Art and Architecture

31 05 2011

The third weekend in May has become Arts in Bloom in Salem County (South Jersey for those that have lost track of me). This was the third year, for the annual event, but the first for Judy and I. Though it is scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday, previous commitments (a huge mound of mulch and an afternoon picnic) kept us away on Saturday; so, on a gorgeous, sunny Sunday morning we hit the trail on an amazing route of discovery that would satiate our artistic hunger (OK, Judy started out placating me but became engrossed in the beauty, almost immediately).

Believe it or not (I was surprised) there were over 50 artists represented in 27 locations throughout the bucolic county that we call home. The various components of the Salem County’s public voice did a great job of promoting the event, locally, and published a great guide that allowed Judy and I to map out our picks for up-close and personal visits. We were looking for variety and were not disappointed.

As an architect, I’ve always been drawn to the connections between art and architecture that so many people seem to miss. I’m not sure the reason for the disconnect; architecture appears as subject matter in all mediums of art (including music, prose, and poetry) and most of my architectural colleagues would agree that building design qualifies as art (even utilitarian architecture can have artistic panache).

On this particular Sunday, I was not to be disappointed. And, though we toured many locations, today I will focus on four and briefly describe in the effort to entice you to a future visit.

  • Our first stop was Ironstone Sculpture Garden which showcases substantial works, in stone, wood, and metal of artists Daniel Gantenbein, Mitsuo Kikuchi, Casey Schwarz, and David Tothero. The various worldly interpretations were strategically placed amongst a rolling, 4.5 acre pasture adjacent to Daniel’s restore farmhouse and the studio these creations evolve out of. A wide path, cut from the natural pasture grasses, provided an idyllic procession through the garden that was punctuated with bamboo, flower, and vegetable gardens (all artistically composed, of course).

And while there were many architectural references in the art and landscape,  I have to say, the studio was magnificent; what started out as a small agricultural barn has morphed into an architectural statement. The barn has been added to, on a number of occasions; but, each time with a purpose and with sculptural finesse. One of the later additions is, superficially, a metal building but the connections to previous and newer components is a series of intersecting planes that create a unique volume in which to work. Material, though ordinary to most observers, provide a play of shade, shadow, opaqueness, and translucency that changes with the seasons and weather. Certainly a testament to the fact that fat budgets seldom equate to great architecture.

  • Later in the morning, we rolled into the driveway of artist Molly Sanger Carpenter. We toured the lower level of a gorgeous 17th century farmhouse that has been lovingly restored. From the studio, large windows looked out onto the Salem County farmland which supports much of the wildlife portrayed in Molly’s sculptures and paintings. And, though the architectural references are more subtle, there are many fine details in the cast frames that surround many of her creations; the architectural beauty of the space surely has its influences.

An additional treat was to view the potato barn and carriage house as we drove around the drive for our exit.

The potato barn, though used for utilitarian purposes, is a great subterranean structure with its massive block walls holding back the land and a great gabled roof protecting from the elements. It has a storied history and, in another life, could be a wonderful gallery or studios such as you see in SoHo and other artist enclaves (were the structure to be transported in time and place).

And, the carriage house is just a gorgeous little gem of Victorian architecture that will, possibly, find its new calling as a studio and gallery for Molly and her fabulous work.

  • After lunch, it was off to Klayhorse Studios and River House Gallery for a little change of scenery. These two structures sit on a small plot overlooking the Delaware River in the eclectic little village Elsinboro.

Klayhorse studios is, solely, a working studio and gallery for the beautiful sculptures of Deborah Waddington Smith, And, though more of a residence, River House Gallery, provided great gallery space for Mary Waddington, Donna Bennet, Stephanie M. Cocchi, Phoebe Hemphill, and Laura Timberman who were showcasing works of photography, jewelry, stained glass, water colors, tiles, etc.

Again, each artist had many ties and references to architecture in there work, but we also appreciated the architectural spaces in which they work and exhibit. Their was an interesting juxtaposition between the two wooden structures as one hugged the ground while the other soared on pilings to observe the ever-changing scenery of the Delaware River. Each space enjoys soaring ceilings which capture great light and a feeling of volume without a large footprint.

