I can’t get through the 2020 Year of Blogging on #SalemSuffrageSaturdays, historic houses, and the occasional book-inspired post alone: the most important place for everyone this year was the home, and so I need to show you more of mine to be true to its spirit. There were also some big changes to my home this year: for better, for worse, and just change. Now that we’re in the final months of this challenging year, my overwhelming sentiment is one of gratitude: I feel fortunate to have a safe and secure home, full of lovely things, and more than sufficient space for work, sleep, play, and procrastinating. So here are my three domestic themes:
The year of three cats:
About a month ago, I lost my cat Darcy, who was nearly 20 years old. He had been sick with kidney disease for quite a while—so I knew this was coming, but I was quite determined that he should die at home. He lived his whole life in our house, and he was not a social cat: he really only tolerated me. Actually I think he liked me, as every time I walked into a room he was in he would turn up his nose and give me a little trill (the only word I can come up with to describe that sound—it wasn’t quite a meow). Because of the pandemic, and then my book contract, I had a lot of time with Darcy over these past seven months: we would sit together and I would work and he would sleep or stare at me. Despite eating and wanting to eat constantly, he grew thinner and thinner, but he seemed very comfortable and I just hoped he would drift off, at home. I had experienced the deaths of two previous cats—Flannery and Moneypenny—through disruptive seizures and I craved a peaceful death for Darcy, but my vet convinced me that a crisis was imminent, so we had to put him down. Our other cat Trinity came to us shortly after she had given birth to her litter outside, been rescued, and fixed–while all of her kittens were put up for adoption. She has been making “nests” and crying for them for five years, so I always thought after Darcy was gone we would adopt a kitten: I knew she would not recognize the kitten as her kitten, but I though it would be at least a better age match—so I moved pretty quickly to adopt and now we have Tuck! Trinity is not pleased with this addition: for a while she seemed to have lost her own personality and become stand-offish Darcy incarnate but she seems to be reverting to form now: hopefully she just had to establish her “ranking” status. We have a bit more to work out, here at home.
One of Darcy’s last photographs, Trinity, Tuck.
The new kitchen!
We’ve needed a kitchen remodel forever; I don’t know why we moved forward in this particular year but apparently renovations are a big trend in this home-focused year. Kitchens in older houses are generally just boxes added onto the back; our house’s original kitchen is in the basement, and it looks pretty original. Our “modern” kitchen looked like it was put in in the 1950s or 1960s, but we found the bones of a much older kitchen when we ripped everything out; the new kitchen is completely new, except for the floorboards, which we found under three layers of vinyl. Thank goodness for them, because my pet peeve is new kitchens that don’t have anything to do with the rest of the house. We put a lot of thought—and spent quite a lot of money—connecting the kitchen to the rest of the house through materials and details, because it really wasn’t before. We commissioned a big slab of mahogany for our island because we wanted to balance the mahogany staircase in the front, and more practical quartz for the other counters. I think we succeeded in making the “box out back” more connected to the main house, but it took all summer: another reason why Darcy and I got to spend so much time together up on the third floor away from the dust and the noise! Here’s the whole process: before, during, after:
Stripping down and building back layers: that wattle & daub look is called “backplastering” and look at the floor “before”! Cabinets everywhere on the first floor for six weeks or so. The general contractor was our neighbor across the street, Leon Kraunelis, of Redwine Development, floors by Dan Labrecque , and mahogany table top by Alpine Woodworks right here in Salem. I changed up my jadeite for ironstone from my friend Betsy at Windy Hill Antiques.
Living and working all over the house:
So I received my book contract in early July and went right to work: primarily in my third-floor study, a third-floor bedroom (because it had a bed for Darcy) and a second floor bay-window room that we call the “Nosy Room” because the previous owners did and it looks out over all of Chestnut Street. I taught a summer class, and now I’m teaching four classes in addition to writing. I find that I need to change my surroundings to be productive—and I can’t really go anywhere: not to my office, not to the library. So I’m basically working all over the house. I’ve been zooming everywhere, just to change it up for my students: I decorated the double parlors this past weekend with the rationale that it was for them but it was really because I bought so much John Derian Halloween stuff at Target! The only room I haven’t taught in yet is the kitchen: moving into there this week.
