I offer these photos of design redemption as testimony: good will persevere. My husband and I have taken eleven bad bathrooms and helped them see the light. This upstairs hall bath, shared by three bedrooms was, by far, the worst.
Always at the top of my design plan was playing it safe: never a brave paint color, never personality, and NEVER, EVER wallpaper–so that the houses Greg and I worked so hard to bring up to date would sell quickly. But we love it here: the house’s character, the once-farmed land, the barn, the 1830’s stone foundation (OK, maybe I’m the only one who loves that), the profusion of spring and summer flowers that keep me in bouquets for five months straight–I don’t think we’re moving anymore.
BRING ON THE BOLD COLOR
AND SWEET CAFE CURTAINS WITH HAND-SEWN TRIM
BRING ON THE WALLPAPER & WHAT THE HELL, BRING THE PERSONALITY, TOO
ANY BUREAU THAT ALLOWS ITSELF TO BE TURNED INTO A BADLY DESIGNED VANITY AND THEN GLUED TO A PLASTER WALL GOES TO DESIGN HELL
“Sunday we’re cranking up the heat and humidity AGAIN, with “feels like” temperatures well above 100 degrees. This heat can be dangerous, but only if you’re not taking care of yourself. You know what to do!”
-very stoked Connecticut meteorologist
I know exactly what to do. Pack a bag and hop a plane to Menton, Provence. Which, according to the British newspaper The Telegraph is “the thinking person’s Côte-d’Azur.”
“It has the lazy sunshine zest, two vast beaches of sand and shingle, unambiguous light and Alps dropping direct to the sea – but without the airhead assumptions of more ring-a-ding spots farther west. Wintering British nobles long ago set a tone, establishing gardens, good manners and Belle-Epoque elegance.”
Sounds f’ing brilliant. I detest ring-a-ding.
Which is why I picked it as my delusion of grandeur. Like the central theme of Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh (from which I co-opted this post’s title), I need a little self-deception to deal with life. Especially the hot and sticky parts.
I have a fool-proof three-part plan.
1. Remodel entire house to resemble a French chateau
O.K.-remodeling the entire house is not possible. I have twins going to college in 6 weeks. But hanging IKEA tab-top panels on the inside of our side-porch was possible. They flap in the wind just like IKEA tab-top panels on chateau side-porches.
2. Install a pool.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. See: “Twins going to college.” Instead, we tossed our English Springer spaniel Gigi into our car, drove 15 minutes to a lake you’re not supposed to swim in, and engaged in some very warm water frolicking. And while my husband and I were still sweaty and hot, Gigi was happy. But as everyone knows who has a dog, if the dog is happy–everybody is happy.
Dieu merci! A delusion that is possible.
2 oz your favorite silver tequila
1 oz rosemary infused simple syrup (bring to boil over medium heat 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup water, and 6 fresh rosemary sprigs. Simmer and stir until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Combine all in a cocktail shaker
Fill a Collins glass with ice. Garnish, pour and add seltzer to the top.
The sun rising in the morning, peaking through the trees, brings out the poet in me. This small room at the front of the house, I’ve named the “morning room.” Facing east, it enjoys bright sunshine for several hours. In winter, this is where I want to be with my tea, a book, and my dog. Originally, this room had a door and would probably have been referred to as a sitting room or a parlour.
Three years ago, when we moved in
a hodge-podge of furniture and books from various rooms in our last house ended up here. When Greg or the kids asked me where they should put the small grey chair, or the giant box of photos, or the clocks I’d inherited, I directed them here. Charming as the room was (and is), when dusting and cleaning all the shelves that first week, I discovered an alarming electrical burn the size of a dinner plate where the last owner had plugged in a stereo. This had me wanting to drink something stronger than tea.
my kids refuse to call it the “morning room”
probably because they think I’m being pretentious and inaccurate, since whenever they are home, regardless of the time of day, this is where they can be found- playing video games. Hardly the sort of parlour games the Victorians had in mind. Despite my dislike of charging cords and large TVs, we are a 21st century family living in a part 19th century, part 20th century house. Adjustments, such as built-in cabinetry, were made for the sanity of the previous lady of the house and I take full advantage. The boys can play in here, in the afternoon and evening, heads full of computer generated graphics, as long as I don’t have to look at anything but books and the sun when it’s my turn.
besides the sun, I needed color
All paint is by Benjamin Moore:
Carolina Gull for the trim, bookcases, and cabinetry
Grey Cashmere for the walls and Decorator’s White for the windows
it took a year and a half to paint because. . .
I painted the whole room myself
like a crazy person. But I find painting to be therapeutic and vaguely hypnotic.
And sometimes, if you’re a mother raising sons, you need to be hynotized.
greg and our oldest son built the daybed from paneling
and I sewed the roman shades. Purchased at the famed Brimfield Antique Show, the paneling cost less than $100. In a pinch, this room can double as a guest room. I found its original door in the barn and am considering re-installing it.
