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The winner of the eclectic table setting from the Mother’s Day contest is Sandy Farrell. When you read her “recipe” below, you will know why.

Ahead of our “judges conclave,” as we called it, Heather of heatheratwood.com, and brainchild of the contest, sent me all of the entries so that we would enter into the decision making process well read. While we were arranging the meeting to pick the winner, we confessed that we each had a clear favorite. We decided not to reveal our individual choices to each other until our conclave. Within less than five minutes after sitting down with all of the printed entries, we realized that we had both picked the same entry. We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we did.

We had some other terrific entries. Watch Heather’s site for a dozen or so of our favorites picked from the pile.

Recipe for Life: What to Teach Your Children

Sandy Farrell

The gifts from my mother remain as intangibles — no recipe box, no heirloom dish set for the holidays, no special linens rich with memory and smell- but a different treasury that is very special to me. My mother died when I was 10, she was smiling at lunchtime and gone by the time I returned home from grammar school at 3 pm. Met by my father, silent and in shock, sitting on the stairs bracing himself for the task of telling his three young daughters that their mother was gone forever.

We didn’t live with dad, my parents were separated and lived as polar opposites in their own Cold War of the 1950s. Belonging to that 25% of New England, the Anglo-Irish mix had torn apart their marriage from the start. We lived with an aunt and cooked out of her borrowed kitchen. It was the Mamie Eisenhower era, years before Jackie Kennedy and Julia Child would give us a different view on the world. This may sound bleak, but what I inherited was an appreciation that came only much later in life: the innovative spirit my mother possessed.

And in order to feel that appreciation I had to first distance myself with all of the hurt and anger that a ten year old girl could muster up to protect herself from such a loss. My mother had wanted to be an artist — and indeed was an artist. I have a beautiful charcoal she did at 14, and pastels done on the back of leftover wallpaper, weekly trips to the art museum on free Saturday mornings, and walks to the park for concerts. The local librarian told me they gave her an adult library card because she had read so much of the children’s library. She had trained as a nurse but the hours were too long for a mom with three little girls so she took a job as a waitress at a small neighborhood restaurant.

Never one to get caught up in recipes, or own many cookbooks, she would scan the fridge for content and swiftly make a decisive move, gather up an armful of ingredients and proceed to the counter. Tasks that took longer got started earlier, missing ingredients were replaced by substitutes, efficient peeling and chopping began, each of us assigned a specific job, taught the basic skills, not a moment or veg wasted, no tears, perseveration, hesitation, or remorse. Supper, plain and simple, quickly executed like a Zen master. First thought, best thought. Never the same river nor stew twice.

RECIPE FOR LIFE:

use what was on hand don’t let it be a chore keep it simple
use basic kitchen utensils plan ahead

substitute freely and often don’t waste a thing
serve it up hot and fresh

Even today, some fifty-plus years later these basic ingredients and recipe for life bless our kitchen. Cooking is fun, it’s relaxing and creative. I still come home from work and have supper on the table in less than thirty minutes. Repeat last weeks dish? Never. No need, mom taught me more than how to cook up supper.

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In honor of mother’s day, a look at my mother’s house in Del Mar, California felt fitting. The house is a modern architectural gem, full of angles, patios off every room, walls of plate glass and vistas of the California coastline.

When my parents retired and began looking at places to build their dream house, they settled upon Del Mar after exploring Austin, Texas and Carmel, California. As my mother recounts, Austin was too hot, Carmel too cold, but Del Mar was just right. The lot they found was a very steep one graced with a massive old Torrey pine tree at the top with swoopingly dramatic branches like a piece of sculpture. Views abound of the Pacific Ocean below and the town of La Jolla across the Los Penasquitos lagoon.

My father’s room mate at West Point, Herbert Turner, became a designer of buildings instead of pursuing a career in the military. He studied architecture with John Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s son. Herb’s houses are decidedly California modern in style and incorporate many Wrightian features. Dentil molding, using outside siding materials inside, and bringing the outside in are all features of Wright’s style that Herb Turner re-tooled for the California coast. Once the empty lot was found, a scarcity in the area, Herb Turner drew up plans for the challenging steep hillside lot. The garage was placed on the lower level and the house situated above and behind it. A challenge was, how to get from the garage up into the house without climbing many steps? As my parents planned to live in this house for the remainder of their lives, an elevator was placed at the back end of the garage, which carries you up to the living room, two stories above. Ground was broken for the construction just as my father discovered that he had cancer.  Unfortunately, he never saw his dream house completed. Single handedly, my mother moved forward with the project. Although I lived three thousand miles away, I helped as much as I could.

