Tag: Nancy Lancaster

A Rich Life: Colefax & Fowler

       The Great 20th Century Design Firm

Possibly the 20th century’s most universally admired room




 By Megan McKinney


Yes, the above is Nancy Lancaster’s fabulously famous Yellow Room at 22 Avery Row in London. But we’ll get to that later in this final segment of our A Rich Life: The Trees series.

When Ronnie Tree sold the house at 123 East 79th Street, he replaced it with a handsome maisonette at One Sutton Place South. The four-bedroom cooperative in the 1927 Rosario Candela-designed showplace would be his New York base—and Marietta’s—for the remainder of their respective lives.

From that time on, every night she spent in New York, until her 1991 death at 74, Marietta’s view of the 59th Bridge from her One Sutton Place South windows projected late 1930’s Hollywood’s fantasy of how the rich live in New York.

The sleek black and white marble floors of her entrance gallery would remain long after Marietta’s departure.

Now on to the great 20th century English interior design firm that had come into the Tree realm in the 1940’s.


No Rich Living series of the 20th century would be complete without a discussion of Colefax & Fowler. Sibyl Colefax was well connected and had great style. In 1930—after losing money in the Wall Street crash of the year before—she began decorating for friends who ranged from British royalty through the aristocracy and upper classes to celebrities at the Charles Chaplin and Cole Porter level.

In 1939, the demands of Lady Colfax’ business became so great that she brought into her company the talented interior designer John Fowler—a man with great artistic skills, as well as taste and a sense of history. She re-named the firm Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler.

Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, 39 Brook Street.

In the 1940’s, Ronnie Tree suggested that Nancy, his soon to be former wife—but still great friend—buy Colefax & Fowler.

It was a decade that brought Nancy a change of husbands and names, from Tree to Lancaster, and a new business with a challenging colleague. As her aunt Lady Astor remarked, Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler were “the most unhappy unmarried couple in England.” But what a team they were!

The Yellow Room wasn’t the only hidden portion of the old Colefax & Fowler on Brook Street. There was a secret garden behind the shop.

In 1957, three years after she purchased Haseley Court, Nancy sold her London house.  Now requiring an intown pied-à-terre, she took a 25-year lease on a small cluster of rooms above 39 Brook Street. The address was 22 Avery Row. The room’s color, “a startling, glossy yellow,” was John Fowler’s idea. However, there was much more to it, as anyone who has seen images of the room after the departure of Nancy, with her unique assemblage of furniture and fittings, can testify.


This is the final segment in  Publisher Megan McKinney’s eight-part series  A Rich Life with the Trees. Previous segments can be found in the Classic Chicago  archives in the right margin of every Classic Chicago page under Great Chicago Fortunes.


Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Author Photo: Robert F. Carl




A Rich Life: The Lambert Trees




By Megan McKinney



Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire, England

Chicago’s Tree family lived well, so well that it will take the next eight or so weeks for us to adequately view their enviable dwellings and remarkable lives. It started off relatively modestly in the 19th century, but, as their story progresses, you will explore with us, for example, the house about which the May 2018 issue of Town & Country magazine asked, Is Heron Bay in Barbados the Most Exquisite House in the World?

Credit: Architecture & Design in Barbados

Before Heron Bay, Ronnie Tree’s mid-20th century Palladian house in Barbados, there would be many other glorious Tree dwellings throughout the English-speaking world.

We will have such residences as the Ogden Codman French Renaissance Revival style town house on New York’s Upper East Side.

As well as this grand entry carved into an antebellum Virginia plantation house and such English estates as Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire, below, with Nancy Lancaster’s sumptuous interiors.

An Alexandre Serebriakoff watercolor of The Blue Drawing Room, Ditchley Park

During the early years of World War II. when the “moon was high,” Winston Churchill’s country retreat, Chequers, became visible to enemy aircraft. On these weekends, the Prime Minister would stay as guest of third generation Trees at Ditchley Park, smoking his cigars late at night in the room above. But we will come to that in a later issue.

The family patriarch was Judge Lambert Tree, a Washington D.C. native with a law degree from the University of Virginia. After moving out to Chicago, he married, in 1859, Anna Josephine Magie, daughter of Chicago pioneer H. H. Magie.

A distinguished Chicago citizen, Judge Tree’s great wealth came from real estate and his name continues to be known through the Tree Studio complex on Chicago’s Near North Side.

The Lambert Trees and their only child, Arthur, lived in the mansion above at 94 Cass Street, now Wabash. Among their neighbors were the Joseph Medills, Edward T. Blairs and Cyrus Hall McCormicks. Arthur Tree would marry a Chicago contemporary but not a North Side neighbor.

Growing up in elegance at another fashionable Chicago address,1905 South Prairie Avenue, was Ethel Field, daughter of department store tycoon Marshall Field.

Although the Field parents were at war with each other, they indulged Ethel and her brother, Marshall Jr. In 1886, when the Fields hosted the Mikado Ball for 17-year-old Marshall Jr. and 14-year-old Ethel, it was the most elaborate private event Chicago had seen. The party was catered by Sherry’s of New York and required two private railroad cars to bring in linen, silver and gourmet food at a cost of $75,000. More than 400 guests attended the ball and received party favors designed by the painter James McNeill Whistler.

Albertine Huck

Marshall Jr. married Chicagoan Albertine Huck in 1890 and they settled in an English country estate, spending only a few months a year in their Chicago house at 1919 Prairie Avenue.

On January 1, 1891, Marshall Field Jr’s 17-year-old sister Ethel married Arthur Tree in an opulent ceremony held at the Fields’ Prairie Avenue house. Although Ethel and Arthur were both Chicagoans, they had met during a foxhunt in England. Both preferred that country to their own and, after their marriage, they commissioned English architect Edward Goldie to design Ashorne Hill, a Warwickshire estate neighboring that of Marshall Jr. and Albertine.

Ashorne Hill  

The Arthur Trees’ first two children, Gladys and Lambert, died in infancy, leaving only Ronald Arthur Lambert Field Tree, known throughout his life as Ronnie.


Ronnie Tree is the central figure in Megan McKinney’s Classic Chicago series, A Rich  Life: The Trees . He will lead us into the coming segment, sub-titled Marshall Field’s Unruly Daughter.


Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Author Photo: Robert F. Carl