"A couch is only as interesting as the person sitting on it." - Unknown
My mother had style. I wouldn't say she had GREAT style
– so few people do – but she had a definite something all her own.
The thing about her style was that she wasn't afraid to take risks. It all just flowed naturally from her and never felt deliberate.
In 1972, my parents set out to buy their first home – a place to start their family. It was a very traditional idea, with nothing avant-garde about it. They picked a very conservative, small, tightly-wrapped town on the south shore of Massachusetts as the setting for their short-lived familial bliss, but instead of the white picket fence and two-car garage that was expected of them, they bought a 5000 square foot dilapidated cranberry warehouse on the wrong side of town. It was unbelievably alternative for its time, and it sealed our fate forever as outcasts. We were saddled with what Jodi, my partner at HEDGEHOUSE, likes to call "the burden of being first to market." For my mother and HEDGEHOUSE, in particular the THROWBED, no truer statement has ever been made.
The “Barn”, as it was known, did not come with a lot of land, and it was oddly dropped into the middle of a sloping piece of property that was surrounded by a family whom my mother lovingly referred to as “Swamp Yankees” – or, more precisely, “Those God damned Swamp Yankees.” The neighbors and my mother did not get along, since they resented my parents for buying the dormant warehouse and invading their tranquil hive, and my mother was resentful because they were. Once my father left, who had his own resentments (not the neighbors,) it was a full-on war
– 1970s style. Some of that overflowed on to us, the kids, but we actually all got along until we remembered that we were not supposed to. Brian, one of the kids, may have been one of my first crushes. He was much older than me, drove a 1970 Nova, was super-cute, and naturally, a criminal in training.
Mom and Dad gutted the place and their renovation began. I think they only had about $10,000 for the whole job, so they salvaged the beams and lumber, and reused as much of it as they could. Then, my mother spent one-third of the entire budget on handmade orange tiles for the kitchen, imported from Mexico. I'm sure this was the beginning of the demise of my parents’ marriage, but to my mother’s credit, they were stunning, and worth every penny. Those tiles were beyond perfect and people came over just to see them. Last I checked, 40 years later, they are still in the kitchen, and just as fab.
I could go on and on about the Barn, and all of its progressive innovations (Mom had a bidet in her bathroom!) but that's not what I'm trying to get at with this post.
While my mother had style, she was not IN STYLE. She was in another category altogether. She was stylish, for sure, but ahead of her time – and when you’re ahead of your time, your style can be overlooked in the moment, even reviled. But I knew that her red lipsticks, denim skirts, fur coats, and extra large tortoise shell specs were all part of the same DNA, the same cocktail brimming with self-confidence. She totally owned it.
I never felt ashamed of her decorating and design choices for our home: the Persian rugs, puffs, toiles, tightly upholstered Carlyle couches, pink leather ottomans, and crewel-covered wingback chairs. As for her lime green lacquered coffee tables, I was proud, and genuinely baffled when people didn’t get it.
My mother did not have a style philosophy, she simply had IT, and it was never discussed. All that bold creativity and fearlessness miraculously worked together – her clothing, her makeup. The furniture, the plates and silverware for her table top, the music, the food, and even her eclectic group of friends. I’m certain that by the end of our run in Duxbury, everyone had sat at her kitchen counter on her mismatched stools at least once, and confessed one thing or another. Double Fantasy or Judy Collins playing in the background - sometimes softly or sometimes very loud. To this day, if I hear those songs, I turn them off. It was all a part of the same picture that effortlessly faded and reflected her life style
– her style
– all of it folding over itself like taffy.
The Barn is still there. I don’t know who lives in it now, but it was definitely a special place. Even though it was the vessel of many failures for both of my parents, I can say, at least they failed in style.