A sketchbook for The Roving Home (.com)

Winter Mantel 2013 

Winter Mantel 2013 

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Hipster Interiors…

Hipster Interiors…

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Mad for plaid. And houndstooth. And fuschia chandeliers.

Mad for plaid. And houndstooth. And fuschia chandeliers.

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Interiors: Have Dollhouse, Will Travel

     In the recession-worthy spirit of killing two birds with one stone, my niece Emilie created a dollhouse both travel-ready and economical.  No tract house or McMansion for her.  As a child of an age that focuses on recycling and a DIY ethos, Emilie turned a simple shoebox into a home with pretty much everything one needs for the modern life, including electronics: a bedroom, a living room, a bathroom and a kitchen, which you’ll find tucked under the open, attached lid of the box.  

     The real genius of this dollhouse is in the tidying up - Emilie just needs to stuff all the furnishings and accessories back in the box, close the lid, and she is done.  Life not only contained, but mobile.  Now all she has to do is make sure this under-the-radar dollhouse made of recycled bits isn’t recycled itself by some overzealous family member who keeps seeing the same old shoebox lying around the house.

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{Interiors: Tusinski Gallery}

     Artist Karen Tusinski not only gave me a tour of her gallery recently, she also opened up a few pages from her sketchbook, which was fascinating to flip through in relation to her finished work.  Her sketchbooks contain drawings that play with ideas for paintings of course.  But they also contain little collages with lots of white space surrounding cut-out shapes and images that she pulls from magazines.  She structures these “little bits”, as she calls them, in a way that is instantly recognizable as her work.

     Interiors have long provided inspiration to our best painters - I’m thinking of the Pierre Bonnard exhibit I happened to catch last year.  I must have seen 20 paintings of Bonnard’s kitchen table but every single one provided a different glimpse of a single life that somehow held universal appeal.  Although much more studied than Bonnard’s watercolors, Karen’s work strikes me in the same way.  She has an uncanny eye for the shapes and colors that fill our fields of vision - and which most of us never notice in any sort of conscious way.  

     Karen focuses on the assemblages we create in our interiors: a bowl on a table, cut flowers grouped in vases, the backdrop of a patterned wall.  She sees the shapes in our lives that are repeated in endless variations: circles and rectangles, lines that compose a grid.  And while the scope of her paintings doesn’t extend to the exotic, the work truly feel expansive - in much the same way a real life interior can feel when it is created by someone with an understanding of shape and color, an understanding of the ability of the objects of our everyday lives to speak to us, long after each particular bloom in a particular bundle of poppies has faded to dust.

To view Karen Tusinski’s work:

2 Main Street, Rockport, MA  01966

www.karentusinski.com

Current Exhibits

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Interiors: Antique + Modern + Trash = My House

     In keeping with the decorating-on-the-cheap theme, here is a photo of the lighting fixture in our dining area, discovered amongst a pile of junk at a Pile of Junk store.  No, that’s not the store’s name, but it should be, as this particular place of business likes to stash the items they sell in heaps so that shoppers can experience the joy of scaling mini-mountains of other people’s leavings.  But I have no problem trading in my dignity for a potential find - especially when it comes at a $5 price tag, as did this light. 

     This fixture originally sported smoked plexiglass panes, but I just wasn’t feeling it, as they say, and while I love the boxy modern frame couldn’t quite envision the ’70s vibe of the smoked plexiglass working with the antique table.  I planned on replacing the plexiglass with clear glass panels, but after hanging the light decided I preferred the streamlined look of just the frame with lightbulb; it looks a bit primitive, and as such makes a stronger connection to the old table.  That said, I’m still not completely sure the combination of antique and contemporary works here.  I just know I have so much old brown furniture in this corner of my home that putting a period chandelier over that table would put me deep into grandma territory.  And by the way, thank you Grandma, for that table. (It really did come from my Grandma, and my gratitude is very sincere). 

     Finally, a word about the centerpiece, which is where the “trash” part of the equation comes in.  I originally had my flowering branches in a conventional vase, but then noticed this giant can sitting on our counter - label dutifully removed and innards cleaned out on its way to the recycling bin - and my mind went to Elle Decor, as it so often does.  I remembered that Jenna Lyons, the J. Crew taste-maker, was featured in the last issue with a list of her favorite things.  Guess what was among them?  Porcelain vases, cast from real tin cans, in a shiny silver metallic glaze.  Well, Ms. Lyons can afford to be ironic with her fake trash vases - but I am the real deal and in the spirit of real-ness choose to use actual tin cans for my vases.  I must say, I like it.  I like the way that tin can looks with flowers, so - amazingly enough - I have Elle Decor to thank for the trash component of this Interiors feature. 

