Interiors: Our House

For the most recent Stylebook, I thought it would be a good idea to feature my own home and my use of vintage pieces — items found in The Roving Home’s store and some from my own stash. While it feels strange to highlight my own living space before it reaches its more idealized version, it occurred to me that if I wait until this ideal is attained, I will never show a single photo of my house. Besides, I know how much I like to see other people’s interior design choices (I refuse to think of this in terms of voyeurism), so it only seems fair to show my own, especially since I’m always going on about how much vintage pieces add to interiors. And I thought it might be fun to show some of the no-cost approach we’ve taken toward the more generic aspects of our house, all while we wait for that glorious day when we can hurl money around like Reality TV stars and design the space to our specifications.

The following photographs are all by Esther Mathieu, whose use of natural light in interior shots is no small achievement. (Thank you Esther!)

Living room with vintage library table, school map and chinoiserie lamp & painted sideboard.

I love this antique black library table, which has heavy carved feet in the shape of lion’s paws (not shown). The painted sideboard is a mess of a piece which I bought when it was still a bit waterlogged from The White Elephant Outlet in Essex, Mass, where the owner leaves a good amount of his inventory out in the rain and snow for some unknown reason. The piece has great and unusual lines, tall and narrow, and it’s very useful too, with four drawers for linens and dishware as well as several shelves. The painted design was intended to be a stopgap — I’ve always meant to paint it something more dramatic, maybe just a solid red, but in typical fashion I’ve have never gotten around to it. The school map in the background is huge with a great depth of color. I just listed the map in our online shop recently but it doesn’t have quite the same impact in the store’s photographs that it conveys in real life. It is most definitely a conversation piece.

Living room with cabinet of curiosities.

I bought the painting sitting on the small black chair from the artist Gary Lavarack who showed up at a sad little craft fair in Rockport one summer with a bunch of his work. The paintings were shockingly good, especially in light of the prices he was asking for them. He disappeared from Rockport just as quickly as he showed up and after a few unsuccessful summers of attending the Craft Fair again in the hopes of finding him, I finally had the bright idea to google him (oh google! how much more mysterious the world was before you became a part of our lives!). It turns out that he has had an illustrious career in the movie industry, in visual effects no less. Apparently he’s off making movies and far too busy to sit for a day in downtown Rockport at an old-school (and not in a good way) Craft Fair, surrounded by woven potholders and handmade contact paper bookmarks. So if you want to buy a really good painting from a non-starving artist, you’ll have to track him down online. I am very happy that I was lucky enough to encounter him in person, as I love my painting in its ten-dollar flea market frame with its Hopper-esque depiction of a farmhouse in Maine.

The cabinet of curiosities is actually a custom-made store display cabinet from the 19th century. I bought it to sell in my store but have never really wanted to part with it. I’m glad I gave in to the urge to keep it.

living room with black & white images

This Moroccan-inspired side table is another piece that I keep thinking I need to paint red. But somehow I never quite move away from my palette of neutrals, as illustrated by my extensive use of black & white in this wall of vintage images. My favorite photograph on this wall is an old one of Rockport’s famous fishing shack, Motif No. 1, taken in the 1930s.

handpainted chinoiserie panel

Chinoiserie handpainted panel. I never get tired of this classic motif, which is a good thing, as I paint these pieces to sell in my shop. The chair is antique with a handpainted faux bois finish. And it cost $5. Which makes me love it even more (Is that bad? To base my affection for my possessions on how little they cost?)

Driftwood over the fireplace.

This driftwood piece over the fireplace is huge and resembles a fish, a wave, or an angel’s wing — depending on eye of the beholder. The old painting depicting a rooftop view of a European village was found in a junk shop in Belgium, when I visited my sister in Antwerp where she lived for several years. I only mention this because it makes it seem like I shop in Belgium regularly, when my actual antiquing route rarely takes me more than 30 miles from my front door. This is the sad reality.

Dining room with vintage light fixture and my great-great grandmother’s table.

This light fixture is another $5 find. Again, I believe this makes me love it even more, pathetically enough. But what this fixture really adds to my life is a touch of streamlined modernism, especially in light of the fact that there is so much old brown stuff in our dining area. I really need to replace our chairs with something more interesting and not-brown. This is on my to-do list. Where it will stay until further notice.

Kitchen with vintage schoolroom clock.

A few years ago we took on a kitchen makeover, or make-under, in a quick attempt to update the space that we spend more time in than any other, it seems. We changed out our dated oak cabinets by removing the upper ones and replacing them with open shelving. Instead of replacing the existing lower cabinets, we just painted them a glossy black (simple to wipe down), after which we pretty much called it a day on this particular remodeling job. The fun part was  adding a few accessories, mostly in avocado & fern green and using hand-blocked dish towels from Dermond Peterson as cafe curtains.

Kitchen table & chalkboard wall.

The ever-present chalkboard wall, which I unapologetically love. It’s useful and fun, lending itself to grocery lists and artistic endeavors in equal measure. Let’s hear it for chalkboard paint, may it never go away entirely, no matter how many hipsters slather it on their walls!

