Tag Archives: Interiors

Enduring Edifices

I’m really glad that I’ve made my blog relatively apolitical, and I’m equally grateful that I am not an American historian: I wouldn’t want to be in a position to explain what happened yesterday. Hopefully my words and images can serve as a distraction for some, as they do for me. Along with history in general, I’ve always found historical architecture comforting in times of stress: older buildings seem like testaments to both what we have achieved and what we can endure. Yesterday was a beautiful and bright election day, when anything seemed possible. After my husband and I voted in the parish hall of one Salem Catholic church (St. John the Baptist) we made our way down Federal Street (past the newly-refurbished Probate Court, which was quite literally shining in the sun) to another parish, St. James, where he is working on the restoration and conversion of the former rectory and convent into condominiums. The rectory building is unique in that it was built (in 1889) by the parish priest, the Reverend John. J. Gray, for his residence and then later donated to the archdiocese. As you can see it is a huge Italianate building which has been taken down to the studs: the banisters, mantles, and floors are all wrapped up in protective materials and the doors and windows are all being restored to their original condition. Lots of Eastlake details. The same developers have purchased the 1878 building across the street, which served as a convent for the Sisters of Notre Dame, an order that joined the parish in 1864. I could only explore the front foyer of this huge building, which appears to have been stripped of much of its interior detail (not to mention its radiators) as it was utilized in an institutional capacity in recent years. It is also Italianate (which must have been Father Gray’s favorite style–I certainly came away with a lot of admiration for his ability to expand his parish’s physical presence during his tenure), with a mansard roof.

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The newly-published Probate Court and Registry of Deeds building on Federal Street, and further down, nos. 161 (the Rectory) and 162 (the Convent).

Sometimes I worry that too many of Salem’s historic buildings have been carved up into condominiums, but not with these two structures, as they are very large in scale and physical space–much too big for one family or even two or three in the case of the rectory and four or more in the case of the convent–and quite neglected. The units built within both will be comparatively large, and through their conversion both buildings will (hopefully) endure for many more years to come.

Inside the Rectory: first, second, and third floor views, and an exterior side door to the basement.

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The Convent: front foyer, looking up–hope to get into the rest of the building at a later time. I love radiators.

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Through Brown-colored Glasses

I can’t manage escapist day trips in the middle of the week so I was stuck in Salem, but life was not too rough on Chestnut Street, with beautiful, sunny weather, decorations on nearly every stoop, and a film crew present all day on Wednesday. I also wanted to play with an app (Vignette) on my phone and pretend that I was my very favorite turn-of-the-last century photographer Frank Cousins, so I shot my neighborhood, house, garden, and cats in sepia. Perhaps this was another form of escapism? In any case, it was interesting to see which architectural styles were actually accentuated  in brown, and which were not. I also experimented with a few other filters, just for comparison’s sake, but my favorite is definitely sepia. After all, the very first header of my blog was the sepia shot of the street below, taken in the 1890s by an unknown photographer.

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And here are some of my pictures from the last few days: some things definitely look better in sepia (Halloween decorations, Greek Revival houses, architectural details)–others, I’m not so sure–but it definitely brings out the shadows so evident at this time of year.filtered

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The filming at #12 (below) definitely looks better in color, but I like one of the old cars hired for the shoot in sepia, even though it was bright, blazing red. After everyone left, I managed to customize the filter and get a bit of both.

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I love Chestnut Street Park–sometimes called McIntire Park–in sepia, as well as my own garden, as it has no color at this time of year anyway: it kind of accentuates the fading. Inside, I only like my mirrors in sepia–and definitely not my cat Trinity, who is a very colorful calico. She looks uncharacteristically depressed in this tone.

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Craftsman Confidence

As part of my recent immersion in early nineteenth-century design trends, I browsed through digital volumes of The Craftsman over its 1901-1916 run, every issue readily accessible at the University of Wisconsin’s wonderful Digital Library of the Decorative Arts and Material Culture. This was not a difficult task, as Stickley’s magazine is so interesting: such a heady mix of practicality, philosophy, and politics! How can you not enjoy a magazine with article titles like “Was Jesus a Carpenter?”, “The Century of Ugliness” (which was of course the 19th century from their point of view–when craftsmanship was compromised by industrialization), and “A Plea for True Democracy in the Domestic Architecture of America”?  In the end though, I came away feeling sad, as the editors and authors were so very hopeful for their new century, and their hopes were not fulfilled–the most anachronistic aspect of the magazine is its strident optimism. Everything can be reformed and everything is “civic”: not just education and urban planning, but also architecture and horticulture, even clothing. Birds are just as essential as bookcases, as the magazine espouses an integrated doctrine of conservation, craftsmanship, and community. The persistent quest for everything that is simple and “true” does get a bit pedantic as time goes on, even though I would like to live in their well-crafted and orderly world much more than in our disposable and disorderly one! But as soon as I saw Kaiser Wilhelm II depicted in a rather romantic fashion by the “new” German artist Arthur Kampf my browsing grew increasingly melancholy: I knew that the twentieth century would obliterate all opportunities for “Craftsman World”, and transform all those hand-crafted bungalows into cookie-cutter ranches.

