Category Archives: Interiors

Winter Light

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Frost at Midnight

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Joyce Frances Devlin: Painter & A Painted House

As part of the Jane’s Walk Burritt’s Rapids community festival, Ms. Devlin will be exhibiting select pieces in the main gallery space of the Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall on May 2nd & May 3rd, 2015.

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If I had any sense, I would pound a wooden stake into my front lawn, attach a five kilometre length of string, and scribe a zone of exploration around my house. To some degree, I’ve theoretically begun to do this, knocking on doors and dropping off flyers for our upcoming Jane’s Walk events here in Burritt’s Rapids. With every person I speak with I realize how little I know about the people who live beyond the adjacent properties. We think we have to go far to find interesting, but we don’t.

Joyce Frances Devlin and I have known of each other for years but had never formally met. We’re not talking a bustling metropolis here: We live in rural Ottawa with .5 km of paved road, a slight rise in the land and maybe six houses on acreage between us. We share mutual friends and acquaintances, admire the same views of the countryside, likely drive past each other on quiet roads.

I discovered her work at The Ottawa Art Gallery shortly after the close of her one-woman show So Much Beauty in 2011. Several of her pieces are part of the local treasure trove of the O.J. & Isobel Firestone Collection. It was a confluence of bad and good timing – missing the exhibition but discovering the artist – and I had to settle for the catalogue which I planned to get signed one day.

Joyce Frances Devlin
“So Much Beauty” Exhibition Catalogue, 2011, The Ottawa Art Gallery

Until I picked up the phone and cold-called her about exhibiting during our upcoming community festival, we remained a mystery to one another. A cup of coffee, fresh figs and a torrent of conversation about our common B.C. roots followed. She signed the catalogue, agreed to exhibit her work, and a few days later I began photographing her fantastical painted house.

Devlin has earned her professional respect and, arguably, more. Her work is part of private and public collections worldwide.

She was born in Fort Fraser, British Columbia and studied at the Vancouver School of Art between 1950 and 1954, under Jack Shadbolt, Peter Aspell and Gordon A. Smith, amidst a heavily modernist art scene. She experimented with abstraction, creating boldly coloured collages and patterned canvases. Yet, she remained devoted to a wider variety of subject matter, developing an interest in portraiture, landscape, and symbolic imagery. Devlin created what she called “interior landscapes”: spiritually metaphorical images of birds and flowers as well as the juxtaposition of abstract collage with landscape imagery. She moved herself and her two young sons from British Columbia in 1965, and has since lived and worked in the Ottawa region.1

She did what few women could do at the time: She supported her family with sales of her commissioned portraits, her best-known, one of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. At 83, she continues to paint and sell.

Aside from exhibiting select works at the Hall, Devlin is preparing for a solo show at her home studio May 30 & 31 and Saturday, June 6th & Sunday, June 7th, 2015 from 11:00am to 5:00pm. The studio address is 7590 Dwyer Hill Rd, Burritt’s Rapids. As well, the show will remain up until the end of June (by appointment only).

Please contact her directly at (613) 269-4458 to view, purchase or commission work.

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  1. http://www.ottawaartgallery.ca/node/4 

In the House With Sir John A.

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Sir John A. Macdonald

Did some macro- to micro-Habicurious time travel this weekend in celebration of Canada Day.  Spent July 1st (the launch of confederation) in Kingston (the first capital city of the united Canadas), touring the house of Sir John A. Macdonald, the country’s first Prime Minister and a Father of Confederation.

Bellevue House, Kingston
Bellevue House, Kingston, ON

Bellevue House was built in the early 1840s for Charles Hales, a successful Kingston grocer.  “Asymmetrical in shape, with decorative balconies and a three-storey central tower,” its Italianate design contrasted with the conservative Georgian architecture of other local homes. To Macdonald it was “the most fantastic concern imaginable.” Others nicknamed it Tea Caddy Castle, Molasses Hall, and Pekoe Pagoda after Mr. Hales’ merchant roots.

A mile away from the noise and dirt of downtown Kingston, Bellevue sat on nine lush acres (since reduced to two). The property was filled with mature trees, ornamental gardens, an apple orchard, a generous kitchen garden, and offered lake views. However, Macdonald’s first concern was not for aesthetics, but for the health of his chronically-ill young wife.

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This room is very somber.  The Victorians believed that the darker the room, the calmer the child.  The family cradle is of Medieval/Gothic style and is exemplary of the Gothic Revival movement in art and design.  Industrialization and urbanization meant that many people looked back to the middle ages as a golden time of simple living, strong religion, good morals and quality hand-made goods. – Interpretative sign, 3rd floor

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What a view! John A. Macdonald would have had the best view of the lake from his Master Bedroom.  This room was also nice and toasty because of the piping around the four poster bed and the large stove.  As the head of the family, the father was the first to enjoy all the best luxuries and comforts.  He was then followed by his wife, his children, then finally his servants. – Interpretive sign, 3rd floor

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Sadly, home life did not go according to plan for the couple.  Isabella’s health never improved and she spent much of her time bedridden. Their infant son died, unexpectedly, just a month after moving into Bellevue. Macdonald carried heavy expenses, providing for his mother and sister in Kingston as well as his immediate family. In September, 1849, they vacated the house for smaller, less expensive quarters in downtown Kingston. Isabella was pregnant with their second child.

References: Parks Canada – Bellevue House National Historic Site of Canada

Note: There is a tower up a steep flight of stairs, just off Sir John’s study.  It’s closed to the general public due to fire regulations.  But if you love towers, go during a quiet period and you may have some luck in getting a special peek.

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Perfectly Beautiful

When I stepped into the dark coolness to escape the scorching heat I didn’t expect to find the most beautiful space I’d ever seen.

