Founder of Reynolda House Museum of American Art Publishes New Book About the Technology that Made Her Family Home a Modern Marvel
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (March 28, 2019) – As it often does in museums, it all started with a question from an inquisitive visitor: “What is that hole in the wall?” An unexpected gap in the tile baseboard of one of the six sleeping porches of the 1917 bungalow had caught their eye, and, at the time, museum staff weren’t sure what it was either. It was a question that remained unanswered until museum founder Barbara Babcock Millhouse unearthed a 1915 copy of “Country Life in America” a periodical that her grandmother, Katharine Smith Reynolds, would surely have been reading while she was building her new country estate called Reynolda.
In the magazine, an advertisement showed an illustration of a woman using one of the latest technologies: a central vacuum system that promised to “banish the drudgery of housework.” As soon as she saw the ad, Millhouse knew she had stumbled upon the answer to the visitor’s question and the beginnings of what would be a new book about her family home.
“Magazines at that time read like a textbook for Reynolda,” Millhouse says. “It was quickly evident through comparing the advertisement with what we were seeing at Reynolda that Katharine Reynolds had pipes installed in the walls through which dust and dirt were sucked into the basement, and this ‘hole’ was one of the outlets.”
Millhouse’s new book, “Comfort and Convenience: Early Technology at Reynolda, 1906-1924,” is full of such details about Reynolda as an example of modernity never before explored about the 101-year-old home. Chapters invite the reader to explore the importance of irrigation on the estate, the complexity of acquiring electricity for the farm and home, and the evolution of telephone communications. Rich with original photographs and blueprints, excerpts from interviews and reproductions of letters, and personal observations from Millhouse, the paperback is a unique complement to the library of books published about Reynolda over the years, including 2017’s “Reynolda: Her Muses, Her Stories,” about the museum’s American art collection.
In researching the book, Millhouse poured over periodicals and sales catalogs of the time including “Arts & Decoration,” “Ladies Home Journal” and “Country Life in America.” She also scoured the Estate Archives, housed at the museum, to discover dozens of letters from her grandmother to the home’s architect, Charles Barton Keen. In one early letter, Katharine Reynolds wrote of her desire for Reynolda’s stables, dairy, and garage to be “equipped with the very newest and best conveniences.” In guiding her architect’s designs for the main home, Reynolds stated “I am anxious for it to be a beautiful as well as a comfortable house.”
“I started out thinking this would be a brochure, and I ended up with a 167-page book,” Millhouse says. “Advances in household technology allowed the family and employees to benefit from greater comfort and convenience than had been available for the previous generation.”
Readers learn of Reynolda’s fur closet, ice cream room and the most recent discovery—the original iron kitchen range from Duparquet Huot & Moneuse. The range was rediscovered when a basement storage room next to the kitchen was converted into the curator’s office. In a section about electricity, an oral history recounts that Reynolda’s electrician was asked to install expensive electric bollard lights to illuminate the paths and steps around the bungalow. Katharine Reynolds told him, “Don’t tell Mr. Reynolds how much they cost – just go ahead and put them in there.”
“Comfort and Convenience” is available for purchase at Reynolda House Museum of American Art and later this spring in the Garden Boutique of Reynolda Gardens.
Reynolda, in Winston-Salem, N.C., is a rare gem among the nation’s cultural institutions and historic greenspaces. The 50-year-old museum at the center of Reynolda’s 180 acres, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, presents a renowned art collection in a historic and incomparable setting: the original 1917 interiors of the country manor of R. J. Reynolds. Spanning 250 years, the collection is an uncompromisingly selective one, a chronology of American art, with each artist represented by one work of major significance. The Reynolda experience includes a free app called Reynolda Revealed; touring exhibitions in the museum’s Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing; formal gardens, conservatory and walking trails of Reynolda Gardens; and more than 25 of the estate’s original buildings repurposed as shops and restaurants in Reynolda Village. Reynolda, located at 2250 Reynolda Road, is adjacent to and affiliated with Wake Forest University. For more information, please visit reynolda.org.