Friday, September 21, 2012

Our Farmhouse Tour - Our Dining Room Story

This is our dining room. It is one of two identically sized and placed rooms in the 1751 part of our house. In a typical Cape Style house the design is very basic and exact. Our house has the same placement of windows in both of the front, square rooms. On the inner wall, there is a Rumson (very narrow) fireplace which joins the large chimney flue with the two other fireplaces on our first floor. They still all work and function. On the outer walls of the dining room, there are a total of 3 windows.

When I was a kid, my family had a "formal" dining room that got used for Sunday dinners and holidays. Most of the time, the room was a catch-all for mail. I used the dining room table to lay out fabric and cut out my sewing projects, of which there was always many things in progress. To say that I am okay with "dining rooms" being used for a multitude of purposes would be an understatement. Truth be told, we don't use this room too often during the year. It's main function is to hold all the stuff we need to keep dry and neat for our Farmers' Market booths and for my shipping of books, postcards, etc.

Just because a "dining room" is going to be a multi-use room, doesn't mean it has to be ugly. When we moved here, I had a vision for our dining room - of vines and birds. This room, of all the rooms in my house, is a homage to the family home and extended family I grew up with. In the dining room of my youth, Mom had chosen a quite wild wallpaper. It was full of vines, squirrels, monkeys, and birds on an off-white background. I can remember that she wasn't sure with what she had picked out after the paper was applied to the walls. We all used to sit there joking about the animals on the wall. I obviously have good memories of all those family dinners in that room. That wallpaper is no longer in Mom's house. She replaced it with something tamer.

When we bought our farmhouse in 1998, it was shortly after my great-Aunt Jennie's home was being broken up. Aunt Jennie was a big part of our family life - she was the sister of my grandfather Arch who had died way long before I was born. Aunt Jennie was a kind, warm-hearted woman with neat bluish-gray hair who lived with her husband Uncle Harry and her niece (who we called Aunt Boots) in half of a double house across town from us. The two of them (the Aunts) were always dressed in house dresses with those long aprons with big pockets that were edged in narrow bias-binding. She and my grandmother Frieda were sister-in-laws and the best of friends. When we were little, my dad would take us to visit "Jen" at 1 Locust Avenue after church on Sundays. We often were invited to Sunday dinner there at their small home. I still vividly remember the lay-out of the their home - sun-porch, living room, dining room, old-fashioned kitchen, back stairs, and yard. My immediate family was large - 5 girls and Mom and Dad. When anyone invited us, it was a huge amount of work. We always felt loved and wanted and our older relatives encouraged us to no end - in whatever it was that we were interested in. How fortunate were we to have felt loved and worthy as a child?

I cannot remember exactly what Aunt Jennie served us to eat on those Sunday afternoon dinners but I do remember the desserts. There was always some delectable home-baked goodie that made the meal complete. My favorite was apple kuchen. After dessert, Aunt Jen would send around a "candy dish" that was made of orange glass with a flat lid and a black knob. That dish was always full of candy whenever we went to visit and I remember the anticipation of choosing some kind of sweet treat. 

When my cousin "Uncle Don" was splitting up his mom's house, the big problem was what to do with the dining room furniture. It was big and heavy and noone was interested in it. He called an antique dealer and the guy offered him $200 for 6 oak chairs, a big oak table, and 3 oak sideboards. My "uncle" was less than pleased with the offer and he called Mom to see if she had any ideas. She called me to see if I might want Aunt Jennie's furniture. The deal was that I had to pay to move it but I could have it for free. 

I jumped at the chance. I had a relatively empty farmhouse and I remembered the furniture. Heavy and chunky with carving. It had been bought in the 20's when Aunt Jennie and Uncle Harry had married and it was used in their home for all those years. I remember the table and the awful chunky legs that were uncomfortable because something was always poking you when you were jammed in with 15 people sitting at one table eating Sunday dinner. But I also remembered the conversations, the love, the food, the sweets that were all part of my child-hood. I told my mom to tell Uncle Don that I would be really happy to have the furniture in our house.

One fall day, a moving van arrived with a whole bunch of furniture. The van drove down our dirt road slowly, of course wondering where the heck they were going. Two huge guys from Newark, NJ, who had most likely never been in a place like ours, knocked on the door. In came the 6 chairs, the huge table, the 3 sideboards. I gave them their $700 and then I had to figure out what to do with it all.  Thanksgiving was coming and I was the host.

I looked at the furniture for days. I was not at all very fond of the heavy oak wood - the color was uninteresting to me and it just didn't work with my style. I loved all the carving of the pieces but thought the wood grain just made it all too much. All these years later, the whole development of this room is a bit fuzzy to me - Julia was about two. Thinking back, I think Aunt Jennie's furniture inspired me to paint the mural on the walls. I had already painted the room a washed shade of orange (layering at least 10 colors to get the perfect shade). The furniture is Jacobean style. I was not a stranger to that era of art and decoration as I had stitched many a Jacobean inspired kit of crewelwork embroidery as a teenager.

One early fall day, I dragged out the paints and the Sharpie marker. With my Sharpie, I drew long curving vines from ceiling to chair rail. I mixed up a bunch of colors, combining acrylics with latex paints, making a "palette" of deli containers that could be closed and stored without drying out. For two days, I painted and sponged leaves, flowers, birds, eggs, pomegranates, curly grape tendrils. The scale was large and loose. I did not plan placement, nor design - I just did it. When all the motifs were complete, I lined them all with thinned down black acrylic paint using a very small lining brush which helps for them to pop from the orange background.. Below the chair rail, I mapped out a plaid design made with blue "painter's tape", layering the different blocks of color in a series of steps.

