of roses bouquet pungent in a hotel room; French Lavender bundles in cheesecloth tucked under her pillow at night. She wanted to bring these lovely touches home to comfort her & her houseguests. She was also a Southern belle, who really took care of her husband(s).
Mrs. Arabella Huntington made her elegant bathroom a delight for her senses. Seeing: There was a amazing tropical garden was just outside of Mrs. Huntington’s boudoir bathroom with ferns, orchids, & palms. She also requested new fragrant flowers in her boudoir daily, with her favorite colors – she liked pink & white flowers especially roses & stunning orchids. Smelling: The bath water was scented with her favorite scent – essential oil of “Attar of Rose” & her favorite French fragrant soaps were Lavender, & Violet. Tasting: maybe a box of Huylers chocolate truffles or “French bon-bons”; enjoyed with a cup of Orange Pekoe tea & served in her favorite French Sevres porcelain tea cup & saucer on a Sevres breakfast tray. Hearing: She could have had a music box of records nearby; Mrs. Huntington’s favorite music was opera. She was also a amazing singer herself. Touching: A hot bath filled with fragrant oils maybe rose petals for her soft skin; expensive soft towels to dry herself & a soft robe to lounge in before “dressing for dinner”. All these alluring elements makes a person happy & relaxed. But the combination of all these tactile elements makes for a creative mind. Mrs. Arabella Huntington also could have visited her mansion’s spa. The Huntington spa was located downstairs in the basement, & she often have a masseur give her a lovely massage.
I don’t think Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington is considered a creative person but she was in a big way! She was a interior designer for at last 11 Huntington Mansions: Let’s list them: Lexington Place, Park Ave., 5 stories at 54th Street NYC, Paris Mansion #I- 2 rue de Gabriel, Paris Mansion #2 at 20 rue de Lubeck, Chateau Beauregard Le Celle-St. Cloud in Paris (1913-1923), Huntington Mansion at San Marino Ranch in Southern California, Nob Hill Mansion on California Street in San Francisco (1880’s-1890’s), the Huntington “Homestead” estate at Throgg’s Neck in Westchester Co. NYC, the great Huntington Camp at Camp Pine Knot on Racquette Lake in the Adirondack Mts. & where her Yarrington family lived in Richmond, VA.
She didn’t own all these houses/mansions at the same time, but she definitely decorated all of them in the 1870’s, 1880’s, 1890’s,1900’s, 1910’s to the 1920’s. It was Mrs. Arabella Huntington that made all of these mansions her homes, & she made them look like French Palaces. She came up with themes for different rooms. She antiqued all over the world to buy the perfect couch or Louis XVI / Marie Antoinette chairs & writing desks. She wallpapered & picked the paint color & choose fabrics, painted all the walls, & she reupholstered all her furniture. She pick the perfect paintings for each room, she did have her own ideas but she got some help by Duveen, friend & antique & art dealer.
“Diana’s Pool” (Huntington Mansion No. 2 57th St NYC in 1895)
In 1889, Mr. & Mrs. Collis P. Huntington hired famous architect, George B. Post to built their mansion. It took 5 yrs to built this massive house on 5 lots. Mrs. Arabella Huntington- I’m sure she designed her fantastical royal-like bathroom at her mansion at No. 2 East 57th Street in New York City.
It was described in the New York Times newspaper : “Diana’s Bath” owned by Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington’s bathroom built for $15,000.00 [abt. 1893]. It included a huge black onyx bathtub & floors, Persian rugs, blue-striped tiles, & marble [floors]. In millionaire’s household, $1,000.00 for bath towels & bathing luxuries like “Attar of Roses” delicacies like perfume cologne ran out of the water spigot, fancy French soaps – finest fragrant soaps [(Lavender, Violets, & Rose], scented waters for the bath, water softener, & whitening acids, complexion beautifiers after the bath, myriad toilet articles, garden of the mansion: palm trees, plants, white fragrant flowers [lily of the valley, orchids, & gardenias], fresh flowers daily, scented lake, shades of glass windows, butler polished brass & silver in Diana’s Bath”. Document: NY Times newspaper article no date: [abt. 1893] Document found in HEH Collection HEH Box 199 [ Huntington family personal papers] at Huntington Library – San Marino, CA
In 1893, Collis & Arabella Huntington had built their No. 2 57th St. New York City mansion- it took 5 years. In “No. 2” Huntington Mansion, Mrs. Huntington had built “Diana’s Pool”. Mrs. Huntington created a fabulous boudoir/bathroom with 5-star hotel amenities. Her “Diana’s Pool” had beautiful marble floors, beautiful Oriental & Persian rugs, a conservatory kind of garden which Arabella could enjoy while she was bathing. I’m sure, a statue of “Diana the Huntress” was represented in the Boudoir -Bathroom, also.
