Delight is Right from New England Home
WHO’S DOING WHAT, WHEN, WHERE AND HOW IN THE NEW ENGLAAND DESIGN BUSINESS.
BY LOUIS POSTEL
NEW ENGLAND HOME MARCH / APRIL 2009
Who can think about having fun these days? Danny Sagan,for one. Sagan, an architect and professor based in Montpelier, Vermont, has just guest-curated Architectural Improvision: Vermont’s Design / Build Movement, 1964 – 1977 at the nearby Fleming Museum. The show features a fun-loving group of Yale School of Architecture grads like Sagan who found themselves building groundbreaking ski lodges in tiny Warren, Vermont. They figured potential clients would be more willing to finance experimental vacation homes than primary ones. And they were right. Tack House by David Sellers with Bill Reineke and others is not only fun, it’s as sculpture and beautiful as Frank Gehry’s bedeviled Stata Center at MIT. “And the Tack House interiors are exciting as well.” Says Sagan. “Rather than static spaces based on a central axis and a single idea, they’re like many different houses in one, each experienced differently. When you wander through them you find yourself on a journey. “A fun trip to be sure, but aren’t folks looking for a little old-fashioned stability right now? Sagan would have us think back to Vitruvius (80-15 B.C.), Roman soldier, architect and theorist. All buildings, said the ancient, need to be well built and to serve a purpose. But they also have a third requirements to provide a sense of delight. Okay, Sagan, you win: delighted we shall be.
Delight mixes most readily (and cheaply) with a can of paint. But there’s a tip from color consultant Barbara Jacobs of Medfield, Massachusetts: brushing stripes of color samples on the wall may be fun, but it’s less than effective. Instead, take a large poster board, paint the whole thing and move it around to see how it catches the light during the day. Another tip: keep an eye out for Silk Road Plum, a deep berry color Jacobs created for Ellen Kennon Full Spectrum Paints in San Francisco. “Most paint manufacturers mix in black, but they don’t,” Jacobs says. “Their paint contains many more pigments and is therefore optically rich.”
Designer Cindy Brumm of Ashland, Massachusetts, hopes to be having fun soon. Her renovation of the huge brick Victorian mansion that’s home to the Worcester Club is on hold till the economy’s off life support. “I feel like a racehorse at the gate – let’s go already,” she says. “Of course the older members think everything is fine as it is. “There are four gents who meet in this reading room everyday. ‘Why are you doing that?’ they tease whenever I make a change. But the club need to appeal to new members, and it knows it. The reading room’s green vinyl club chairs have to go, for instance. “Set for delivery are some HBF chairs covered in chocolate velvet. “You can have warmth as well as up-to-dateness,” insists Brumm.
Anxiety over change becomes particularly acute when it comes to favorite chairs. Debra Russo of Quality Leather Care in Stoneham, Massachusetts, works for all important showrooms: Montage, Baker, Mitchell Gold, Furniture Guild, Roche-Bobois. She can tell you firsthand how attached their thrones. “Some folks live in their chairs, 365 days a year, ten or twelve hours a day. Head oils and hand oils can have a higher pH than the leather, and the leather absorbs it all,” she says.
“One Supreme Court judge was so anxious about any changes to his chair, I said, ‘Let me just do half of it and see how you like it.’ I Happily, he ruled in favor of finishing the other half.”
Anxiety about change comes with the design territory, and it can suck delight right out of the equation. That’s why veteran designer Christian Bernard of Manchester, New Hampshire, insists on performing such often-neglected professional courtesies as returning client phone calls right away and showing up at deliveries. The muse of creativity loves a trusting atmosphere. She must have whispered in Bernard’s ear as he designed a room at the Room to Dream showhouse at Van Millwork in Needham, Massachusetts, last December. One small but inspired moment: a gold-leaf La Barge mirror hung vertically over the mantel rather than being matched lengthwise and horizontally, as is often the case. It was a pleasure to see the chandelier reflected, the ceiling visually heightened.
Fine art, naturally, is a delightful component of good design. Designer Jeanne Duval, whose hyperrealist paintings hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection, is working on a large commission for a Cambridge couple: a still life of pumpkins, a basket of apples, a cloth holding grapes and some pottery. Why doesn’t the Jaffrey, New Hampshire-based designer combine both disciplines and make murals for her design clients? “My work is too intimate for that, too much fine detail,” she says. Where Duval’s painting and designing do cross-pollinate is in the area of texture. She paints pottery so that you can almost feel its antique crustiness, and she designs to bring out every textural quality, “ I’ll contrast a set of very formal silver candelabras with a primitive Tibetan grain box. Their juxtaposition forces you to look carefully at each one,” she explains.
Duval’s vignettes are clearly delightful, but aren’t some things and some spaces – basements, for example – beyond the realm of delight? Actually, basements can be beautiful, too. Designer Eileen Patterson of Boston presented a project at Arclinea on “best use of space” involving clients who had run out of room, but who couldn’t build out. So Patterson built down. To change the dreary connotation of basement, she created a new entry, enlarging the two-foot-wide stair to a palatial six feet. Now the family lives happily on that below-grade level, which houses a kitchen, home theater, living room, even storage. Vitruvius would approve. NEH
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