“No one fully knows our Edith who hasn’t seen her in the act of creating a habitation for herself,” noted writer Henry James, a close friend of the novelist Edith Wharton. The Mount, Wharton’s magnificent estate in Lenox, Massachusetts, is a “habitation” like few others in the United States, and Shearman & Sterling has been contributing pro bono hours to helping the organization that runs the estate maintain financial stability.
the perfect home: simplicity, harmony, proportion, and suitaBility Although best known for more than 40 books, including Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer was also an accomplished interior designer and gardener. Her first book, co-authored with Ogden Codman, Jr., a Boston architect, was The Decoration of Houses, an 1897 guide to interior design. The Mount, an exquisite 29-room, three- and-a-half-story white stucco villa, with an expansive terrace, three acres of formal gardens, stable, greenhouse, and gatehouse, was built in 1901-02 and represented Wharton’s belief that a home should embody the principles of simplicity, harmony, proportion, and suitability. It was the place where Wharton put her design theories into practice and where she wrote The House of Mirth and other works.
Sadly, Wharton’s happiness with her confection didn’t last long. Ten years after The Mount’s construction, Wharton separated from her husband, went into voluntary exile in France, and surrendered The Mount. It passed through a succession of owners, among them a girls’ boarding school and a theater company. In 1980, the nonprofit Edith Wharton Restoration was founded in an eort to preserve the house, which had suered badly from neglect.
i AM AMAzed At the success of My efforts. decidedly,
i’M A better lAndscApe gArdener thAn novelist,
And this plAce, every line of which is My own worK, fAr surpAsses The house of MirTh….
our assistance in restructuring efforts Over several years, millions were spent to restore the estate to its original grandeur–more than $3 million on replanting the gardens alone. In 2002, the residence was opened to the public as a museum. Five years later, the restoration group earned a National Preservation Honor Award for its eorts. Despite years of hard work and much fundraising, however, The Mount ran into serious financial diculties. In early 2008, with the estate in danger of foreclosure, the organization turned to Shearman & Sterling for help.
The firm has since been advising The Mount on the restructuring of its debt obligations, with Bankruptcy & Reorganization associates Susan Fennessey and Kelly McDonald and Property associate Seth Burch actively involved. “The estate survives as a symbol of Edith Wharton, a great writer and cultural icon, and has taken on a new life since its restoration as a National Historical Landmark,” said Bankruptcy partner Doug Bartner. “We are proud to assist in The Mount’s restructuring eorts.”