By Rebecca Migdal
Dick Reynolds’ desk and typewriter
Reynolda House is the country home of Katharine Smith Reynolds (1880–1924) and Richard “Dick” Joshua Reynolds (1850–1918), built in 1917. The house and its surrounding farms, gardens, and village were the realization of Katharine’s dream to “buy a great estate and… have a thousand cattle on a hill and flowers all around.”1 The entire house and the grounds are a product of Katharine’s ideas and work ethic. In the summer of 2012, I traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to investigate the furnishings of two rooms at Reynolda House—Mr. Reynolds’ Study and Mrs. Reynolds’ Study. The objects in the studies indicate boundaries between public and private space, social and business use, and male and female users within the home.
Visitors to Reynolda encounter the two studies in succession, learning the story of the manly tobacco magnate and his wife, the thoughtful woman who shaped Reynolda. Dick’s study is robust, with dark wood paneling and leather upholstery. It contains a typewriter, a safe, and has access to the outdoors. Katherine’s study is sweet, with pastels and plush upholstery, and is tucked in towards the heart of the house. By the time Reynolda was completed, though, Dick was too ill to ever use his study for anything other than a sick room.2 It would be Katharine who would use both studies.
Katharine was involved in all of the planning decisions for Reynolda—right down to how the telephone lines should run. The original plans by architect Charles Barton Keen are maintained in the Reynolda Archives and include “Mrs. Reynolds’ Den” and “Mr. Reynolds’ Den.” Large-scale and detailed, the plans illustrate much of what still exists at Reynolda; however, the plans also contain multiple notations and may not reflect exactly what was actually built in 1917. Katharine’s study, for example, was originally designed to have two entryways, one from the library in the central portion of the house and one from a landing off the stairs in the north wing. When constructed, however, the staircase access was omitted and Katharine’s study became more private.
Another useful reference is a 1922 inventory of the house following Katharine’s 1921 marriage to J. Edward Johnston, the former school superintendent at Reynolda. This inventory—along with a 1922 photograph of Katharine’s Study—form the best picture of how Katharine arranged her study and which elements of the design plans were included. Twelve items from the current Reynolda House have been identified with Katharine’s 1922 inventory. Twenty-one objects have been identified with Dick’s Study, called just “The Study” in 1922.
The decorative arts collection in each room has only recently been reviewed and cataloged by a team at Reynolda. Much of the research on the collection focuses on stylistic influences present in each room, while less attention is paid to the people and activities that occupied each. Three objects are of particular interest to my examination of how these rooms were used: Mrs. Reynolds’ desk, Mr. Reynolds’ desk, and a Remington Model 10 typewriter.
Katharine’s small, leather-top desk is covered almost entirely in parquetry of various patterns. It has a center drawer flanked by two sets of graduated side drawers with gilt metal pulls. Mock drawers are repeated on the opposite side. It has canted corners and square, tapered legs with brass caps. Although all of the pattern and construction on the desk consists of straight lines, the figure on the veneer and the canted corners give the desk a sense of softness and lightness. The desk appears in both the 1922 inventory and photograph, in which a chair is pulled up to either side of the desk.
One of the most fascinating pieces in these two rooms is Dick’s gothic revival oak desk with linen-fold carving and a band of carved Tudor roses, which is mimicked in the paneling of the room. The desk has specialized compartments for pencils, ledger books, and a typewriter. The fifteenth-century decoration is combined with twentieth-century usefulness in a way lauded by a February 1918 article in The New Country Life that describes furniture “admirably done in oak paneling which is vigorously carved with the Gothic-Tudor linenfold… [to] conceal substantial, modern and excellently usable interiors of shelves, drawers, sliding trays, or even writing desks.” This desk appears also in the 1922 inventory as “1 long antique typewriter desk-table.”
The prop Remington Model 10 typewriter is included in the display of Mr. Reynolds’ Study; it is based on correspondence between Katharine, her personal secretary Evie Crim, and the Remington Typewriter Company in the years surrounding the creation of Reynolda. These letters refer to a machine to be installed in her Winston-Salem home: a Remington Model 10 typewriter to be fitted to suit her and her secretary’s needs.3 Also in the Remington correspondence are details of what Katharine and her secretary envisioned for the typewriter stand, something they hoped the Remington Company would also supply. Remington Typewriter Company catalogs advertise furniture especially suited to use with typewriters, including both desks and chairs. The mechanisms in the Remington desks for adjusting between the typewriter and a flat surface are similar to the one in Mr. Reynolds’ typewriter desk, but the overall construction and effect are very different.4 Although the details Katharine and Evie outline are different than the existing desk, its design appears to be in direct response to the material constraints of the typewriter as well as the needs of Mrs. Reynolds and her secretary. As a specialized tool requiring some training to use, understanding the typewriter’s role at Reynolda may help understand the role of the studies and whether they were used for personal, family, estate, or company business.
The desks and typewriter are of especial interest because they are the most specific objects in each room—if not for them, the rooms could just be sitting rooms or parlors. In addition to the desks and typewriter, other furniture and objects, such as chairs, screens, lighting, and ashtrays, create additional boundaries within each room. Using the objects, I am examining how Katharine divided her attention and time between these two spaces, shared each room with other people, and how each study contributed to the management and life of the household and estate. The two rooms provide a case study for the boundaries embodied by architecture and furnishings between public and private, male and female.
I am grateful to the Decorative Arts Trust for enabling me to travel to North Carolina for this study. There, I was able to spend time getting to know the remarkable Katharine Smith Reynolds through both the collection objects and archives of Reynolda. I also owe my gratitude to the staff at Reynolda, especially Todd Crumley and Kim Sissons, who made my time at Reynolda more productive. I appreciate support from the Trust and welcome any comments regarding Reynolda, Remington Typewriters, or that nebulous space called the home-office! I can be contacted at email@example.com.
1 Catharine Howett, A World of Her Own Making (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007).
2 Reynolds Family Papers, 1787–1973, Reynolda Archives (RA), Reynolda House Museum of Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
3 Katharine Smith Reynolds Personal Correspondence [PC 194 2/144], Reynolda Archives.
4 Archives of the Advertising and Sales Promotion Department, 1876-1956, Remington Rand Corporation Records, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE.