Thursday, November 27, 2008
The posts read very interesting to me. The author is a fellow builder with same thoughts about plumbing and loos! Of course the house is not a chicken house, this is only the nickname and it is quiet big and also around 200 years old.
The blogger says about himself that he is 'a 40-something professional currently posted to Central Europe, now owner of a 'project' in Tuscany.
It changes a bit to read a 'male' blog about house renovation and probably soon also about decoration. The posts are full of useful and entertaining information. I can suggest this blog for everybody who wants to renovate or build in Italy (or elsewhere).
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
In the spring of 1969, when I was 14, my entire family – including aunts, uncles and cousins - descended in masse on the downtown movie theatre to see the just released movie, Goodbye Columbus, based on Philip Roth’s first novella. Filmed mainly in Westchester County, New York – the movie tells the story of a spoiled, Jewish princess, Brenda, and her summer romance with Neil, the poor, unambitious librarian from the Bronx. I suppose the movie was a family event because it was about a contemporary Jewish family – which very few movies were. Probably every Jewish family saw this film in 1969 – news of it quickly spread in our community. I remember the older members of my family being very disappointed by the brief nudity and the wedding scene which is a basically a caricature of a vulgar, over-the-top extravaganza. And my mother was especially turned off by the way Brenda’s father lectured her: “You have given me a lot of nachas, a lot of joy. For a million dollars, nobody could buy that joy. So, when you go back to school and you’re shivering, go to the store and buy yourself a nice leather coat with a fur collar.” Mom felt that he should have said “Pick up the telephone and call me” rather than use money to buy her love. This was exactly 40 years ago – and I remember this conversation with my mother like it was yesterday.
The Westchester County Jewish Country Club
Truth be told, unlike the older relatives, I adored the movie – and so did all of my friends. I didn’t mind the brief nudity or the scandalous story line of premarital sex. Instead, I liked to imagine that maybe one morning I would wake up and be living Brenda’s privileged life. Brenda, played by Ali McGraw in her first movie role, was gorgeous – tall, tan, and thin. Her wardrobe was designed by The Villager, which was our Anthropologie. The musical score was by The Association and all of us had the sound tract, which we played over and over, especially the song “Groovy Just Being Together.” Hey, this WAS the 60’s!!!! My friends and I went back to see the movie a few more times, without our parents, and secretly I think we all wished we were Brenda Patimkin, the athletic, wealthy and slightly rebellious Radcliffe girl. Although, to be sure, none of us ever wanted Richard Benjamin - who played Neil Klugman - as a boyfriend! We all thought Benjamin, also starring in his first starring role, was not cute enough to ever land someone as adorable as Ali McGraw! And to this day, I still think he was terribly miscast in the role.
The beautiful Ali McGraw in her debut movie performance. Playing a freshman at Radcliffe, she was actually 30 years old at the time.
But, of course, as usual I had another reason than my friends why I loved the movie – the Patimkins lived in a beautiful, old, three story Colonial Revival house in Westchester County. It was traditional, classic, and totally WASPy, not at all like the Mid Century Modern type houses that most of us lived in at that time. No – this was the type of house that the gentiles in River Oaks lived in – not Jewish people from Meyerland!! The fantasy of living in the multi-storied house probably intrigued me more than the movie. The house was actually four stories – it had a basement that was fully furnished for pool-table games and shindigs. Houston doesn’t have basements, so the Patimkin’s rec room seemed very mysterious and alluring. The house loomed over the movie like a character. The scenes around the dinner table were lengthy and legendary. The entrance hall, with its gorgeous Georgian stairway, was the setting for much important dialogue. The lush, green grounds of the property were as grand as the interiors. And of course, Brenda’s bedroom – which the house guest, boyfriend Neil Klugman, would sneak into every night – was a teenaged girl’s dream.
Brenda’s clothes came from The Villager. At the time, his outfit was a favorite of mine – midriff baring, red and white striped t and white jeans.