The Huntington Mansion at No. 2 had Spa-Like basement, also. It was like a amazing 5-star hotel spa with treatment rooms, massage rooms, dressing rooms, exercise rooms, & special baths, with Turkish baths. There were toilets and a warm fireplace nook with built-in seating. Also, heated “Plunge bath” or “Swimming Bath” (like a hot tub). The Engineering Record stated that “In the boudoir bathroom is a decorated porcelain roll-top sitz bathtub with silver plated fittings.”
No member of the Huntington household ever had to leave the mansion – to get a massage or go to a Hotel spa. The Massage therapists would come to give Mr. & Mrs. Huntington a massage. Document: Architectural Records Magazine 1903/ Document: HEH Coll. MS38/11 uncat [Household bills 1919 invoices of H.E. Huntington receipts at No. 2] at Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Mrs. Arabella Huntington’s favorite fragrance: I would say Arabella favorite was her fragrant roses or “Attar of Rose” which her bath water was perfumed with (see above Diana’s Bath). Attar of Rose defined is a essential oil, also called Essence of Rose, Oil of Rose, Otto of rose, or Rose oil. These essential oils are distilled from fresh rose petals of “Rosa Damascena ” (Damask rose) & “Rosa Gallica” – very favorite fragrant old-fashioned roses. Mrs. Arabella Huntington was also fond of French lavender, & violets (she grew 100’s of them at her Throggs Neck country estate called “The Homestead” Huntington estate in her garden) she also loved violet soap & Rose Petals.
1 mason jar
5 c. fragrant pink roses (free of chemicals)
fill up with 2-3 c. vodka
1/2 c. filtered water
a couple drops of rose essential oil
piece of cheesecloth & rubber band to secure.
Use a 1 qt. mason jar, add fresh roses. Drizzle in vodka or apple cider vinegar. Place a double square of cheesecloth & secure with a rubber band or piece of string. Let marinate for 3-5 days. Transfer the filtered rose water thru the cheesecloth in a funnel. Into several small 1 oz. size- blue or green colored jars. Use the rose water for a skin toner or cooling agent on a hot summer night.
San Marino Ranch “Arabella’s Boudoir” (1913-1924):
At the San Marino Ranch, as shown by the Myron Hunt blueprint shows that Mrs. Huntington did have a “Boudoir” on the 2nd floor. “Arabella’s Boudoir” consisted of a set of 3 rooms on the east wing of the Huntington Mansion. Mrs. Huntington had a dressing room, a sitting room, & a closet (they called the “Hanging Room” for all her clothes), especially her long fancy sequined gowns which she wore every night for formal dinner. These set of 3 rooms were located just north of Mr. and Mrs. H.E. Huntington bedroom at the South-east corner of the mansion; right next to the balcony above the “Loggia”.
“Boudoir Set” or “Breakfast Set” (tea & coffee set fine porcelain tea cups & saucers)
A “Boudoir Set” or “Breakfast set” is made of fine bone china or porcelain plates, bowl & tea cups & saucers. This coffee or tea set would have been made by French Sevres or Limoges, France. A Boudoir/Breakfast set: would include a porcelain tray, 2 tea cups & saucers, a creamer & sugar; sometimes larger tray with more items like small plates “tea and toast” or egg cups. Included with a “Breakfast Tea”, the Huntington’s butler would have included a rose vase or “Bud vase” with a stunning fragrant rose (s) for the Huntington’s gardens. This would have made Mrs. Huntington very happy, indeed.
In Mrs. Huntington’s Boudoir, she would have enjoyed a sip of French roasted coffee (a lovely way to serve coffee French style – with Dutch/Belgium cocoa sprinkled in it) or Orange Pekoe tea maybe a piece of toast & San Marino Ranch Orange Marmalade/or Raspberry Jam early in the morning before going down to the Huntington’s breakfast. A little breakfast in bed or served to Mrs. Huntington in her boudoir while dressing for the day.
At the San Marino Ranch, Mrs. Huntington had 7 of these fancy “Breakfast sets” or “Boudoir sets”: gold & white (probably Limoges or Haviland), pink & green (Old Paris), yellow (Coalport or Sevres). Why so many sets because of the many Huntington Houseguests in the upstairs “Sitting Room”, or to serve Mr. Huntington coffee or tea in his office, or Small Library, etc.
