Tag Archives: Interiors

Stroll with a Goal

I walk steadfastly to work, down Lafayette Street, nearly every day all semester long, but now that Spring has finally arrived in Salem I can stroll a bit in my own neighborhood. I did just that the other day when the sun was out, with a goal but looking for flowers along the way. Last week one of my favorite Essex Street houses came on the market: the Sprague-Peabody-Silsbee House, built in 1807 for Salem merchant Joseph Sprague (with interior carving attributed to Samuel McIntre), and later enlarged and remodeled by William G. Rantoul. This is a striking Federal house, cast in a fading yellow-painted brick, with one of Salem’s best carriage houses out back. I always smile when I see it, not only because it is pleasing to look at, but also because I remember the charming couple that lived there for many years.

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Along the way: a field of flowers on Chestnut, an “antler” on Federal, and a window on Essex.

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The Sprague-Peabody-Sillsbee House, 1807: front and sides (the Rantoul additions are on the right side, I assume, and in the back–plus the balustrade?), carriage house and interior shots from the listing; exterior detail.


Emulating Salem

I’ve been trying for quite some time, in several posts, to place Salem squarely in the center of the Colonial Revival design movement of the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries–and not just the artistic and academic movement, but also its more popular expressions. This is a continuing exploration, and as I am trained not as an art historian, or even an American historian, but a plain old English historian, I’m not sure that I’m searching in the right places or looking at the right sources. Right now I’m particularly interested in the broader impact of the period rooms installed in several major American museums after George Sheldon (at Deerfield in the 1880s) and George Francis Dow (at Salem’s Essex Institute in 1907) created the first period-room displays. By the 1920s and 1930s period rooms seem to have been assembled in most of the major American art museums, among them distinct Salem rooms such as that established by architectural historian Fiske Kimball at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1923 and the South Bedroom/later “McIntire Room” at Winterthur.

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Salem Room Winterthur McIntire Room

The Salem and McIntire Rooms at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Winterthur Museum.

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that you see advertisements for reproductions and adaptations of “Salem” furniture from this very same era, though the inspiration could be traced to many sources. Several major American furniture manufacturers, including Karpen Furniture and the Erskine-Danforth Corporation, produced entire lines of “Early American” reproductions. The latter’s Danersk line, advertised with accompanying Salem ships, seems like the very epitome of the popular Colonial Revival.

Salem Room

Salem Room 1928

The “Salem Room”: 1928 vignette by Edgar W. Jenney, who specialized in the depiction and reproduction of historical interiors and worked to preserved them–most notably on Nantucket.

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1926 advertisements for Danersk Early American furniture, Erskine-Danforth Corporation.

It’s not really Salem-specific, but I can’t resist referencing the great 1948 Cary Grant/Myrna Loy film Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House here, because it both exemplifies and mocks the longstanding influence of the Colonial Revival in America. After an interior decorator (named Bunny Funkhouser!) sketches an over-the-top “Colonial” living-room redesign for the Blandings’ NYC apartment featuring a cobbler’s bench, pie safe, and spinning wheel, they decide to decamp for the real thing in Connecticut. When their authentic colonial is deemed unsound, they level it and build a neo-Colonial, a bit more refined than Funkhouser’s sketch certainly, but most definitely Colonial in inspiration and design. I can’t find a still of the Funkhouser room, but you’ve got to see it to believe it.

Blandings


Santarella for Sale

One of my favorite hobbies/timekillers is stalking historic houses for sale online. My “territory” used to be exclusively local (so I could hang on to the notion that I was actually searching for a house that I might possibly buy, I suppose) but now my real-estalking knows no bounds. The National Trust for Historic Preservation runs a property sale site that I check in with periodically; yesterday I popped on there and quickly spotted Santarella for sale! Santarella is the ultimate east-coast storybook house, built by the English sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson in the 1920s in the western Massachusetts town of Tyringham. I posted about it a couple of years ago on my way out west. At that time, I hadn’t realized the size of the Santarella compound, which includes not only the storied main house, but several romantic silo structures, a c. 1750 farmhouse, and an absolutely charming English shingle cottage, all on four acres and for $2,590.000. A bargain, I say: if I could make the mortgage (and the commute), I’d snap it right up.

