The House That Rossiter Built
By Nichole Dupont
“What’s funny about the house is that you could drive down that road and not even know that it’s there,” says longtime builder/contractor Sean Woodward, who’s been working in Washington, Connecticut for some 30 years now. “The house” he is referring to is the Vaillant house, after the family who owned it for more than a century and who are all descendants of decoration artist Louis David Vaillant. More than three years ago, the remaining Vaillants gathered their votes and decided that it was time to sell the 8-bedroom, three-season Italian villa, one of the first homes in the area designed by famed architect and almost-native son Ehrick Rossiter.
“It was left in such serious disrepair it was like walking into Grey Gardens,” says listing agent Stacey Matthews of the Matthews Group. “A disaster. But a gorgeous disaster. It has this amazing magical quality that’s just not typical New England.”
Woodward says despite the neglected condition of the house and grounds — “They’re artists, it happens a lot with artists” — he saw the property as the gem of Litchfield County and drew up a plan to renovate the impressive Italianate beauty while keeping the integrity of the era. Of course, no investor was biting at his plans, chased away by the overwhelming to-do list of necessary repairs. Woodward managed to convince one couple, Suzanne and Douglas Day (he helped them design and construct an addition for a farmhouse) who were in the market to buy, but that didn’t go well either.
“We didn’t even get out of the car,” says Suzanne, laughing. “We specifically wanted ‘move-in’ condition and this house was definitely not that. It needed some love for sure. But [Sean’s] enthusiasm was contagious to us. He was very familiar with the house and he really helped us to see this vision.”
The vision is lovely, to say the least. Woodward took careful steps to make sure that Rossiter’s signature was not erased in the renovation process. In fact, the builder may have even added some of the famed architect’s flourishes back into the 1910 house during the two-year process in which most of the interior was stripped down to the studs.
Dining room, before
“It was like a time capsule to walk through the house,” Woodward recalls. “What was strange is that it was the most modest in town that Rossiter did. It was very plain and had very little crown molding, which was surprising to me. I used a lot of ideas from his other houses to create some of the details in this house.”
Dining room, after
While the footprint of the original structure was not altered much, the Days settled on a more open floor plan on the first floor and to turn the eight bedrooms into five upstairs. There is geothermal heat running throughout the near 6,700-square-foot villa and original fireplaces throughout, as well as original doors, hardware and even a dumbwaiter. The décor, much of it done by Philip Gorrivan (who helped the Days do an overhaul of a NYC apartment), while modern and vibrant, is still very authentic, so much so that it would be very possible for the ghost of Vaillant, or even Rossiter himself, to wander the rooms and not feel out of place. They would, however, be surprised, if not delighted by the full scale, bricked-in wine cellar and media room that has replaced the dirt floor crawl space of the house’s underbelly.
“I think now you get the full scale of the house,” Day says. “It does look like it matches up now. It’s grander, probably closer to when it was first built.”
Of course, the Days love the Italian beauty they’ve called home for the past three years, especially, says Suzanne, the “well-wishers who were brought to tears when they found out the house was finally getting renovated.”
“But, my husband and I like projects. And we’re ok with that.”
The Days are on the hunt for their next project (which, no doubt, Woodward will be a part of) and in the meantime have just put the Vaillant house on the market for a hearty $7.9 million.
“This is the best house in Litchfield County. Period. It’s a pleasure to show,” Matthews says with some irony, remembering three years back. Woodward, naturally, is a bit more philosophical about the impending sale.
“I think it’s built into us. I have some clients whose entire life is cathartic and they buy it, live in it and sell it. And others treat it like an old shoe that they just can’t throw away.”
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Mary Randolph Carter’s New Book Title Is A Collector’s Mantra
Mary Randolph Carter knows the frisson of discovery at tag sales and antique shops. After all, she’s written the book (and blog) on junking. In her newest, she extolls the virtues of living with your treasures. “There are so many reasons to say, I don’t need this or I don’t have a place for this. If there’s a place for it in your heart, there’s a place for it in your home,” she writes.
You’ll have a chance to chat with the junk maven on Saturday, May 31. Carter will be in Millerton at Hunter Bee, for a meet and greet with readers from 4-6 p.m.
Think you don’t have a place for that? Think again. These collectors did.
New Orleans antiques dealer Allain Bush displays some of her favorite things in the kitchen of her Garden District carriage house, where she can watch them, instead of the pot, while waiting for water to boil. They include a pair of cast iron sconces that came from one of city’s oldest buildings and a lovely portrait that came from her husband’s family. The non-kitchen-y treasures presumably add incentive to avoiding fried foods.
Though it sounds like a notably aggressive insect, Hunter Bee is, in fact, the apt name of an antiques shop in Millerton owned by Kent Hunter and Jonathan Bee that trades in the narrative-rich oddities the couple collect themselves. Here, photographed in their home, an overflow crowd of bottle stoppers and openers topped with carved comic figures.
In the Saratoga Country, New York bedroom she shares with her husband Dick, Jennifer Lanne treats her cowboy boots as a collection, lined up with their toes tucked under a fainting couch that’s been stripped to its frame. The boots’ rugged, geometric patterning plays off the more “girly” floral textiles of the comforter and toss cushions, mostly flea market finds.
Related Post: The Case for a (Sometimes) Messy and Mismatched House
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It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane. It’s Real Estate’s Best Friend.