Mrs. Arabella Huntington’s “Boudoir” Room (San Marino Ranch)
Boudoir is a French term meaning, women’s dressing room or private sitting room. At the Ranch, in the Mrs. Huntington’s Boudoir or “Sitting Room” with made up of 3 large rooms, there was once 3 French doors leading out to a lovely garden. This lovely room with pale light wood lead out to a Mrs. Huntington’s “French Garden” just above the Loggia.
Mrs. Huntington’s Rooftop French Garden (San Marino Ranch)
Mrs. Huntington French rooftop garden was filled with French garden of flowers, herbs, & yellow acacia trees. There were lovely French topiaries (boxwood or rosemary), French lavender, rosemary, French pink tree roses & yellow acacia trees. All plants that reminded Mrs. Huntington of Paris, her favorite place.
I have seen photographs (above) of Mrs. Huntington’s French Rooftop Garden taken by Hertrich. There must have had a very tall hedge (12-16 ft.) surrounding this entire garden – for Mrs. Huntington’s privacy. In the middle of Spring & Summer even the morning sun can be intense. So the tall hedge could have blocked the sun, cooled down the balcony. Mrs. Huntington’s Sitting Room would get lovely morning sun on these patio balcony. Mr. & Mrs. Huntington could have enjoyed a cup of coffee in her garden on a sunny day. They would have rung a bell for the butler, he would have brought up a “breakfast tray” [Boudoir tray or Boudoir set] for them.
Later in the morning, Miss Caroline Campbell (Mrs. Huntington private secretary & friend) & Arabella could have gone over the daily menus or “Sundays at the Ranch” lunch menu. They could have drank tea or hot chocolate or coffee. Arabella must have loved Venice, Italy; In the boudoir, the crowning painting was a Venice scene. Over the mantle and over the fireplace in Mrs. Huntington’s sitting room was the “Grand Canal by Turner” depicting Venice. We know that Mr. Duveen had a Italian villa in Venice; maybe the Huntington’s visited him there.
Mrs. Huntington’s Flower Cutting Garden (San Marino Ranch):
I feel that any smart lady has a flower cutting garden at her home. Mrs. Arabella Huntington had a Flower – Cutting Garden just outside the Bowling Alley/Billiards Room on their Ranch property. It was filled with delicious fragrant flowers like roses, stock, sweet peas, orchids, lilies, & hyacinths. It is a form of “self-care”, because smelling a fragrant rose is like aromatherapy; remember to smell it 3 times to give your senses the impact of the scent. Mrs. Huntington was just lucky enough to have a staff that would cut the flowers (weekly or daily) for her & put together enormous flower arrangements at the San Marino Ranch (200-300 flower stems or more).
At the San Marino Ranch in Southern California, they had every kind of fragrant flower you could think of. In the Mr. Hertrich, the Head gardener’s -little binder notebook he had listed:
“Cut flowers” Season of 1914? [ Huntington Mansion at San Marino Ranch] for just one season, but they were usually at the ranch for only 3-5 months (January to April or May). Check out this enormous amount of pink roses and lovely fragrant flowers (Roses, Stock, Daffodils, exotic Orchids, Hyaciths & Iris)!! These flowers were used in daily/weekly flower arranging at the Huntington Mansion on the rose:
Roses: 9595 Pink Roses, & 6375 White Roses, 975 Orchids, 1500 yellow Daffodils, 1800 Zinnias, 3110 Snapdragons, 975 Gern. Iris, 770 Hydrangeas, 5680 Gladiolas, 1400 Sweet peas, 1100 Rudlishcris? 1000 Japanese Iris, 1500 Helianthus, 2950 Stock, 750 Spanish Iris, 400 Delphiniums,1000 Cabrises, 1650 Shasta Daisies,435 Amaryllis, 200 Easter Lilies, 300 Hyacinths, 100 Grockmos[?] 4610 Pink Carnations, 3975 White Carnations. Documented by San Marino Ranch Head Gardener -Wm. Hertrich’s small pocket notebook (photo from the 1919 exhibition at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA) Nancy Note: The flower arrangements that Mr. Hertrich & the maids that happily helped him must have been magnificent! Mrs. Huntington had a huge collection of flowers vases, Haviland, Italian, Masons, English even some in French Sevres which she probably used! It was 200 years old, but they used it! oh my!