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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Interiors: A Sneak Peak

Tomorrow’s Interiors feature here at The Roving Home will highlight the home of a friend of mine, who is an expert in what I consider to be the  Yankee Modern school of decorating. Which involves a dash of inherited antiques, enormous artistic ability (also inherited), lots of paintings, odd bits (the prerogative of every dyed-in-the-wool WASP), and a few pieces from Design Within Reach.

It all adds up to something kind of perfect… More tomorrow!

Handmade: Vintage Ornaments

One of the best holiday treats I received this year was a tour of my friend Skinner’s inherited wealth of handmade Christmas ornaments.  Skinner’s grandmother crafted dozens and dozens of ornaments, coming up with clever designs using recycled bits about 50 years before anyone ever thought of creating a multi-billion dollar industry out of such a thing.  When I think of handmade ornaments, I think of going to my own grandmother’s church bazaars many years ago, with table after table filled with items like tissue box covers shaped like houses and lady mice dressed in frilly dresses and lace caps that were designed to be hung over a broom, the skirt of the dress flaring over the broom’s bristles.  Because one’s broom should always be properly attired.

But Skinner’s grandmother was in a different league altogether – the ornaments she crafted didn’t have that church-basement sensibility.  She gave them loads of handmade details, like tiny hand-woven snow shoes and tiny knit caps.  Nothing is dated or slightly creepy (in an un-ironic sense), as is so often the case with handcrafted pieces.  .

Now if only we could all receive such an inheritance.  I know I would look forward to dragging my Christmas boxes out of storage every year if it gave me the chance to see these pieces again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Christmas: Natural & Homemade

My friend Skinner has mad style, as the kids say (do kids still say that?).  She has all the right credentials – art school, stints as a shop owner, as a product and floral designer, etc. –  but her credentials are nothing compared to her plain old raw ability.

You can see her talent in the front-door wreath she pulled together from generally not-seen-together elements: scavenged berries, fresh greens, and tiny little bright green brussel sprouts.  Brussel sprouts?  Yes.  Why not?  A lovely green color, round as an ornament, a gift from nature itself – what could be more reminiscent of the holidays?  And because my friend is slightly (well…more than slightly) obsessed, these brussel sprouts are organic.

Look at the wreath’s color against aubergine door. But first, notice the aubergine door.  Classic New England style, yet completely fresh all the same.