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Images from The Craftsman, 1901-1916, including the first cover and Stickley’s device, “Als Ik Kan” underneath a joiner’s compass, borrowed from Jan Van Eyck (Flemish for “All that I can do”), a Craftsman door and two-family house, “affording an opportunity for economy of construction without loss of architectural beauty”, living room, dresses “designed for comfort with a purpose in their ornamentation”, hexagonal urban planning, bookcases, urban villages, 1914 cover, and the foreboding Kaiser.


Perroquet Plates

At this time of year I’m in back-to-school mode and absolutely exhausted by keeping up with the garden, so my focus shifts to the inside. I think I’ll get back outside when it gets cooler in September, as I want to rearrange some things and prolong life and time in my garden as long as I can, but right now I’m focused on interior adornment and projects (this is one way to ignore all of the academic duties that are piling on about now). Leafing through a bunch of magazines this past weekend, I found some objects of adoration in, of all places, WSJthe magazine of the Wall Street Journal: plates adorned with colorful parrots, infused with old-world elegance through a hand-painted process involving sixteen layers. The 12-piece collection is the collaboration of Gucci Creative Director Alexandro Michele and porcelain manufacturer Richard Ginori. I want them all, but at $295 a plate, it will be difficult to justify just one, I’m afraid! The article identifies Michele’s inspiration as “one rare French volume from 1801 on specimen birds”, which was all the cue I needed to identify Jacques Barraband (1767-1809), a French zoological and botanical illustrator whose work inspired imitators even in his own day. While Barraband’s work must have struck his contemporaries as “new” in their colorful realism, Michele was inspired by their antiquated aesthetic, as am I.

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Original Jacques Barraband parrot prints from Levaillant’s “Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets” , Ursus Books & Prints, and Shapero Rare Books. The Michele/Ginori plates from designboom (image ©designboom) and the WSJ magazine (photographs by Martyn Thompson). John Derian has ample antique-inspired parrots among his offerings too, including a 12-piece set of wall trays (works and photographs © John Derian).


Anatomy of a Restoration

The new owners of a beautiful Chestnut Street townhouse, part of the street’s only triple house which also happens to be its tallest structure, very kindly allowed me to come in and take some pictures of their restoration process, which has begun in earnest. I’m so grateful, because this was the perfect time: the bones of the house were exposed in all of their beauty–and strength. Even with ceilings torn out and dust everywhere, the building still looked elegant–and solid–from top to bottom (well maybe the basement isn’t beautiful, but it sure is interesting, as you can see below). This is a very notable house not only because it is a “triplet”, but also because it was home to three Salem mayors, including the Reverend Charles Wentworth Upham, who was also President of the Massachusetts Senate, a U.S. representative, and author of Salem Witchcraft; with an account of Salem Village, a history of opinions on witchcraft and kindred subjects (1867). The entire house was commissioned by Salem shipowner Pickering Dodge, who lived next door, in 1828, ostensibly for several of his five daughters. A son-in-law, John Fiske Allen, oversaw the completion of the project after Dodge’s death in 1833 and his widow lived in the westernmost townhouse—our townhouse–until her death in 1851, followed by all those mayors in the nineteenth century and one of Salem’s most prominent preservationists in the twentieth. The restoration philosophy is conservative: reveal and burnish what is already there, and alter the systems and utilitarian rooms of the house (kitchen and bathrooms) so that they can “be useful to the daily lives of today” in the words of project architect Helen Sides: “Kitchens are no longer for servants and it’s nice not to share the bathroom if there are spaces to put new ones!  It is the responsible thing to update these houses so that they can stand for another 200 years”.

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Looking up Chestnut Street towards the triple house, 1916 (Frank Cousins) and 2016.