Vintage metal light fixture in upstairs landing

The light fixture is another Moroccan-inspired piece, jazzing up a very boring upstairs landing. The wall color ties into the upstairs bathroom, which can be seen from the stairs.

childrens’ bedroom with vintage painting

I will eventually paint these beds — again, there is far too much brown wood in my life — but for now the color in the room is provided by the aqua accents in the room, most of which are vintage. The blinds are an extremely simple solution to the ever-present window treatment problem: aqua polka dot fabric applied to cheap vinyl roller blinds with spray adhesive. The lampshades are custom-made from images taken from vintage postcards of Rockport that I have in my collection.

childrens’ bedroom

Upstairs bathroom.

The bathroom is, like the kitchen, a no-cost idea for updating generic builder’s features. We painted the golden oak vanity a deep slate grey, changed out the pulls, put up vintage mirrors to replace the giant sheet of mirrored glass, and add a valance made of found wood pieces. Done! The beautiful little seascape is by the artist Karen Tusinski, in shades of grays and greens that perfectly capture the mood here on the rocky New England coast. The vintage oar with the great patina as well as the green glass floats are all from our own shop. The linen hand towel is from my beloved Brahms Mount textile company in Maine.

upstairs bathroom

That’s the tour for now. Of course there’s more to the house — another bedroom, an office, a powder room — but I decided to leave a little mystery to our interiors. And it gives me something to aspire to…someday I will make all of our spaces interesting enough to photograph. And in the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that much of the reality of living in our home is successfully edited out of the photos: the sense of scale (small!), the mess in every room (endless!), and the tiny children, who seem to be always hanging around (but they are very, very cute…)

For more vintage pieces and interiors, be sure to check out all three of our 2012 Stylebooks and don’t miss stopping by photographer Esther Mathieu‘s site as well.

Art, Food & Conversation

Art Now Rockport was conceived as a different sort of art event. Not a buying event. Not strictly an exhibit. Something more immediate, interactive. An upbeat, conversational evening that would depart from the wine-and-cheese-and-murmuring-while-gazing-at-paintings sort of thing that usually takes place at art events. Frankly, Art Now Rockport was designed to be a bit of a kick in the pants for all of us interested in seeing art thrive on Cape Ann by asking us a tough question: do we have a role to play in the success of young artists in our community, especially the artists creating unconventional work? Rockport’s emerging artists have the weight of 150 years of artistic heritage on their backs, and while it’s an incredible thing to follow in the footsteps of Fitz Henry Lane and Edward Hopper, it can also make it difficult to break into a culture that knows just how it likes its art served up, thank you very much. A culture that doesn’t think it needs any changes, whether this means a new art institution or a new artist.

Karen Tusinski's work at Art Now Rockport

Art Now Rockport took place on September 17th at the home of Greg & Abby Cahill O’Brien in what was the perfect setting. Not only because the home is so beautiful, but because it served as a metaphor for the event itself: a historic home with a storied role in the community (the house is the former Rockport Lodge) that has been modernized and updated — brought into the 21st century — while still retaining a sense of the past. The same thing will happen — must happen — to the art scene in Rockport if our status as an art colony is going to continue long into the 21st century. Continue reading

Bottle Redemption

I went to the Tusinski Gallery in Rockport to see the exhibit Catch, which opened on Earth Day and runs through May 22nd.  Catch features pieces created entirely from objects found on Rockport’s beaches.

The best — and worst — part of the show was in the kind of found objects the artist used in her work. None of the usual suspects in the art-as-inspired-by-the-sea category were to be seen. Not a single bleached shell, not a curvy chunk of driftwood, not even a sandblasted shard of sea glass. Everything included in Catch was man-made.

Water bottles and jugs, bottle caps, lighters, deflated balloons, old gloves and cups from Dunkin’ Donuts —  a riot of color was displayed in photographs and shadowboxes, all items that we’d thrown away long ago, never to be seen again. And yet, like a miracle performed by a malicious entity, this stuff is seen again. And again. Our trash shows up in our lives in continual and unexpected ways. Maybe as we take a walk on the beach, seeking refuge in nature only to find a tampon applicator underfoot, washed up on the sand and nestled among the strands of seaweed and clam shells like an uninvited guest, the swine among the pearls. Surveying the artfully arranged detritus included in Catch, it became clear that the ocean has finally met its match in that fantastical material we’ve invented which is every bit as eternal as the sea itself: plastic.

The artist behind Catch, who also happens to be my friend Skinner (well-known to The Roving Home’s readers for her Yankee Modern style ) extends her critical eye beyond the unfortunate timelessness of plastic. She picks ups driftwood as well, but only lumber — altered and treated wood — that has made its way back to shore. Maybe these pieces were hurled into the sea in a fit of rage from some multi-million dollar oceanside deck project gone awry. Who knows? But Skinner finds them and turns them into three-dimensional sculptures, graphic testaments to our ongoing collaboration — or maybe war — with nature.

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For more information:

Catch runs through May 22nd at the Tusinski Gallery, 2 Main Street in Rockport. 978.546.2244.

Skinner’s blog documenting her beach finds, also called Catch

Interiors: Yankee Modern Style

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.

Detail of one of Skinner’s Beach Find Sculptures

Inherited antique table, light with drum shade and vintage Marimekko fabric panels on the wall.

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.

Inherited Italian table with natural wonders

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.

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Relevant Links:

  • 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.