Bunny Mellon’s Greatest Treasure: Oak Springs Farm in Upperville
By September 10, 2014 0 1952•
Bunny Mellon’s expansive Oak Springs Farm just hit the market, listed by Washington Fine Properties. Rachel Lambert Mellon died at the remarkable age of 103 earlier this year, and her Upperville, Va., property has just arrived on the market for a whopping $70 million. The farm was the fabulously wealthy Mellon’s greatest treasure – a private hideaway where she pursued her deepest passions and entertained some of the world’s biggest celebrities.
In Washington, D.C., Bunny and her philanthropist husband Paul Mellon are best known for their generous donation of more than 1,000 18th- and 19th-century European paintings to the National Gallery of Art. The couple also forged a fruitful relationship with the Kennedy family in the 1950s. The friendship was born on a visit to Oak Springs by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who was so inspired by the property that she requested Bunny’s advice on fine arts and antiques for the White House restoration. Later on during the presidency, Bunny was invited back to redesign the White House Rose Garden. She also landscaped Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis’s Martha’s Vineyard home and the JFK Presidential Library and arranged flowers for President John Kennedy’s funeral and Caroline Kennedy’s 1986 wedding in Hyannis Port, Mass.
Her Oak Springs estate embodies the things we remember most about Bunny – her passion for the arts, her love of horses, her zeal for gardening and her aversion to public attention.
Bunny cultivated the farm’s breathtaking 2,000 acres to the tee, with vine-draped arbors, sprawling meadows, neatly arranged flowerbeds and secret gardens. She added barns, stables, guest houses, a pool house, a small farmhouse that acted as Mellon’s home in later life, and the “Brick House,” a neo-Georgian mansion, designed by William Adams Delano.
Additionally, the property is sprinkled with beautiful outdoor sculpture — including a bronze statue of the Mellons’ Kentucky Derby winning horse, Sea Hero — enchanting garden fountains and classically inspired, half-draped nude stone figures. The famously private Mrs. Mellon even installed a private mile-long airstrip, a rarity at the time for a private home in the mid-Atlantic states.
Exquisite details drip from ever corner of the property’s interior space. Murals in the greenhouse trick the eye, with their trompe l’oeil portrayal of baskets, water cans and a host of other gardening supplies. Also depicted are personal items, like Bunny’s gardening hat, coat and cigarette case. The tromp d’loeil continues in the form of painted sun shade on the kitchen tiles inside Little Oak Spring, a small farmhouse, designed by H. Page Cross as a cozier house for the Mellons later on in life.
Bunny’s ardor for horticulture led to the creation of the Oak Springs Garden Library, a collection of art, artifacts, rare books and manuscripts on all things gardening. The library was expanded in 2010. Before her death Mrs. Mellon, established the Gerald B. Lambert Foundation to maintain the building and the collection it houses.
While Bunny owned properties in locales ranging from Antigua to Paris to Nantucket, she considered Oak Springs Farm her home. Accordingly, she and her husband displayed their impressive art collection, spanning centuries of work, all around their estate for their own and their guests’ enjoyment. As America’s quintessential trendsetter, Bunny was an avid collector of jewelry, clothing and other decorative objects. She even employed her own carpenter to design custom pieces for Oak Spring Farm’s interior.
Unfortunately for potential buyers, Bunny’s personal estate is not being sold alongside the farm – her treasured possessions will begin being auctioned off by Sotheby’s in November. Sales are expected to net more than $100 million with proceeds, benefitting the Garden Library and a number of other entities dear to Bunny’s heart. However, the property itself represents an opportunity for prospective buyers to own a piece of history and become a part of the Mellon’s far-reaching legacy.