     So: $5 (light) + $0 (table) + $1.99 (tin can) = $6.99 Dining Room.

     Take that, recession!

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Interiors: Cogswell’s Grant

     Big day today: Historic New England, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of historic New England homes, opened their 36 properties to the public free-of-charge.  What a wealth of options for the home tour maven!  And, as an added plus, since the houses are historic, one’s voyeurism has the virtue of being educational.  We’re not talking Alex McCord and Simon Van Kempen’s boudoir-flavored living room here. (Don’t worry if you don’t get the reference; it just means you have too much sense to watch the Real Housewives of New York rampage on your television.)

     As part of today’s festivities here on Cape Ann, the White-Ellery house in Gloucester was open.  Besides a satisfyingly bare-bones interior, this tour featured a massive birthday cake in celebration of the house’s 300th birthday.  Congratulations White-Ellery house!  May we all age so well.  

     I only made it to two house tours - the White-Ellery house of course (there was cake!) and to Cogswell’s Grant, the former summer home of avid collectors Nina Fletcher Little and Bertram Little.  Cogswell’s Grant is unusual in that, although the house dates to the early 1700s, it is not decorated to reflect any particular period.  Rather, the Littles used the house as a showplace for their extensive - and still intact - collection of early examples of American decorative arts.  It’s hard to believe, as you thread your way through what seems like a dozen rooms of redware and hooked rugs and painted boxes and lots (and lots) of primitive portraits, that they successfully managed family and work life in the midst of such vast amounts of stuff.  And very valuable stuff, as it turns out.  But the charming thing about their habitual collecting is that monetary value was never the point.  They had an appreciation for the humbler forms of artistic expression at a time when nobody seemed to care very much about needlework samplers and shaker boxes and exotic ostrich eggs carved by sailors during their many months away from home.  The Littles recognized an inherent value in pieces that reflected the effort of regular people using the resources at hand to beautify their surroundings. 

     But as I wandered through the house staring at all those primitive paintings and cut-paper lampshades, a question began to form, and an awkward one at that: are examples of the decorative arts exempt from certain standards in direct proportion to their age?  Meaning: do we stare in awe at an unattractive painting just because it has been around for a while?  Do we give cave paintings a pass just because they’re really, really old?   I guess the question doesn’t have to take me back quite that far, and I have no intention on taking on the paleolithic soul who managed to create anything recognizable with a stick of charcoal.  My point is: I don’t want to make the mistake of sentimentalizing a bad job of faux wood-graining just because some itinerant painter happened to do the work in 1742.  There.  I said it.  I already feel guilty. 

     I feel the need to clarify: I’m not talking about the deliberately devil-may-care primitive stylings of true folk artists.  I’m talking about the decorative art forms that exist purely to emulate something fancier, those forms created solely for fooling someone into thinking he is looking at a burled walnut-veneered bureau, instead of a plain old piece of pine furniture with a few swirls of paint floating around on top.

     Now I’m not saying examples of poor faux painting exist among the collections of Cogswell’s Grant, and even if a few clunkers did manage to sneak in, who cares? Cogswell’s Grant is a fascinating place, both on its own merit and as a tribute to the human desire to create and collect, no matter the era, no matter the means.

     By the way, if you have no desire to examine up close the difference between a blanket chest and a Bible box, then visit Cogwell’s Grant just for the sake of taking in the beautiful property - 165 acres of rolling farmland juxtaposed against the marshes of Essex and the Atlantic ocean.  You can prop yourself up against an old stone wall, step out of your own life for a few hours and consider life in the 18th century.  And while you’re at it, you could do a little carving on an ostrich egg.

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Interiors: In the Garden

     This week’s Interiors post is more about exteriors - which, during this time of year in New England, begin to take just as much importance, if not more, than our indoor surroundings.  I just acquired this vintage metal garden chair whose patina seems to make it a part of the outdoors as it blends in against the stone and hostas.

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