The Origin of Cheekwood
What is one to do if a singular piece of furniture is too big to fit in one’s home? Build a bigger house, of course! The origin of Cheekwood, as a concept, is traced to a family story involving Mabel Cheek making sure her husband, Leslie Cheek, Sr., kept his word to build a bigger house that could hold a gilt mirror, too tall for their current home in the 1920s. Cheek allegedly told his wife, “I suppose we will have to either sell the mirror or a build a house to fit it in.” After reciting these options, the couple set out to combine their tastes, interests, and family names “Cheek” and “Wood,” the maiden name of Mabel Cheek, into the design of a grand estate, to be called “Cheekwood.”
The Cheeks appointed architect Bryant Fleming of Ithaca, New York, to design all of what would become Cheekwood. In addition to the design and construction of a house, the gardens, surrounding landscape, and all of the necessary buildings were assigned to Fleming, who was a great talent in both landscape and structural architectural design.
Fleming had commissions from across the country, as well as in Tennessee. He designed and developed gardens, homes, and estates for individuals such as Andrew Carnegie, Stephen C. Clark, Roy Chapin, William E. Scripps, and Robert Carrier. Upon receiving the Cheek assignment, Fleming and the Cheeks set off for England to study the architecture and interiors of great English country estates, and to acquire antique furnishings, decorative objects, and historic, architectural elements that would go in to the construction of Cheekwood. The voyage began in the Spring of 1929 and lasted several months. Upon return, the entirety of acquired architectural elements were delivered by way of five train cars—not including the numerous furniture and fine art purchases.
As preparations for construction began in 1929, it was not until 1932 that the Cheeks were finally able to call Cheekwood “home.” The 36 – room house (excluding service quarters) included eleven bedrooms, twelve bathrooms, two elevators, a hidden staircase, and a library to hold the collection of two thousand books the Cheeks amassed. Suites of rooms created for son, Leslie Cheek Jr., daughter, Huldah Cheek, and Mrs. Cheek’s mother, Huldah Wood, were furnished with antique 17th and 18th century-style English furnishings, creating an atmosphere of old-world elegance.
Over the next twelve years, the Cheeks hosted family and friends, entertained celebrities, and threw lavish parties
What is an American Country Place Era Estate?
The American Country Place Era movement began in the late 19th-century following the success of the Industrial Revolution, which garnered great fortunes for many American entrepreneurs. With this newly established wealth, many individuals chose to build vast estates in the country, away from the increasingly over-crowded urban metropolitans. Estates built during this time period were designed to express affluence in many different forms; the domestic structure would be large and imposing, formal gardens were grand as well as intricate, and the views from and of the property were untouched except for the splendors of nature.
The individuals who designed these great estates were often just as notable as the wealthy barons who built them. Creating a place that had beauty, as well as a sense of tranquility, was only part of the motive of these extravagant residential undertakings. According to the Cultural Landscape Foundation of America, “[d]esigners worked in close partnership with clients to create extravagant gardens inspired by European and Asian precedents in order to lend a sense of tradition, age, and affluence to what, in many cases, was ‘new money.’ Taking inspiration from European Beaux-Arts design styles, there was a return to symmetry and more formal geometries. Instigated in part by the vast fortunes industrialization created for the wealthy, for most this era ended abruptly with the onset of the Depression.” The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Why is Cheekwood Considered One of the Finest?
Bryant Fleming, the architect of both the house and the surrounding landscape, developed a symbiotic relationship between the views of the house from the grounds and the view from the grounds of the house. Fleming created areas such as the Arbor, known as the Wisteria Arbor, where the Cheekwood landscape is framed as beautifully as a painting.
Due to the foresight of Leslie Cheek, Sr. in 1928, the property he purchased abutting a state park to create Cheekwood means the historic views are intact today. The tract of land where Cheekwood resides shares nearly 75% of its perimeter with The Warner Parks, managed by the Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation of Nashville and Davidson County. Due to the conservation efforts of Warner Parks, Cheekwood is only one of a few examples of American Country Place Era estates that retain their purposeful views.