Circa 1920s Elegance: A Walk Through Atlanta’s Swan House

I often travel alone, either for business or just to chase after one tame little adventure or another, and to me—an extreme introvert—there are few experiences that are more freeing, more energizing, than a solo sight-seeing tour.  Over the years, many a well-meaning extrovert has asked me if I ever get lonely on these trips, and some have even offered sympathy as a balm to the melancholy  they assume I must feel when venturing out by myself.  I can already picture my introverted readers nodding their heads knowingly and smiling; they can attest, as can I, to the fact that most introverts are almost immune to loneliness.  When I’m walking through a jetway, little carry-on bag in hand and surrounded by the white noise of strangers’ conversations all around me, my mind isn’t quiet.  I may look small and still while waiting to board that plane, but ideas are snapping in my head like rapid fire.    I’m dreaming of adventure, of what’s next, of what could be.  I’m inventing a different kind of life for myself that will only last for the duration of the trip, but will sustain me later, through my memories of it, when the winter sets in and real life takes a hard, sharp turn.

I do enjoy traveling with people, too (I’m headed to Florida in three weeks with a party of eight!), but when you travel with others, the experience is almost entirely lived externally, through both conversation and compromise.  When you’re alone, you have the luxury of time and silence, which permits you to immerse yourself in your surroundings.  You step into a new scene and are automatically intellectually and emotionally engaged.  The details are fully present, and before long they begin to arrange themselves into stories that only you will read.

Such was the case this last week when I visited Swan House in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, Georgia.  I was in Atlanta on business, but I arrived early enough on Sunday to pack in a full day of touring.  I almost literally jumped off the plane, ran to the Hertz counter to pick up a rental car, grabbed a chicken pesto sandwich from La Madeleine for a solitary and fantastic picnic lunch, headed directly to Swan House, and melted into the dream of another era.

The rear facade of the Swan House in Atlanta, so called because of the many swans painted or sculpted on the grounds. The design of the house was executed by Philip Trammell Shutze and was completed in 1928. It is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Swan House is reached on foot from a large visitor center and museum not far away.  I walked through gardens first, past beautiful walls with a series of urns on them.   I like these types of destination walks;  you can literally feel yourself detaching from reality with every step.

Swan House Gardens
One of the walled gardens at Swan House.

The house became visible very gradually until—ta-da!—I rounded a corner and met with a large and eye-popping reveal.   I’ve always had a fascination with the 1920s (remember, that’s when Downton Abbey left off!).   I love the ethereal (if shapeless) fashions, the bobbed hairstyles, the diamonds and marcasite, the long, long, long strands of pearls, the flouncy fringe and the blunt high heels.  In a stately mansion like Swan House, I imagined a lifestyle so refined that it couldn’t even be approximated today.  

Swan House Garden

Swan House Garden
I sat in this garden a long while. The temperature was in the low 80s, but the humidity was so thick you could almost see it in the air. It drove the other tourists indoors, so I had this amazing space all to myself to enjoy in quiet like the original owners must have 90 years ago.

Swan House Garden

Swan House Rear Facade
I love, love, love this. What an entrance.

And now it’s time to go inside.  The first thing you see when you go in is a beautiful entry with a huge, spiral staircase.  From that entry you can enter rooms on both sides.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more elegant space.  Every time I  turned my head I saw a perfect little composition of furniture,  fabric, and decorative objects.  I hardly knew where to aim my camera.  I’m not the best photographer in the world, so my pictures don’t really do these rooms justice.  Just imagine everything more colorful, bright, and vivid.  Sigh.

Swan House Entry

Swan House

Swam House
Here’s a stunner. The light fixtures in this home are spectacular. This is a detail shot of the chandelier in the dining room.

Swan House

Swan House
My blog posts would be far more interesting and poetic if I could work in a home office/library like this!
Swan House
Detail of the library wall sconces. There were several of these throughout the room.
Swan House
Breakfast room off the main entrance.
Swan House
The morning room.

Swan House
This is a corner of the butler’s pantry in front of the kitchen. I posted additional pictures of this pantry on instagram. Imagine storing all of your treasured dishes, silver, and linens in cases like this.

And now let’s head back into that beautiful entry and amazing staircase. (Mind, though, that you don’t sit for a spell on the chairs.  Look, but don’t touch!)

Swan House

Swan House
Master bedroom, and, below, bathroom. Sigh. I mean honestly, sigh.

Swan House

Let’s head back outside…

Swan House

Swan House

You can see how an introverted storyteller like me could be captivated by Swan House as a dramatic backdrop.  One thing I learned  is that this setting has attracted Hollywood as well.  Swan House was one of the locations used for filming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2.  (No, I haven’t seen these films.  Now, for the first time, I want to!).

Check me out on Instagram for more pics of Swan House.  I’ll have more on Atlanta in Wednesday’s post: A visit to Margaret Mitchell’s apartment.

Until then…

Jennifer Passariello