I hadn’t seen Goodbye Columbus in years and years and years and one night it came to me that my teenage daughter might love it as much as I had – so we rented it. She watched about 30 minutes of it and then left to go get on her computer. I can’t say I blamed her - it doesn’t hold up well with time – the endless montage sequences, slow motion and out of focus, is the dated cinematography style of the 60s and 70s. And, the then shocking nudity is banal – more skin is seen on primetime television today. The love story too, once so taboo – a college girl having premarital sex with her boyfriend – is today considered almost commonplace. And although Ali McGraw still looks beautiful and is adorably dressed, forty years later, Richard Benjamin is even less attractive or desirable as the lover.
A lot of the movie action centered around the country club – with endless montages of soft-focused underwater swimming.
Amazingly though, the Patimkin’s grand house, lived up to my memories. It is still the classic, WASPy mansion that I once dreamed about. In fact, with a few cosmetic and surface changes, I would still be very happy living there today, albiet, with my own teenaged Brenda (as long as she wasn’t sneaking a boy - especially one as ugly as Neil ! - into her bedroom at night.) This is one major change that 40 years has brought – I am no longer the rebellious teenager who related to Brenda, but instead, now I am the mother worrying about her daughter’s boyfriend, just like Brenda Patimkin’s mother did.
Below, enjoy a few pictures from the Patimkin’s Westchester house:
The large, white, Colonial Revival house, with its bright red shutters, starred in the movie. The wide center hall bisects the house – the dining room is on the left side, facing the back yard. On the far left, in what looks like an addition, is the kitchen which is not seen in the movie. On the extreme right is the covered porch, where an important scene was filmed. Neil Klugman drives the blue convertible. The house is actually four stories counting the attic and the finished basement.
Close up of the red front door with it’s brass knocker and lanterns. If you look closely, you can see the Mezuzah, the religious symbol that all Jews put on their doorpost – as commanded by God.
The very first glimpse into the house – the center hall features prominently in the movie. The wallpaper is Near Eastern influenced and runs up through the second story landing and hall. The room open on the left is the dining room. A large brass lantern hangs in the stairway, while a crystal chandelier hangs above the front door.
The Oriental-inspired, over-sized, dining room is where two major scenes were filmed. The walls are painted gray, with red chinoiserie wallpaper inset within the molding. The curtains are sheers with fabric swags. The same fabric covers the chairs which are Chippendale styled and painted chartreuse. A large crystal chandelier is hanging here and crystal sconces are placed around room.
Mrs. Klugman, a nouveau riche snob, is not too thrilled with Brenda’s new beau – a public library worker who lives in the Bronx. The movie’s theme deals with the struggle between the two classes of Jews. As for the house: Here you can see the large Chippendale cabinet, filled with oriental celadon and Rose Medallion porcelains.
On the left is a rather tacky red chinoiserie chest with gilding. A large seltzer water bottle is set on the table. I grew up with such a seltzer water bottle – which was always placed on the dinner table, just like this!
Behind Neil and Brenda is a large, carved Oriental screen that hides the door to the kitchen.
During dinner, Brenda scandalously puts her hand on Neil’s thigh, causing him to totally lose his composure! It seems so mild by today’s standards.
Brenda’s older brother and younger sister. Here you can see the red chinoiserie wallpaper more clearly. Why there are pink roses in this room is a mystery.
With the family mostly gone from the dinner table, you can see the ornateness of the dining room more clearly – the oriental rug ties all the colors together, the marble fireplace with it’s folding, brass peacock screen (remember those!!??), the large crystal chandelier and sconces. And lastly – there is a window AC unit behind Neil. This fancy dining room is starkly contrasted with Neil’s own dining room in the Bronx apartment he shares with his aunt and uncle.
The homey Bronx dining room where Neil is more accustomed to eating – not quite as fancy! Love his Aunt’s apron – my own aunt used have aprons just like this.
The beautiful side yard of the Patimkin’s property. Here you can see the side covered porch that leads off the living room.
The covered porch with it’s assortment of white iron furniture, covered in pink fabric – why pink, when red is the accent color? Mrs. Patimkin is trying very hard to be cordial to the new boyfriend from the Bronx – the very same neighborhood the Patimkin's escaped from as soon as they had accumulated enough wealth.
The expansive front yard with its circular drive. A large round fountain sits right in the middle of all the cars.
