Does That House Look Flat-Chested?

by Categorized: Architecture, Heritage, Historic Houses, Home Design, Mid-Century Modern Date:

glass-houseArchitect Philip Johnson, who designed the renowned Glass House (above) in New Canaan, was part of the remarkable “Harvard Five” — gutsy young architects who put Mid-Century Modern home design on the map and made the quiet Connecticut town of New Canaan an international hub of it.

In 1978 Johnson remarked with amusement that Frank Lloyd Wright had told him the buildings looked “flat-chested.”

Here’s my story on the Harvard Five — Johnson, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, John Johansen and Eliot Noyes –  www.courant.com/harvardfive

And here is the Modern Homes Survey of about 90 Modern houses in New Canaan: www.courant.com/modernhomesJohansen

John Johansen House, designed in 1949, with a living room wall across the back that was almost entirely glass. (Wayne Andrews/ From “The Harvard Five,” courtesy of William D. Earls)

 

 

 

 

 

Fire: A Ribbon Winding Around Pottery

by Categorized: Accessories, Art, Crafts, Travel Date:

Robbie PortraitGearing up for this weekend’s Hilltown 6 Pottery Tour in Western Massachusetts, Robbie Heidinger fired up her kiln at about 5 Monday afternoon and took a break this morning to talk about the tour and her art.

“I woke up at 3 this morning and will fire till 10 or 11 tonight,” said Robbie, a former ceramics instructor at UConn who moved from Chaplin, Conn., to Westhampton, Mass., about a decade ago.

“We all use very complex firing processes,” she said, explaining that firing is typically a four-day process and she has to constantly regulate the flame and the quality of the heat. She uses propane as a heat source, but also keeps shoving wood into the giant, walk-in kiln she hand-built with bricks she’d brought with her from Connecticut.

Robbie 4“What you get with wood — and I fire with baking soda — you get this sort of glow and a varied surface that is affected by the way the flame hits the pot. … The fire is like a ribbon that winds around the pot. It’s very mysterious, but there is a little bit of control that you have. It’s half science, half luck.”

In the final three or four hours of firing, when the temperature is at its hottest, she spays dissolved baking soda into the kiln at 20-minute intervals, using a garden sprayer.

“The soda creates a little explosion, and because of the heat it gets pushed around the kiln and lands on the pots and becomes glass on the clay surface. Some [pots] get more soda, some less.”

HT6_050214_10_Open Studios

Each July Robbie and now eight other nationally recognized potters based in the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts open their studios for the coordinated Hilltown 6 Pottery Tour.

“Potters tend to thrive in secret hollows and on quirky hilltops,” she says.

“The tour is a great way to get out into some lovely back country… and experience the fascinating settings where the potters work.”

two pitchersThe southernmost studios on the tour are just west of Northampton: Robbie’s studio at 1 Stage Road in Westhampton is fairly close to Sam Taylor’s, at 35 Perry Hill Road Ext., where Michael McCarthy also will display his work. “We’ve created little clusters,” Robbie said.

Northwest of those three are Hiroshi Nakayama and Mark Shapiro, both in Worthington.

Eric 2Farther north are Constance Talbot in Windsor, Eric Smith and Christy Knox at their studios in Cummington, and Maya Machin up in Ashfield, not far from Elmer’s Store. Most studios are also hosting work of other guest potters and artists.

Everyone is going to be demonstrating their techniques and tools, Robbie said — though not firing; it’s too hot. The tour attracts a lot of art students, she added; “We get a lot of questions.”

M.GRAHAM R. HeidingerRobbie, who says she used to be a dancer, is also a “huge gardener,” and both of those pursuits come through in her “Martha Graham” series — vessels about a foot and a half high that evoke stylized plant forms and also dancers stretching inside their leotards. There’s tension in the skin of a pot, which she says reminds her of that moment of potential, when a plant comes “busting out of the earth.”

“Dancers have that musculature; you see it sort of flexing,” she said. “It inspires me, certainly the way I handle the clay.”

Robbie says pottery tours offer visitors context, personal connection and participation in a local way that re-frames consumerism and reverberates with such movements as “buy local,” “slow food” and “farm to table.”

“If you value putting locally produced food on your table, why not serve it on locally made plates, bowls and platters? We feel using handmade dishes brings art into the daily experience of food preparation and eating.”

For a map of the pottery studios, a schedule of demonstrations and more about each artist, go to www.hilltown6.com.