Santarella in snow

Santarella for Sale

Santarella colonial house

Santarella Cottage

Santarella for sale:  the main house in snow and summer, the colonial homestead, and the English cottage.

Even farther from home, several other houses appealed to me particularly on the National Trust site–actually all did, but this post cannot go on forever! My highlights:  the 1763 “Arch House” in Waterford, Virginia (I love 18th century rowhouses, and this one looks unique), “Eagles Nest”, a restored 17th century manor house in a beautiful Virginia setting, a Greek Revival in upstate New York (for under $200,000–in a really charming town), a brick Maryland Federal, and a stunning 1828 brick house in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania which features one of the most beautiful hallways I have ever seen. Obviously I could go on and on: you can check out plantations, churches, rectories, banks, taverns, hotels, a “whiskey bonding barn”, the site of Edgar Allen Poe’s honeymoon “suite”, and save an imperiled Connecticut saltbox/gambrel from pending demolition.

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RE Eagles Nest

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From top: the Arch House in Waterford, Virginia; “Eagles Nest” exterior and front hallway/staircase; Cambridge, New York Greek Revival; the Davis House in Clarksburg, Maryland: exterior and architectural detail; front hall of the 1828 Harriet Lane House in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. All listings at the National Trust; another site to check out for Mid-Atlantic historic homes is the Historic Homes Network. For New England: Antique Homes Magazine.


New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day is generally and literally about dismantling for me: taking down the elaborate holiday displays I assembled only weeks before on my eight fireplace mantels and all of the other decorations around the house. The tree is relatively easy compared to everything else, frankly, and as I write it’s out on the sidewalk awaiting its transport to Dead Horse Beach for the annual Christmas Tree bonfire this weekend. I’m an habitual seasonal decorator but now I’m wondering if I should reign in this instinct a bit….that’s certainly an attainable New Year’s resolution! In between bouts of dismantling I wasted copious amounts of time browsing the web for the perfect 2014 datebook because the one I bought at Target the other day is so devoid of any aesthetic whimsy that I fear I will not use it, and I need to: this is another area where my life has changed since becoming chair of my department–I now need to keep track of everyone’s dates and not just my own. As usual, I had Turner Classic Movies on in the background, and several movies distracted me from my dismantling mission as well, most notably the original (1968) Thomas Crown Affair. I had to figure out exactly where Steve McQueen lived on Beacon Hill in Boston (85 Mount Vernon Street–the 2nd Harrison Gray Otis house!!!) and examine each one of Faye Dunaway’s amazing outfits. And then, of course, I had to keep checking the weather reports as we have a big snowstorm bearing down on us: it looks like I will have several days inside to come up with some new displays for my mantels.

A day in the life: outside my bedroom window, the calm before the storm; a Christmas mantel before its dismantling; I love these little fabric trees from Quietude Quilts so I’m going to keep them up for a while; great Christmas presents: Wanderlust plates made in Rhode Island; Jessica Hische pocket planner; 85 Mount Vernon Street, Boston.

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Christmas Roses

I like to decorate with live plants at the holidays–and all year round–but I don’t particularly care for the traditional Christmas plants: cyclamen is too gaudy for me, as are Christmas cacti, and I can’t stand the smell of paperwhites. I suppose amaryllis are alright, but I can never get them to bloom on time and, again, I find them a bit showy. Poinsettias are too predictable (and I have cats). So the only flowering plant that I seek this time of year are hellebores, varieties of which are alternatively called “Christmas Roses” (helleborus niger) and “Lenten Roses”. You’ve got to love a winter-blooming flower, and the association with Christmas is based not only on the season but also on the story of a penniless shepherdess who sought to give a gift to the baby Jesus–an angel turned her tears into pale waxen flowers, which were, of course, the greatest gift. Like tears, hellebore petals are seemingly-fragile, especially in contrast to their sturdier stems, and white, like winter (although there are pale pink varieties too–but the Christmas rose is white). There is another dissonance between the virtues of the plant and its seasonal beauty:  all of the classical and medieval herbals testify to its toxic qualities.