The front hall with its Near Eastern inspired gold and lavender colored shiny wallpaper. The door with its fan and side lights is classically styled, as is the flooring of white marble with black marble insets. The furniture, though, is faux antique – heavily gilded – exactly the type of furniture one would buy to impress. A crystal chandelier and sconces further dress up the entry hall. At the base of the stairway, a tall marble pedestal holds a bronze statue lighting fixture.
The staircase is carpeted in green! uggh! Wood treads with a runner would be so much more attractive, but remember the 60s and 70s were the height of wall to wall carpeting. At the top of the landing is a beautiful arched window flanked by gilded mirrors. The large, brass lantern hangs down the three floors.
The master bedroom is shown in several humorous scenes. The room is wallpapered in a floral pattern above the chair rail. Also in the room is a fancy white and gilded fireplace with crystal sconces and mirror. Bronze statues on gilded sconces flank the fireplace.
Oy! The headboard is a Venetian disaster! I love how Mrs. Pitimkin with curlers in her hair is smoking in bed. Hair nets and smoking in bed are really things of the past. The purple and white sheets are covered with a green velour blanket – remember velour blankets?!?
This second night – this time the blanket and sheets are blue. The cigarette and rollers are missing tonight. But what is with that childish pink bow?
The basement “rec”room. Knotty pine paneling, wagon wheel built- in decor, ping-pong table, leopard print, and black and white checkerboard floor. The bar is incredibly stocked with every liquor imaginable.
The overflowing, “extra” refrigerator – the excess was impossible for Neil to resist. Notice the old design on the can of Coke and the Diet Rite Cola. When the refrigerator opened to all that fruit – the audience gasped.
The second floor landing – off the bedroom hall You can really see the thickness of the beautiful wood banister here. The stairs on the right lead up the third floor. Three floors really impressed me as a young girl – I had only ever lived in a one story house. Notice the pretty black tole sconce on the wall. Also, all the plugs in the house are covered with brass switch plates.
A close up of the beautiful stair railing with its three styles of carved spindles. The gold phone is priceless!
Notice above Neil’s head, you can see the third floor steps – each tread is individually carved. This stair hall is really a beautiful one with all the richness of the details: the landings, the arched window, the turned spindles, the carved handrail. Just the grand size of the stair hall is notable, and rarely seen in most homes, even large ones.
Brenda and Neil saw two movies that summer – here Rosemary’s Baby.
And next, The Odd Couple. Ironically, soon after Jack Klugman who plays Mr. Patimkin would star in the TV series of The Odd Couple.
The third floor, or the attic, was filled with furniture from “when we were poor” Brenda tells Neil, after a fight with her mother. Attics like this, with windows, finished floors and headroom, have always fascinated me and this scene really made an impression on me when I first saw the movie – the hidden treasures that were waiting to be found there!
Brenda’s cute 60’s style bedroom saw lots of action, of course. After Neil is invited to be a houseguest during Brenda’s last two weeks at home – each night he sneaks into her bedroom behind her parents’ back. By today’s standards – the parents would probably allow the boyfriend to share the room with their college aged girl. At the time, this was such a scandalous situation – a it made my elder relatives very uncomfortable to watch. The bedroom is wallpapered in a bright yellow and orange floral pattern. The curtains are white with yellow trim and the sheers have a cute daisy pattern sewn into them. Notice her “Trimline” telephone – this was the hugely popular telephone model that was introduced to the market just three years prior.
A classic shot from the movie – with Neil’s face in the vanity mirror.
In Brenda’s private bathroom, the gold damask wallpaper blends in with her bedroom’s wallpaper. I love the vanity lights – the base of each bulb appears to be some type of chandelier or lamp part.
One more shot of Brenda’s bedroom - here you can see the twin arches – one is her bookcase, the other is her vanity/desk. The carpet is the original, dreaded shag wall to wall. Today, shag carpet is called “frieze.” Here Brenda and Neil are fighting over the fact that Brenda’s has not been using birth control!
This is the only shot of the living area or family room with it’s mod covered sofa: bright Kelly green with chrysanthemums. I’ve always wished they showed more of the living room than just this one shot.