The end result is a stunner of a house which fits the lot and is in perfect scale with its surroundings, which so few new homes are these days. Designed for just the two of them, it is not large but has a spacious feel when inside. The living, dining and kitchen areas take up one side of the house. The ceilings there are two stories and give the spaces a sense of drama. The bedrooms, baths and laundry room are on the other side of the house with lower ceilings for a more intimate feel. These two spaces feel separate and are divided by a wide galleria which runs the entire depth of the house. It also doubles as a large, high ceilinged entry hall. The walls of the galleria are hung with artwork collected over the years, including a painting by Herb Turner.

My mother Wootsie (nicknames abound in my family), proper name Margaret, has happily lived in this house for over twenty years now. The house has been featured in newspaper articles and is featured prominently in the book Art and Architecture of Herbert B. Turner.  While my father Tom never saw his dream realized, this house above the Pacific serves as a fitting capstone to the adventurous years of my parents’ life together.     

Hardscrabble

This post is part of a continuing series on Cape Ann artists, their studios and work.

Scattered throughout the old village of Rockport, Massachusetts are studios of famous and not-so-famous artists. Richard Recchia and Kitty Parsons Recchia had a home and studio there. Richard was a sculptor and Kitty was a watercolorist and poetess. Kitty was a founding member of the Rockport Art Association in 1920. You may recognize some of Richard’s work that are on public display in New England.

Poised to dive

His friezes, depicting “Art” and “Architecture,” done in a Greek style, adorn the Fenway side of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A joyfully whimsical boy riding a frog is in a pocket park beside the Rockport Art Association and a woman executed in bronze, on the verge of diving, is in the inner courtyard of the Association. The diver was originally placed near their studio under a magnolia tree. When the blossoms began to fall, they created a pool of petals below, creating the illusion that she was diving into a pond of pink petals. Recchia’s statue of the Revolutionary War General John Stark astride a fiery steed graces Stark Park in Manchester, New Hampshire near the equestrian’s burial site. The Association and the Museum of Fine Arts have permission to reproduce some of his smaller pieces and they are occasionally available for sale.

Joyride

Self-satisfied feline

At peace

Kitty’s watercolors are more difficult to find on public display. However, I have included two examples from a private collection below.

Something to crow about

Summer in a vase

Richard and Kitty’s house and studio are Dutch Colonial in style with sweeping end gables, which give it a flair. Dutch Colonial architecture was not widely used on Cape Ann so the house stands out. The house, grounds and studio, although in a neighborhood setting, have a mini estate feel, complete with gazebo. They named the house and studio, Hardscrabble. Their early years of the struggling artists’ life were perhaps the inspiration for the name. The old artists-colony-style studio’s large metal framed windows that are inset into the Dutch style gable of the roof give clues to what lies within. The studio ceiling is two stories high with a huge arched doorway to the outside to accommodate the large sculptures that Richard executed in the space. Thankfully, both structures remain intact, although the studio was converted to a living space and both the house and studio were sold out of the family after their deaths.

Richard, sculptures, & studio

Richard, Kitty, & collie

Richard had the foresight to design his own tombstone before his demise, a large bronze headstone depicting Richard as a figure leaping in an upward rush heavenward. It is entitled “Flight of the Soul” and is located in a Rockport cemetery. Although not widely known, both of these individuals made up a group of artists that lived worked and created art in a town at the end of a cape.

Flight of the soul

Click on any photo to enlarge.

Cape Ann juts out into the Atlantic Ocean just North of Boston and has been a destination for artists for over a hundred years. The light that reflects from the surrounding sea is said to give off a particularly advantageous light for painting pictures and sculpting. Scattered around the towns of Rockport and Gloucester are dozens of studios that were built over the course of time when the area was a magnet for artists. The buildings that they constructed for creating their art mostly remain. Vast skylights built into the two story ceilings let light flood into these rooms. Northern facing skylights were thought best as the light casts little or no shadows due to the lack of direct sunbeams. Most of these visually arresting rooms have been turned into living spaces but unfortunately a few have been torn down. This post is a teaser for an upcoming series of photographs and stories about the studios, artists and their works. A “preservation act,” if you will.

Dine with a view

Those of you who took a child to Disney Land in its heyday and went on the Small World ride will remember that cloying annoying song that you could not get out of your head for days. That melody kept popping into my mind as I recently readied a 500 square foot living space for rental.

