Archives for category: Stone houses

Being asked to do something that you have never done before, and with which you have no experience, can be an intimidating request. A voice in your head shouts, “you don’t know how to do that, just say no, you’ll make a mess of it.” Ignoring the voice, I plunged ahead and dived into unknown waters. Luckily the waters were not shallow.

Heather Atwood asked me to design a memorial bench for her mother. The bench was to be placed at Howlets, Heather’s home. The first decision to be made was, where on the property the bench should be placed? We agreed that it would sit in a small shade plant garden tucked at the edge of the property. Discovering the bench as one strolls about the property, rather than it standing out in a prominent “main event” kind of way, was the right subtle treatment for the bench. Sitting in this semi-hidden spot would provide a welcome, contemplative retreat.IMG_1416

The best design for the low-key setting was a large single block of granite with the initials of Heather’s mother carved on the face. Large single blocks of granite can look so heavy and cumbersome when placed in a garden. To make it less squatty and lighter looking in appearance, two semi-hidden stone block feet about the size of large shoe boxes underneath the bench elevate it and make it “float.”

For Heather’s mother’s initials, CCL, we wanted a script style that fit the bench design. After a search through several seaside cemeteries we found a font that we both liked. Bold yet light. The letters would be set in a rectangular shaped frame cut into the stone. During our search of cemeteries we happened upon the grave of Gabrielle de Veaux Clements, a painter who shared a home with Ellen Day Hale, the builder of Howlets. It was a totally unexpected and serendipitous discovery.IMG_1419

Dave McGibbon, stonemason, began the task of splitting the large oblong piece of granite from an even larger rough stone. So that it will blend in with the stone wall behind it, we decided that the finish on the bench should not be polished and shiny. The slightly dimpled surface, called bushed, gives the bench a time worn visage. With time, the fresh cut granite will age and darken and become like the lichen covered and weathered stone wall close by.

Working on a history-laden property like Howlets is always daunting. But the addition of this memorial bench on the property somehow felt right, like adding yet a new layer of beautiful patina on the old home. I am glad I took the plunge.

Advertisements

leslie's dinner party guests 6Where better to have a birthday dinner with all women than in a house that was built one hundred and two years ago by a woman? Ellen Day Hale designed Howlets as an artist studio for herself in 1911. Hale was no hack artist. Her paintings are still hung today in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The house was passed onto her niece Nancy Hale, who wrote articles for The New York Times and many novels in the room.

Heather Atwood, food writer and current owner of Howlets, decided to host a milestone birthday dinner for her friend Leslie, having Leslie’s female friends from all over the country to dinner.┬áMany hands went into making the evening a hit. Leslie came up with the guest list of seventeen friends from near and far, Heather and Sofia created the menu and did the lion’s share of the cooking, and I got the large studio’s dining table ready for the celebration.

leslie's party photos good light 7In keeping with the low key color palette of Howlets (better to let the stones speak), the table’s linens and napkins were a linen tea stained color and the flowers were all white. Luckily, no trip to the florist was needed — all of the flowers came from our garden. Phlox, Rose of Sharon, potato vine and three types of hydrangea were marshaled into place.

Heather placed the napkins in an embroidery hoop and traced the initial letter of the guest on the napkin. A needle and thread were left with each napkin. These served as place cards for Leslie’s friends. No idle hands were noted after dinner as all of the women took up the hoop and embroidered their initial on the napkins.

leslie's party photos embroidery copyI suspect that Ellen Day Hale would have enjoyed the collection of women talking, laughing, creating and celebrating. The studio’s history of strong and talented women is still very much alive in its second century.leslie's dinner party photo 5

Dreams can be so perplexing sometimes. You wake up and think where on earth did that come from? The meaning of a recent dream I had was crystal clear and most pleasurable. It all stemmed from an old tree.

There is a gnarled and wizened apple tree at Howlets, a hundred year old stone house, of which I have the pleasure of acting as project manager. Howlets sits on an exposed-to-the-sea piece of land with rock ledge and a thin layer of soil sitting atop. In the front yard there is a very old and twisted apple tree that has somehow stayed alive in this most inhospitable spot. Buffeted by sea salt-soaked rain and heavy winds, it is a most unlikely place for a fruit tree to thrive. Fruit trees need trimming, thinning and pruning on a constant basis. This apple tree had been clearly cared for over time but in recent years had been let go. Sucker growth spurted directly skyward and limbs crisscrossed each other. Beneath all of this tangle there was a proud survivor.

Gnarly

Gnarly

Having lived in Japan and watched the way in which the Japanese trim their old fruit trees, I had a clear idea as to what the tree should look like. Looking carefully at the old cuts made on this apple tree, someone else, years ago, had the same vision. The form just needed to be brought back. I very much wanted to trim the tree myself. As I began the process, a Zen-like feeling settled in and I just knew instinctively what should go and what should stay, like sculpting. The whorled trunks were cleared of sucker growth, the thick growth at the ends of branches thinned and the shape brought back.

After a debrief of the work with David and Heather, the owners of Howlets, and a glass of their wine, I went home and fell into a dreamful sleep. In the dream my profession was very specific: expert trimmer of only aged and visually interesting cherry and apple trees. Dressed in a rough shapeless linen coat and chewed up straw hat, I happily travelled the world, carefully trimming these ancient specimens for appreciative and fascinating clients. A wide variety of surgical-like snippers and clippers accompanied me, each one designed for a specific pruning task. These tools of the trade were all tucked neatly into a heavy canvas fold over envelope with individual pockets complete with leather closure straps.

Everyone needs a dream of what they want to do when they finally grow up. My sleep-fueled unconscious found the perfect career, taking full advantage of my OCD-ish tendencies. Now I just need those adoring clients ready to fly me in to prune their trees.

Awakening

Awakening

Growing up we always had dogs. When they would dig holes in the garden or yard, my father would egg them on by saying, “dig for the Chinaman!” The first time he said it, I raced inside to check his geography on our globe. He was off by quite a bit, but it made for entertaining — if not a bit xenophobic — play for the dogs.

This remembrance kept cropping up as we hauled buckets of mud up and out of a quarry behind Howlets. This small quarry, actually called a “motion” (the term for a one- or two-man quarrying site), had begun to fill up with muck and debris over the years. It felt like we were digging for China.

Shovel in hand

This summer’s drought-like conditions dried up the motion to the point that the bottom was visible. How clean and tidy it would look from the kitchen windows if only we could remove the gook! The entire Rabin/Atwood family was pressed into service over the course of a week’s time. Buckets and wheelbarrows were filled and hauled up and out again and again. Picture the Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence from Fantasia, except rather than carrying buckets of water we had buckets of muck. In an attempt to be encouraging, Heather offered that the gardens would love this rich compost being removed from the seemingly bottomless pit. It was a bit of a cold comfort for our aching backs. As the wide granite steps left by the quarrymen began to reappear from under the detritus, the original shape of the motion came into view. The stone removed from this motion was used to build Howlets in 1911. As we contemplated the men carrying the stone from the earth instead of mud, we stopped whining about our labors.

Mucking about

When the snow melts and then the Spring rains come, this small quarry will fill up again and provide tidy eye candy from the kitchen’s french doors. After the back breaking labor, it had better. . . . The price we pay for beauty.

From quarry to home