The blue wallpapered guest room where Neil pretended to spend the night. Behind Brenda’s brother are the back stairs that lead up to the attic where all the old furniture is stored.The guest room is wallpapered in a blue and white pattern. The furniture in this room is a bedroom suite called French Provencal. Growing up, I had a set like this – white with gilding – as did most girls I knew. Remember bedroom suites – matching nightstands, headboards, and dressers? Tufted fabric headboards are actually in vogue right now. The bed has a fitted bedspread with a scalloped edged, lined with trim. A check fabric is used for the curtains and the dust ruffle.
A scene from Brenda’s brother’s controversial wedding. Most Jewish movie goers were offended by the portrayal of this wedding where guests were seen stuffing their faces with food, rudely cutting in the buffet line and just acting obnoxious. Apparently, when the head of the studio, Robert Evans (and Ali McGraw’s husband) saw an early cut of the wedding scene, he objected that it wasn’t “ethnic” enough. The director then recut the scene – adding more offensive footage into the movie.
The scene my mother most objected to. At the wedding reception, Mr. Patimkin lectures Brenda about being a good, moral daughter that he is very proud of: “You have given me a lot of nachas, a lot of joy. For a million dollars, nobody could buy that joy. So, when you go back to school and you’re shivering, go to the store and buy yourself a nice leather coat with a fur collar.” My mother felt he should have told her to either call or come home. Brenda, is feeling quite guilty here, knowing she’s been having sex behind her parents’ back and if her father knew, he would not be so proud of her. Oh, the pathos!
The riotous wedding reception. Forty years later – it seems more tame, farcical, and extremely dated. This time around, I certainly wasn’t offended watching it as no one I know acts like that at a wedding! I don’t know where this scene was filmed, but I suspect it may be the country club, which was the setting for many scenes in the movie.
The End: Brenda goes back to Radcliffe and leaves her birth control at home which her mother promptly discovers. Feeling too guilty to ever bring Neil home again – she ends the relationship. Neil, of course, doesn’t understand why she left her birth control at home and realizes Brenda did it to end the relationship proving that the privileged Westchester girl would never marry the poor Bronx boy. Today, this class struggle – the divide between upper and lower class Jews seems comical and very unrealistic and would never be an issue today. In fact, I’m not even sure such a class divide even exists at all. This scene is set in what is supposed to be a sleazy motel, but the wallpaper is a charming Prince of Wales feather type and the chest looks like the most authentic antique in the entire movie!
I hope you enjoyed looking back at one of my favorite movie houses from my teenaged years. What is your favorite teenaged movie? Is there a house in it that made it a favorite? Did you ever see Goodbye Columbus – and if so – did you have the same positive feelings to the house as I did?
Thursday, November 20, 2008
After approaching Jill Brown for an interview, she graciously suggested that we talk over lunch at her house. Jill is the owner of brown, Houston’s most distinctive lighting and antiques store. She is an extremely interesting woman and someone I have longed admired. A true visionary, ahead of the trends, Jill has created a brand that is uniquely her own. To be sure, there no other place quite like brown.
Jill Brown’s house. Instead of a concrete sidewalk, slate chips make up the path that leads to the house.
As soon as I pulled onto her street, I knew immediately which house was hers. In a neighborhood filled with 50’s ranches, Jill’s facade quietly announces someone with style lives within its walls. After a wonderful lunch of homemade soup and baked pie, we got down to business: her childhood was spent in the Ohio farming country, where her love of Americana began. She says she born with a gift for merchandising and her early work was in that field. Along the way, she married and had two sons who are now both in college. At one point, the family transferred to Houston. Soon after settling here, Foster, her husband, announced one day that they were all moving to Belgium. At this point, Jill had become a “picker” – someone who, before the days of the internet, would scout out antiques in attics and basements and sell them to the design trade. Could an antique picker be happy in Belgium, of all places? Once there, Jill at first felt quite lost, until that is, she discovered the country was filled with antiques. She quickly began buying - stashing her loot in the basement and in every available inch of space. To her husband, she said only, “trust me” – which he did. Jill found she was especially drawn to lighting fixtures and industrial goods – little did she realize at that time, that she was at the forefront, nay, even before the forefront, of several major design trends.
“Welcome Joni” was written on the chalkboard. As Jill’s sons grew older, she decided to sell the family home and move to this slightly smaller house in a nearby neighborhood. The house was totally remodeled to suit Jill’s aesthetic, but a few parts were left untouched, such as the original metal casement windows with their hand cranked hardware.
