House Lust: Inside Normandie, a Storybook Mansion in the City by the Sea

The extraordinary country house was built for an equally extraordinary woman.

Houses are vessels for stories: of people, of places, of snapshots in time. And Normandie, a wistful Norman-style mansion on Newport’s craggy coast, is no different.

The 1914 estate, which hit the market last week with Gustave White Sotheby’s, was designed by architectural firm Delano and Aldrich in collaboration with its owner, philanthropist Lucy Wortham James. But there’s more to the story here; our heroine wasn’t always a beautiful, witty, poor-of-health divorcee with a big inheritance and a charitable streak.

Lucy’s story begins a few years before she was born, when her family’s Missouri iron works business went bust and, wholly fallen from grace, they filed for bankruptcy. In an effort to make ends meet, her father turned to the fur trade and opened a shop in South Dakota. Lucy spent her childhood in Sioux country but, when her mother died when she was a young teen, the fur trader’s daughter was whisked into New York high society under the wing of a wealthy great uncle. There, she studied art and literature and music and, eventually, she traveled to Vienna to further her education in piano.

Her musical dreams were dashed by a bad bout of tuberculosis, the same disease that took her mother, and so she married a diplomat — an unhappy pairing, so it seems, but not without purpose — and moved to Japan for a time, where she charmed a revolving door of dignitaries on her husband’s behalf. In 1912, the childless couple returned to the U.S., where Lucy won a promotion for her husband simply by asking for it; she was that good.

But, on a trip to South America, she suffered extreme altitude sickness and never fully recovered. Before long, the marriage was over and, like many society couples at that time, they headed to Reno for a speedy, under-the-radar divorce. There, her ex-husband met a new woman, whom he married almost immediately. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t last. Notwithstanding, I invite you to join me in my resentment.)

At this point, Lucy was probably ready to stare out at the sea, alone, for a good long while. With an inheritance from her late uncle, she commissioned a windswept summer house with sturdy whitewashed brick and orange tile roofs and a charming, but uncompromising, gatehouse and a private pebbly beach all her own — or, Lucy’s version of peace on Earth.

Here’s your (and Lucy’s) House Lust:

For more information on Normandie, contact Gustave White Sotheby’s Paul Leys at 401-849-3000 or visit gustavewhite.com.

 

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