Wee space

The challenge in furnishing small spaces is creating a feeling of openness and yet providing areas where daily living activities can be performed easily and with comfort. No small order in 500 square feet. In most spaces this tiny, the common solution to the sleeping/living area dilemma is a daybed or a fold out sofa. The daybed solution requires a made bed with tons of pillows to support the back in order to sit during the day. The height of most daybeds are not conducive to comfortable sitting; the feet tend to dangle, not touching the floor. Fold out sofas have come a long way in recent years with inflatable mattresses — a vast improvement on the sofa beds of old. But removing the sofa cushions and placing sleeping pillows on the bed each night is still a bit of an ordeal. Reversing the process in the morning just makes you want to stay in bed to avoid your chambermaid tasks.

Disappearing act

Sometimes old solutions are the best solutions. We installed a Murphy bed in a sleek frosted glass fronted cabinet with huge sliding doors that conceal the bed by day. This frees up the limited floor space for a real sofa, end tables that have large drawers which double as bureaus, a coffee table, a dining table and chairs, and a Hans Olsen “fried egg” chair which looks like a piece of sculpture. All of the furniture you can see under; this expands the space visually, making it feel larger. The Murphy bed is counter weighted so that it comes down with a light pull. The other half of the cabinet is an ample closet with bars for hanging items and built in shelves and pull out drawers for clothes storage.

With large living spaces, furniture selection can be fluid as there are many choices as to placement of the pieces. If a piece does not work in one room, moving it to another is always an option. In a one room small space, each piece must be chosen to fit in its designated space and perform with aplomb. Form and function at its best. One painting graces this room and a modicum of “dust catchers” sit on surfaces. A music system, flat TV, and speakers all hang on a wall, freeing up floor space. The project’s end result is, although the space is compact, it has the comfort and feel of a much larger one.

Kitchen a la Jetsons

There were several “tricks” we used to accomplish this feeling. When sitting in the living room and looking into the kitchen, no appliances or sinks piled with dirty dished are visible. In the kitchen, most of the storage is below the counter with upper cabinet frosted glass garage door cabinets to house the dishes and glasses. The cabinets are lit from within and throw a soft glow of light through the frosted glass fronts. They seemingly float on the wall. All of the lower cabinets are on slender stainless steel legs and are lit from below, giving an airy open feeling to the room.

If the small world theme song would stop internally rewinding ad nauseam, we could appreciate our efforts.

A bit of extra space

After several recent encounters with houses with names, I have been pondering the phenomenon. Grand estates lend themselves to names. Do lesser abodes deserve to be named as well? What does the name of the house say about the namer? Just how famous do you need to be to name the house after yourself?

Up The Mount

The Mount in the Berkshires announced the social stature of its owner, Edith Wharton. It sits on a small rise, not a mountain, but then the name alludes to the lofty social position of the great writer.

The Vanderbilts’ Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island, describes the mansion perfectly. But ironically the Vanderbilts referred to it as a cottage. I suspect that the Vanderbilts knew that the words marble and cottage are not normally used in the same sentence when describing a house.

Faded glory of Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens in East Hampton, New York, owned at one time by an aunt and cousin of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, was named after an estate in England. The intent behind the name was probably to convey cachet. It’s ironic then that, after the 1972 film documentary and more recent Broadway musical about the squalor that Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale lived in, Grey Gardens now conjures images of rotting food, broken windows, and raccoon squatters.

Often on this blog, I have written about Howlets, a stone house in Folly Cove, Massachusetts built by the Hale family. Despite a family history encompassing Nathan Hale, Edward Everett Hale, Harriet Beacher Stowe, the painters Ellen Day Hale, Philip Leslie Hale, and Lilian Westcott Hale, and oddly enough, Helen Keller, the Hales nevertheless chose to name their summer home Howlets, meaning baby owls. The name suggests a certain humility.

Naming a house after your self is the ultimate act of ego. Sometimes it seems earned. One thousand-acre Appleton Farms, a land grant to Samuel Appleton in 1638, is the oldest continuous working farm in Massachusetts. This Ipswich, Massachusetts farm hosted many luminaries in its day, including the Duke of Windsor who hunted foxes on horseback there. As recently as a few years ago an Appleton still lived on the farm. It is currently owned by The Trustees of the Reservation and is very much an active farm. After nearly four centuries, the Appleton name has proved its staying power.

And sometimes naming a place after your self is just an indicator of a healthy self-regard. I recently stumbled over two such homes in Palm Springs, California. Villa Fontaine is named after the film and stage actress Joan Fontaine and Casa Liberace named after the pianist and vocalist. (Somehow the descriptor “pianist and vocalist” seems so inadequate to describe him, doesn’t it)? A good sense of self is important in life and absolutely vital in the entertainment business. The ownership of these homes has long passed to others, but the original plaques proudly remain. Staying power of a different sort.