The Browns spent four happy years abroad and Jill’s business took off. Tragedy struck unexpectedly when her beloved Foster suddenly passed away. It’s been five years since, and Jill is only just now beginning to feel ready to get back to the business of life. She has since raised her sons alone, and used her store to escape from sadness. Through lots of very hard physical work and mental stress, her business has grown beyond her dreams. Where she once rented space in an antique store, Jill now has her own prominent location on a tree-lined street filled with other specialty shops.
brown is stocked with all the things that Jill loves. Indeed being in shop is almost like being in her home – there are her lighting fixtures, both old and new, some designed by others, and many designed by Jill herself. Old mirrors and new brass cooking pots share space with metals – iron, pewter, and zinc. Large industrial pieces fashioned into useful furniture are juxtaposed against charming, vintage teaching charts. Though Jill has never been one to follow trends, brown finds itself at the epicenter of two major design styles that has swept the country: the Belgian and Industrial looks. Perhaps, Jill was just lucky to be in Belgium before it was hot, or perhaps she is a genius at merchandising. Either way, there is no denying that the lanterns she has been selling for years is now THE one fixture to own, or that the teaching charts she has collected for decades are now being massed reproduced, or that the Industrial look she has lived with in her home is now favored by the younger, hipper crowd. And certainly, Belgium, the country where she once bought and hoarded everything in sight, could not be any hotter today. Amazing foresight, Jill!
The first things you see when entering Jill’s house are these two charming folk art paintings. Old? Actually, no – these were commissioned by Jill’s mother. The one on the right commemorates Jill and Foster’s wedding. These two paintings set the tone of the house: a mixture of Americana and Belgian, antique and industrial. The tones are muted, there is nothing bright nor shiny here. The colors throughout are a blend of khaki, taupe, sage, mustard, and of course, brown. There is a masculine feel to the collections – Jill certainly doesn’t go in for frou-frou. The interiors are as unique as she is and are a direct reflection of her style.
In the family room – open to the kitchen and eating area – a large, file cabinet brought back from Belgium is typical of the industrial pieces found at brown.
Interesting vignettes are at every corner, on every wall – here, a pair of lamps are made from 1950’s l’art populaire.
The breakfast table – with our empty lunch dishes - sits in front of a built in banquette. Hanging on the wall is a fractions teaching chart, one of many found throughout her home and store. Can you see what I drank with lunch?
Wonderful, oversized linen cloths are used for napkins. Everything in the house – every item – is handpicked by Jill. Nothing ends up here by chance. It is all, down to the smallest detail, an expression of Jill’s style.
For instance – there are no cooking pots that just “happen” to be here. Instead – all pots are these gorgeous, glorious copper ones – which she sells in her store. These are seriously beautiful - and I have my eye on them! Too bad I don’t cook!!!!
Jill pays her bills at the bar in her kitchen – notice the charming vintage chair and metal bin. She has an extensive pewter collection – a few pieces of which sit on the windowsill.
The laundry room is separated from the kitchen/breakfast area by a curtain made of linen. This linen is found in every room – as curtains, as pillows, and on upholstery. The linen serves as a continuous theme throughout the home.
The main living/dining room is filled with the hand-picked items that Jill collects for her house and store. The striking rug is American – hand hooked - and sets the color scheme for the house. The sofa is antique, upholstered in the same linen that hangs at the windows throughout. Two oversized pieces capture the eye: the cabinet on the left and the large, custom lantern over the dining table behind the sofa.
Jill designed the oversized lantern that is the focal point in the room. She likes the tension that is created by large and small scaled items. American chairs surround the table.
In the dining area – a wonderful antique French-Canadian bench sits underneath a beautifully framed, large teaching chart.
Another interesting vignette features an old folding table - a piece Jill particularly likes. Notice that one picture on the left hangs up high on the wall, and on the right, one hangs very low. Throughout the house – Jill hangs her extensive collection of art both extremely high and low. Also, notice the lamp cords which sparked an interesting discussion. As a lighting fixture designer, Jill sees beauty in each part of the fixture, including the cords and prefers not to hide them. Indeed – many bloggers have written about the beauty of vintage lamp parts – i.e. silk cords, etc. – so Jill is not alone in her opinion.
