Monday, September 20, 2010

Bobby McAlpine: A Sense of Place

"The house and the household, with all that these words involve, were, to Morris, the symbol and the embodiment of civilized life"
J.W. Mackail, The Life of William Morris

My friend, Mrs. D., had a home within her. She studied books and magazines, traveled to absorb regional architecture, parsed the continuum of styles, defining and discussing her vision with Mr. D., until they could identify the home they wanted to wrap around their large family. After years of reverie and culling, they telephoned Bobby McAlpine to see if he would translate their imaginings. For those of you who have not yet become enchanted by his idyllic country houses, Bobby McAlpine is legendary for his ability to choreograph space. There is a rhythm, refrain and melody to his connection of living areas, coming from the emotional and spiritual place in our hearts and souls that responds to beauty in the world around us, that seeks refuge from the mundane.  Glenn Lavinder, a virtuoso interior designer, of The Pink Door in Greensboro, added his eclectic gifts, complementing their vision.

Mr. and Mrs. D. loved the stone and shingle farms of the Philadelphia countryside. On the morning of their first meeting with McAlpine, Mrs. D. drew a hasty plan of her imaginary, light filled house, which Bobby quickly started sketching on the back of napkins, commenting: "The sun rises here... sets there...," capturing their shared aesthetic. In a House Beautiful interview, Mr. McAlpine describes his selected elements that had attracted Mr. and Mrs. D.

"They let me go about creating a house that is my favorite type--a series of buildings and outbuildings, one room deep, so that the outdoors is ever available."

Lingering within the entry court, stone walls and gamboled references to Pennsylvania Dutch Barns speak the language of continuity, and articulate an era when agrarian generations crafted the fruits of their land and labors, on the place. It wafts with memories and scents of home-made bread and jams. It is the eloquent expression of McAlpine's harmony of opposites, combining ephemeral florals with muscular stone. This entry courtyard is an exterior vestibule. It is a sweet inhalation that punctuates the natural respiration of his progressions. That moment is followed by the tension of having to search for the front door--he always hides it. McAlpine is not a proponent of the grand entrance. 

We are swept-- In medias res (into the middle of affairs), instantly joining the family's communal narrative (exhale).  McAlpine attributes the inspiration for his own house to Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, in his new book THE HOUSE WITHIN US.  He shares his collective, architectural DNA with clients, in their resonant homes. Lutyens thrived during the great country house boom at the turn of the 20th century. His educators and peers were members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, valuing the art of living, the use of authentic materials crafted traditionally, in a furious reaction to the industrial revolution's mass production.  At the opposite end of the century, in a mirrored boom technology economy, Bobby McAlpine adds a fresh layer to the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, drawing from their neo-Georgian, Gothic, Classical and myriad permutations, devising an amazing New-Neo aesthetic. If I was Queen, I would knight him! He is not a furious reaction to the mcmansions of our era. He gently shows the path.   

It is a clever McAlpine signature to elevate the dining room within the living room. It is tucked into a cozy nook, but raising it, sets it theatrically apart (see McAlpine alum, Ruard Veltman's, similar treatment in our post of Mrs. G.'s house). 
In his revelatory book displaying the wide range of his oeuvre, McAlpine explains: 

"You can put the dining area in a more vulnerable setting than any other room, because when people gather around a table their circle creates its own enclosure." 

Why is simplicity so complicated? Bobby McAlpine reduces extraneous space, by merging the active voices of dining and visiting. By flanking parallel, invisible passages as perimeters, rooms and house unfold, communicating and dividing seamlessly. 

On the opposite wall, the hearth is set within an alcove. It is the way McAlpine punctuates the emotional areas of a space. He balances open, sunny areas with intimate escapes.

Glenn Lavinder of Greensboro, N.C. is the master of nonchalant mixtures, styles, and colors that are entirely timeless. Italians, Brits and the French, children, teenagers and the ancient, mingle amicably with each other. In the second image, the vistas and axes that McAlpine is so fond of, provide a passage of the soul as a metaphor within the house. 

"The Process is meditative and serene. You are pulled toward something inevitable, which seems to move away from you even as you come toward it, but at a slower rate. This gradual unfolding makes way for your metamorphosis. By the time you arrive, you have lost one context and gained a new one--one where you can live most creatively."

Within this concept, Mrs. D. shared that Bobby told her that a hall needs to be long enough to finish a thought. Did you ever think halls could be brilliant? We know what they normally look and feel like--nothing! 
From the central rectangle of the house, wings extend to simultaneously unite and enclose the outdoor spaces with rustic dependencies and walls, creating a geometry of dynamic tension between flow and limitation. We feel secure and free, in a balance shared by both good architects, and good parents.