LeFrak City is a sprawling 5,000-apartment complex in Queens, New York built in the 1960s. In his day, the developer Samuel LeFrak was the Donald Trump of his time. Years later, when LeFrak was asked about Donald Trump and his building of Trump Tower, LeFrak sagely responded, “a peacock today, a feather duster tomorrow.”

You do not have to travel to the Midwest to go inside a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Believe it or not, there are two Wright houses in Manchester, NH. One is privately owned and one is owned by the Currier Museum in Manchester, NH and is open to the public. Manchester’s riches of Wrightian architecture is unusual here. There are a mere scattering of  Wrightian houses in New England:  two in Connecticut, one in Massachusetts, and the two in New Hampshire. The Zimmerman House is the only one in New England available for the public to tour. A mid-century modern visitable piece of architecture, right in our own backyard.

Carport with a view

The Zimmerman house was built in 1950 for Dr. Isadore and Lucille Zimmerman. The house is “Usonian” in design, meaning it is efficient, economical and possessing a panache of style available to people of moderate means. With Usonian houses, Wright designed the cabinets, shelves, furniture  and gardens as a total concept living experience. The Zimmerman house is no exception. Although Frank Lloyd Wright never set foot in Manchester, he designed a house for the Zimmermans that sits perfectly on the lot. In visiting the house, only one feature struck me as impractical. The house has a carport, not unlike many Wright houses. New England winters and carports are diametrically opposed. None the less, the carport is gorgeous and has a view of the backyard for the driver, through a picture window-sized opening. There is no paint on any exterior surface as the window frames are poured concrete forms or stained wood and the exterior walls are brick. I guess the low maintenance exterior makes up for the sleet and snow exposed, albeit sexy carport.

Golden orange Georgia cypress ceilings

The Zimmermans lived in the house from 1952 until they died. The museum took over the stewardship of the house in 1988. The Zimmermans had the foresight to realize what a gem they had and bequeathed the house and contents to the museum. Pottery, mid-century artwork, and sculpture all left by the Zimmermans are on display. The house originally was designed by Wright with radiant heat flooring under the signature red color concrete floors. Unfortunately, the heating system failed at some point during Isadore and Lucille’s time there and a forced hot air heating system with ducts was installed. The duct work ran discordantly along the sweeping interior ceiling lines. As the docent explained during the tour, the museum undertook a massive “bring it back” project and jackhammered up the floors, removed the eye jarring duct work, reinstalled new radiant flooring, re-poured the concrete  and matched the original Wright red floor color. The result is beautiful.

When the house was built, the area around it was a country-setting suburb of Manchester. Now the setting feels more  built up suburban, but once you are on the grounds and in the house the country sylvan feeling returns. During the Zimermans’ time, they hosted many musicales. Wright designed a four sided wood music stand for this musical family so a quartet can all play facing one another. The Currier Museum has a twilight tour with live music in the garden room. You can experience what it must have been like to be a guest at one of their parties. Alas, no cocktails are served as you are inside a work of art. No inebriated stumbles allowed please.

Click on any photo to enlarge.

Sylvan setting

Icons take many forms. The word itself conjures up religiosity. Recently, I made a pilgrimage to an architectural icon named the “ship of the desert.” It is a house in Palm Springs, California, built in 1936. It is decidedly art deco in style and very unusual for the area. Most of the architecture in Palm Springs is either Spanish style with adobe walls and terra cotta tile roofs or mid-century modern flat roofs with enormous walls of glass. Curvy art deco did not make its mark in a big way here, so this house is one of a very few of its style in the area. The ship of the desert is tucked with its back just a few feet from the steep hillside rise of the San Jacinto mountain range and has a bowed front like a proud prow jutting over the desert floor. There is one small round window in the facade to root the house in Art Deco nautica.

The house is currently privately owned by fashion designer Trina Turk and her photographer husband Jonathan Skow. Check out Trina’s fashion sense at www.trinaturk.com and Jonathan’s photos at www.jonathanskow.com. She has her own retail shops in New York City, Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Tina and Jonathan recently had a holiday party at the ship of the desert, and I was lucky enough to be able to attend on the coat tails of an invited guest.  A true hanger on.