By Lisa Green
Residents of Richmond may have spotted an unidentified flying object hovering just a hundred feet or so above the Berkshire Equestrian Center and The Inn at Richmond earlier this week. It wasn’t a UFO from some distant planet, but it was a newcomer to the Berkshires: a UAV, also known as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, with a video camera hitching a ride to take high-definition video of the 27-acre property, for sale at $5.9 million.
You can call it a drone, too, but a UAV has much less nefarious connotations.
Real estate agents in the Hamptons and Fairfield County have been early adopters of the technology, but Cindy Welch of Tucker Welch Properties is the first in the Rural Intelligence region to recognize and embrace the value of views captured by these radio-controlled mini copters. While actual helicopters and airplanes have long been used to get still photos of homes of the rich and famous (not to mention invade celebrity weddings), the use of these lightweight flyers beats all. And the images they capture, especially when edited and paired with music, bring a fluid bird’s-eye view to real estate photography that’s nothing short of IMAX worthy.
Operated via hand console by Terry Holland of Pittsfield, an entrepreneur (and coach for New Zealand’s Olympic skeleton team in Sochi, but more on that another time) with experience in developing new technologies, the two-and-a-half pound, four-propeller quadrocoptor whirred and wavered inside the buildings as low as chest level and as high as the rafters in the riding stable. [See video below.] Outside, Holland wielded the small joysticks on the console as the UAV soared over the vast acreage.
“What the drone video offers is the ambience that still photos can’t give,” Cindy Welch says [photo below, with property owner Karl Dunham and Holland]. “This property has so many different buildings, it’s hard to show it all, but the drone photography allows us to capture the feeling of a place and the scale of the premises from all sorts of angles. The more ways we have to show high-end properties, the better.”
Carl Dunham, the seller of the Equestrian Center and the Inn (being offered separately or together), agrees.
“It’s key to have someone visually see it. With a property at this level, you have to fall in love with it. Once prospective buyers see the video, they’re going to want to come see the place in person,” he says.
It takes a few days of post-production work to download and edit both still and video images. Then, the swooping, two-minute video goes up on the Tucker Welch website, where it will bring new razzmatazz to luxury real estate in the region.
“It’s less of a nuts-and-bolts view of a property,” says Holland, the earthbound pilot/photographer, “and more like a movie trailer.”
And who wouldn’t want their own moving picture of the place they’re trying to sell?
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Poesis: Modern Design With a Bit of Whimsy
By Sarah Ellen Rindsberg
All photos by Robert Bristow and John Gruen, courtesy of Poesis Design
Who says that building a new home or doing interior renovations needs to be a hideous ordeal? With a talented team of architects on board, the tasks involved can actually be a journey toward self-discovery and fulfillment, a rewarding path to a great place to live, dine, and work. That’s the message and guiding principle of Robert Bristow and Pilar Proffitt, the husband and wife team of Poesis Design, who held court last month at The Moviehouse in Millerton, elucidating their process in a talk called “A His and Her Exploration of the Why of Design” to a full house of (perhaps surprised) home owners.
The name “Poesis” is derived from the Greek verb “to make.” The duo first came upon the word while studying architecture together at Virginia Tech. “It’s something that spoke of making and the roots of poetry,” Proffitt says. A series of photos in the screening room gallery at the Moviehouse, which will be up through October 31, conveys the duo’s philosophy. The first shows an antique metal bed bathed in patina. The shot bears the caption, “For we’re building the tactile memories of ourselves and our children.” (The couple has three bright-eyed children who not only benefit from the creative aura but are also encouraged to follow suit.) Chalk designs are scrawled on the wall behind the bed. Although the wall resembles the chalkboards of yesteryear, it is actually a surface covered with chalkboard paint. The caption below the photo of their home reads, “Architecture is the frame, the stage, the backdrop for the events of life.”
All of the homes Poesis have designed, while sophisticated and sleek, have an inviting quality to them in which luminosity plays a key role; large windows lead the eye to natural surroundings and draw in light. The chosen artwork and furniture, the latter designed and produced by the studio and now represented by Ralph Pucci, are interwoven in a playful manner. Formality is eschewed and casual elegance reigns.
“[Our work] transcends style. It’s timely and timeless,” Bristow muses. He mentions the influence of “understated modernism,” favored by the European faculty at Virginia Tech. Bristow also cites sculptors Michelangelo, Rodin, Brancusi, and Noguchi and architects Peter Zumthor and Rafael Moneo, while Proffitt chimes in with the name of the great Mexican architect, Luis Barragan, to add a bit of color to the palette.
Poesis’s home and showroom in Lakeville has proved to be one of their most vaunted and signature works. Here, clients can actually try out everything from accessories to furniture. Plopping down on a comfy chair affords guests the opportunity to see how well the designs function in real life. (Their furniture has found its way to numerous country homes, the Salomon Room at the New York Public Library, and the collection of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.)
A young-looking, 51-year-old Bristow recalls discovering his primary passion: “I was 29 before I had that “aha moment.” One night, while completing a project for a design course (a requirement for a degree in architecture history), he realized that the next day had already begun. (The process of working all night is something so ingrained in the architecture student’s psyche that it has a name: charrette.) This moment of “total immersion and engagement” convinced Bristow to change his studies to an architectural design program instead of one focused on history.
