Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hunting and Gathering

It might be the fact that the trees here in Vermont are already turning or the noticeable decrease in daylight hours, but the familiar feeling of needing to make a few small adjustments at Church Street is creeping in. My first subject: the living room's glass coffee table. A vitrine of sorts, it houses a revolving display of curiosities including vintage shop finds, remnants of nature and design books. It is the place my current inspirations are assembled for all to enjoy, and sometimes not - my youngest deemed the turtle shells "cool but gross."

Not so much a seasonal display, but the bounty of happy hours spent prowling antique stores and flea markets. During this summer's explorations of the region I've discovered some great shops I will be sharing with you soon in posts on the website REstyleSOURCE where I have been invited to join the team of contributors. If you are not already familiar with the site, it is a curated guide to the best in local shopping and home design resources across the states. In the meantime, after a busy month of work, I am ready to hit the road and next week will be headed for Brimfield. I would love to know who else might be there!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Vermont Garden

Being busy with work has kept us close to home this summer. In years past the last six weeks would have been spent at our cottage in Rhode Island, and while change always requires a degree of adjustment, I have not missed our old routine. Instead, I have never felt more industrious and creative. Most weekends we have diverted ourselves with exploring our home state. Following are photos from a recent visit to North Hill, the home and garden of renowned horticulturalists and authors Joe Eck and the late Wayne Winterrowd. It is a true Vermont garden - experiential and productive - its paths encourage exploring the wooded acreage and an abundance of food is raised here.

I bought Joe and Wayne's book, A Year at North Hill, in 1999 just after we finished building our former house and I embarked on my first Vermont garden. It is a beautiful story and excellent resource for New England gardeners. Their recently released, co-authored book, To Eat: A Country Life, is a wonderful primer on living well. For information on visiting the garden, workshops and events at North Hill, see the website here.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Room With A (New) View

Setbacks call for new perspectives. Personally, I need to perform this exercise literally so despite the effect it has on Mr. H's blood pressure, late last week I started moving furniture. This episode focused on my desk and work area which was formerly tucked entirely into a compact alcove created by a dormer and is now across the landing in an airy, open space facing two windows.

In a small house one needs to consider every space and sometime be creative to make the best use of it. When I was finished Mr. H quickly agreed this was improvement - the result was a more functional and dynamic working environment. And as Mr. H likes to tell me, 'what you focus on expands,' and I have a much wider view now.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Architecture as Art: Frederic Church and Olana

For anyone interested in touring historic homes, New York's Hudson River Valley is a paradise. The river's shores are dotted with architectural gems from just outside the city and continuing for miles upstate. While I am game for touring any architecturally significant structure, I am most curious about those whose former occupants are of interest to me.

Many of the paintings that emerged from my favorite movement in American art, The Hudson River School, also had roots in this area. After studying here with Thomas Cole, who is regarded as the father and founder of the School, landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church returned in 1870 to build his dream house, the Persian-inspired Olana. Visiting the house during our recent holiday was the fulfillment of a long held wish.

Although Church was a wildly successful painter during his lifetime, he had the advantage of starting out with family money that enabled him to travel. Many of his best-known, large scale paintings began as sketches in far-off locations - the Middle East, South America and the Arctic.

While Church never actually made it to Persia, he did travel in the regions that are now Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt - incredible journeys at that time - and from architecture viewed on those trips and images gleaned from books he developed the designs for building and decorating Olana which was named for an ancient Persian fortress and treasure-house.

The house is nearly perfectly preserved as it was during Church's lifetime. His daughter-in-law, Sally, who was Olana's last resident, maintained it as a museum to Church and his beloved wife Isabel. After Sally's death in 1964 the house, its furnishings, and the large number of Church's paintings it contained were rescued from auction by a group of private citizens with the support of then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller. 

The house is sited on a high promontory and from several rooms, through large arched windows, are absolutely extraordinary views of the Hudson River Valley. The execution of the architecture treats the views as painterly subjects.

Interior photography is not permitted as much of the woodwork is painted with elaborate stenciling designed by Church and every effort is being taken to preserve it. The following five images are from Olana's website where you can 'virtually' tour four rooms.

The front door from the interior of the vestibule; the Arabic symbol  painted on the glass means 'welcome.'

The view from the vestibule through the large central room which was inspired by the open-air courtyards found in the interiors of middle-Eastern homes. The window at the very end frames the view from Church's studio.

The central court which forms the axis of the house and from which all the ground floor rooms are accessible.

A sample of the intricately detailed interior painting.

The dining room. While we waited outside for our tour to begin, I wondered at the long windowless expanse to the right of the front door. It was planned to accommodate this gallery wall where Church displayed old-master style paintings collected on his tours of Europe. In spite of his status as a true master among his contemporaries, Church was not an art snob. Many of the paintings he purchased were of no significant value. He bought images he liked and on some of the canvases he even made small changes or 'corrections.'

Isabel's study. The painting over the fireplace, Church's El Khasné, Petra, was a gift to Isabel from her husband. While Isabel accompanied Church on a tour of Holy Land sites in 1867 and 1868, she did not join him on the four week trip to Petra and he painted the monumental canvas to share what he saw with her.

photo: Andy Wainwright via Martha Stewart

Isabel was only four feet, nine inches tall. The tiny desk here in her study was specially made to accommodate her petite proportions. The large ogee arch window on the left is one of several on the first floor that frame the stunning long-range views of the river and valley.

photo: Andy Wainwright via Martha Stewart

Olana is rare among historic houses in that everything it contains is original. In Church's studio his easels, paints and brushes remain.

photo: Andy Wainwright via Martha Stewart

Church considered the landscape surrounding the house a continuation of his architectural canvas. Every approach, view and pathway was thoughtfully planned. There is a small and charming flower garden just below the house.

Long range views take in a pond, farmland that supplied Olana's kitchen and the Hudson River. There is a fascinating piece on the history of Church's cultivation of the property - from his original purchase of a farm below the house, the house's eventual siting, and the full development of the 250-acre landscape on Olana's website here.

The pond near the bottom of the drive.

Visit the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for more information on The Hudson River School and Frederic Edwin Church. For more information on Olana or to plan a visit take a look at the website here. Throughout the year the Olana Partnership hosts exhibits, events, lectures and art classes on the property.