PHOTOS, FROM TOP: Robbie Heidinger works in her Westhampton kiln; pottery with monoprinting technique by Robbie Heidinger; vase by Michael McCarthy; pair of pitchers by Mark Shapiro; bowl by Eric Smith; “Martha Graham” vessels by Robbie Heidinger. BELOW: Maya Machin’s barn.

Maya6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hartford Blooms! Today Through June 29

by Categorized: Architecture, Art, Elizabeth Park, Garden Design, Gardens, Heritage, Historic Houses Date:

Hartford BloomsThis picture-perfect first day of summer is an ideal start for Hartford Blooms’ 20th anniversary extravaganza, a nine-day celebration of Hartford’s glorious gardens and architecture. Dozens of walking tours are on the schedule.

The kickoff includes guided tours of Elizabeth Park’s magnificent gardens, and later today there’s a cocktail party at Vito’s by the Park.

And weekdays, gather at the Butler-McCook House and Garden on Main Street for a reception — where plein air painters will be creating art as you watch.

Click here for the story I wrote for Hartford Magazine: http://hartfordmag.com/article-1984-hartford-blooms-the-city-in-full-flower.html

A $10 tour book serves as your ticket for all the events. Click here for complete details: http://www.hartfordblooms.org/

blooms

Photographs via Hartford Blooms

 

 

Brilliant Ideas At Shandell’s

by Categorized: Accessories, Antiques, Art, Crafts, Decorating, Design, Lighting Date:

Here’s a early look at a story I wrote for Hartford Magazine and New Haven Living about Shandell’s, which specializes in custom lamps and lampshades. I really got a kick out of artist Susan Schneider and her incredible spirit and creativity — her ideas do indeed make you smile. Shandell’s new location in Ivoryton is well worth a visit — you’ll be inspired…

IMG_3000 There isn’t much that Susan Schneider hasn’t turned into a lamp or a lamp shade.

“I am a junker!” she proclaims. But it all ends up looking so chic and appealing.

IMG_2980She has made lamp bases from such eclectic items as an old Yellow Cab car jack; vintage, hand-carved wallpaper rollers; a pair of antique cream separators; a 19th-century hay trolley with wheels for a pulley that once carried large bales of hay up into a hayloft; plow parts, which she has nickel-plated, to give them an edgy, industrial look; bases of 19th-century hall racks that held hats, coats and umbrellas and look almost like inverted tortoise shells (above); old decorative heating grates painted brilliant blue; plumbing pipes for an artesian well.

All have been transformed into lamps.

Schneider — who moved her shop called Shandell’s from Millerton, N.Y., and then Pine Plains, N.Y., to the Ivoryton section of Essex and opened there just after Thanksgiving — describes her range as “traditional to funky to very architectural and streamlined. And the rustier the better for me.”

IMG_3004To top it off, Schneider also custom-makes lamp shades, and again her creative impulses reach far and wide.

She has a collection of IMG_2985more than 10,000 scanned images of everything from maps and architectural prints to equestrian prints, racks holding hand-painted IMG_3002papers, and numerous drawers filled with beautiful marbled papers and paste papers, and rolls of period wallpapers.

 

She also makes decorative paper-covered wastebaskets, tissue boxes and matchboxes.IMG_2987

She has created lamp shades from handmade bark paper, papers embedded with leaves, and a variety of fabrics including remnants of 19th-century saris and paisleys. One petite shade for a sconce is edged with guinea hen feathers, creating a whimsical look of fluffy polka dots.

IMG_2998Schneider, who named her business after the Hebrew name meaning “beautiful” that her Polish grandparents called her, got her start as an antiques dealer IMG_2999in Newburyport, Mass., in 1991.

As the economy sagged and she gradually lost dealers but gained space, she found herself focusing heavily on antique textiles and decorative lighting.

She says she begged a friend and customer who made lamp shades to teach her how, and one day the friend suddenly offered to sell her the whole business for a nominal amount of money.

“I emptied out her barns,” Schneider recalls. “And then I just sat and read all her little notes. I never really had instruction on it. But I was lucky: I had two different decorators who embraced me for very difficult jobs, and that forced me to learn.”

Dictionary Pages

Schneider’s new workshop brims with projects and ideas. It’s papered in pages from old dictionaries she finds at dumps and crammed with rows of rolls of colorful trims, and lamp wires in a rainbow of colors.

IMG_2991She says moving all the fixtures and worktables and cabinets was like moving a hardware store.

Stacks of vases are “waiting for the right moment,” she says. A back storage area looks like a lamp graveyard, but it’s really a lamp hospital or perhaps more accurately should be called a lamp spa:

This isn’t where old lamps go to die, but to live again and be transformed.