After apprenticing with the legendary Paul Rudolph and Aldo Rossi, among others, the couple opened their own firm in 1999. In 2006, Bristow and Proffitt transitioned from part-time to full-time residents in Litchfield County. They drew up plans for their dream house in Lakeville and discovered that the price to have it conventionally framed on site (think wooden supports and Tyvek covering) would be too expensive. They chose an innovative solution: a frame of their own design made in a factory and delivered. This proved to be much more cost effective and was completed in a timely fashion, unhindered by Mother Nature. Once the frame arrived, it received the design professionals’ imprint. Bristow describes several methods of customization on the firm’s blog: “I decided to go with shiplap siding, hung atypically in horizontal fashion, with the smooth side out. This way, painting would be a snap. After the house boxes were set, we re-imagined the carport relative to the new building. We lowered its ridge line to bring the height of the house down closer to grade. We still left it pretty tall, monumental in fact, so I could hit tennis balls and shoot basketballs within its cavernous space.” The concrete foundation is masked with stone. Inside, a fireplace - replete with niche for storing wood - is covered in leftover stones, of which there were enough for a tiny fireplace in the kitchen. Upstairs, reasonably-priced southern yellow pine is used for flooring. It’s painted with white enamel, “which makes the long winters pass a bit easier.”
Poesis’s designs in the country reflect the desire to compliment existing architecture and the area’s rich history. “We want to do things that are sensitive to the historic context of the area but we want to push forward,” Bristow muses. A prime example of this mindset is evident in the recent changes at Simmons’ Way, home to the restaurant No. 9, in the heart of Millerton. Part of the interior of this 1854 Greek Revival-style building now exudes a heartfelt welcome with a contemporary feel. Proffitt describes her stunning choice of wallpaper in the foyer as “beautiful and subtle yet powerful and warm.” Original artwork by the designers is displayed on the walls of the sitting room and the new dining rooms in the front. In the sitting room, chairs, replete with cuddly throws, inspire repose, while a cubic table with diagonal legs crafted by Bristow seems to defy gravity. In response to a query on the genesis of the table’s design, Bristow says, “It could’ve been that I wanted a bit more whimsy.”
120 Limerock Road
Appointments to view the showroom and house may be booked at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 860-435-0530.
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A Crisp Autumn Day: The Fine Home Source Show In Millbrook
By Jamie Larson
Picture your dream home, or maybe your dream second home. A grand old farmhouse tucked into the woods or abreast some rolling fields. Immaculately preserved, the house’s porch sweeps around to the back, where it meets the pool and the recently built guest house that mimics the main building down to the period glass in the windows. The sound of wind in the leaves around you is every so often interrupted by the clattering of pins in the private bowling alley you’ve installed in the renovated hay barn. Can’t you just see it?
Well maybe this isn’t your particular vision, but no matter. Whatever you can dream up, no matter how imaginative, timeless, decadent, or even modern, can be made reality by Crisp Architects. The firm, headed by James Crisp, has been designing and restoring the most luxurious properties of the Hudson Valley, the Berkshires, and bordering Connecticut counties since 1985. On September 28, to showcase its vendors and present its clients with design elements from dreams they didn’t even know they had, Crisp will host its 6th annual Fine Home Source show at 3327 Franklin Avenue, Millbrook, NY, at the Village Bandshell.
“It’s different than any other home show out there,” says Annette Santacroce, Executive Assistant at Crisp Architects. “We focus only on high-end quality. For our customers, it’s hard to source some of these things on their own. So we bring it together for them.”
When Santacroce says high-end, she means it. Under the tent you may find that Helo sauna you were looking for beside the Countrytown Marble and Tile display, or a Heritage Metalworks chandelier (at right) hanging above an entry by Feldweg & Freeman Woodworking (at top). And, yes, you can even get that Brunswick bowling alley you’ve been waiting for. All 63 vendors at the showcase are at the apex of the industry, many are local, and others come from around the country to participate in Crisp’s event.
“We chose vendors we haven’t had a chance to work with but are impressed by and those who we know well from previous projects,” says Crisp. “It’s not only about the things that go into our homes, it’s also about the lifestyle that goes along with living in the Northeast.” This emphasis on lifestyle lead Crisp to include vendors one might expect at a home show, such as Ian Ingersoll‘s fine furniture (left), and not expect, like Orvis Sandanona Shooting Grounds or Millbrook Winery. While a lot of the amenities shown at the Fine Home Source are newly crafted, Crisp also puts a large emphasis on the restoration and preservation of historic older homes. Santacroce says Crisp Architects is sought out for its classic styling and reverence for the history of the homes the company works on. Visitors to the home show can talk to someone about getting a New England Wine Cellar installed, and then get it surrounded by reclaimed wood and brick from The Hudson Company (also second from top and below), to stay in theme with their period home.
Natural woods, stone, and hand-crafted custom cabinetry make huge houses, that could be overwhelming, cozy and approachable. “We have projects where, if we have to cut down a tree on a property, we’ll use the wood as a design element,” Crisp says, adding that using reclaimed materials adds to the connection a home has with the area.
It goes without saying that some of these types of homes, with their high design, endless amenities, and immaculate craftsmanship, are beyond the reach of many, but Crisp says the show includes a lot of practicality. “My budget doesn’t include a bowling alley, but I want to see that,” he says. “It’s meant for dreaming. We’ll have fun and fantasy, but also meat and potatoes items as well.”