One of the wonderful treats, though, was to hear about the interior wooden timbers; these existed, in a previous incarnation, as rough hewn components of a sailing ship’s structure, and now act as structural support to Klayhorse Studios. As a matter of fact, you can still see carvings of roman numerals in the beams that tallied various pieces of information in the former sailing vessel.

  • As with a great gourmet feast, we started to wonder if our appetite had been satisfied and if it was time to call it a day; and, as with a great gourmet feast, just one more bite.

Our last stop of the day would be the home and studio of Handcrafted by Abraham Warren. Judy and I had already been treated to the artistic furniture designs of Abraham Warren, last year, at an Auburn Road Winery event but wanted to see the source of these creations; disappointment, again, did not exist. Abraham, and his wife, have transformed a, previously, dilapidated and nondescript rural bungalow into an eclectic showpiece of home and studio.

The artistry and humor that you find on this property are too numerous to list, and I know I missed many subtle twists and turns. But, I will tease you with a few elements such as:

  • a work-in-progress fireplace, complete with glass bottles and flower pot.
  • Old door wainscoting.
  • Carved timber stair.
  • Glass doors turned windows (literally turned).
  • Wooden arbors, bridges, sculptures, etc.

The list could go on forever; suffice it to say, beautiful and artistic furniture may be a primary endeavor but, nothing is wasted and it becomes a component of an ever evolving architectural artistry. And, this backdrop provided a great display venue for Jason Hemsley and Bob and Vicki Dyer to display carved wooden bowls as well as wood, metal, and stained glass creations.

Truly, the fabled wood carver’s home tucked into its wooded enclave.

Whew, what a trip and, as I proof this writing, I know there is so much more that could be said.

One thing does stand out, though; Salem County is home to some amazing artists. I wrote a note on my obligatory Comments sheet, at the end of our day, that the term “best kept secret” is not always a good thing; we need to be promoting this gem and celebrating our cache of talent. And, you don’t have to wait for next May, to enjoy these (and many other) delicacies; check with the Salem County Web page to find information on locations and hours of these treasures and spend a wonderful summer day exploring the arts in our beautiful slice of South Jersey.





Our House…Part Three…or, Rubber Meeting Road

11 05 2011

When we last visited our fearless couple (Judy and Hue), they appeared to have found themselves “impaled upon the horns of a dilemma”…

Specifically, as you might remember:

  • Go on a search for a new home that has everything we desire?
  • Bite the bullet and purchase the property we’ve looked at?
  • Expand our current home creating the spaces that are lacking?
  • Remodel our current layout into a more conducive layout?

In reality, Judy and I have been debating most of these options for well over a year. Today, I will explore each and briefly discuss their impact on making a final decision. And, though I indicated last time, that there was no particular order in the list, I will address each in the order listed above.

  • Go on a search for a new home that has everything we desire?

Searching for a different home is, in and of itself, a multi-pronged dilemma. In previous blog entries, I have ranted about the current state of many modern subdivisions.  We can’t imagine, or even bring ourselves to entertain, the idea of looking at anything in these developments much less having any expectation of finding anything that addresses our……here it comes……pattern-of-living.

And, yes, I’ve also spoken about the beauty and charm of older homes and there does exist the romantic notion of lovingly rehabilitating one of these gems into our dream home.

But, what are some of the downsides to this option? First, I’ve already talked, a lot, about our love of the existing neighborhood that we live in and also our great yard; could we duplicate those components easily? Second, why would we consider finding a different house to undertake renovations prior to looking hard at renovating our existing home first. Third (and, perhaps, most important), are you aware of the current economic conditions within the housing market; though there are certainly bargains out there for us to look at, we would take the proverbial bath on our house and it just doesn’t make good financial sense to head down this path.

Judy and I have concluded that this option is, at least right now, the least desirable.

  • Bite the bullet and purchase the property we’ve looked at?