If the base of a lamp is chipped, Schneider might copper-leaf it. “I live for copper leaf! I have a fascination with copper leaf and silver leaf and gold leaf,” she says. Sometimes she leafs the inside of pendant lamps or chandelier shades, giving the light an added measure of luminosity.

She might pull the dolphin feet off a lamp base that she doesn’t like and use them on a base that she does.

IMG_2983“Beautiful lighting makes a difference in a room, even if it’s a very basic lamp with a beautiful shade,” Schneider says, pointing to a ginger jar lamp topped with a shade that appears to be plain solid white but which, on closer inspection, turns out to be a subtly textured white-on-white. “I want to change interior design one lamp at a time.”

Lately, she says, she’s been making more colorful and floral shades.

“For a while the design industry really wasn’t calling for anything in color or floral. I did a lot of plain, with a little bit of texture, a little bit of stuff. Now I’m finding that people are desperate for a pop of color. I think it’s just happiness. People smile when they see these things. I do make a ton of plain lampshades — I still do, and I always will. But greige can only go for so long, I believe.”

‘Lamp Candy’

Schneider also stocks a dazzling array of finials — the small ornaments that top a lamp shade — including ammonite fossils sliced in half, miniature Foo dogs, crystallized minerals called pyrite suns that look like sunbursts, chunks of red jade, chunks of natural copper and gleaming cubes of octahedron fluorite. The 19th-century Tibetan finials, which she calls Feng Shui balls or energy balls that were given as gifts for good luck, include red balls topped with a rooster wrought in brass.

“I call them lamp candy,” Schneider says.

IMG_3013The selection of finials, priced at $5 to $195 a pair, also includes a variety of gleaming geodes, agates and malachites.

“Agates, malachites — they’re very hot right now in design,” Schneider says. So, if people can’t afford a malachite table, “they can spend $150 for highly polished malachite lamp finials.”

Schneider lives in a 1940s house in Moodus with her boyfriend and her two dogs — a Jack Russell terrier and a Newfoundland — and spends her time working on a number of projects at once.

“It’s mood-driven,” she explains. But for custom work, she knows she sometimes has to work fast.

“I don’t believe in lamp shade emergencies,” she says. “But people do have them. … If people say, ‘How long will it take?’ I say, ‘When’s the party?’ “

As she has settled into Shandell’s Ivoryton location, Schneider also has started to offer workshops to give people ideas on how to update their lamps, how to “take what you have — take your grandmother’s piece that is so ugly but you love it because it was your grandmother’s — how to update it and make it beautiful.”

The workshops are playfully called “Larry” workshops, a name suggested by her boyfriend (who is not named Larry). Huh? It stands for “Light all rare relics youthfully.”

That playful spirit infuses so much of what Schneider does. Her email address says it all: It’s thingsthatmakeyousmile@gmail.com.

Shandell’s at 107 Main St. in Ivoryton is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Call 860-510-3167. For more visit shandells.com.

Photographs by Nancy Schoeffler

Tree Troubles? Send Us Your Photos

by Categorized: Gardening, Landscape, Trees Date:

2014-03-01 00.14.55So many of us have trees that have been damaged in severe weather in recent years or that are just seriously overdue for a pruning facelift.

Before trees leaf out, it’s easier to assess the situation, see what needs doing and determine how to proceed.

If you have a challenging tree, or are just unnerved at the prospect of possibly damaging a beloved tree with your loppers and chainsaw, send us a photo (you can include some closer detail views as well). We’ll consult with experts and arborists and offer as many pruning pointers as possible in a story here and in The Courant.

Send your digital photos (minimum 300 dpi) to nschoeffler@courant.com, with the subject field “Tree Troubles.”

Photos: Storm Sandy tore off most of the back of the Bartlett pear tree (at top), but what remained bloomed prolifically this spring. The October 2011 snowstorm broke off about 25 percent of the branches of the cherry tree (below), including its leader. (If the tree were a clock, virtually all of the branches from midnight to 3 o’clock were snapped.) Most of the broken branches were pruned back, but now vertical branches have filled in that area, and a lot of interior pruning is needed. We’ll ask arborists if it’s healthy to let a tree’s vertical branches fill in gaps. (Photos by Nancy Schoeffler)

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Learn More: ‘It’s All About Connecticut Furniture’

by Categorized: Antiques, Crafts, Design, Furniture, Heritage, Historic Houses Date:

HIGH CHESTIf my article today about Eliphalet Chapin and Connecticut’s golden age of furniture whets your appetite for more, there’s an all-day program  Saturday called “It’s All About Connecticut Furniture,” presented by the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.