Alongside the RCS Fine Art display, you’ll find N and S Supply for plumbing, heating, HVAC and Essential Power Systems, and for more vernal styling Glencar Water Gardens & Lighting, Inc (left). “Your home, even your second home, is an investment,” says Santacroce, “and people want to keep the quality of their homes at a very high value.”
For those who live the dream of owning a home in Crisp’s extensive portfolio, the Fine Home Source show is an opportunity to find that something they’ve been missing, but it’s also a great opportunity for local tradespeople to show what this region has to offer and to demonstrate that the care and skill they put into their products is second to none.
Crisp Architects 6th Annual Fine Home Source Show
September 28, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
3327 Franklin Avenue, Millbrook, NY, at the Village Bandshell.
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At Hancock Shaker Village: A Twice-in-a-Lifetime Auction
By Scott Baldinger
There are collectors in the world who, in retrospect, seem almost clairvoyant about what is of lasting value and may appreciate over the years, particularly in the decorative arts, a realm especially vulnerable to the whims of what’s in or out at any moment in time. The secret really is in the eye of the discriminating beholder: the ability to see beauty in every form—however quotidian in nature. Thank heavens for people who have it; they turn out to be preservers of an American cultural heritage that could be easily discarded or ruined over time.
Drs. J. J. Gerald and Miriam McCue, of Lexington, Massachusetts, were just such people. On Saturday, September 7 at 11 a.m., Willis Henry Auctions will present many lots of their exceptional collection of Shaker furniture and artifacts at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, one of a handful of original sources for many of their items. This will be the second Shaker auction held there since the 1990s, with the previous one having taken place just last year. Directly following will be an auction from an assortment of other collections and estates that followed in the McCue’s footsteps.
The McCues began collecting Shaker furniture and objects in the late 1940s, when other styles were considered far more worthy of attention, let alone money. “The height of fashion at the time was fine French furniture—Louis XIV, XV, and XVI—a favorite of 1940s decorators like Elsie de Wolfe and super-wealthy clients such as Jayne Wrightsman,” says David Petrovsky, an antiques historian and specialist from Churchtown, New York, a Columbia County hamlet near Hudson. “Collectors of Americana were more into high-style 18th century case pieces,” he says, “pieces that, apart from the masterpieces, the industry sometimes now disparages as ‘brown furniture.’”
The McCues (at right) went a different way from the beginning, starting out with six small functional household items that Gerald first purchased for his small, spartan bachelor’s apartment in Northampton, MA. (He was an Associate Professor of physics at Smith College, where he met Dr. Miriam Crowley, an Assistant Professor of psychology. They were married in 1949.) Lifelong academics, the couple did not have a lot of money, but they fell in love with the Shaker aesthetic. As time went on (and their fortunes improved), the couple amassed a world-class collection of furniture and objects, sometimes from other notable collectors but often directly from the source: existing, still functioning Shaker communities such as the ones in Canterbury, New Hampshire; Sabbathday Lake, Maine; New Lebanon, New York; and Hancock, Massachusetts—each at a time when Shakers still lived and worked at these places. McCue became not just a buyer, but someone who went out of his way to visit and befriend the Shakers, taking the time to personally understand their lifestyle and ethos—a pretty amazing hobby for someone working on atomic science at the time, both at MIT and at Smith. (Gerald died in February 2011.)
In its own way, at the time, the McCues’ obsession was a very hip way of looking at the decorative arts, to the point that one could even say that there was a stylistic connection between the couple’s appreciation of the simplicity and utility of Shaker form and design and the innovative contemporaneous creations of people like Charles and Ray Eames, Paul McCobb, and the Danish moderns, all of whom valued functionality and natural, translucently varnished materials in their designs. “Clean lines and the stripped-down ornamentation certainly are hallmarks of both styles,” says Laura Wolf, Director of Operations & Marketing at Hancock Shaker Village. “Many mid-century modern designers were picking up on the emergence of Shaker as an aesthetic.”
“The McCue Collection stands out not only for its original finishes and fixtures, but also for its breadth in terms of representing Shaker material culture,” says Wolf. “Their first purchases included an infirmary cupboard, bake shop table, benches, a bedside stand, and a blanket chest. The collection also boasts a number of exemplary small items, including poplarware, metal ware, and sewing supplies that speak to the craftsmanship and attention to detail that are the hallmarks of Shaker work.”
“Dr. McCue was careful to select pieces that retained their original stain finish or paint,” Wolf adds. “The same holds true for cooperage handles, porcelain drawer pulls, and cast iron door closures. Though many finely constructed pieces may have been considered for this collection over the years, if they had been refinished by a previous owner, they were eschewed.”
All of this connoisseurship comes at a price, of course. It may be “the gift to be simple,” as the Shaker song goes, but this time around, it won’t be free. According to estimates from the Willis Henry catalog, available online, some of the objects in both auctions have estimated prices in the low to high five figures, from a yellow cupboard over drawers in the $10,000 - $15,00 range, to a trustee’s desk valued at $30,000 - $50,000. A very Danish Modern-looking trestle table (pictured at top), has an estimated price of $2,500 - $4,000. (A bargain compared to a cherry and pine trestle table from last year’s auction, which sold for more than the $70-90,000 estimate.) For those looking to start their own collection a bit more frugally, there are plenty of appealing lots of hangers, books, pipes, a woven rug, hanging mirror with holder, drying rack, and hand towels in the mere three to lower four-figure range. But just watching and previewing is a more than worthy endeavor, a way to learn not only about the value of American “folk” craftsmanship but also perhaps about how to see afresh even the most basic, everyday objects.
