A quick take on what defines Yankee Modern style? A combination of inherited antiques, inherited artistic ability, old oil paintings, new watercolors, many eccentric bits, and a few mid-century and current design classics.
And when I say Yankee, I mean New England High WASP of course. But today’s New England High WASP, while heir to the storied tradition of slender and tony, is a new thing altogether — not afraid of mixing an Ivy League education with a healthy dose of thrift store chic. At least I think this is the case. No one really tells me these things, as I’m from the Midwest — I’m left to surmise the state of modern WASPdom from reading GOOP (only a WASP could understand the appeal of that name for Gwyneth Paltrow) and J. Crew catalogs. But I think I pretty much get what’s going on here. Adapt or die, as evolutionary theory tells us, and the modern WASP is adapting nicely.
My friend Skinner is just such a creature, with a house that is the perfect mix of high and low. High as in her grandmother’s lovely and ponderous antiques and her great-grandfather’s highly-regarded oil paintings and Low as in the extremely cool sculptures she creates from objects scavenged from the beach, just a mere quarter-mile from her 18th-century home.
As anyone knows who pays attention to interiors, decorating involves more than just having a developed sense of quality, proportion and scale – though such a thing is invaluable. Good decorating – which is always interesting decorating – demands a certain editorial ability when it comes to color and accessories. The ability to see in the things that we use every day – the textiles, the candlesticks, the odd bits of purely decorative items – the aesthetic qualities that give a home its character. (This same ability translates nicely into fashion, by the way.) Such a home transforms into something completely representative of its current place and time, while somehow managing to summon a sense of history. And, I might add, also managing to transcend the trends that trip up the rest of us, trapping our homes into a time so particular that looking at photos of our interiors just a few years later carries with it the same sort of embarrassment as looking at high school yearbook hairstyles a generation on.
Skinner’s house is a classic center hall Colonial, built around 1720 in a coastal New England village. She and her husband – who is an expert builder and finish carpenter, saints be praised – have worked on restoring the house from its sad-sack tumbledown state to its present condition over the last 15 years. As anyone who has taken on the massive renovation of a historic house will tell you, such a project needs to be a labor of love. Otherwise you would be wiser to spend a few weeks with a sledgehammer and a couple of dumpsters, gut the thing, build out the interior with a whole bunch of 2 x 4s and sheet rock (don’t forget the 20-foot square spa bathroom!) and just call it a day. Oh, and then you can take the thousands of dollars and countless weekends you saved yourself and go to St. Barths, preferably during a long New England winter.
But the rest of us who don’t have the talent (or craziness) to restore historic houses are endlessly grateful to people like Skinner, who are willing to spend their vacation time poring over historic exterior paint colors as opposed to quaffing Coronas and getting tan on some exotic beach, all the while growing a paler shade of WASPy white.
Blessings on you, for keeping the New England aesthetic alive. You are a credit to your people.
Many thanks to Skinner for showing us her home. Anytime you would like to linger on an image in the slideshow, just click on the pause button.
- Hermann Dudley Murphy A 19th century artist famous for his paintings and beautiful frames (and Skinner’s great-Grandfather).
- Marimekko Finnish fabric house, hugely influential in the last century and currently experiencing a resurgence.