Various “studies”, and one of my big scores of the summer: a Salem Marine Society certificate! I have never been able to resist John Derian, so off to Target I went as soon as his stuff hit the stores. I bought three of those black cats.
October 20th, 2020 at 11:36 am
Lovely cat story. Beautiful kitchen. I bet you’ll enjoy holiday cooking there!
October 20th, 2020 at 1:38 pm
Yes, I’m looking forward to it! Which says a lot, as I’m not really a cook!
October 20th, 2020 at 12:06 pm
Your home is lovely, Donna! What about the building itself? Historical? Love all the windows!
October 20th, 2020 at 1:37 pm
It’s an 1827 house, Nancy: which is not at all old for Salem. I think I’ve got an exterior shot here somewhere–will put one in soon!
October 20th, 2020 at 12:20 pm
sorry to hear about Darcy. Kitchen looks amazing.
October 20th, 2020 at 4:02 pm
Thank you, Matt. You know how it is.
October 20th, 2020 at 5:07 pm
Thanks for the peek at your lovely new kitchen – worth waiting for, eh? Love that shade of green and your collection of tureens and china tea (coffee?) pots in those upper cabinets. Also love those pumpkin shades in the living room. I have read that was a very popular shade in 18th century period houses.
Enjoy and stay safe in your renovated digs.
October 20th, 2020 at 7:23 pm
I echo the compliments for your home.
We, too, had a cat revolution. Marmalade had died almost a decade ago, age 18.5, and for a long while my partner enjoyed not having to get up to feed the cat. But she began hankering after one, and an acquaintance had to get rid of an aged cat, 13 or 14, or his children, and for some reason the children got to stay. So, we have Lilly, a gray tabby, who purrs rarely and quietly. But she also has a cry which she unleashes when she wants someone to play with her after we turn in. And guess who then has to get up and feed her breakfast, more often than not? It’s not my partner.
October 20th, 2020 at 8:25 pm
Well I think it’s great she still wants to play at that age! And of course!
October 21st, 2020 at 5:43 am
Donna…..Thank you for sharing. Your kitchen is so thoughtful and expertly done.
October 23rd, 2020 at 7:33 am
Thanks, Lou! High Praise!
October 21st, 2020 at 5:59 am
Your kitchen is beautiful! And your fluffy cat looks a lot like Lily, my kitty. 😍
October 22nd, 2020 at 7:36 pm
October 22nd, 2020 at 8:57 am
Sorry to hear about Darcy, but it sounds like she had a happy life and was lucky to have such caring owners and a beautiful home to live in (even pre-renovation).
October 22nd, 2020 at 8:56 am
Thank you, Andrew: he (I know–silly name) had a rather dusty last phase but I hope the rest of his long life was ok!
October 23rd, 2020 at 10:44 am
My condolences about Mr. Darcy. Pet deaths seem to be esp. hard for me to get over so my thoughts are with you guys. This topic does bring to mind an idea for a future blog perhaps. I’d love to learn something about pets in Salem’s past. For instance, wasn’t there a cat aboard “Cleopatra’s Barge”? …and Oh! I may have missed it, but what’s your book about?
October 23rd, 2020 at 11:29 am
Thank you. I did write about that famous cat in “It seems as if Hannah is Hiding”. The book is titled The Practical Renaissance, and it’s about health, agriculture and lots of other features of daily and public life in Tudor-Stuart England.
October 23rd, 2020 at 1:31 pm
Wonderful. I’ve lately been following a few London mudlarkers and they find an astonishing amount of Tudor material. Fascinating stuff.