What: Naumkeag includes a beautiful home designed by McKim, Mead & White, as well as extensive garden rooms designed by noted landscape architect Fletcher Steele in collaboration with former owner Mabel Choate.
Fall sighting: The Art Deco Blue Steps are even more eye-catching in autumn, when the leaves on the paper birch trees have turned a spectacular golden yellow and their peeling white bark provides a stark contrast. It’s one of the best moments in landscape architecture in the U.S.
What: Just a few miles from Naumkeag, this grand estate was writer Edith Wharton’s beloved home in the Berkshires. It’s a National Historic Landmark and cultural center that celebrates her intellectual, artistic and humanitarian legacy. She put her architectural principles into practice on the house with assistance from Ogden Codman Jr. and around the grounds with assistance from her niece, iconic landscape architect Beatrix Farrand.
Fall sighting: While there are always a lot of intellectual events happening at The Mount, there are also ghost tours! Gear up for Halloween by checking out the notoriously haunted parts of The Mount.
Also this fall, The Mount has teamed up with SculptureNow to display large-scale contemporary sculptures on the property through the end of October.
What: This is place where Henry David Thoreau got really transcendental. This famous Thoreau quote from his book Walden Pond greets visitors on a sign:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Fall sighting: The reflection of the trees’ riot of color on the pond will get you feeling downright transcendental yourself.
Although the little cabin near the parking lot at Walden Pond is just a replica of Thoreau’s original cabin, it gives you a good idea of the school of thought that was an early precursor to today’s tiny-house movement.
While you’re in town: Check out the Gropius House in nearby Lincoln, Massachusetts.
New Canaan, Connecticut
What: This beautiful Connecticut town (you may recognize it from the movie The Ice Storm) is full of iconic modern gems, but perhaps the most glittering is Philip Johnson’s Glass House, built in 1949.
Fall sighting: Being able to see the silhouettes of the canopy trees through the house is a special experience and shows you how much the feeling of the house changes with the seasons because of how open it is to its surroundings.
Also this fall, The Glass House is featuring two exhibitions. One is the first public installation anywhere of the complete set of Robert Indiana’s One Through Zero, 6-foot-high Cor-Ten steel sculptures that were conceived in 1980 and executed in 2003. The 10 sculptures are in a field just to the south of The Glass House. The second is Lynn Davis: On Ice, a selection of photographs from the artist’s longstanding engagement with the icebergs on the sea outside Ilulissat, a small town on the edge of a glacier off the west coast of Greenland. The shows run through Nov. 10.
While you’re in town: You can book a driving tour with Modern House Man, Jack Trifero, of a handful of homes by the “Harvard Five” — Johnson, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, John Johansen and Eliot Noyes — architects who put their mark on New Canaan.
What: Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and built in 1951, the Farnsworth House was Johnson’s inspiration for The Glass House (Johnson built his faster). Located along the Fox River, the home floats 5 feet above the land. Despite fights with his patron about things like curtains and closets, van der Rohe’s design is a fine example of his “less is more” philosophy.
Fall sighting: Bringing nature into the house was a Miesian principle; he did not want elements of the architecture or interior design to distract from nature or muck up the views through the house. The surrounding landscape is a crucial part of the home’s design. In fact, the architect sited the house in deference to an existing sugar maple tree. Seeing a carpet of colorful leaves surrounding the house in the flood plain is one fantastic fall sight.
While you’re in town: Hop across the river for a hike in Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area, a 1,350-acre preserve. The park offers a 4-mile hike that will take you along the river and through the woods. For a shorter stroll, observe the wildlife by taking the 1-mile path through the 45-acre prairie restoration area.
Mill Run, Pennsylvania
What: Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece boldly cantilevers over a rushing waterfall and is one of the most famous homes in America. In fact, it was already famous before the construction was completed in 1937. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
Fall sighting: Although you won’t want to miss the interior tour, there is also a 1½-mile hike you can take around the Bear Run Nature Preserve. This setting was such a huge part of the inspiration for the home’s design that becoming more familiar with it will enhance your experience of this magical place. Be sure to pack good hiking shoes since the terrain is rugged. The hike takes about 1½ hours.
While you’re in town: One of the last houses Wright designed, Kentuck Knob, is open to the public and is just 7 miles from Fallingwater. And another Wright design, Duncan House at Polymath Park, is also open for tours. It is in Acme, Pennsylvania, about a 35-minute drive from Fallingwater.
More info: You will need to buy tickets for tours in advance by visiting Fallingwater.org or by calling visitor services at (724) 329-8501. Also note that, according to the website, children under 6 are not permitted on tours.
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
What: Pierre S. du Pont purchased the struggling arboretum and farm in 1906 primarily to save the trees on the property from a lumber company. But the acquisition of this property and what became his summer home turned into a much bigger project with extensive formal gardens, conservatories, spectacular fountains, a grotto, a theater and more. Today it primarily serves as botanical gardens.
Fall sighting: This article by Houzz contributor Benjamin Vogt will get you excited about the meadow at Longwood, which is a big departure from its formal gardens and conservatories. “What’s new about the meadow? A hundred thousand native flower and grass plugs, 1,100 native trees and shrubs, 110 new plant species and 95 identified bird species,” Vogt wrote. Opened in 2014, the meadow was designed by landscape architect Jonathan Alderson and is a wonderful spot to take in the colors of the grasses, shrubs and trees, as well as bird-watch. You can tour the beautiful stone Webb Farmhouse here, which dates back to the 1700s and serves as an interpretive center.
Also, the gardens have added illuminated fountain performances at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28. More than 1,700 fountain jets are illuminated in a rainbow of colors and “dance” to different songs by artists from Gershwin to Ke$ha (check the calendar to pick your favorite genre).
What: Hillwood is the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, which now serves as a museum full of Post’s art collection, which she wanted to share with the world. In 1950, she hired landscape architects Umberto Innocenti and Richard Webel to help her achieve her vision of extensive gardens around the house that would offer seasonal interest year-round. There are 13 acres of formal gardens.
Fall sighting: Hillwood’s grounds include the French Parterre, Adirondack Building, Four Seasons Overlook, Friendship Walk, Lunar Lawn and more. The Japanese garden is especially beautiful in the fall.
What: Thomas Jefferson built his Palladian mansion where the Piedmont meets the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Fall sighting: Standing atop “the little mountain,” you can see the collage of canopy trees of central Virginia for miles (with a few fields, wineries and the unsightly development on Pantops Mountain mixed in). Maple, oak, tulip poplar and ash trees provide a range from deep golds to oranges to reds. Black gums are this former Charlottesvillian’s personal native fall favorite. When you arrive, I recommend walking up from the visitors center. If you are up for a longer uphill hike, park down at the Route 20 parking lot and take the 2-mile Saunders-Monticello Trail up to the visitors center, then complete the walk up to the house.
While you’re in town: You can also check out James Monroe’s home, Highland, just up the road. And fall is the best time to stroll down The Lawn at the University of Virginia, also designed by Jefferson.
Asheville, North Carolina
What: Standing proudly in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Biltmore is a 250-room chateau commissioned by George Vanderbilt. Construction was completed in 1895.
Fall sighting: The Biltmore’s setting is spectacular at every turn, with extensive grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. But be sure to catch the Walled Garden full of mums and other colorful fall plants. My favorite part of the house tour was not the opulent rooms upstairs, but rather the basement, which has an aesthetic that’s partDownton Abbey, part Wes Anderson movie.