Of course no flash photography or tripods were permitted and my children possess a built-in limitation for looking at things tiled or religious.  I was, as always, left wanting more.

Click here to find out about the mosaic restorations.

P.S. The alabaster windows are for you, Theresa Kishkan.

The Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

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Natural light on a midsummer day radiates through sheets of alabaster. Imagine the winter.

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Every surface is decorated. On the walls, opposing marble surfaces.
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Contemplating this design for my vestibule

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Something Old, Something New

Seven years ago I snapped a photograph of a pair of doors that I fell in love with in New York City. I always carried it with me, hoping to find some of my very own.

Four years ago I built a recessed, open-shelved cabinet in the dining room that never felt quite done.

Two weeks ago I found a pair of sidelights at Balleycanoe that, with a handful of hinges, were destined to fit the cabinet perfectly.

One hour ago I finished the installation and fell in love all over again.

Before, with the sidelights
Before, with the sidelights
And after
And after, with original trim reclaimed from the exterior of my house
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Finished with antique trim from the Marche aux Puces in Paris

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Balleycanoe & Co. in Mallorytown, Ontario is a destination.  You are unlikely to stumble across it (I checked my map for the umpteenth time) and it’s not a place to casually pop in and out of.  You need time.  John Sorensen’s meticulously organized 19th century reclamation treasures and antiques are only part of the attraction.  His stories and art are the other.  Be prepared to be entertained and delighted.

Here are a few select pics taken in much too short a period of time (see what I mean?).  There is SO much to look at I could have shot for hours…

Balleycanoe Buildings

 

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Stalking the Purple Beast

Immaculate, it was not.  Or maybe I have a wildly different understanding of the meaning of that word: mint; without wear, tear or staining; something that can be used right away without an additional investment of time or money.  But everyone knows by now that buying anything used online is always caveat emptor.

I drove to Toronto this morning to buy a purple velvet sofa that I found on Kijiji.  I fell in love with the colour, the texture, the sexy curves and the idea of actually finding an antique in pristine condition.  But so much for not adding projects to my job jar.

“Immaculate” was the owner’s description, not mine.  I found cracks in the feet to be filled, much tightening of the frame, sanding and staining to be done, and an upholstery job that is far from professional.

On the drive back I felt a bit foolish about the whole thing, a bit suckered and disappointed.  I also began to feel sick and headachy from the sweetish fragrance of “old stuff.”  Stuck inside a confined space, the smell was overwhelming.  I drove with the windows unrolled in the torrential downpour until I found a hardware store, bought a large tarp, and wrapped the sofa up like an airtight burrito. My headache eased and my mood began to lighten.

On the drive down I had been consumed with potential uses for my new purple sofa.  Its old-fashioned form reminded me of those used in old-timey photo studios, when portraiture was a rare, important and formal undertaking.  How cool, I thought, it would be to begin photographing friends and extended family on the couch.  They could be simple portraits or filled with costumes (or lack of them), masks or alter egos.  What fun it could be and what visual storytelling to be had!  I also fantasized about driving the extra fifty clicks to Niagara Falls, unloading the purple beast, and inviting random strangers to sit for photos in front of the falls. Which, of course, got me thinking about how sofa will travel, transporting it to a bunch of unusual places….

So, really,  how can I be mad about spending $275, a tank of gas and nine hours of travel time on my new purple possession?  Its wealth of creative potential can hardly be diminished by a few extra hours of labour.

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This Belongs in Your House

Dear Claire:

The days are shortening, the nights are cool and I am, slowly, packing away my summer things for another year.

When I see this dress hanging in my closet – the one you admired  – I can’t bear to banish it to the basement.  It reminds me too much of you, Ellen and Catherine, and those perfect days in Noyers.  So I am sending it to you.

Last spring I fell in love with the dress at a secondhand shop in Vancouver. But I never did find the perfect pair of shoes to match, so I take that as a sign that it is meant, again, to move on.

I hope you will wear it.  But if not, I hope you might find a wire dressmaker’s model – maybe a good vide grenier find – to display it as you see fit.  Having toured the interiors of your house, I can imagine it being right at home in your lovely sea of colour.

All the best to everyone,

Andrea xo

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A Rich Interior Life

Based on the storybook exterior, I anticipated a magical interior.

And knowing the artists/potters Claire and Andy Squire, I expected it would be personal, handmade, intriguing and fun.  

Their living space, workshop and gallery are housed in La Maison des Sangliers, an iconic 15th-century, half-timbered building bordering the village square in Noyers-Sur-Serein, France. Like most of the homes and buildings in the village, theirs possesses an old world unconventionality – what we recognize as charm – owing to centuries of adaptive reuse, the challenges of installing modern services, and strict municipal guidelines designed to protect the village’s patrimoine. When they first bought the house the living spaces were not connected; an outside staircase bridged the upper floors to the lower.

Each room flows in a series of vignettes placed within a greater, connecting narrative.  Claire possesses a rare compositional prowess – an ability to group objects in a harmonious, exciting and unpretentious manner – which elevates the common to the divine.   And her bold and surprising colour palette showcases the eye and heart of a gifted artist.

Their home is full of stories, of the history of the family, friends, travels and creative accomplishments.  It reflects sixteen years of a life well-lived, surrounded by people well-loved, in one of the most beautiful villages in France.  I could have spent hours observing the thousands of details, not to mention touching everything.  Really, I could have moved in right then and there.

A few years ago Claire and Andy put the house up for sale, looking for a life change, a shake-up, to be accompanied by a move to England.  The sign was posted and second thoughts appeared.  Seems everything they wanted and valued was already inside their four beautiful walls.

 

 

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