Romer’s Rustic Retreat

Romer’s Rustic Retreat

Wallace, Katherine

A s time goes by, history often gets lost and is gone forever…

That was not the case with the Romer commission of Thomas Molesworth furniture located in Montana. The story begins in New York City in 1933 when, at the age of 63, publishing magnate John Irving Romer died on August 9, 1933, leaving an estate of more than a million dollars to his wife, Katherine Northam Romer. Katherine came from a wealthy family in Hartford, Connecticut, and was an energetic and well-traveled member of New York’s high society. Along with their 1115 Fifth Avenue apartment and home in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, she inherited from her late husband the responsibility to dispose of his shares of the trade magazine he ran—Printers Ink—of which she considered herself a “silent partner.”

Katherine wasted no time finding her way to the social pages in New York and beyond when the word got out in November 1935 that she had quietly re-married to Frank Hoyt Reyman four months earlier. Reyman was a dance instructor for Arthur Murray who she had met in Bermuda. She was 45 and he was 35, and their unlikely union made for a great story at the time. The marriage to Reyman ended in divorce by 1937 and Katherine soon met her next beau, Lyle Pressey, an army officer stationed in Las Vegas who was also 10 years her junior. Pressey was an avid hunter and marksman and soon became her live-in companion. They resided in Katherine’s home in Palm Springs, California, which was designed in 1939 by F. Nelson Breed, a well-known Wilton, Connecticut, architect. According to the 1940 census, she lived there with Pressey and several servants as well as a chef. She would go on to marry Pressey in 1942.

Katherine had a very active social life in Palm Springs and mingled with numerous Hollywood celebrities. At one of these gatherings she met Bing Crosby who owned the “Glory B” Ranch in Montana. Crosby introduced Katherine and Pressey to Montana and Katherine purchased 120 acres of land there in 1937 or 1938. On this property she built a house and second residence for her servants, as well as a skeet shooting range and various outbuildings, all designed by Nelson Breed, who had also designed the home for her and her first husband in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.


This Montana compound was soon furnished by Thomas Molesworth, who had been introduced to Katherine by the Browne Family, who owned the Spotted Bear Trading Post in Big Fork, Montana. Katherine was the ideal client for the Shoshone Furniture Company, as Molesworth was able to be involved from the start of the project. This is evident from the screened entrance door (lot 215) to the outdoor porch and the diorama (lot 219) installed in the wall, as well as door hardware, window valances and lighting. The extensive use of brightly colored leather and polychrome routed and painted motifs added life to the wood paneled main lodge. The floors were covered in Navajo rugs and Lyle Pressey’s hunting trophies and Native American artifacts decorated the walls.

This was also a project with no apparent budget, and this allowed Molesworth to design many ambitious and unique one-of-a-kind pieces. The liquor cabinet (lot 218) is a great example of this freedom, with its curved doors, overhanging top and leather wrapped drawers. It has beautiful balance and great functionality. Molesworth’s use of half-poles on the curved ends brings symmetry to the large case piece. He even incorporated a nod to Katherine’s former address at 1115 Fifth Avenue on a number of the window valances (lot 247), which display New York-inspired imagery. The “Buffalo Hunt” blanket chest (lot 238) is one of the only two known examples. Molesworth obtained the artwork from a WPA poster created by Louis Siegriest in 1939 for the Indian Court Exhibit at the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco and incorporated it along with Native American symbols and a mountain range backsplash. This chest is a brilliant example of the use of silhouettes to create a theme. The metal work and lighting are almost identical to the examples that were used in the Somers Commission, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, famously referred to as the “Old Lodge” and express the Native American imagery that Molesworth loved to use in his commissions.

Katherine’s comings and goings between her California and Montana homes were well-documented in the papers. Her ranch compound was the ultimate Western get-away: there she hosted all kinds of social events, from skeet shooting competitions to bridge club to lavish parties. The house was no doubt the favorite retreat for Hollywood celebrities and Palm Springs socialites escaping the summer heat until Katherine sold the property in the late 1940s. Since then, the interiors have remarkably remained largely intact even as ownership of the ranch changed, preserving a rich and colorful portrait of Molesworth’s original patron.


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