Small Things

by Maida Korte

“To create something exceptional, your mind-set must be relentlessly focused on the smallest detail.” Giorgio Armani

          I love the harmony that details create in a space.  See that carved corbel at the hallway ceiling in an old pine wood that is split and worn?  It almost feels random, but this leads our eye to the aged wood beam above the fireplace held up with large iron bolts.  The dull surface of the iron contrasts with the sheen of the bronzed glass mirror hung above the mantel and the mirror reflects the iron chandelier hanging in the reflection bringing the circular route of our gaze to completion.  We may not know that our eye registers each item or even understand the circuitous path it has taken, but we do feel satisfied even if we don’t know why.  These are the elements that make a space memorable and comfortable.  Our mind sighs in satisfaction, which is why one can sit and wait patiently in some lobbies, while impatient in others.  Often our mood plays a role, but the furnishings, the surroundings, have been carefully curated for our comfort and I believe a home should have the same care taken when appointing the interior.

          I love old houses with meandering rooms and sliding doors and staircases with interested balusters.  Running my hands over newel posts carved to look like the head of a lion, I wonder at the decision in making it a lion and not a panther or a bear.  In one old home I discovered a passage way through a closet into an ante room, long ago used for reading and reflection.  What were they reading and why so secretive? 

I have slid open a thick slab of a door, heavy and large, to view shelves ceiling to floor holding artifacts from trips abroad, dusty and worn and loved.  Once, when opening a wall to redo the electrical wiring, we found large windows buried and covered up rather than removed.  Why?  What could no longer bear to be seen?  In some very old homes, I can pick out where servants quarters were at one time before remodeling projects began to remove and expand the space, and I wonder at the life of the individuals serving the owners of the manor.  I have worked on an aged estate in Indiana rumored to me a get-away spot for Al Capone with multiple entrances and exits.  Another time, designing a revised interior for a lovely and older arts and crafts home, I was instructed by a client to create a below ground walk-in safe room using Dillinger’s jail cell door as entrance.

          Inspiration often begets inspiration and so it is easy to see how an artisan could move from one detail to another, bringing a home to life with wood and brick and stone.  A tapestry of intricacy begins to unfold as triple layer crown leads to tall base in two pieces with a rich venetian plaster between the high of the one and the low of the other.  These details caress the interior of a house until it becomes personal and suddenly you are home and an intimacy develops between the occupant and the domain itself.  It is this harmony, this partnership that I longed to bring to our grand dame on a hill.

          The first time I entered our country home I noticed gorgeous fret work in one very specific area of the main floor.  There was a small separation in the living room, where a rectangular space declared its importance by its proximity to the large leaded glass window at the front of the house.  A carved pair of corbels, high at the ceiling, were hard for the eye to resist.  Two narrow vertical panels descended from the corbels, each possessing different carved floral designs which allowed the light from the window to penetrate the room.  Centered between these panels was the entrance into this cozy area. 

I needed to understand the significance.  Why the intricate carvings here?  Was this common to all homes built to replicate English Victorians at the turn of the 19th century in America?  My research had me discovering that these decorative areas in homestead houses, built by people of affluence at that time, were basically the size of a casket.  The added narrow space for a pathway around the casket allowed for visitors to pay their respects.   Since our home was built in 1903 it would have had this space laid out (could not resist) with all the bells and whistles in décor the first death in the family required.  As friends and loved ones came for the viewing, the deceased had a place of honor right off the main parlor and still the house had ample space to receive mourners and well-wishers in the adjoining rooms.    

Though I found this respectful and even charming, and though I did want to pay homage to the history of this lovely house, under no circumstances was I going to have a death viewing camp set up in my home and then sit back and wait.  I could think of a much more useful way to use this space.

Ever since I was a little girl, books have been my companions.  At the age of three I was pouring over the blue ‘My Book House’ books and making up stories to go along with the pictures, knowing the undecipherable words meant something magical.  My mind was a pool of gibberish and often I felt restless and nervous and my thoughts raced unbidden.  I had a serious face and this served me well in hiding my anxiety, but I found in my early formative years that opening a large book calmed me down.  Turning a page was deliberate, organized, steady.  Also, it went from point A to point B, each page – one after the other – and on and on.  This showcased for me a pattern I could follow in putting away my frenetic mind for the night.   

This living room alcove, set aside for death, would be a place of comfort and renewal for me and is now my reading room.  It is just an alcove with no door, and the fretwork has been removed and repositioned elsewhere in the home, but it is appointed with matching loveseats on either side, large window with leaded glass in between, and a glass and iron table between the two laden with books.  I just fit sideways with my legs bent at the knee, dangling over the arm of one of the small sofas, head nestled into a down pillow for a quick nap.  I then pick up a lovely book from the piles before me, and my world returns to a place only a book can take me. My grand-children climb into my lap, handing me a book of their choosing.  We cuddle up and travel together exploring new worlds with every page we turn.  I sigh as calm descends inside and out.  

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