Willis Henry Auction of the McCue Shaker Collection and Other Collections and Estates
Hancock Shaker Village
Auction: Saturday, September 7, 2013, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Previews: Thursday, September 5, 2-5 p.m., Friday, September 6, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. & Saturday, September 7, 9-10:30 a.m.
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Stuff: The Deep Dish on Porcelain, Among Other Things
Interior designer Carey Maloney, also known to Rural Intelligence readers as The Wandering Eye, has the enviable gift of making his interests, be they erudite or off-the-wall, compelling and entertaining to others. In his first book, Stuff, recently published by Pointed Leaf Press, and lavishly illustrated, mostly with examples of the work of his firm, M (Group), Maloney uses erudition, anecdote, and telling detail to convey his passion for the things he puts in rooms. This Saturday evening from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m., Stair Galleries in Hudson will host a reception to celebrate the book’s publication, with Maloney on hand to sign copies. The public is welcome to attend. Meanwhile, RI‘s Mariyn Bethany chatted with Carey Maloney about the stuff in STUFF.
RI: Yours is the only decorating book I’ve ever seen that made me laugh. And that was even before I got to the title page. The full-page photo of Cary Grant, wearing an apron and dusting off the painting he’s showing to… is that Ethel Barrymore?
CM: That question makes me laugh because I debated including the photo since Cary looks like he is scamming poor Ethel. That is not the message I wanted to send… The film is None But the Lonely Heart, and it’s sort of a bummer. Now the shot from You Can’t Take it With You that I used for the Contents page, that one sums up the book.
RI: Yours is not the usual interior designer’s monograph. Yes, it is a compendium of the wonderful work you and Hermes [Mallea, the architect who is CM’s business partner and spouse] have done for nearly 30 years (such as this kitchen in a Greenwich Village penthouse), but it’s also a Cliff’s Notes on the things in those rooms—their history, why you, Hermes, and your clients value them, and what they contribute not just to a space, but to a life. It’s a tremendous undertaking, all that information crammed onto the page in tiny type; virtually every item identified—a far cry from the typical “a table graces the corner” caption floating in a sea of white space. What made you decide to go to all this trouble?
CM: There are plenty of “beautiful” books on the market these days with bright, glossy photos, snappy graphic design—and zero information. Not even captions. So the concept of writing about the wonderful things we’ve worked with was more interesting to me than describing why we chose a rosy beige over a green-y beige. The idea of doing “Topics” let me focus on the things and explore areas I was interested in.
RI: And as if all that small type weren’t enough, the information literally overflows the page onto your own website and beyond. By downloading the Digimarc app onto a smart phone, then aiming it at a symbol on the page, the reader is transported directly to the complimentary page on the Stuff site. How did you get that idea? [Note to reader: OS 5 is required, so you may have to upgrade, which is said to be easy. If you find it otherwise, as I did, make an appointment at an Apple store, and they’ll do it for you for free. Or go directly to the site: mgroupstuff.com]
CM: From Day One, when I was proposing the book to publishers, I knew there had to be an interactive aspect. I didn’t know how, on Day One, how it would manifest itself, so I was thrilled to discover Digimarc via House Beautiful. What I couldn’t cram onto a Topics page in that tiny font (sorry about that!), I could link to via mgroupstuff.com. My plan was to send the book to the printers, then spend the summer calmly working on the interactive part. Easy, right? Simply find lots of fun links to films and books, museums and dealers. The work must have been 80% done, right? Wrong.
Well, the interactive morphed into another stand-alone project. There are over 500 links for the 40 Topics, and each needed a caption and an image. Happily, for me, this is fun. But, indeed, it was a lot of work.
RI: When you first moved to New York, before becoming a designer, you worked at a top auction house. What difference do you think that made to your outlook and your approach to interior design?
CM: My couple of years in the Christie’s Estates Department gave me incredible exposure to wildly divergent collections. Seeing great stuff, whether it was cowboy art in Arizona or American furniture at 1 Sutton Place South, put “things” into perspective.
The Christie’s gig was one big learning opportunity. We saw it all—decorative arts, fine arts, junk, and treasure. In those days, it all came past the Front Counter at Delmonico’s at 59th and Park. An unexpected perk of working there was a crash course in fur. I was surrounded by rich glamorous Front Counter blondes. All these unsuspecting women ascended the stairs past our gauntlet. Within weeks, I could spot a bad mink, a good sable, and a knock-off Hermes bag.
RI: If a reader could gain “taste” just by ogling pictures of beautiful rooms, every design magazine-and-book junky would be transformed willy-nilly into a professional-grade decorator. Instead, I’m afraid we amateurs stare at a photograph and mutter, “I love that,” without knowing why or how to get from where we are to there. By breaking down the pictures, as you do, and identifying each element, you coax people like me into a deeper reading of the picture and give us a list of ingredients, so we can at least understand what’s going on, if not replicate it.
CM: That’s nice. I’ll go with that!