The workshop, aimed not only at serious woodworking hobbyists but at anyone interested in historic furniture, will focus on 18th-century Connecticut’s distinct furniture styles, each with its own influences, and how social history, trade patterns and the economy played a role in forming this vibrant, multifacted tradition.

The speakers include Alyce England, associate curator of American Decorative Arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum, and Christina Vida, curator of the Windsor Historical Society.

Also Will Neptune, who has closely studied the construction techniques, proportioning and workmanship of Eliphalet Chapin; and Steve Brown, an instructor at the North Bennet Street School, the  Boston institution that offers intensive hands-on training in traditional trades and craftsmanship, who also will discuss construction techniques and do some joinery demonstrations.

Bob Van Dyke, the founder and director of the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, said Will Neptune’s presentation will focus on Chapin’s geometric methods in design and pattern layout.

“Nothing was just by chance; it’s all based on geometry,” Van Dyke said. “It’s just amazing.”

Strong Howard HouseThe Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking has been working with the Windsor Historical Society to furnish the ongoing renovation of the historic Strong Howard House (pictured at left) for an innovative hands-on approach to historical interpretation.

Christina Vida has been researching probate inventories and other documents to determine the furnishings and objects that would have been in the house. Reproductions are being made, so that visitors will be able to have a fuller experience. They’ll sit in chairs and at desks, handle textiles and household objects.

woodwork1The Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking is a primary partner in the project, Christina said, and students are now working on a reproduction of a high chest (pictured at top) attributed to Eliphalet Chapin, which is now in the Wadsworth Atheneum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABob says some students at the woodworking school are in the middle of a year-long class on Chapin high chests, and have been making measured, exact copies of Chapin pieces. Students who are interested can submit their finished work to a jury for possible inclusion in the exhibit at the Strong Howard House.

Saturday’s program, at the school at 249 Spencer St. in Manchester (take the first left past the Woodcraft building; the school is in the back of that building), runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The $45 fee includes lunch. You can register and pay at the door, or online at http://www.sapfm.org/ne-chapter-event-registration.

And for more information, call Bob Van Dyke at 860-729-3186860-729-3186.

Photos via the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking and the Windsor Historical Society.

 

 

 

New Roses, Less Of A Wait

by Categorized: Gardening, Gardens, Plants Date:

Royal-Jubilee---David-Austin-English-RoseAttention, rose enthusiasts: David Austin Roses, the renowned Shropshire, England, rose hybridizer, has five new English roses for Spring 2014. Each is a repeat bloomer.

The company also is now making the lineup of its new roses available in North America just two seasons after they’re introduced in Britain, which is speedier than in years past.

Here are the five new beauties:

Boscobel---David-Austin-English-RoseThe salmon blossoms of ‘Boscobel’ change with age to a rich, deep pink.  A Leander hybrid, its flowers start as red buds that open to blooms with an estimated 78 petals per flower.

(And an interesting note on the name: Boscobel is famed as the place where King Charles II hid in an oak tree when Cromwell’s soldiers were pursuing him during the English Civil War in 1651; it’s not far from Austin’s nursery.)

Tranquillity---David-Austin-English-Rose‘Tranquility,’ a Musk hybrid, has buds that “are lightly brushed with red and yellow” and open to petals of pure white, with about 110 petals per flower. The rose apparently has a light apple fragrance, and the plant is nearly thornless.

 

 

 

 

Heathcliff---David-Austin-English-Rose

 

Deeply crimson ‘Heathcliff,’ named, of course, for the complicated and romantic character in Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights,” is an Old Rose hybrid with large double flowers of rosette shape. The plant has shiny deep green leaves.

The-Lark-Ascending---David-Austin-English-Rose

 

 

‘The Lark Ascending,’ named for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ sublime piece of music, is another Musk hybrid. The flowers with loosely cupped petals — just 22 each — are a soft pale apricot that lightens over time. Its tall, airy growth makes this rose suitable in a mixed perennial border or among flowering shrubs.

And finally, ‘Royal Jubilee,’ at leftRoyal-Jubilee-closeup--David-Austin-English-Rose and at top, is an Alba hybrid in a luscious deep pink. Introduced in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the large, semi-double flowers have broad inward-curving petals, about 35 each, known as a chalice shape. The blooms have a fruity fragrance and the plants have very few thorns. Its wiry stems help ‘Royal Jubilee’ fit in easily with other plants in a border.

Austin senior rosarian Michael Marriott says the right time to plant bare root roses is when the ground is no longer frozen but “but still cool and pliable.” The cool soil helps bare root roses establish strong roots. Optimal daytime temperatures should be 40 to 60 degrees,   before days routinely top 70 degrees.

