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Historic Coe Hall furnishings restored at Planting Fields

The Planting Fields celebrated its centennial in December

The Planting Fields celebrated its centennial in December 2013. To mark the occasion, 100 artifacts and works of art were acquired during 2013 to furnish the mansion, Coe Hall. The highlight is the return of Mai Coe's 1913 Steinway model B mahogany grand piano. Seated at the piano is Henry B. Joyce, executive director of The Planting Fields Foundation and standing is Gwendolyn L. Smith, curator. (Jan. 6, 2014) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

The foundation that operates the Coe Hall mansion at Planting Fields State Historic Park spent the past year replacing 100 of the historic structure's furnishings -- pieces dispersed to relatives almost six decades ago after the death of William Robertson Coe.

The Planting Fields Foundation, which leases and operates the mansion in Upper Brookville, raised $150,000 to mark the centennial of Coe's purchase of the property on Dec. 1, 1913, and make the mansion look more like it did when Coe and his wife, Mai, lived there.

Visitors will be able to see those new furnishings when the house is open on Jan. 25 and 26, and again on Feb. 22 and 23.

Besides filling in gaps in rooms already open to the public, the acquisitions -- none original to the house, but from the same period -- have allowed five previously empty rooms on the second and third floors to be seen by visitors for the first time, foundation executive director Henry Joyce said.

The foundation spent $27,000 of the money raised to have the manufacturer restore Mai Coe's Steinway 1913 model B mahogany grand piano, which had been stored on the property and was unplayable, with a cracked sound board and wobbly legs. After six months of work, the instrument is again the centerpiece of the Great Hall and is being used for concerts.

Coe sold the 409 acres to the state for $1 in 1949, six years before his death. When he died, his wife moved to a smaller house on the estate, which then became part of the state university system. The property became a park in 1971 and in the mid-1970s, Coe's grandson, Michael D. Coe, oversaw the transformation of 65-room Coe Hall into a historic house-museum.

Over the next 15 years, more than 70 original pieces of furniture were returned by family members, while another 300 period artifacts were acquired. But then redecorating stalled until foundation trustees embraced Joyce's idea for the centennial campaign. He and curator Gwendolyn Smith found appropriate pieces through antiques dealers, auctions and donors.

The most expensive acquisition was a rare French tapestry from about 1710 purchased for $15,000. The 13-by-10-foot artifact now hangs over the main staircase, where the Coes had a similar piece.

Another acquisition, for $10,000, is an Elizabethan four-poster oak bed from about 1600 that stands in for Coe's original bed. For Mai Coe's bedroom, the foundation commissioned an English firm to construct a replica of her French neoclassical style bed and other pieces.The foundation plans to acquire 400 more artifacts over the next few years to redecorate another six to eight empty rooms.

"The place needs to look gorgeous, and it looks better with more things in the rooms," Joyce said. "We have archival photographs from the early 1920s so we know exactly what Mr. Coe and his wife had in the house and can replicate that."

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