The whole thing didn't take more than 3 days. I stood back and was happy with myself and the fact that I took the plunge to take an idea out of my head and instead of thinking about it for years, actually act on it. In the beginning it was about economy - I love wallpaper but I could not afford what I would have wanted. This mural was done for fun, for self-fulfillment of my artistic vision, my love of colors, and for economy. And to make a cozy home and room to celebrate Thanksgiving at here at the farm.

After the mural was done, it was clear that the furniture needed an overhaul in order to fit into my vision for the room. I thought that if it was darkened, it would look better. A friend suggested that I thin down some oil paint and brush it on so that it was more like a stain. I did that and it was the perfect solution. A couple years after I faux-darkened Aunt Jennie's furniture, I visited the MFA in Boston. There I saw a piece of English furniture from the 1600's that one of my sideboards must have been copied from. It was dark, dark, dark and then I knew I had made the right decision with the dark stain.

Since I did the initial decoration to the dining room, I have gone on to collect ceramics that look good with the walls and add to the clutter. I taught myself to paint oil paintings because I couldn't afford to buy art. The paintings are of sunflowers and jugs and vases, of course. You can see some of the real pottery in the painting. The chandelier came from the Brimfield Flea Market - it is brass and only holds candles. I use a lot of embroidered Indian fabrics on the tables and sideboard which I have also picked up over the years at Brimfield. This dining room serves as the "once a year" Thanksgiving celebration for my extended family. I wonder if my nieces and nephews will remember their dinners at our farmhouse as fondly as I do the ones at Aunt Jennie's table. I'll just hope.

The walls and furniture have gone on to be photographed many times. Here they are with one of the oak chairs shown as the cover of my embroidery book Colorful Stitchery.

From Colorful Stitchery, photo Kevin Kennefick

And here is the large sideboard with pillows tucked into it from that book too.

From Colorful Stitchery, photo Kevin Kennefick
Hope you have enjoyed this back-story on the walls and collections in our Farmhouse. A question came in from a reader. She wanted to know what color the walls are in the room really are because the 2 photographers came up with different looks to the orange wall. What a great question. The photos Rikki Snyder took for Houzz were shot without any scrims, drapes or blockage to the light coming in the windows. As we all know, light is what make photographs and colors look a certain way. Kevin Kennefick, the photographer for Colorful Stitchery, blocked all the light coming in from the windows so that the furniture and the walls look different. He also shot for print and Rikki was shooting photos for the web. Your computer monitor also makes images look different colorwise. Which one is right? Depends on the light, the time of day, sun or clouds or rain. Hope that clears up the differences.

Have a great weekend everyone. If you haven't entered, today is the last day of the Kaffe Fassett Dreaming in Color Book Giveaway.


Jan Carlson said...

Hi Kristin, Thanks for sharing the background on how your wonderful dining room evolved. Just wondering, did your publisher tone down the colors on the wall to make your pillows pop? Love the brighter version!

Kristin Nicholas said...

I am adding your question and my answer to the comments section of the post Jan. Great question. Thanks.

HOA Mgr Lady said...

Wow I absoultely love your walls. My walls in my 1911 home are deep clear purple and this so inspires me to think outside the box. Thinking I will be taking"Before" pictures this weekend. What an inspiration you are Kristen Thank you!

cathy said...

I've had a glimpse of your fab house before, through a magazine article that I think you linked to on the blog. I so enjoy the vitality and personality. Enjoyed hearing how the dining room came to be. Would love to hear about the other rooms, too, at some point!. And now I think I need to pull out my copy of Colorful Stitchery; I'm feeling inspired! :)

Unknown said...

Kristin, you have a beautiful fabulous home!

Kathy Bridges said...

Love your beautiful room. Eclectic is my favorite style.

Kieren Dutcher said...

So so gorgeous. I just love that orange with the dark, almost black furniture. In our last house I painted a mural similar to yours of vines and leaves, all browns, oranges and olive greens, inspired by a movie set, of all things. The movie, Practical Magic. Victoria Mag. had a feature, with lots of photos of the set, which inspired me. So fun to paint! I used lots of gel medium, to make it translucent. It looked great by candlelight.

Goldie Stetten said...

Thank you Kristen. It is so nice to revisit your home. You are an inspiration to us all!

Elaine said...

Your home is just fascinating!! Your use of color is truly amazing.
Very inspirational. Thanks again for sharing.

Ana said...

Love Aunt Boots!! Thank you so much for this have a great writing style. You have reminded me that great amounts of money are not necessary to create beauty in the idea, an appreciation for simple things, an eye for potential, and the energy and desire to go at it! I'm truly motivated to start looking at what I have on hand....

Rose said...

What a wonderful story about your aunt Jennie. As a long time admirer of your knitting patterns and books, I'm delighted to find your blog. I remember some years ago finding what I thought was an error in a pattern, and telephoning Classic Elite. They put you on the phone to answer my question. (It was not a mistake, but a small typo that a more experienced knitter would know her way around.) It made me happy that the author of books I pored over would answer a knitting question from a novice knitter. So thank you, all these years later.

Angeluna said...

Thank you for the lovely story. I too have collected some pieces from my grgrandparents. Heavy sofa with claw feet that I remembered studying intently as a child. Chairs with lovely lines. Updated with cheery fabrics, they are beautiful and hold so many memories.

skeindalous said...

This is just stunning! What a magnificent creation. What chutzpah to even attempt it! How fabulous to live with it. Brava!

bookagent said...

What a great story! I'm sure your Thanksgiving dinners will be remembered fondly, as will your dining room. Let's hope it inspires many to take a risk.

Pam H

Evelyn said...

I think you are amazing and brilliant. your home is a work of true art!

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