The house was built close to the peak of the Great Depression by the Davidsons, a department store family, for their winter retreat. The house has a doubly tragic past. Mrs. Davidson took her life after discovering her husband’s infidelity. The house passed through several owners and in 1998 it was a down-at-the-heels dowager in need of more than a fresh coat of lipstick. Tina and Jonathan were looking for a mid-century modern house in Palm Springs. Palm Springs is rotten with mid-century modern archtecture. Art Deco, not so much. They fell for the house despite its non-mid-century style and began a loving restoration. Midway through the process, tragedy struck again as an arsonist’s fire destroyed much of the structure. Crushed but undaunted, Trina and Jonathan hired Marmol-Radziner, an LA-based design firm to recreate the house as near to precisely as possible to the original. A kitchen stove miraculously lived through the fire and was incorporated into the kitchen design.

The subtle features of this house are discovered, not announced. The window shades, a neecessity to soften the harsh desert sun, disappear up into the ceiling when retracted. Indirect lighting is tucked up and recessed in the curve of the ceiling to softly light the living and dining rooms. An original main floor window that lowers fully into the basement but was destroyed by the fire, was religiously duplicated. “God is in the details,” as Mies Van de Rohe, an architect of other iconic buildings, once said. The end result of this restoration is breathtaking. This architectural icon perches proudly overlooking Palm Springs and the valley beyond. The chance to experience this house and, just for a while, fool myself into being someone other than me, was almost better than a trip to the Vatican. Viva coat tail pilgrimages.

Pairing items together that are seemingly disparate challenges the eye and sparks visual curiosity. When you flip through the shelter magazines and look at all of those perfectly pulled together rooms, do you want to step into the page, mess it up a bit, and rearrange it all to make it look less predictable and more lived in? Placing pieces together that shouldn’t work — but somehow do — shakes things up a bit and gives a room or garden a distinctive feel. When you see items together that suit each other too well — like a velvet wingback chair and a mahogany butler’s table — your mind’s eye gives a great big yawn. The eye seeks out the different and the unusual in order to be challenged and amused. A touch (emphasis on touch) of whimsy pulls out an inner smile. By whimsy here I do not mean “This way to the beach” signs placed in a seaside house, but rather a subtle pairing of pieces that evoke a “that is fun and unusual” response. Predictable = boring.

Here are some pairings that are like an odd couple marriage that somehow work to complement each other.

Click on any photo to enlarge.

 

The work on the house at Howlets is nearing completion. All of the systems are in place and working properly and the rooms are taking on their final looks. Fresh paint is making its way onto surfaces. A first fire burned merrily in the living room fireplace last night with the matching pair of dusty blue linen Edwardian sofas flanking the hearth. The paintings will be hung soon and books placed in the newly built bookcases, rounding out the living spaces. My attention now has turned to the outside.

The exterior spaces at Howlets are badly in need of a trim. Fall is the perfect time to accomplish this task, as the bare outlines of the trees emerge. The vegetation had been allowed to grow up over the last decade or so and has begun to take over. A “take back” attack was needed. There are many large locust trees on the property that now severely hamper the view of the ocean. Volunteer locusts have sprung up in alarming numbers throughout the yard and in the neglected garden spaces. Many of these have matured to saplings which further threaten the views. A chainsaw and a vision were needed. After consulting with owners David and Heather about what should stay and what should go, I brought over my power tool and work gloves and got to work. There is an immediate-need gratification that gets fulfilled when a view-blocking tree comes down. My excitement built as more and more of the view began to emerge. The movies Edward Scissorhands and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre sprang to mind as my chainsaw wielded its magic.

In an area of the yard that could potentially reveal a view of the lower quarry from the front porch, I had noticed a bit of poison ivy that had climbed into the trees and made a mental note to avoid it. That mental post-it somehow came loose in the excitement of the work as I pulled, cut and carried arm loads of cut woody material to the waste pile. The next morning I was vaguely aware of a slight itch on my arms, but did not give it much thought. As the itching turned to a burn and then blistering, I remembered the poison ivy and the 5-watt light bulb went off in my head. Uh oh.

As the week progressed the itching and burning began to creep from my arms to spots on my eyelid, cheek, throat, chest, armpit, hip and waist.  How could these areas be affected as I was sure that I was fully clothed that day? A check with Heather’s memory of my haberdashery that day confirmed, I was not nude swinging a chainsaw while felling trees. I am personally opposed to mixing nudity and mechanically whirring sharp objects.

Photos in blog posts help tell the story but in this case I will spare readers the horrors. New spots continue to rear their ugly blistered heads even more than a week after the confrontation. What nether regions will erupt next?  I have dreams of relieving the intense itch by dragging a fork over the affected areas. The blistering and oozing is visually arresting and makes me feel like a leper. In times past, lepers were required to carry clappers to warn others of their approach. There are a set of wood antique leper clappers available on eBay that are quite handsome. I am considering reviving that practice.

Make way for the infected