Look carefully, a mantle is suggested above the stove, functional as the fan, yet it is also a reference to the bygone days of cooking within the hearth. But wait, there's more... What we are beginning to call the sneaky kitchen, is behind the stove-wall "curtain." Mrs. D. has added a humble, textural element to the sleek, modern stainless refrigerators, with a pair of rustic antique baskets. The yin-yang, dynamic interaction of opposites is an attractive force on many levels. 

"To create spaces with a broad emotional spectrum, there has to be a pendulum that strikes far to the left and far to the right. A rhythm of the grand and the humble, the exhilarating and the calm, the bold and the tender must be struck at a regular rate. "
Bobby McAlpine

The McAlpine, sneaky, kitchen/pantry is the ultimate way to rectify and compress our communal food spaces, with light-handed division. The plus-sized kitchens of the millennium have gone on a welcome diet.  You can have a Fred Astaire kitchen dance, with friends and family, and you can hide the mess, drawing us closer to the intimate moment of feeding and eating. The solid "curtain" serves to both conceal and reveal. Thank you Sir Bobby for this brilliant innovation. He must actually cook. 

This elegant pair of 18th century cabinets, are a gothic arched counterpoint to the Lutyens neo-Georgian paneling and limestone hearths. They were found after this element was cheekily drawn into the plans. Run up the stairs, and see the surprise. 

"Through Gorgeous math good architecture creates a benevolent presence that pets and comforts you, or energizes and exhilarates. "
Bobby McAlpine
Sometimes these people just makes me smile! It is simple and pretty, waiting for you at the top of the back stairs, like a pair of raised eyebrows reminding: "Pay attention, even the humblest space can feel like a cathedral." It is two little triangles, cut over a door for heaven's sake, but from ingress to egress, it is architectural poetry, devised among kindred souls, versus a committee. 

Sorry for the digression, sometimes when you see a fork in the road, you have to take it. The kitchen den is a cool sip of wine, after a busy day, or a thoughtful place to read the paper and savor your coffee in the morning. Bobby McAlpine, takes a page from Frank Lloyd Wright--luminary of the American Arts and Crafts movement--by lowering the ceiling from the adjacent space. While open to the kitchen passage, the lowered, beamed ceiling is grounding, quieting and embracing. Neutrals are balanced by a gorgeous, colorful Page Laughlin interior oil painting, over the mantle. 

Off of the kitchen axes, on the East side of the house, the breakfast room, in this breathing, resting, shag dance, reel and waltz of a house, twirls me away from the warm embrace of the masculine kitchen den. This lovely, feminine, classic Georgian niche, in soft pastel green shades, changes colors during the day, as the house takes on different perspectives with time and season. I am an incandescent, Pride and Prejudice Lizzie here, merging with my throughly modern Lizzie. This house is so... beautiful: 

"It could make a blind man see, it could make a crippled man walk, it could make the quietest man in the world talk."
The Showmen

Electricity and stillness--all our complexity, transitions, and growth, are simultaneously reflected and resolved by the truth of stone, plank, and mortar, in this grassy and flowered place.

I've gone all Stendal Syndrome on you, and Thank God!!  I thought it would never happen. I thought I'd been desensitized by modern life.  I admire this gestational moment, formed over a humble field, created among kindred souls, materializing mutual ideas, fusing time, space, light and shadow, nudging and chiding us towards illusive love, and the eternal reconciliation that is pure grace.  My post is my curtsey! Time to stop, but we'll continue with a Part II. Please take a moment to thank Mr. and Mrs. D. They are far and beyond more lovely than their home. Their home is a transcendent and collaborative expression.

If you want to continue down this rabbit hole, tumble down these links:

Friday, September 17, 2010

And the winner is...Harrison Howard!

Harrison Howard is the lucky #3 commenter winner of 
Edmund Hollander's and Maryanne Connelly's 
Garden's for the New Country Place 

While speaking with Harrison today, I looked at his whimsical art, and am completely smitten. We are adding his work to our retail store, so I'll give you a link and let you take a peek. Isn't it fun how we all brush up against each other and find beautiful new friends and soulful things in this world.