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Hellebore after John White BM 1600

Hellebore Mary Delaney BM 1770s

Hellebore Cooper Hewitt early 19th century

Hellebore McIntosh

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A succession of hellebores:  British Library MS. Egerton 747, Salernitan Herbal c. 1280-1310; two images from the British Museum: after John White, c. 1600 and Mary Delaney, 1770s; early 19th century British soft paste plate from the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian; a Charles Rennie MacKintosh drawing, c. 1901-1914, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; one of my potted hellebores, overlooking a snowy Chestnut Street.


Estate Sale

In the midst of all the festive houses decorated for the Christmas in Salem tour stood one cold and dark house, its contents spilled out and “displayed” for all to see and buy: this is the Captain John Collins house, beautifully situated on Turner Street with the House of the Seven Gables in front and a boatyard in back. All of the architectural authorities date this house to circa 1785, but it has that boxy (rather than rectangular) shape that gives me pause, or testifies to later additions. It has been in need of paint for quite some time, but inside it was relatively pristine–in need of work certainly, but possessing great bones. I could never be a good antiques picker because estate sales are a bit intimate for me (and here the sheets were still on the bed, literally), but this particular one offered me an opportunity to get into a house I’ve often wondered about, so I could not resist. My friend Carol and I wandered all through the house, focusing more on the architectural details (great paneling,distinct mantels, beautiful doors and floors, finely-plastered ceilings still in quite good shape, old wooden storm windows) than the stuff (although we did admire a 1950s roaster), and from a third-floor bedroom I gazed out at Salem Harbor (looking over the House of the Seven Gables), a view that Captain Collins must have taken in (without all those wires) many times. The word on the street is that the house has already sold, and I suppose condominiums are on its horizon.

The Captain John Collins House this weekend and in the mid-20th century, MACRIS (Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System).

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Estate Salem Capt John Collins House 1785

Interior views, and looking outside:

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Christmas in Salem 2013

The Christmas in Salem house tour, Historic Salem, Inc.’s major fundraiser, has been an annual tradition in Salem for over 30 years. It alternates between neighborhoods from year to year, and this year’s tour–Ports of Call–is centered on Derby and Essex Streets in the eastern end of the city. I’m always impressed with the effort that goes into this tour, as well as the generosity of the owners (and I speak from experience here–it’s quite a commitment), but of course it’s all about the architecture. Ports of Call suggests a maritime theme, but for me, this year’s tour was all about architectural diversity–as I walked through a succession of houses that included McIntire’s perfect Gardner-Pingree House and a stunning modernized house on Salem Harbor filled with the “souvenirs” of a global life well-lived with a bunch of super-insightful friends, I was, once again, blown away by Salem’s architecture. The tour is on today, so if you’re in our area you should go.

Starting out at Gardner-Pingree (1805):

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Some amazing floors at 91 Essex Street (1868):

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The very creative owners of Two Curtis Street (c. 1731), short on space but quite attached to their piano, turned their dining room into a “lounge” situated in its quadrilateral addition!:

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Various vignettes and views of the Captain John Hodges House (c. 1750):

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Captain Hodges himself, and exterior decorations of the house:

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26 Hardy Street (built 1851): a Christmas display with Lenin bust, and the dining room overlooking Salem Harbor. So much to see I was overwhelmed!

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Purple glass doorknob leading into the Sarah Silsbee House (c. 1807); “Three lobstermen” in a Derby Street shop window).

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A Poe Parlor

Last year around this time (of course), the private sales site Joss & Main featured a “Destination Salem” shopping event, comprised of items chosen to conjur up the spirit of my fair city. I was pleased that the selections were not all kitschy witchy, but included some maritime, colonial and Federal (quotations around all terms, please) items as well. This year I’ve been looking out for another Salem collection, but instead the site curators have showcased Design Icon Edgar Allan PoePoe is certainly having quite a moment, with his big show at the Morgan Library & Museum! It’s hard to think of him as a “design icon” but he certainly was proficient at setting the scene. The curators of the Joss & Main collection seem to have gone in an exclusively dark and literal direction: all black and gray (think ravens and cats) and no red (think hearts, masques, and blood). I think I can do better.