RI: You and Hermes have been staunch supporters of the New York Public Library since I first met you, when you were practically kids. How did that happen?
CM: As babies in New York, we decided to choose a cause and work on it together. The library was our first idea, so we made a $100 donation, called the volunteer office, and sat in a room with nonagenarians addressing and stamping benefit invitations. That was 30 years ago. Thankfully, we were discovered, like Lana Turner at Scwab’s Drugstore, and the head of the NYPL Special Events Office asked us to rustle up some young people to come to a big dinner. We did that and soon we were working to create the Young Friends of the NYPL. Then we segued to the Library Cubs programs for children, and a few years ago we became co-chairmen of the Library’s LGBT initiative. That group has raised almost $3 million to support the world’s greatest collection of archival and literary materials related to LGBT’s. We are most proud of the programming the Library provides for youth—the Anti Prom, which this year had over 500 crazy kids dancing in Astor Hall. Kids who may not be safe or even visible in their schools and neighborhoods are welcomed, honored, and given safe haven at the Library.
And volunteering at the Library as a couple has been the best. I always say, put us in a bag and shake it up, and you’ll have something… The Library got two of us and together we make one very good volunteer!
RI: Did this close relationship with one of the world’s great research facilities and repositories of printed matter impact the way you did this book? I suppose what I’m asking is, do they let people like you, who are practically family, into the stacks?
CM: Our library is all about information, freely and graciously disseminated to anyone who wants it. Ask for a book on, say, colonial residential architecture in the Congo, published in 1911, and half an hour later, there it is, in a box because it is falling apart. Amazingly efficient. So there was never a need (not that I ever would!) to ask for something en famille.
I did a lot of the research digitally from the comfort of my apartment—the digital image collections are vast. But no, I would not be allowed to wander the stacks. And if I had been, I would never admit it….
RI: You should get a wallpaper company to reproduce your book’s endpaper, the close-up photograph of a chock-a-block bulletin board; yours, I assume? I’d love to have it reproduced for my powder room.
CM: LOL It isn’t an “inspiration board”—if I had gone to design school, I might know what that really is. It’s just bits of paper I keep layering on. You might want to look at it closer. One friend must have used a magnifying glass to read the New Yorker cartoon. He texted me that he’d been laughing for half an hour and that his wife saw nothing funny in it. Bingo!
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Art et Industrie: Man, Meet Nature
Owner Jordan Schlanger and co-worker Caitlyn Schomaker on Jesse Reimer’s “Mother-Daughter” bench
Housatonic is a study in contrasts. In this Berkshire town, brick mill houses and graffitied trains long out of service nestle alongside a gushing river and hills flocked with trees. “It’s real country out here,” says Jordan Schlanger, a sculptor and jewelry designer who opened the home design gallery Art et Industrie on the second floor of a former textile mill this July. “But in this little valley, it’s this industrial, post-apocalyptic, crumbling Soho mill scene.”
That’s perfect for Art et Industrie, which showcases home décor at the crossroads of nature and manufacturing. Its inaugural show, with more than 200 designs by 20 regional artisans, features works exclusively made from reclaimed and salvaged materials — from antique shovels and wind-fallen maples to wood ripped from Coney Island’s boardwalks.
The results are a testament to eco-friendly ingenuity. Warren Barber, a Becket craftsman, scored the cedar fencepost that he shaped into a lamp ($2100) from Sheffield’s farmlands. Woodstock’s Jesse Reimer often goes dumpster-diving to create works like “Grandpa’s Secret,” a chair fashioned from an iron tractor seat and a bowler figurine from a Coney Island arcade ($1500). Pull a lever at the chair’s bluestone base, and the bowler juts forward, aiming for a strike.
For Schlanger, blending organic forms with man-made materials scores an aesthetic perfect 10. He first became interested in the 19th-century period when agrarianism met industrialization while restoring Dutch barns in Saugerties. With Art et Industrie, he wants to make that moment new. “The period this mill represents is when people were still working farms,” he says. “Forging and tools were all being used, but they had the sweat and thumbprint of the maker on them.”
Modern-day artisans have certainly left their imprint on the furniture at Art et Industrie, which begs to be touched. These days Schlanger can’t keep his hands off the smooth black walnut table ($10,700) by Jessica Wickham, a Beacon woodworker. Her five years’ training in Japan shines through in the table’s asymmetric lines and rough edges, which are hallmarks of wabi-sabi—a principle that embraces the beauty of imperfection. “She has very quiet details; no ego,” Schlanger says, pointing out the sliding dovetail joinery on Wickham’s nesting stools ($1625).
The mushroom brooches, earrings, and fascinators ($75-$200) that Livingston’s Carole Clark creates from foraged fungi have more razzle-dazzle. With delicately scalloped edges and blooms, her jewelry is both rugged and feminine—and a far cry from the high-end materials Schlanger typically sees in the jewelry business he’s run for more than 20 years. “I was used to pavé diamonds and gold and silver,” Schlanger says. “Carole came to me with fungus earrings, and I was like, ‘Yeah! Absolutely.’”