Please be patient waiting for our next post, it is a wonderful home (never published) by the adorable and magical Bobby McAlpine. I am not worthy! Have you ever tossed 3 days of work out and started over? 
I am like a 16 year old girl, who has thrown every word in her closet on the floor, tried it on, rearranged it, and started again with a new combination. I've even been remiss in my visits to you all, but I promise to catch up.  One of my favorite English words is "gobsmacked." I'm every bit of that. Enjoy Harrison in the interim and send me words of encouragement...or, your thoughts of the mixed metaphor that is Mr. McAlpine,
Liz, Benji, Viive

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Edmund Hollander and Maryanne Connelly Landscape Architects, and book Giveaway

I just got off the phone with Ed. He was at Yankee Stadium with my ODF (oldest and dearest friend). I was screaming over the crowd: "Ed, can I blog about you?" He said: "I can't hear you", so ODF translated: "Fine! was the answer." So here goes. I only know the eminent Edmund Hollander as a person. He's a living legend, in the world of landscape architecture, but he doesn't live iconically. You won't find Ed on page 6. or the NY Social Diary. He is not a P.R. guy, but he has won every award, in his field, multiple times.  His gardens speak for themselves, and are backdrops for films and every shelter magazine on the planet. He does beautiful work for the most beautiful people in the world. Get ready!

To quote our favorite Italian waiter, Constantino, after serving us perfect Bellini cocktails: "What can I say--Nothing!" Simplicity, and interplay of light--reflective white hydrangeas, combined with shadowy lavender, are a leitmotif, in design collaborations with partner, Maryanne Connelly. A rustic gate and fence define the space, creating a subtle transition, a new garden room, or a practical barrier for deer. 

Having been an avid gardener for years, I am deeply impressed by this walk to the shore. Plantings  intentionally flow between the boundaries of natural environment, to create an undetectable rhythm, with an indigenous sensibility. You see beauty and nature first and are transported from the quotidian, to the eternal moment. In their book, Gardens for the New Country Place, The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander and Maryanne Connelly, we see the beautiful photographic, end results of their chemistry, first, with mother earth,  layered within the vernacular culture and history of the surrounding countryside.  Collaborating with luminary architects and interior designers, their artistic aesthetics coalesce, into a single comprehensive vision. 

"When you enter a Hollander landscape you are suddenly quite aware of what Architects refer to as scale and structure......This perfect connection between spaces arises from a deep understanding of land that is both scientific and poetic. "

We are irresistibly drawn down a path of simple plant combinations of varying texture and planes. If flowers could speak, these friendly companions whisper: "Come this way." 

Soft, airy plantings balance the harder lines of structures, and more formal elements. We flow seamlessly from garden room to lawn to woodland, with smooth transitional space between, in the timeless country house tradition of Gertrude Jekyll. 

An orderly heirloom apple orchard evokes the area's contextual, agrarian roots in this transitional space. I grew up with an apple orchard, and we loved sitting in the fragrant branches in the spring, or lounging among the apples, munching away in the fall. After the first few hard frosts, apple branches can delightfully be gathered and carried inside and forced to bloom, filling the house with scent. Destination spaces, like swimming pools and tennis courts are sited with great concern for the overall natural views.

An infinity edge pool, merges with the bay in the distance, and is subtly tinted to echo the natural water environment, organically shaped as if it carved its own space. Swimmers can float into the conversation, literally. Intimacy within the space is preserved with a verdant pergola and low hedge combination, creating soft shadows, while preserving sweeping vistas. 

Same pool different season! Exterior design is truly three dimensional chess. Preserving the natural beauty of the whole, throughout the course of the day, seasons, considering elements, the mathematics of architecture,  botany, zone...Oy!  White plantings are deliberately employed extensively in these gardens as they shimmer in the evenings, leading the eye and delighted family and friends, along intimate paths, and quiet rooms. 

I yearn to lie exactly in this spot. Built into the steep hillside, discreetly beneath the house and above the apple orchard, water cascades down dry stack walls appealing to all the senses. A fragrant and colorful cottage garden, behind the lounge chairs, repeats the descending walled garden plantings, leading down the hill to the pool. A sweep of lawn connects the two, providing perfect visual punctuation. Lead us into temptation! Let it be the temptation to create beauty, harmony, with the reverent hand of man. I'll leave you with some more eye ticklers. 

Descending borders, planted to bloom in all four seasons, with the perfect grammatical insertions of pee gee hydrangeas.

A sacred space worthy of a water goddess. 

A lesson on balance and color harmony continuing into the fall  season.  Thank you, Ed and Maryanne, for your masterful, living artistry. 
As a gift to our commenters, followers, or including us in your blog rolls, 
we will send a lucky winner Ed and Maryanne's fabulous read.  

By Paul Bennett
Principal Photography by: 
Betsy Pinover Schiff
Additional Photography by: 
Charles Mayer
Tori Butt
Dency Kane
Steve Turner
Giveaway ends on
Wednesday, September 14th