Ralph Harvard, Ralph Harvard, Inc
Colonial Revival house designed by William L. Bottomley (1883–1951) with Salem, Massachusetts chairs and Baltimore, Maryland table
Interior of a 1780s Annapolis, Maryland house with a ca. 1730 Virginia slab table and British chair
Colonial Revival house designed by Philip Shutze (1890–1982) with carving by Herbert Millard (1885–1978)
Folly near Williamsburg, Virginia with Henry Popple’s map of America, ca. 1733
Ralph Harvard, antiquarian and design professional in New York, will lead us through the special challenges of working with an eccentric crew of collectors of both decorative arts and period houses. We are likely to see ourselves, or aspects of our collecting propensities, in the quirks and passions of Ralph Harvard’s clients.
The walls of a folly in Virginia feature rare and superlative 18th century maps, while a summer house has a splendid collection of New England furniture “in the black.” A New York apartment is furnished with Philadelphia rococo furniture and family portraits of Persian rulers from the 19th century. One client’s collection of Chippendale furniture began with Irish furniture as “Philadelphia on the cheap.” Many of the collections handled by Ralph Harvard are the product of international trade and cross-pollination among American, European and Asian cultures, but they almost always reflect the clients’ collecting sensibilities, the “chaos” upon which Ralph Harvard imposes order through good design.
Ralph Harvard’s work stands out from the crowded field of design in many respects. His signature groundwork for decoration is restoration, preservation and renovation of period buildings, particularly 18th century or Colonial Revival architecture. His interior design is seamlessly integrated with the architectural spaces. Interiors are detailed, but not cluttered; restrained, but not afraid of color; displaying fine proportions and sharp silhouettes. His firm’s extraordinary range of services also includes counseling clients in the acquisition and care of antiques and fine art. A “Washington Post” article described a Harvard-designed project in Annapolis, Maryland as having “the look of impeccable taste and old money.”
Ralph Harvard’s projects include the Miles Brewton House (1769) in Charleston, South Carolina; the pattern-book inspired Dulaney House (1783) in Alexandria, Virginia; Cottage Garden, a 1792 cottage with Greek Revival overlay, in Natchez, Mississippi; and Thomas Jefferson’s private quarters at Monticello (begun 1769), near Charlottesville, Virginia. This presidential collector - and former ambassador to France — once had America’s premier collection of French furniture, as well as archaeological remains and artifacts from the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Ralph Harvard precociously began his professional career at age 16 when he documented and photographed historic houses for the Virginia Landmarks Commission. By age 19, he worked as an archaeologist at Carter’s Grove Plantation for Colonial Williamsburg. He spent summer vacations helping restore several buildings in Yorktown, Virginia for the National Park Service. Ralph Harvard earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia’s architecture school, complemented by study at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a degree in interior design from the College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. After teaching, and restoring numerous houses, Ralph Harvard moved to New York in 1981 to establish his eponymous, and distinguished, interior design firm.
He was president of the American Friends of the Georgian Group. Mr. Harvard now serves as vice president of the Decorative Arts Trust and on the advisory board of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. Mr. Harvard’s contributions to The Magazine Antiques are “Living with Antiques: Mississippi Rococo” (January/February 2011) and “A Baroque Virginia Treasure House: Landon Carter’s Sabine Hall” (April 2008). He described his work on Blue Ridge Farm in “Lifestyle: A Virginia Country Estate” for Antiques & Fine Art (Summer/Autumn 2008).