Some pieces seem transported straight from the pages of a fairy tale. Peter Dellert’s ambrosia maple armoire ($4900), made from salvaged firewood, features details such as twig handles, turquoise siding, curlicues, and a softly glowing light. It looks ready to burst open its doors and start singing “Be Our Guest.” Michael King’s pine table ($4000), pierced through with a three-pronged branch, draws inspiration from the enchanted broom of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Over in what Schlanger calls “the hobbit corner” are friendly, hefty benches that Jesse Reimer shapes from single logs and stones drawn from Hudson Valley creeks. “Mother-Daughter,” a maple base bench with a walnut back ($2000), lets sitters face in opposing directions: ideal for those on the lookout for approaching orcs.
More machine-minded are the manhole cover coffee table ($2185) by Fingerlakes designers Miles and May (“It’s legally acquired,” Schlanger promises) and the abstract paintings ($1600-2800) that Paul Neuman composes from textile mill cards. A slat chaise by John Corcoran ($3170) offers a modern take on beach chairs with maple reclaimed from shipping pallets.
Wondering how to come up with such creative ideas? Try sitting at a creative desk. It would be almost impossible to color inside the lines at Richard Johnson’s wavering “Dear Diary” desk ($5800). Jason Rosky’s claro walnut console table ($5800) has a live edge that could double as a worry groove for workers brainstorming their next big ideas.
As for big ideas, Schlanger’s got plenty. A New Rochelle native who moved to Housatonic a year ago after long-term stints in New York City and Saugerties, he’s pumped to be a part of his new town’s thriving arts scene. He’ll be expanding on his love for all things reclaimed with the upcoming winter show Art and Artifact, which will feature scavenged iron and steel factory parts. “They’re just as valid as any sculpture,” Schlanger says, “things people can put in their homes and which will enrich them by their history and craft.”
Potential buyers and admirers can scout out the current show through November. Schlanger threatens that some of the grander pieces, like Richard Johnson’s 12-foot-long , rough-hewn “King’s Table,” may be around even longer. “It belongs in a castle,” he says of the table. But in order to reach Camelot, someone would have to figure out how to move it. “We had to bring it up and around through a neighboring mill, through the window, and around the back,” Schlanger says. “It’s never leaving.” —Sarah Todd
Art et Industrie
420 Park Street, 2nd Floor
Open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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Selina van der Geest: A House Designed for Living
In 2000, British interior designer Selina Woodruff emigrated to the U.S. to marry the love of her life, Eduard van der Geest, a director of Graff Diamonds, who himself had emigrated from the Netherlands some years before. Six weeks later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The couple then did something very wise. They flew to Paris for the weekend. Sitting in a cafe, they drew the plan for the house they would build the moment the nastiness was behind them. And nasty it turned out to be. But one year later, just as they’d planned, they purchased some land in Stanfordville (Dutchess County), NY and began construction on the very house they had drawn on a paper napkin that awful day.
Selina van der Geest’s shop NL-GB (short for the Netherlands - Great Britain) in Bangall, NY will be celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this weekend with a trunk show of summer dresses by Katherine Hooker London, one of the Dutchess of Cambridge’s favorite designers, and an exhibit of paintings by fellow-Brit-ex-pat and Stanfordville neighbor Leora Armstrong. NL-GB shares a parking lot with Red Devon restaurant, which will also be celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a special menu.
“I grew up in centuries-old stone houses. I’m used to something solid, with some age,” says Selina. To give their new-from-the-ground-up house that essential gravitas, they used the board-and-batten siding from an antique Canadian barn to sheathe the exterior. The entry doors of the rear elevation, above, are on axis with the swimming pool (below).
The pool, here from a different angle, and, in the foreground, a four-foot stone ball Selina had made for Eduard as an anniversary gift. The stones, all found as is on the property, knit together so tightly each seems to have been sculpted into the correct shape.
Inside, the frame from the same Canadian barn, a stone fireplace surround from Bordeaux, and several 19th-century Chinese doors are incorporated into the design of the “one big room”—an airy living-dining room and kitchen that accounts for much of the plan’s 3,000 square feet.
After working for Osborne & Little, the English fabric concern, Selina started her own interior design firm, Johnston Woodruff Designs, with a partner. This was followed by a decade of designing installations for Colnaghi, a gallery in London that has specialized in Old Masters since 1760. Though she maintains that her decorating style is not “typically English,” a certain English-ness informs it. Like the Queen herself, van der Geest is modest, hard-working, grounded, and unflappable—“typical English traits” that show in her work. There’s an insouciance, a lack of fussy, superfluous detail; a preference for solidity (such as the metal cabinet at right, part of a range she designed and shows at her store), a lack of gloss and glitz. As she asks, “How many people would choose to have a completely unfinished oak-plank floor?”
And how many would put an IKEA kitchen into a house this chic? For the cabinet beneath the Bosch cooktop, she switched materials to stainless steel. The concrete island is sufficiently large to accommodate an assortment of glass jars holding cereals and grains. “I sanded every drawer and painted them myself,” says the intrepid van der Geest, who also does her own mowing and snow-blowing—no small feat on a 38-acre property with a very long drive. “I don’t think you have to spend a fortune on a kitchen,” she says, “I’d rather spend money on a 19th-century Turkish kilim rug. I like being creative with the budget, finding things that are not too expensive but with a lot of character.” In addition to just such a rug, among the things in their house that lay claim to character is an art collection, mostly 19th-century drawings, that Selina has been building for the past twenty years. “I’ve taken elements from the big English houses and put them into a simple environment.”