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Entrance hall and front and back stairs. This house has a lovely scale and great light (even though it has a firewall on one side) because it is two rooms deep–so you have windows both in the front and the back. Because it also has both front and back stairs I imagine it has great flow too…and the basement is a virtual museum.

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Original basement kitchen, coal bin, and pantry with “slatted cupboards”—I’m not sure that’s what they are called, but I have the EXACT same ones in my house, built roughly at the same time (on the left with reindeer, swan, and pinecones: this is my seasonal decoration room). Back upstairs…..

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Bedrooms on the second, third, and fourth floors. The windows have their own dedicated restorer, Window Woman of New England, who have developed quite a reputation here in Salem. A very conspicuous aspect of this house is its built-in cupboards, cases, cabinets and closets–very evident in the second-floor study but also all throughout the house.

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A collage of cupboards between the bookcases of the second floor study and the first floor butler’s pantry (?) cabinets, which are PERFECT. I always notice COLOR in older houses—tones you don’t normally see–but in this house (in this state) it was really more about the color of wood, briefly exposed before new ceilings are installed.

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Love the red stairway (down to the basement) and green doors…various exposed ceilings…Tim of Peter Strout Construction building a new bathroom in this old house……out back: another house!

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Set in the midst of the long garden out back is a carriage house  (according to Bryant Tolles’ Architecture in Salem) which was converted to a residence c. 1912 utilizing materials from the demolished Chase house at 21 Federal Street. Obviously there was a deep appreciation for Salem craftsmanship then, which is very much in evidence here and now.

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Felines in Frames

In GREAT anticipation of my visit to the Worcester Art Museum in order to see their big summer show, Meow: A CatInspired Exhibition (featuring cats-in-residence!) I have curated my own little digital exhibition, as I have a very large (digital) folder full of cat paintings.I could feature fifty paintings here, but I have restricted myself to seven, ok maybe nine. In chronological order, with commentary:

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Hans Süss von Kulmbach (German, Kulmbach ca. 14801522 Nuremberg), Girl Making a Garland, c. 1508, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; John de Critz, the “Tower” Portrait of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, imprisoned following the Essex Rebellion in 1601 with his cat Trixie. Buccleauch Collection, Boughton House.

Here we have enclosed portraits of remembrance and appeal: Southampton wants to get out of the Tower, and ultimately King James will release him. Cats are not pets in the pre-modern era, so typically they are depicted in the background, disassociated from humans and being cats: eyeing something to eat, chasing something, lying about. But here we have some very close-up, still, companion cats: unusual. The Southampton portrait and the significance of the cat has been dissected many, many times: my favorite analysis is here.

van Hoogstraten, Samuel, 1627-1678; A View through a House

(c) National Trust, Fenton House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A Sleeping Cat circa 1796-7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

The nineteenth century is the golden age of cat paintings: cats move into the foreground, and even displace dogs in domestic settings (I think; but I could be biased). Certainly the American folk artists of the first half of the century loved cats–they are nearly omnipresent in the works of Zedidiah Belknap and Joseph H. Davis. Not only are they a fixture in the home, but also a subject of serious scrutiny, even preoccupation: so many Steinlen cats. I’m finishing up with another artist’s cat, featured in Eric Ravilious’s study of Edward Bawden in his Studio, from 1930. This is not the most aesthetically pleasing depiction of a cat, perhaps, but as every cat owner (companion? host? feeder?) knows, it is a very characteristic one.

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Ghostly Courtiers

I’ve just got a few more English posts before I get back to the actual streets of Salem: I just took so many great pictures over there if I do say so myself! I’m going back to Hampton Court today–the other side of Hampton Court, which if of course a bilateral palace, with a Tudor side and a Baroque/Georgian one, the cumulative work of Sir Christopher Wren and Sir John Vanbrugh who were commissioned by the last Stuarts and the first Georgians to remodel the entire castle in a more modern (and presumably comfortable) style. If completed, this modernization plan would have resulted in the complete demolition of the Tudor palace but lack of funds and the shifting preferences of monarchs determined that it was (fortunately) not. I far prefer the Tudor palace, inside and out, but I really enjoyed the furnishings, paintings, and overall interpretation of the “Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber” exhibit in the royal apartments on the other side, populated by courtiers all draped in white Tyvek.  Like any old place touched by tragedy, there are rumors of ghosts at Hampton Court Palace, and it as if you are walking among them in these rooms.

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Baroque facades–with the Tudor roofline peaking out behind, dining rooms and courtiers; Below, the “Grey Lady” ghost, Sybil Penn, wandering through the palace.

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