Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Our Visit with John Black Lee

The Teaze House
John Black Lee
After finding an art teaching job in New Canaan, the "mecca of mid-century modern homes", we soon realized homes there were far out of our budget. We eventually saw an ad for a MCM home .2 miles from the New Canaan border in West Norwalk. We saw it, fell in love and snatched it up. After doing some research, we realized our home was being built at the same time 'the Harvard Five' and a handful of other architects were busy erecting their modern case study homes for themselves, as well as for new clients. 

Our entire neighborhood consists of approximately 29 modern homes that were built beginning in  1952 by architect P. William Nathan. My husband Josh and I started to compile any information we could find on the development, Nathan, and any original owners, in hopes to one day document it's rich history in full. Josh has started to compile our research on a Pinterest board titled "Norwalk Modern" as a placeholder for a future website or blog:

We met with Janet Lindstrom, director of the New Canaan Historical Society, and gave her our home's history. She was sure the network of New Canaan architects were aware of our neighborhood and may have even visited the site as it was being built. She recommended we meet with a contemporary of the Harvard Five architects, John Black Lee. She wondered if we had ever heard of him. Um…yeah! He was one of the last surviving architects of that era. We immediately knew of his work. In fact his homes were some our favorites in New Canaan, above and beyond the more well know gang from Harvard. Luckily, he was still living in New Canaan and agreed to meet with us to discuss our home and it's significance in the area.

What started out as a fortunate opportunity to speak with one of the founding fathers of mid century modern architecture turned into a lovely visit with a soft spoken, brilliant man. He designed his first home in New Canaan for his family Lee House 1, and then Lee House 2 when they outgrew the first one. Later in 1961, he collaborated with architect Harrison DeSilver to build the System House which was built on a 6' module system whose plans were eventually sold in Better Homes & Gardens for $15. He went on to design and built many more homes in New Canaan, many are featured in the New Canaan Historical Society's Modern Home Survey.

Lee House 1
Lee House 2
(my personal favorite)

The System House
During a snow storm one Saturday afternoon this December, we drove over to John Back Lee's home to pick him up. His Volkswagen Beetle in the driveway was covered in snow. He no longer drives it. He told us under his breath that at ninety years old, "the authorities no longer feel I am fit for the roads". From the street, the tiny A-framed structure looked more like a cool fort than a home. He invited us in and showed us around. That 'fort' was just street level foyer that led you down into the home below. He explained how while he was designing it, his beloved wife had become ill. He rushed to finish it in time for her to live in for the last years of her life. It was a unique structure with a concrete core, surrounded with glass walls overlooking the Silvermine River in New Canaan. It was one of the most unique homes I have ever been inside of.

Lee's current residence from roadside…

…& from across the river

Back at our house, he took a look around and then sat down in front of the fire to have some tea and coffee cake and talk shop. He made sure to say we had a "very lovely home". He went page by page through The Harvard Five book which you can buy here, discussing design features of his homes and the other architect's homes. We asked handfuls of questions about our home and material choices that were made during the 50's. He was soft-spoken and took him time to answer thoroughly. We got the sense he was very much enjoying reminiscing with us and valued our appreciation for his work and our passion for the architecture of that era. It was such a special experience, one we will remember for a long time. 

John Black Lee in our home
December 14, 2013

After saying goodnight to John, 
the least Josh could do is shovel his front steps.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Kid's Table

Growing up, we spent many holidays at our grandparent's house. When it came time for the big meal, the dining room typically maxed out with adults and like many households, there was the separate kid's table. I remember being ok with sitting at it. It was actually the coffee table in the living room, we sat on the floor and felt special since we were away from the grown-ups and had our own space to be ourselves. 
This past Thanksgiving, we were entertaining 6 little cousins ranging in age from 4-9 yrs. The table was right next to the adult table, but I wanted it to feel a bit special and fun. I chose not to dress the table with a table cloth in case of spills, but kept the table decor clean white so the colorful glasses & napkins popped as well as the turquoise stools. 

I wanted for each kid to have a take away gift and made it part of the table decor. Petra helped me adhere the monogram of each cousin onto a votive that held a flameless candle from Michael's. Petra still lights hers each night on her bedside table- they last forever. 

I had thought about arranging a small activity like a coloring sheet and crayons to keep the kids at the table a bit longer. Then I remembered we never had entertainment at the table. WE were the entertainment! We made each other laugh, acted silly in between spoonfuls of mashed potatoes, and got yelled at to clean our plates. It was a family celebration and we were there to spend time together and share a meal. I can see adding some extra goodies and activities if it were a longer meal such as a wedding or adult function. The tablescapes below are great examples of inviting kid's to come together & sit & eat & have fun:
photo courtesy of
photo courtesy of www.project

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Clothes Shopping with Petra

We have reached a major bump in the road with Petra and her stubborn fashion choices. She has had a pretty amazing array of clothing passed down to her by my sweet friends which I have mixed into articles I have purchased. Up until recently, she had no problem with the selection. However, in the last few months, she has declared that she does not like any of her clothes and has gone on strike even when given the chance to select her own outfits.

I have entertained the idea of having her choose a week's worth of outfits on a Sunday night. I dream of how lovely they would look hanging in her closet- all set for Monday, no fussing, no fighting:

I will be using this method soon.  I even have the organizer, from Ikea. I am waiting until Petra shops for some new clothes. I want her to have the ability to choose her wardrobe (not all, but a few new pieces) she can then mix into what she already owns. Nothing revolutionary. She needs to take some ownership. I am just scared. The last time I went shopping with her was to Michael's for her birthday craft project supplies. We had a list. A very clear list. But as soon as she saw the rows & rows of various art supplies, all hell broke loose. I get it. It's hard to focus, especially around art supplies, and especially for a 5 year old. 

Here's my plan: I will make a visual list of the items she can buy. Hopefully this will help her see what is available to her. As far as budget goes, I will be taking her to Old Navy and H&M. I think everything there is priced very reasonably. I will avoid the Crewcuts and Ralph Lauren store in town for now. Here is her list:

Here are the items I will not allow her to buy (this time around). I know I seem like a dud for eliminating these choices, but to make her outfits pair together for her easier, this will help:

sorry, Petra. 

In case you are wondering what my consequence is if we have another episode like the Michael's incident…I will explain, prior to this trip, that if any tantrums or fighting erupt, we will put everything back and leave with nothing. Zero. I will stick to it. Once the dusts settles, I figured I could go online and select all the possible clothing choices in her size. I will put them in the shopping cart, or many have wish lists. She can then look in that cart and select her set amount of clothes. Am I a control freak? Yes and no. It will buy me some time until she is a bit older & can handle the overwhelming in-store experience and narrow her choices. Here is a 'wish list' I started on the H&M site:
My hopes are high, as I imagined going shopping for clothes with my daughter should be a delightful experience where everyone goes home happy & satisfied. (I know I'm dreaming). As a teen, I remember shopping with my mom. I may not have always gotten everything I wanted, but the memories of laughing our butts off in the dressing rooms stands out as some of my favorite times with her. We may have even been asked to leave some stores. I can dream. I'll let you know how it goes.