That means this is about the right time to order.

The complete 120-page “David Austin Handbook of Roses 2014″ is available free and is packed with roses, as well as information on classification and what kind of roses to plant in various sites.

To request a handbook, go to www.davidaustinroses.com, email US@davidaustinroses, call 800-328-8893800-328-8893 or write David Austin Roses Ltd., 15059 State Highway 64 West, Tyler, Texas 75704.

 

 

Winter Flowers In Your Mailbox

by Categorized: Collecting, Flowers And Floral Design, Holidays, Plants Date:

0-0_USPS14STA017a

Call me old-fashioned, but I love choosing stationery and note cards, penning hand-written letters and notes, and embellishing them with a beautiful postage stamp.

I collected stamps as a kid, and they’ve never lost their appeal.

The stamps the U.S. Postal Service just issued are beauties: a quartet of indoor winter flowers — amaryllis, cyclamen, paperwhites and Christmas cactus — that are Forever stamps.

Artist William Low reportedly photographed the flowers at their peak, then created digital paintings of them.

I’m no longer a philatelist (I just collect stamps to share as I use them), but if you are, you can get first-day-of-issue postmarks and covers through usps.com/shop or by calling 800-782-6724800-782-6724.

You also can try the Post Office, but I might just try to corner the market and hoard them for this year’s Christmas cards.

 

 

 

 

My Gwyneth Paltrow Moment: A Chair Collapses (And Is Repaired)

by Categorized: Antiques, Furniture, Heritage, Preservation Date:

Perhaps you remember that scene in “Shallow Hal,” when Gwyneth Paltrow, as Rosemary, sits down and the chair collapses, and Hal, Jack Black’s character, can’t figure out why. (A consummate skirt chaser looking only for gorgeous babes, Hal is hypnotized into seeing women’s inner beauty when he’s trapped in an elevator with motivational guru Tony Robbins. Hal doesn’t realize that Rosemary weighs 300 pounds.)

broken-chair1I had that moment — after the holidays, when many people feel, well, a bit heavier than usual.

One morning I sat down in a sweet little cane-bottomed chair and suddenly found myself flat on the floor.

The destruction was considerable. It was a humbling event, to say the least.

But I wasn’t ready to part with that chair. I’d found it long ago in one of those back-road, “antiques”-but-mostly-junk places in Vermont and bought it for a song. It has a little, somewhat uneven cutout design in the back; I’m not sure how old the chair is, but it’s clearly handmade.

Years ago Richard Mohr, owner of Furniture Clinic in East Hartford, expertly reassembled several nesting tables for me. They had belonged to my great-grandmother but were completely in pieces.

Fearing it might be a lost cause, I brought him the broken chair.

As it turned out, my chair repair was pretty easy, he said, probably just a “3″ on a scale of 1 to 10. And the cost was modest — though probably more than I’d paid for the chair in the first place. No matter.

photo(1)

In business since 1974, Dick — and production manager Mike Cichowicz, above left, who did the work on my chair — said most of the cost of fixing it actually wasn’t in the woodwork but in replacing, and then darkening, the cane seat.

“I’ve had some disasters in here,” Dick said. “But there haven’t been many pieces we can’t repair — if it’s worth the price. Often people think it’s impossible.”

And there hasn’t been much that Dick and Mike haven’t seen. The shop is filled with wood furniture in need of surgery, major and minor, — from fire damage and water damage to broken spindles and badly chipped veneers — or just a facelift. One armoire had a top ornament that had been held in place, rather precariously, with sewing needles. Wire springs on an upholstered piece needed replacing, and Dick said they were using aluminum crosspieces.

“Sometimes you just have to think out of the box to figure out how to fix them,” Mike said, adding that their motto could be: “Yeah, we can figure out something for that.”

A major problem with wooden furniture from the 1920s and 1930s is that furniture makers had started to use synthetic glues, rather than horse hide glue, the advantage being that it was quick-setting. But it can dry out and crystallize.

Particularly in winter, Dick and Mike explained, furniture can get loose because the wood shrinks and that can break the glue joint. (One false move, and you’re flat on the floor.)

One precautionary measure you can take is to rotate chairs through the seasons — in other words, don’t leave that older rocking chair by the fireplace all winter.

Dick made one jesting remark that is worth taking seriously: “We tell a lot of people that if they try to fix it themselves, the price is doubled.”

The Furniture Clinic is at 212 Brewster St. in East Hartford. Call 860-569-8655860-569-8655, go to http://furnitureclinic.webs.com/ or email  furniture_clinic@att.net.