Trade Secrets by Louis Postel in New England Home | September/October 2015
Frustrated trying to get out of your leafy, suburban driveway, hedged and wedged by an ever-increasing onslaught of traffic?
You’re not alone.
Guided by GPS apps on smartphones and other navigational devices, motorists desperately seeking short cuts around New England’s congested highways have been infiltrating and upending its quiet suburbs. Police chiefs are now calling these places “cut-through” communities.
Fortunately, there has been a counter-reaction, a purposeful slowing-down, a premium on human over Hummer — homes that are walkable to amenities, mixed-use downtowns, bike paths, lower speed limits. Porches designed for sitting and waving at neighbors passing by are coming back into vogue, as well. As a crosswalk sign reads in Portland, ME, “Wait, Walk, Wave.” Wave, make eye contact, be a neighbor, be human!
This approach to human-centric approach is expressing itself in other unexpected ways, some more about the global village than the ones around Route 128.
For example, architect Karen Brown of Sherborn, MA is developing a new and brilliant furnishings collection following her involvement with Architects for Humanity in Madagascar. There, island farmers and craftspeople make a sustainable, non-silk-worm-killing textile from the abandoned cocoons. Lustrous and rough-hewn, the stuff belies the feminine side of silk. Maybe think of it as silk for brawny guys. In any case, Brown upholstered the sides of a chair with this material, donating it to IFDA’S Take A Seat Auction for Charity which was previewed at the new Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams showroom in Natick, MA, along with some other stunning exercises in up-cycled furnishings.
A second chair by interior designer Vani Sayeed of nearby Sudbury, Ma called Papillon had a vampy blue jacket fabric and LED lights fixed to its bottom, which made for a kind of fairy tale garden glow over the rug And third by Edwina Drummond Boose of Boston made light of Boston’s winter from hell last year. She found one of those controversial obnoxious “space saver” chairs perched high on a mountain of snow —— and left a note asking if she could have it for a fundraiser. The owner of the this solid maple, ladder-back kindly obliged, thereby relinquishing his precious space as well. The auctioning off the entire chair collection took place at the Larz Anderson vintage car museum in Brookline, raising just over $16,000 for the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development. Noteworthy was the fact that the 1900 Rochet-Schneider, the 1915 Packard Twin Six, the 1908 Bailey Electric and others in collection seemed more human in scale than the Chevy Suburban and Ford 150 pickups of today. Take a seat, indeed in these motorized carriages!
In a balmy tent set up outside the museum last Spring, Chief Eternal Optimist Ted Goodnow of Woodmeister won the auction for Brown’s wild-silk entry. It now has pride of place at the firm’s showroom in Boston’s South End. Perhaps it’s not entirely coincidental that this masculine display of raw silk upholstery debuted where a few months before the same showroom hosted the Designing Interiors for Men panel hosted by designer and television personality Taniya Nayak.
Interior designer and blogger Robin Roberge of Marblehead feels that good communities, as opposed to the “cut-through” places we’re hearing about, depend on giving back through community involvement. For Roberge this means a lot of volunteering for The League of Women Voters. “So often the typical female fashion bloggers are pushing products. When I started my blog I saw a void when it comes to living a wholesome life, raising a family and being a good kind of person.” Roberge’s blog Catch Haberdashery catchhaberdashery.com celebrates “relaxed, refined, New England style” and is a catch-all for design, entertainment and lifestyle tips. One surprise among many: Her new AGA 6 stove. “The old Hansel and Gretel type models used to run all day long. The 6 features an electric convection oven with a gas top which sears Chinese recipe, and paella very fast. People especially love my pretzel-baking video on the site.”
It’s easy to picture master refinisher Peter Gedrys of East Haddam, CT making a beautifully glazed pretzel with our without an AGA. “Using a flat finish is much easier on the finisher. It hides flaws, but it also masks color and kills any life or soul the color once had,” says Gedrys.
He compares flat, low gloss and high gloss, labor-intensive finishes to cooking chicken thighs (not specifically pretzels!). “You put them in a roasting pan with some salt and pepper. They’re edible, but boring. Brown the same thighs, remove, sauté onions, deglaze the pan with chicken stock, balsamic vinegar and honey to balance the flavor. Add thighs back in and roast, basting along the way. The result is a delicious, complex flavor. Call it mahogany chicken!”
When Route 6 on the Cape gets backed up, who can deny using our GPS to find some backroad shortcut?
“Nevertheless,” says designer Linda Vantine of East Sandwich, MA, “our clients fifty and up are all coming here to do some reflecting and to slow down,”, “while remaining relatively close to Boston. They are often from interesting and substantial backgrounds — inventors, authors, and athletes who arrive with nice memorabilia.” “And it’s not just athletes arrive with too much and they feel overwhelmed. One client arrived here having spent thirty years in Manhattan collecting art. We spent many hours going through the collection. Never mind whether or not it was done by a brand name artist, something on the Picasso level, I wanted to know what spoke to her, what brought her joy? Still there were so many pieces left even after whittling them down. So my client suggested that we do a winter theme and a summer theme.”
At first Vantine tried to talk her out of it — She could just imagine all the confusion switching seasons. And her husband thought the seasonal art switch was just ridiculous. But Vantine’s client persisted. In the end it worked out much better than Vantine or the husband expected.
“I feel we both grew from the experience. We went ahead and labelled every piece and stored it away neatly, or hung it — switching themes in winter to brass and gold frames with red and green jewel tone accessories such as candles, and in summer we’d go back to beach and other scenes in frames of ivory and blue. We would use the same nails winter and summer with the only costs being repairs. If New England and the Cape are about anything it’s about the change in seasons. We’d never wear the same clothes all year long, why hang the same artwork?”
One beach scene whose ebbing over the years will soon undergo a flow is in Swansea, MA where architect Steven Kelleher’s firm, based in nearby Fairhaven, is working on a total revitalization of the nine acre waterfront. This will include a 288 person concert and dance pavilion, a new boardwalk, bath house and concession building, a waterside patio, a playground and 25,000 yards of sand lost to erosion.
Once a big draw for community events, Town Beach and its old Bluffs building fell into neglect. The fierce tempos of Benny Goodman’s 1940’s swing era became faded and forgotten, as cars propelled residents away from Swansea to larger, more exotic beaches further away.
Maybe what we are seeing is a recognition of the virtues of slowing down, not just for the over-fifty set, but for everyone. We may be giving up our giddy affair with speed in favor of connection and community. Even though a GPS can take us anywhere at all by the shortest route possible, maybe we’re already there. Or as the critic James Howard Kunstler might say our “yearning for an everyday environment worthy of our affection” may be hard to calculate digitally, but it’s no less real than a stop sign on Main Street.