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Man of the moment Edgar Allan Poe, © Fred R. Conrad, New York Times.

The Salem and Poe collections actually share quite a few items: black-painted tables, windsor chairs, grey upholstery, raven-embellished pillows. There are some nice looking desks, although they’re a bit undersized (why is it that modern desks are so small and coffee tables so big?) I think the items below represent the Joss & Main portfolio quite well.

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Macabre Chair Joss and Main

macabre study table

In putting together my Poe-inspired room, I took into consideration two influences. One is Poe himself who, oddly enough, did write an article on interior decoration, “The Philosophy of Furniture”, published in Burton’s Gentlemen’s Magazine in 1840. The other is my more imaginative conception of the Poe ambiance, based on my reading of his works: what I want my Poe room to look like rather than what he would have wanted his room to look like. We obviously have a much clearer vision of the former, and an illustration, as the reading room at the Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia is decorated according to the preferences laid out in “The Philosophy of Furniture”:  silver-grey walls with lots of crimson and gold accents, landscapes and female portraits, no flowers, minimal window hangings (Poe seems to have had a disdain for swags, like most men I have known), the Empire furniture of his time. Taking all these preferences together, you get a pretty conventional mid-nineteenth century Empire room–I think I need a little bit more texture, a bit more drama, a Gothic air.

Poe Reading Room

Poe doors

Poe Basement

The Reading Room (and spooky basement) at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, recreated according to Poe’s “Philosophy of Furniture”.

Poe writes a lot about “arabesque” motifs in his “Philosophy” piece, and the importance of carpets, so I’ve picked the Jaipur “Narratives” carpet below for my Poe parlor, from Joss & Main’s inventory site: this rug has all of his favorite colors, it looks perfect to me. I would keep the Empire sofa that you see above (I already have one), but I am very inspired by the Gothic doors of Poe’s Reading Room, so I would look for some Gothic revival side chairs with a similar silhouette: the perfect one sold in a Doyle’s auction last year, but I need more! In front of the Empire sofa I would put a neo-Gothic table made of metal; there are no “period” coffee tables so you might as well go for something cool.

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Poe Parlor Chair

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I love this gilded mirror from Christopher Jones Antiques, which is contemporary with Poe: it would go over the mantle of the dark marble fireplace, with two Argand lamps on either side:  the pair below are perfect: they just went for $3500 at a Connecticut auction gallery last weekend.

Mirror

Lamps

Now all we need are some whimsical/literal accessories and finishing touches: footstools and/or drapes in this “Nevermore” fabric, a Poe pillow or two, Raven candles from Target on the mantle, interspersed with these amazing metal sculptures. A great, beating (ticking) clock. I’m not sure about paintings; Poe’s preferred landscapes are boring and (against his wishes) I would definitely have a textured wallpaper rather than plain painted walls. I’m torn between the Pugin wallpapers below, created in 1848 for a client named Lockhart, which might be too much with my rug, and something more silvery and spidery. My Poe parlor is a work in progress.

Poe fabric

Poe Gothic Pillow

Raven Sculptures

PicMonkey Collage


In Praise of Massachusetts Chairs

Aficionados of antiques, decorative arts, and furniture, or simply admirers of artistry and design, can find plenty to see and learn at all of the events and exhibitions associated with Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture , a collaboration of eleven institutions designed to put the spotlight on Bay State craftsmanship. You may not have been aware that this past Tuesday, September 17th, was declared Massachusetts Furniture Day by our own Governor Deval Patrick!  The announcement was made at the State House with the chair of John Endecott, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sitting prominently in the background–I assume this is a Salem chair as that is where Endecott landed and lived (it certainly couldn’t be the English chair which accompanied his successor John Winthrop on the Arbella  which is the subject and device of Hawthorne’s story “Grandfather’s Chair”).

Chair of Endecott at MSH

©Andrea Shea/WBUR

It’s really all about chairs for me, as even a casual reader of this blog would know. Just in my head, without going to Four Centuries’ great website or any of its events, I can immediately think of a chronological succession of great Massachusetts-made chairs–up to about 1830 or so:  after that, I’m lost. The nice thing about this initiative is its incredible time span, which must accommodate colonial craftsmen and Federal superstars like Samuel McIntire of Salem as well as industrial manufacturers in central and western Massachusetts, After all, Worcester held the title of “chair capital of the country” a century ago and Gardner is still proudly “the chair city”.

