Category Archives: Historic Houses

Please Touch, And Please Ask Questions

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

Strong-HowardAttention, history buffs. The three-year renovation of the Windsor Historical Society‘s Strong-Howard House is complete, and the house re-opens Sunday, Oct. 4 from 1 to 4 p.m., with all tours free that day.

The society took a fresh, more hands-on approach to giving people a sense of how our forebears lived. Rather than fill the house with delicate antiques, the house is furnished with period-appropriate reproductions, many of them created by the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.

Here’s my earlier post about that:

And Steve Goode has the story about the re-opening:

Congratulations to Executive Director Christine Ermenc, Curator Christina Vida, Bob Van Dyke and the artisans at the woodworking school, and everyone else involved.

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 —

And here is the Modern Homes Survey of about 90 Modern houses in New Canaan:

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)






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:

A $10 tour book serves as your ticket for all the events. Click here for complete details:


Photographs via Hartford Blooms



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

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.




Hartford Blooms: A Call For Gardens

by Categorized: Architecture, Elizabeth Park, Flowers And Floral Design, Garden Design, Gardens, Heritage, Historic Houses, Landscape Architecture Date:

The afternoon could not have been bleaker, slushier, grayer or more dismal.

But Mike McGarry, the former Hartford city councilman who founded Hartford Blooms 20 years ago, burst the afternoon drear into full blossom as he described with infectious exuberance the glorious plans Hartford Blooms has for June: a nine-day garden tour extravaganza, June 21 to 29, with garden, architecture and history tours around the city, garden lectures and evening receptions at the Butler-McCook House.

hydrangeaHartford Blooms presented a garden tour last year in the West End, and the year before on Ashley Street. This June’s event incorporates that, and so much more.

“We’re collaborating with a wide range of organizations to show how important gardening is to beautifying and unifying our city,” Mike said.

There are so many glorious gardens — private gardens, public gardens, gardens at churches, businesses and institutions — and so much outstanding architecture “right under your nose,” Mike said.

hartford bloomsRemarkably, the tour book that will be a ticket to all activities and tours over the nine days is priced at just $10.

However, some tours will have limited capacity, so it’s a good idea to purchase your book now. Make checks out to Hartford 2000 with “Hartford Blooms” in the memo line, and mail to Hartford 2000, c/o CREC, 111 Charter Oak Ave., Hartford, CT 06016.

Or stop by the booth Hartford Blooms is sharing with the Elizabeth Park Conservancy at the Connecticut Flower & Garden Show this weekend at the convention center.

Hartford Blooms also is still lining up gardens for the tours. If you’re interested in showing off your garden — whether it’s grand or just a lovely pocket garden, go to

And here’s Mike’s op-ed in The Courant, “Hartford Blooms Sets Mega Garden Fete,” with more details: Click here.

You’ll see what I mean by infectious enthusiasm.



Caution: These Mid-Century Modern Dream Homes Are Killer

by Categorized: Children, Design, Do It Yourself, Furniture, Historic Houses, Home Design, Mid-Century Modern Date:

I just happened upon a very amusing blog called Projectophile — written by Clare Fauke, a married Chicago mother of three and passionate do-it-yourselfer who describes her style as “Mid-Century Modern meets keeping-dangerous-things-away-from-small-children.”

Hence one of her particularly hilarious posts: “15 Mid-Century Modern Dream Homes that will Kill Your Children.”

Here’s a sampling, with Clare’s comments:


— That’s going to require at least ten stitches.


— This stylish modern mother is too absorbed in her reading to notice that all her children have fallen into the living room garden.


— For goodness sake, don’t send your kids trick-or-treating near a mid-century modern home.

And if you do a lot of your furniture shopping on Craigslist, as Clare does, you’ll appreciate her Projectophile post titled “25 Most Dangerous Craigslist Adjectives Exposed.”

As in:

Fun: You can’t actually sit on it; you can only look at it, or fall off of it.


— What a FUN chair!

People’s Possessions: A Peek At The Past

by Categorized: Antiques, Heritage, Historic Houses Date:

Howard Inventory

A sleigh blanket valued at 75 cents. A silver medal, 50 cents. A $2 pair of boots. Two sets of curtains, $7. Two dining tables, $8. Three “comfortables,” $7.50 — those are comforters, or quilts. A $4 watch. A $1 candle stand.

The list goes on. These items were among the possessions included in a three-page inventory that described and valued the clothing, furniture, stock and land that Captain Nathaniel Howard owned when he died in 1819.

Curator Christina Vida of the Windsor Historical Society will give a talk on Oct. 22 titled “What People’s Belongings Can Tell You,” about probate inventories and the information and insights they often can offer curators, researchers and genealogists.

Captain Howard’s inventory helped provide an understanding of what Windsor households looked like around 1810 and also helped guide Vida’s decisions on furnishing the recently opened parlor and store at the Strong-Howard House.

The house, which dates from 1758, is undergoing restoration slated for completion by the end of 2015. What makes it interesting is that it’s being furnished with reproduction antiques, so that visitors can gain a more direct experience of what life was like there. Unlike most museums, visitors will be able to sit on the chairs, poke through documents in Captain Howard’s desk, examine the items like combs and fabrics that were sold at the store — and eventually even have a chance to cook at the hearth.

Vida’s talk on Tuesday, Oct. 22, is from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Windsor Historical Society, 96 Palisado Ave. (Route 159), Windsor. The fee is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for society members. For more information, call 860-688-3813 or go to


Photos: A detail of Captain Nathaniel Howard’s probate inventory, top. The Strong-Howard House, above. Both via the Windsor Historical Society