Ruthie Sommers is an interior designer and painter. Her work has appeared in Town & Country, Veranda, House Beautiful, Architectural Digest, and many other magazines. She splits her time between Aspen; Goleta, California; and Newport, where she spends every summer. Nick Mele is a lifestyle, fashion, commercial, and interiors photographer whose work has been featured in Town & Country, The New York Times, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and more, along with a roster of commercial clients such as Ralph Lauren, J. McLaughlin, and Lilly Pulitzer. Mele grew up in novelist Edith Wharton’s Newport house and divides his time between Newport in the summer and Palm Beach in the winter.
Sommers met Mele when she was buying some of his photos at an art show. His aesthetic is often described as a “modern-day Slim Aaron” – a photographer known for capturing beautiful people in beautiful places. Sommers hired Mele for a photoshoot and shared her idea of showcasing everyday life inside glorious old Newport homes, but “shoot the unrenovated kitchens and decaying butler pantries that were servicing the houses just fine, outdated but functional.” The concept morphed into a book proposal which the pair shopped around, getting the green light from Vendome Press, a publisher of illustrated books.
The result is A Newport Summer: Off Bellevue, a stunning collection of everyday life inside the grand Gilded Age houses that line Bellevue Avenue and top the city’s oceanside cliffs. These homes remain largely untouched by contemporary renovation and taste, with family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation with Yankee thrift. “We ran around Newport, asking, begging people to allow us into their lives,” Sommers shares.
“I’ve been taking photos during the summer in Newport for the better part of two decades, both for fun and work,” begins Mele. “I realized early on that there was something unique about the town and its people that set it apart from most summer resorts. A lot of the same families and homes have been here for generations. These families have a respect for tradition and a profound lack of pretense despite the large amount of wealth many of them possess. Having grown up here during the summers, I get to see and photograph a side of Newport that most people don’t.”
Divided into months June, July, August, and September, A Newport Summer is composed of pairings of stunning images and text offering peeks into parties, lawn tennis matches, beach clambakes, and family gatherings of the 1 percent.
For quintessentially Newport experiences, the collaborators offer their own, more accessible activities. “Walking the entire Cliff Walk, eating clam chowder at the Black Pearl, browsing the booths at Newport Flower Show, exploring the boats at the Boys and Girls Club’s Annual Yacht Hop, watching the horse-drawn coaches during Coaching Weekend, and flying kites at Brenton State Park,” Mele offers. For Sommers, it’s observing small moments: “Elderly friends share a giggle, sunset, tanned babies wrapped in towels, safe in their parent’s arms. Cooke House waiters racing around to serve people efficiently and kindly. Watching and listening to the hedge trimmers from Grasshopper [Landscaping Services] pruning our hedges as if they were painting a landscape – they are artisans, and the recipients of Newport get to be a part of the production daily.”
“To me, Newport is about community,” says Mele. “It’s all age groups commingling and socializing together. It’s about respecting your history and having an appreciation for what’s come before. Not everything that is new and renovated is better. It’s curated chaos and timeless American luxury.”
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