HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE EXTRAORDINARY Olana? It’s well worth a field trip (and a picnic), especially as they’ve just opened two upstairs rooms restored to the late-Victorian era of Olana’s original occupant, the Hudson River School painter Frederic Church.
In the 1870s, there was a fashion for Middle Eastern exotica, and Church and his wife Isabel embraced it to the max. They visited Beirut, Jerusalem, and Damascus, returning with visions of arches, loggias, fancy brickwork, and other dazzling design elements. With their architect, Calvert Vaux, they incorporated all these into the hilltop house they were building in Columbia County, and they decorated accordingly, with imported Persian rugs and furnishings imported from that part of the world.
To today’s eyes, Olana appears more bohemian than Victorian, tasteful and arty as opposed to excessive and overwrought.
In 1964, when the widow of the Churches’ youngest son died there, Olana was still intact, decorated as it had been when Frederic and Isabel lived there. The next Church heirs, however, sought to auction the furnishings and sell the house. They were stopped by the timely formation of an Olana preservation society. With help from New York State, the house and its contents were saved, restored, and the main floor opened to the public in 1967.
This weekend, for the first time ever, the Churches’ second-floor bedroom and dressing room will be added to the tour, finally allowing us to see what’s above the fantastic staircase in the main hall. Another upstairs bedroom is a gallery containing art and photographs that had long been in storage.
The amazing wallpapers in these rooms have been painstakingly reproduced from scraps found beneath mantels and moldings.
To read more about Olana’s history and see more pictures, go here.
Olana State Historic Site
Route 9G, just south of Route 23
Greenport, NY, between Hudson & Germantown
Guided house tours: Tuesday-Sunday + holiday Mondays, 10AM-5PM
Reservations recommended: 518/828-0135