Simple, in its way: Dotting the property are woodstacks reminiscent of those Selina knew growing up in the north of England. Split logs are stacked side-by-side to form a circle. Once the circle reaches a certain height, a layer of logs stacked end-to-end is added, then the side-by-side layers resume. “The end-to-end layer corrects for a natural tendency of the stack to narrow as it gains height,” says Selina. Making much of what is simple (after all, it’s just firewood) and little of what is actually quite grand—that’s giving it English. —Marilyn Bethany
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Diane Love & Robert Frye’s Modern Mountaintop Farmhouse
Photographs by Åke E:son Lindman
It looks more like a house of self-restraint than self-indulgence, but Diane Love designed her pared down-country retreat in southern Columbia County to be her all-purpose personal haven. Blessed with self-awareness, Love knows that her happiness depends on her ability to be many different people at the same time—painter, photographer, playwright, actress, hostess, wife and grandmother. Brimming with self-confidence, she was determined to design the house herself and to only consult an architect to refine her concept and do the technical drawings.
As the author of a book called Yes/No Design (Rizzoli, 1999), which helps people delve into their psyches to determine their own taste, Love was crystal clear about her own desires. A hyper-active Manhattanite—she’s just written a play called Twin Sweets—she wanted the weekend house to be simultaneously a place of activity and tranquility, and she wanted it to take advantage of the breathtaking mountaintop site that has panoramic views of Connecticut, Massachusetts and the Catskill Mountains.
She knew the plot of land very well, because it’s just up the road from the 18th century farmhouse where she and her husband, Robert Frye (a documentary filmmaker whose latest feature, In My Lifetime, focuses on nuclear proliferation), had been spending weekends for nearly two decades. “I would sit at our Arts and Crafts dining room table and make scale drawings of this dream house,” says Love, who was a pre-HGTV lifestyle guru: In the 1970s and 1980s, she had an eponymous shop on New York’s Madison Avenue, where she sold antiques, jewelry, her own home fragrance and extraordinary silk flower arrangements that were de rigueur for the beau monde. “I worked on the design of this house for several years,” she explains. “I was very aware of how we like to live, what would work for us.”
Naturally, she was extremely concerned with aesthetics—she loves to create still-lifes on tabletops with seasonal flora—and how the house would relate visually to its surroundings. It can be seen from more than a mile away in several directions and from the distance it reads like an old barn. “There’s a dairy farm across the road, which we love,” she says. “We watch the seasons pass and the cycle of the crops. It seemed only right that the house fit into the landscape. That’s why the color of the house was really important. It’s a green-y brown color and there is no season that this house sticks out.”
However, it’s the timeless, bucolic views from inside the house that reflect both Love’s reverence for nature and her perfectionist streak. “It was important that every window would frame a wonderful scene, so each window is in effect like a painting,” she explains. “We used to come up here with stakes and string to determine how to site the house. It was very important how we angled it.” (The final elevations and technical drawings were done by New York architect Larry J. Wente.)
The choice of windows became paramount to Love’s plan—and Wente found a window manufacturer to fulfill her vision. “I wanted metal windows,” says Love, who decided most of them should be very large: 8 x 7 feet. (The clerestory windows upstairs are 2 x 7 feet.) “It’s the windows that have established the sensibility of this house.” Once she located a fabricator of metal windows in Ellenville, NY, she was told that they could not make windows in which every pane was the same size. But Love, who apparently does not understand the word “no,” went back to the dining room table with her ruler and figured it out. “The windows are made in three sections,” she explains. “There are two side panels and one center section.”
The geometry of the windows echoes the design of the house, whose center section contains the staircase, bathrooms and other utilities, which is flanked by two equivalent sections. On one side of the first floor, there’s a combination living room/kitchen with a cathedral ceiling; on the other side, there are two guest rooms that double as Love’s studio. “I’m a strong believer in rooms that are multifunctional,” she says.
The galley kitchen is fully one wall of the living room, and there isn’t an island or bar so it is fully exposed to the room. She painted the cabinets and appliances a sage green that compliments the surrounding landscape in every season, and she mirrored the back wall so she can see her guests even when she’s at the sink. “I didn’t want a kitcheny-looking kitchen. I guess this is a glamorized interpretation but we haven’t sacrificed any function,” she says, opening a door to reveal a large pantry with all her pots and foodstuffs. Instead of opting for modern furniture, Love mixed Art Deco upholstered pieces that she already owned with metal lamps and tables (from shops in Hudson) that work in concert with the metal windows.
The upstairs is basically two rooms: there’s a mezzanine office/TV room that overlooks the living room and has its own spectacular views from a window high on the living room’s southern wall. Down the hall, there’s a large master bedroom with an unusual bathroom configuration: Love and Frye each have their own entrances, sinks and toilet areas, which are linked by a large shared shower. The master bedroom has two long window seats that look like cozy places to daydream or read a book, but they were actually designed to be extra beds. “We have five grandchildren, and I worked it out so that there would be a place for all of them and their parents if they all came to visit at once,” she says. Without compromising any detail, she’s created a house that reflects and nurtures her idiosyncrasies, where her family and friends are meant to feel at home, too.
Every object in the house has a strong aesthetic presence.
Love is a master of the tabletop still-life.
Love’s most recent paintings are watercolors.
Love and Frye on the front porch with its views of Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The house complements the rural landscape.