As I mentioned in Part One of this series, Judy and I put in an offer on a piece of property about a year ago. The parcel we selected was in a rural setting, very close to work and family, and had enough acreage that would allow us to have our horses (yes, not just Spaniels and cats, we also have horses) at home (thus saving boarding expenses).

During our due-diligence process, I developed a couple of conceptual designs that really functioned nicely and reflected our pattern-of-living. We also started talking about a master plan for a solar array, perhaps a windmill, a barn, pasture fencing, garden areas, etc. Our plan was to, not only create a comfortable, functional home, but also a sustainable one as well.

So, what happened? Unfortunately, we were faced with the same issue as noted in the option above; that of losing valuable equity on our current home in the sales process. We talked with several real estate brokers familiar with our development and, even though our neighborhood is  still perceived as a desirable area, nearby sales prices had decreased dramatically.

Recently, the price on this parcel has been reduced. This factor keeps this option somewhat alive, in Judy and my mind; at least until other options are fully explored and the home sales market improves a bit.

  • Expand our current home creating the spaces that are lacking?

About a month and a half ago Judy woke me up, in the wee hours of the morning, and said, “I know exactly how we can make our home exactly what we need” (note that we weren’t using the term pattern-of-living yet).

Her idea, in a nutshell, was simple, we would convert the existing, attached Garage into a large Family Room with lots of glass looking out onto the swimming pool; we would remove the walls between the existing Kitchen, Dining, and new Family Room; and we would create a Master Suite in the existing Family Room. The upstairs would then become extra bedrooms for company or, if an In-Law Suite were needed for a period of time, Judy and I could relocate back upstairs. We would then construct a large, detached Garage that could be connected via covered a walkway.

This idea, of course, got my creative juices flowing and in no time, I had a conceptual layout  and SketchUp 3-D model that had us both excited; now, we were finally addressing our……yes, it’s time……pattern-of-living.

A few weeks later (can you say dejavu) Judy woke me up, in the wee hours of the morning, and said, “Are we absolutely crazy? Why would we create more square footage and more volume and more bedrooms when we should be downsizing? Think how expensive that will be!” Well, to say the least, she had me floored; what had I been ranting about in all of my blogs? More importantly, had she been reading my blogs? Yes, we were contemplating creating volume instead of taking what we already have and looking at the possibility of making it better.

Judy and I have, unanimously, allowed this one to “bite the dust”.

  • Remodel our current layout into a more conducive layout?

And then there was one, or so it now seems. And yes, didn’t I intimate, in Part One, that renovating our current home made a lot of sense, due in part to the wonderful yard and neighborhood. But, also because we really have a good, solid structure that can become a great palette for addressing our pattern-of-living and creating our dream home.

We really have all of the square footage that we need, it just needs to be re-proportioned. On the first level, we need to relocate the Laundry Room; we need to open the re-configure the Kitchen; we need to open up the Family Room to the Kitchen; and, just as important, we need to create transparency between indoors and outdoors so that we can create a flow and a dialogue between the spaces. And, as mentioned above, we don’t need so many bedrooms; we can capture the Bedroom adjacent to the Master Suite and reconfigure the space to create that Master Oasis we desire.

Now this is what I’ve been talking about; an intelligent, measured, thoughtful approach to design. By not adding on, we can redirect our spending to material enhancements; and, we can also address other issues such as a new roof, solar panels, new windows, new siding, an updated heating and air conditioning system, etc.

At the present time, this is the direction that Judy and I have determined makes the most sense.

Over the next several weeks, I will be developing new concepts for our reconfiguration of our existing home, I will be developing 3-D models to explore materials and colors, and I will be sharing this information with a few contractor friends to get a handle on preliminary construction costs. As soon as I’ve put together a plan of attack, I will share it, along with some of the rationalizations that drives our ultimate design decisions. There will still be many debates about many aspects of this undertaking as it evolves and I will share those also.

Have I hit a chord with some of you yet? Are you thinking about the need for renovation? Do you just need to update and refresh your home? Are you contemplating a new home?

What is your pattern-of-living?

Seek out a design professional…start a dialogue…dream houses can come true!








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