Greg got the clocks ticking in near-perfect synchronicity
Both clocks are from my father’s side of the family. The mantel clock is a New Haven Clock Company model owned by my recently immigrated Hungarian relatives in the 1920s. The model on the bottom is older and aptly named after its shape: bullet clock. My father remembers it sitting on a table in his German grandmother’s living room.
(The gentle dual-ticking of the clocks was soothing but the double chiming was a bit over the top.)
I love formal rooms that can adapt to a casual life.
Everything on the daybed is machine-washable cotton from the down-alternative pillow inserts to the ivory coverlet. Which means that only half of my dog’s hair shows after a morning of her curled beside me in the sun.
Of course, I only thought I was buying a house. To be precise, an old house and a rural house, but just a house- empty of furniture and the lives that once inhabited it.
I’ve inhabited eleven houses. Three of those houses were new, built either for my grandparents or my parents. The rest were previously someone else’s, often sold, as houses are, to close an estate after the death of the owner. So, I’m not unconscious of a house holding history. The baton of my present house’s ownership, in what I think of as a relay if not a race, was first handed from the Trowbridge family to the Pecks, followed by the Platts-all farmers- to the Sweets: horse people, and now me and my family. We own no plow, no horse.
Despite its age, my house isn’t listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is no plaque by the barely used front door. Despite my house being listed in Griggs’ Folklore and Firesides, she lists neither in regard to my house. Historic New England isn’t interested. Obviously, George Washington didn’t sleep here. Beyond my family and friends, no one comes to visit.
But my house’s archive is telling its story anyway.
Last year, my neighbor bought a dog, a very enthusiastic Brittany spaniel named Jasper, who would bark at the window whenever he saw Gigi and I walk past their house on our morning walks. Soon Dave and Jasper were joining us. While Dave and I chatted, the dogs leaped all over each other, sprinting in black, white, and tan streaks through the woods. Dave told me he and his wife had moved back to Pomfret to be with his father in his elder years.
On our short walks I learned that Dave’s father’s house is on land once belonging to my house. I learned that Dave is a great-great-grandson of my house’s original Platt family. Dave also told me he was cleaning out his father’s house, going through old papers and letters.
But for those morning walks, Dave and I barely knew each other. He didn’t know, for example, that my husband and I have a tendency to move. That after about four years in one place, I get itchy. Dave also didn’t know that my mother had recently bequeathed to me three generations of maternal china and linens. He didn’t know how heavily the responsibility to protect these objects weighed on me and how that responsibility was in direct opposition to my impulsive desire to take it all to the Goodwill.
Dave only knew what I told him: that I am a writer and I love houses, and I have three sons-one of whom is grown and moved to Newport and the other two nearly eighteen. It seems that was enough. On a walk a few weeks ago, Dave asked if I would like a collection of letters.
“They’re quite old. My father never throws anything out.”
“Yes,” I said quickly without even knowing what they contained. “I’ll take them.”
I said this even though my dining room was unusable due to fifteen boxes of antique china to be unwrapped and no idea where I was going to store the stuff.
That afternoon, Dave dropped the letters off. They were bundled carefully by year and retained their original envelopes. It is a complete collection of letters from his great-great grandmother to her son Nelson-Dave’s great uncle. The letters reach back as far as 1909. They include farm news: cows born and neighborhood news: babies born. They are full of hope and fear-especially when Nelson left college in Maine during WWI and was stationed overseas. Mostly, they are letters from mother to son and written in my house.
Somehow the odd collection of newspapers I found in the duct-work access in my bedroom, the canning jars in the cellar, the Griggs book left for me by the Sweets on a bookshelf in the morning room, the letters returned to their place of origin, and even the 35mm film camera I discovered on the top shelf of the laundry room closet last week-have created an impulse for me to stay. My archive is rich with life and reminds me that my house is a living breathing thing.
Back in the summer of 1985 I was a ballet-studying, boyfriend-less high school junior living in Virginia. The last thing I wanted was rain. Even in Virginia, where it got so hot people don’t even say the word, it’s like a hex.
At sixteen, I wanted sun, sun, and more sun. I did the sun-dance. All the better to lie beneath while coating my extra-white legs with baby oil for that elusive tan that was never to be mine.
But I had hope.
New Englanders have a saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Well, I don’t know about the rest of New England, but here in Connecticut it’s been seven days of unrelenting sun. No longer a sixteen-year old after that sweet-spot of the almost-burn: skin that wouldn’t peel and settle into what we all thought of as the Base Tan, I’m older and wiser and discovered bronzer.
And I discovered the beauty of rain.
Finally, after our Connecticut all-sun heat-wave had me taking cold showers a couple times a day followed by drying myself in front of a fan. . . they say that rain is coming. And, oh, how I’ve missed it.
Even if the sweet peas taking over my mailbox don’t seem to miss it.
Or, the grapevines taking over the abandoned ladder don’t seem to miss it.
They say rain is coming, but when I look up, all I see is sun.
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.