Officially, I live in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. Unofficially, it’s the Arctic Circle.
I lay in bed checking the forecast in hopes of seeing a reassuringly normal 30, even 25 degrees. The phone screen illuminates, “Feels like -17.” I’m wearing that many layers to stay warm and I haven’t even left the house. This is a perfect excuse to boot the teenagers out of my favorite room and take it over. The best descriptor for that small parlor is straight out of Rebecca, the classic novel by Daphne du Maurier. In my morning room, unlike the movie adaptation, there are no rhododendrons but the owner’s name is apt: Mrs. de Winter. Like the name morning room implies, ours faces east and being small, is the only room in the house that remains cozy in sub-zero temperatures.
No video games this morning, boys.
I sit here, all tucked in on the daybed with the sun streaming across my lap and dream about spring. Since anything resembling green grass or green leaves is months away here in Connecticut’s northeast corner, I’ll share my favorite collection of green things, recently gathered.
Right after Christmas, my husband and I went to Newport, Rhode Island where we escaped the snow, but not the frigid temps. That didn’t stop us from taking in the Winter Passport mansion tour where I indulged in all things ornate.
From extravagant passementerie to an exhibit from the private collection of Pierre Cardin, I warmed right up.
Yesterday, I visited the Philip Johnson Glass House
in New Canaan, Connecticut. Now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Glass House was the home and on-going project of modern and post-modern architect Philip Johnson for fifty-six years. Besides its most famous structure, the property comprises forty-nine rolling acres with thirteen additional structures.
Each is divine.
Despite having lived in traditional dwellings all my life, I have admired modern design since my under-grad years. While I didn’t extend my initial four-year degree in interior design another two years for a degree in architecture, I remember that we students were divided between Beaux-Arts and Modern.
We design devotees didn’t argue in the quad but instead, consistantly produced drawings that announced our alligience. My drawings had Chippendale furniture against stark white walls paired with Josef Albers paintings. I was put in the Modern camp somewhat against my will. I couldn’t articulate my dilemma of aesthetic alligence then, but I can now: I belong where ever the conversation between old and new is happening. And it’s happening at the Philip Johnson Glass House.
What I love about this property and the buildings it includes, is the sense of repetition, or what the guide called, “twins but not twins.” Similarities in form both classical and modern, are found everywhere.
At the back of the Glass House are the Pavilion in the Pond, a folly, and Monument to Lincoln Kirstein, a climbable sculpture. The Pavilion is three-quarter scale and I immediately wanted to sit in it.
Our guide indicated that Philip Johnson designed the landscape and structures to be a “chain of events on the landscape,” and I felt that. The land and structures, similar but dissimilar, are in constant conversation with each other.
WHEN I WAS A LITTLE GIRL, I IMAGINED WHAT IT MIGHT BE LIKE TO LIVE IN A CASTLE OR A TOWER OR A MAGICAL FOREST.
I tried to imagine myself as a princess. I tried really hard, but it never worked. Somehow in my fantasies I was always the assistant to the princess. I attribute this to my peasant ancestry.
Since I was relegated to be the right hand of the princess, the position included suitable lodgings. I would be able to visit the castle or tower or magical forest as often as I pleased, yet I would live in a cottage. The cottage was my childhood bedroom.
I remember commandeering my mother’s broom and sweeping away real cobwebs. I used my cardboard kitchenette where I cooked faux dinners and drank plastic glasses full of disappearing toy milk. My dolls had bunk beds with knitted blankets that they straightened every morning before eating their breakfast. Because our house was a ranch my fairy tale cottage had two stories. I mentally placed a staircase in my bedroom closet and staged regular entrances and exits from “upstairs.” Importantly, unlike our real house, my imaginary cottage would have a fireplace, which of course, was the bureau.
I am embarrassed to say how long I kept this up. So I won’t. (I was nine.)
I have never outgrown my cottage fantasy. I have always wanted a not-too-big home. Nothing excessively showy (although a little sparkle is appreciated) and conversely, nothing too rough like a cabin. Someplace snug, but not cramped. Someplace with charm.
After living in eleven other places, my fairy tale dream came true. But in the true story, no princess bestowed it. Instead, it fell magically in my lap.
Once upon a time a couple in their forties with three teenage sons were approached by the mother of a neighbor. “Please, I want to buy your house so I can live near my daughter,” she said.
The couple felt sympathy for the grandmother and although they had no place else to go, they quickly agreed. The next day, the couple met their fairy god-mother (see: Mary the real estate agent) at a house for sale in the next town. It was white (the woman’s favorite) and had a porch, a barn, two stories, and woods that abutted a forest. When the woman entered the master bedroom she was drawn to a large window that overlooked the backyard. Nearly touching the window was a large lilac bush with a blue jay in it; two of her favorite things. She imagined a writing desk in that very spot.
“This is home,” she said. Her husband had the same idea when he saw how much fun he would have with his leaf blower on three acres. “This is home,” he said. The couple looked at no other house. The fairy godmother said, “It’s meant to be yours.”
Due to the fairy godmother, the sale went through easily despite hurdles that resembled walls and the family moved in. Then the woman held Thanksgiving and Christmas while writing a book and kept writing all the way through New Year’s while existing on cereal and red wine.
So, there you have it. I’m here and have spent the last year writing and not working too much on the house. I worked in the yard enough to get two bouts of poison ivy but that’s for another post.
The original living quarters was a Cape with one and a half stories and three bedrooms under the eaves. The front door has been replaced but the floors are the original chestnut. The children kept tearing holes in their socks requiring the regular swinging of a hammer and nail-setter. This is one of two staircases in the house.
I especially love the post-medieval English pediment details on the underside of the upstairs landing. I’ve painted nothing so far in this space. I haven’t finished listening to what the house wants.
Just upstairs are the twins’ bedrooms. Unlike my childhood dolls, this pair of fifteen year-olds don’t often make their beds.