Bunny Mellon, née Rachel Lowe Lambert, was not just a social figure. She was also a great landscape and interior designer at the intersection of history and style. Born on Madison Avenue in 1910 and living for 103 years, she saw both World Wars, the Great Depression, and the halcyon days of the American Century.
She attended the Black and White Ball, frequently traveled with Givenchy or Schlumberger, visited Hyannis with the Kennedys (for whom she designed the White House Rose Garden and, tragically, the grave at Arlington National Cemetery), and hosted a tea for Queen Elizabeth II when she visited America shortly after her coronation. Over several decades, Bunny and her second husband, philanthropist and racehorse breeder Paul Mellon, hosted a series of openings at Washington’s National Gallery of Art (the expansion of which they made possible) and even hired Bobby Short to sing at a cocktail party at their New York City home, mere blocks from the Carlyle.
That was one Bunny Mellon.
The other was content in mud boots, with her trusted pair of loppers under her arm and her curls (coiffed at home for hundreds of dollars) cascading from her Balenciaga bucket hat as she snipped flowers and ordered trees to be moved and hills to be re-graded. Whichever Bunny she was, she approached the task at hand—whether party or planting—with elegance and certainty.
Recently, Vogue spoke to Mac Griswold, author of I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise: A Life of Bunny Mellon, about Mrs. Mellon’s legacy, her views on fame, her relationship to art and design, and much more. Read the full interview below.
Vogue: How did you first meet Bunny Mellon?
Mac Griswold: Bunny was just another parent when Eliza Lloyd [Mellon’s daughter] and I went to Foxcroft as freshmen in 1956. Only after Christmas, when she took the two of us to a Broadway musical that spoofed Broadway musicals, did I first glimpse Bunny’s understated wit and her playful world. She knew Gershwin, the Astaires—she knew them all, it turned out—and she said nothing about that at the show.