The Coaching Tradition: Inspiration for a Collection
We have the privilege of designing furniture and supervising reproductions for The Preservation Society of Newport County and furniture makers E. J. Victor. One of the traditions we have aimed to capture is furniture in the spirit of the great horse coaches that still roll, albeit only on special occasions, through the streets of the country’s oldest resort.
One of the most successful designs is the "coaching bed" which I developed with Christa Kelly, one of the designers here in our studio, John Jokinen of E.J. Victor, and Cynthia O’Malley of The Preservation Society of Newport County.
The inspiration for the bed derives from the 19th-century custom of employing coach painters to redecorate the serviceable furniture of the 18th century, which was eminently usable but superficially out of style. Skilled coach painters enhanced and many times made the furniture far more beautiful by adding fresh colors and striping the furniture with paint (this striping is like the detail found on fancy cars today). The furniture was literally, as historians say, “coach painted.”
With this collection, we have the luxury of being able to offer the design in custom finishes. Much like those who could afford a coach, this furniture can be had in different colors including red, green, yellow, and white.
The coaching bed is based on the classic form of English and American four poster beds, but was specifically inspired by a coach displayed at Kingscote, one of the great American houses. (Please forgive this further piece of self promotion, as the dining room at Kingscote will be featured in my forthcoming book, “The Finest Rooms in America.”)
Also in the coaching collection is another favorite of mine, a side table based on an original table at The Breakers.
The tradition of coaching began in England in the 18th and 19th centuries, the concept taking inspiration from the horse-drawn mail coach. Those coaches were eventually replaced by railroads and automobiles, but nostalgia led to the development of coaching as a sport.
The pastime made its way to the United States and Newport where coaching became an important part of the social fabric. The Vanderbilts, the Belmonts, the Westmores, the Bells, and other notable families of the gilded age participated in this "sport.’"
Every three years, the coaching tradition is on display when The Preservation Society of Newport County hosts a Coaching Weekend by parading 12 historic coaches by their great mansions, a sight that easily recalls an earlier age. Much as this event does, our collection of coaching furniture seeks to celebrate and further this august tradition.
From top: coaching bed and armoire from The Preservation Society of Newport County collection from E. J. Victor furniture; coaches from late 19th century, next nightstand from the coaching collection at E. J. Victor, images taken by Christa Kelly of the coach from Kingscote at Newport that inspired the coaching collection; the last coaching weekend held at Newport in 2006.