Another shot of the symmetrically laid out dining area with its wonderful lantern. The two portraits appear to be old, but were painted in the 60s. The wonderful casement window is original to the house.
The opposite end of the living/dining room boasts floor to ceiling built in bookcases filled with treasures that caught Jill’s eye. Sconces from Jill’s own lighting line, Far-Fetched, hang from the shelves. Between the bookcases, you can see Jill and Foster’s wedding painting, with a charming chest below it.
Another vignette, with yet another vintage iron folding table and oversized teaching chart – this one is about coral!
The hallway leading to the bedrooms is a gallery-like space, filled with the vintage juried art school pieces that Jill collects.
The sink counter in her sons’ bathroom was fashioned from a scrap piece of metal found in the backyard. Notice the heavy-duty racks, holding the linen towels.
This armoire hold bath towels in the boys’ bathroom. More graded art school pieces and framed work from her sons’ youth line the walls. There is very little wall space left available anywhere in the house, so extensive is Jill’s collection.
Each son has one of a pair of these very high twin beds - painted a chalky, deep red. This son’s walls are lined with the beautiful vintage diplomas of homing pigeons – another genre of art that Jill collects . Very rare, she might be the only person who does collect them!
A corner filled with the homing pigeon diplomas and portraits. Judging homing pigeons is a popular sport in Belgium. I must say, I had never before seen this genre of art – yet it is quite beautiful and I can truly understand Jill’s obsession.
Jill’s bedroom is the most colorful room in the house – I love the fabrics she has chosen to use on her bed! Again, a very symmetrical arrangement with corner windows identically covered with tortoise shades and the linen curtains found throughout.
Continuing the colorful theme, Jill’s bathroom curtains are made from vintage fabric. I love the hat box on the old stool.
Landscape architect Mark McKinnon designed this area between the house and the garage. I love the crushed slate and the concrete slabs between the row of shade trees. McKinnon also landscaped Jill’s store.
At the back of the yard, another seating area, this time with a fountain.
So, what does Jill’s store look like?
brown is located on a busy corner. It’s distinctive landscaping, again designed by McKinnon, is similar in feel to that found at her home. Notice the different materials used in front of the shop: slate chips, Zoysia grass, Bermuda grass, mulch, and Ruellia form a grid, not unlike a Mondorian painting.
Inside the front main room. The floors are wood and very echoing, adding a pleasant, solid sound to the shop. The two main rooms have soaring ceilings up to the rafters that are lit by large sky lights. Besides lighting fixtures of every imaginable kind, brown sells antiques and soon-to-be antiques.
Of course Jill sells old teaching charts – from the extra large to the small.
The second showroom.
Here, a display of bottles. In her home, Jill’s bedroom lamp is made from one of these.
Here is just a small selection of the many lanterns for sale.
Sconces – you need sconces? brown has a huge assortment of sconces. Also for sale are the beautiful copper pots Jill cooked my soup in - I want these!!!
Antique mirrors stack up along one wall.
One of my favorite fixtures in the store is this antique crystal chandelier. The crystals, especially the small round ones, are so beautiful.
So what do you do if want to buy something from brown, but you don’t live in Houston? There is always the web site, of course, but brown is now listed with 1st Dibs. I love these sconces found on brown’s 1st Dibs site.
A great set of chairs, available from 1st Dibs.
One of the many mirrors available from brown on 1st Dibs.
And of course – there are all kinds of teaching charts for sale! This one really caught my eye.
A while ago, I decorated a high rise apartment for a woman who loves to play cards. We turned her dining room into a part-time poker parlor – the table had to be round, seat eight, and the lighting had to bright enough to read cards. I looked for months for a special light fixture for the space – which is open to the apartment. The colors in the room are a deep grey-green with terracotta accents. When I walked into brown and saw this fixture – I knew immediately it was the “one.” The oversized fixture came from Belgium, it’s brass had a very heavy and beautiful patina. My client was almost as thrilled as I was, just almost, though. There is nothing that beats the thrill of the hunt – when successful. Thanks to Jill Brown – her ability to pick the best – made it a most fortuitous day.