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Gardner’s Big Chair, c. 1910

So here we go:  my own Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture, taken from a variety of sources and certainly informed by the collections showcased on the Four Centuries’ sitea particular discovery for me is Boston furniture-maker Samuel Gragg–amazing!  Obviously there’s a bias here in favor of the early nineteenth century, but it was hard to choose favorites in general:  Massachusetts really produced a lot of great chairs (more than all of the other original 12 colonies put together apparently) and continues to do so.

Chair 17th c MFA

Chair Chippendale Boston MFA

Chair Lolling Skinner

PicMonkey Collage

Salem Fancy Chair

Chairs 1825

Chair regency winterthur

Richardson Chair

Apartment Therapy

Chair Plycraft

Char by Jay Stanger 1994 Fuller Craft

Made in Massachusetts:  Leather “Great Chair“, 1665-80, Boston (a near-contemporary of the Endecott chair), and Chippendale side chair, about 1770, Boston, both Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Federal “Lolling” Chair made by Joseph Short of Newburyport, c. 1795; Federal armchairs made by Samuel McIntire for the Peirce-Nichols House in Salem, 1801, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and in situ; “Fancy” side chair, probably Salem, c. 1800-1820, American Folk Art Museum, New York; Pair of decorated fancy chairs, attributed to Samuel Gragg, Boston, c. 1825, Skinner Auctions; Boston “Grecian” side chair, c. 1815-25, Winterthur Museum, Gallery & Library; Armchair designed by H.H. Richardson for the Woburn Public Library, Boston, 1878, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Shaker chairs at the Hancock Shaker Village near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, courtesy of Apartment Therapy; Armchair by Norman Lerner for Plycraft, Lawrence, Massachusetts, c. 1955, Skinner Auctions; “Arched and Animated” chair by Jay Stanger, Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, Massachusetts.

Mass Furniture Haverhill Chairs

Another great line-up:  chairs in the snow, c. 1910, Haverhill, Massachusetts. Smithsonian Institution.


Waiting & Walking in Old Boston

I spent all of yesterday in Boston, in the realms of two of the city’s more venerable–and very different–institutions. At Massachusetts General Hospital, I kept my father company while we waited for news of my stepmother’s condition after surgery (she is fine, thank you). This particular institution has such a strong historic identity that you can’t escape it: sepia-toned photographs of firsts line the halls, a flyer for the “MGH History Trail” greets you in the waiting room, the original 1821 Bulfinch-designed building still sits in the center of its expansive campus, and a new Russell Museum of Medical History and Innovation opened its doors just last year. While waiting, I made my way to the Bulfinch Building, and ascended stone steps to the 4th floor surgical theater called the “Ether Dome”, the site of the first public surgery with anesthesia, performed in 1846 (there is a mummy up there too).

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In the afternoon, I found myself in another venerable Boston institution: an “Old Boy’s Club”, except it wasn’t! Surviving bastions of the Brahmin past, Boston’s social clubs–most of which are located in the Back Bay–continue to function as social centers for their members but also offer rooms for short-term stays “in town”. My father’s club was closed for renovations, so they had placed him at the nearby Chilton Club, the only women’s club (clearly I cannot say “Old Women’s Club) among its brethren. Named for Mary Chilton, the first Mayflower passenger to leave Plymouth for Boston, the club occupies two adjacent brownstones on Commonwealth Avenue. Compared to the other Boston clubs I have seen, the decor of Chilton was indeed decidedly feminine, with needlepoint, lots of toile, a damask fabric-lined dining room, delicate fancy chairs scattered about, a pale yellow ballroom with mirrored “windows”, and a beautiful front-facing parlor called the “Dexter Room”. I asked the man at the reception desk if it was safe for my father to stay there, and he said they had admitted men a while ago (but they asked him to use the side entrance when he returned later that night).

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Appendix:  in the Public Garden, a swan laid on her newly-lain eggs, in the biggest nest I have ever seen!

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