House Words & House Pictures – Escapees from a House Journal V

“Monk’s House lay at the bottom of the village street that winds down from the high road between Lewes and Newhaven and on which nearly all of Rodmell has been built. It was a modest brick and flint dwelling, weather-boarded on the street side, two stories high with a high pitched slate roof; inside, many low small rooms opened one from another: the ground floors were paved with brick, the stairs were narrow with worn treads: there was of course neither bath nor hot water or W.C. Rising behind the house was a profuse and untidy garden, with flint walls and many outhouses, and beyond the garden was an orchard and beyond the orchard the walled churchyard. The more Leonard and Virginia looked at the place, the more they liked it. They tried their best to find faults, but only succeeded in liking it better.”

Quentin Bell  Virginia Woolf: A Biography


Strawberries in honor of Monk’s House and VW, and and all the creativity and lifted spirits inspired by houses!

House Words & House Pictures – Escapees from a House Journal IV

“I visited Charleston [Farmhouse] last December on an extremely cold, gray, day, and immediately felt its Chekhovian beauty and sadness. The place has been preserved in its worn and faded and stained actuality. It is an artist’s house, a house where an eye has looked into every corner and hovered over surface, considering what will please it to look at every day – an eye that has been educated by Paris ateliers and villas in the South of France and is not gladdened by English prettiness. But it is also the house of an Englishwoman (an Englishwoman who on arriving at her rented house in St. Tropez in 1921 wrote to Maynard Keynes in London to ask him to send a dozen packages of oatmeal, ten seven-pound tins of marmalade, four pounds of tea and ‘some potted meat’) – a house where sagging armchairs covered with drooping slipcovers of faded print fabric are tolerated, and where even a certain faint dirtiness is cultivated.”

Janet Malcolm “A House of One’s Own” (The New Yorker June, 5, 1995)

teacups II


But clean teacups.

I love Charleston Farmhouse – Vanessa Bell’s house in Sussex – so inspiring and so lived-in.



House Words & House Pictures – Escapees from a House Journal III

“No wonder people get in a permanent state of denial about the need for building maintenance. It is all about negatives, never about rewards. Doing it is a pain. Not doing it can be catastrophic. A constant draining expense, it never makes money. You could say it does save money in the long run, but even that is a negative because you never see the saving in any accountable way. When, after months or years of nagging, you finally do the work – refinish the floor, hire the roofers, replace the damned furnace – you have nothing new and positive, just a negated negative. The problem that needed fixing turned into an even worse problem during the chaos of repair, and then it went away. Even the Bible is on your case for waiting so long: ‘By much slothfulness the building decayeth.’ (Ecclesiastes, X, 18).

Yet the issue is core and absolute: no maintenance, no building. And that’s what usually happens. Every building is potentially immortal, but very few last half the life of a human.”

Stewart Brand How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built


These guys feel the pain.


House Words & House Pictures – Escapees from a House Journal II

“The front door has always been a place of great symbolic importance. Ever since men lived in caves, the front door – and its threshold – have demarcated the transition between inside and outside, between safety and danger, between the public and the private worlds. We angrily show people the door, or considerately we walk them to it; we knock on the door and wait to be invited in. It is the place for many everyday ceremonies of arrival and departure, for familial hugs and for furtive, adolescent goodnight kisses. It is the memory of these that gives front doors personality – that is why we adorn them with Christmas wreaths and Thanksgiving corn.”

Witold Rybczynski The Most Beautiful House in the World

entry way collection

And then there is the entry way.

House Words & House Pictures – Escapees from a House Journal I

“Houses are really quite odd things. They have almost no universally defining qualities: they can be of practically any shape, incorporate virtually any material, be of almost any size. Yet wherever we go in the world we know houses and recognize domesticity the moment we see them.”

Bill Bryson At Home: A Short History of Private Life


Bowls – maybe they all have bowls.

A Bungalow in Eagle Rock – and a Spring Salad

Flying from Anchorage and arriving in Southern California for the weekend felt such a treat – similar cloudless blue skies, but much warmer temperatures and no late March ice underfoot! We visited gardens in bloom, worked in our son’s garden, and ate great meals.

Our son and his sweet bride have made their classic California bungalow, in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, so welcoming. One-story with a garage on a fairly busy street, it has commonalities with Downtown Abbey and our house in Washington – white walls and fir floors, books and pictures – but it invites one outdoors.

A few steps up from the garden, a large, veranda-like covered porch stretches across the back of the house. With newly dark-stained wood floors, an old blue-cotton covered loveseat, cushioned wicker chairs and a hammock, everything about this porch makes you want to linger with a book. The guest room opens onto the porch (all the back doors are sliding doors, no snow or wind to keep out), and I love to step straight out in bare feet.

The young couple has transformed their barren back yard, a rectangle of scrubby grass, into a city oasis. Just a small square of spring-green grass remains and around it, in generous garden beds, grow a pomegranate, persimmon, olive, lemon, orange, and banana tree. (It astounds me to write that list.)

A tall wooden spirit house from Thailand occupies one corner, surrounded by shrubby drought-resistant plants, and St. Francis stands in another corner amongst rosemary, lavender, and blooming sweet william. A row of closely planted podocarpus screen the near neighbors.

The winter kale was ready to be pulled and replaced by zucchini, pepper plants, and tomatoes (later in the season they might come north to Alaska and Washington). After planting, watering, and weeding it’s March bliss to a Northwesterner to have a beer under a sun umbrella on the brick patio – and to eat breakfast outdoors as well.

The new kitchen is brightened by tubular skylights, white walls and cupboards, and made colorful by open and glass-fronted shelving full of pottery and travel treasures. An eating counter with stools replaced the wall between kitchen and dining room. It’s great place to perch and watch a fabulous meal come together, thanks to the sweet bride!

She served “Vegetables and Brown Rice Salad,” and later sent her recipe. (It seems like you could easily vary both the vegetables used and the quantities.)

In a large bowl mix together a couple of diced carrots, a cup of white beans, a couple of chopped tomatoes, a tablespoon of sliced shallots, a zucchini (cut in half and sliced), finely sliced kale, and kalamata olives. To dress this mix, the sweet bride recommended regular oil and balsamic vinegar salad dressing, suggesting I add a little soy sauce or sesame oil. She warned me to add the dressing sparingly.

Mix in a cup of cooked brown rice, combined well with a tablespoon of lime juice, and season with salt and pepper.

Rice and white beans and real spring – treats!

Wm:T house

House Rules

Rules we abide by (or ignore) in our own houses can be complex and mysterious in origin. Where do we get these notions that fill our home rulebook?

My mother is the source of some of my rules: no ketchup bottles or milk cartons on the dining table, and from her Irish roots, “if you kill a spider, it will rain the next day.” She believed houses should always have fireplaces but no overhead lights actually used. We lived in a 27-foot trailer for some time, so I’m not sure that rule worked out for her, but I’ve remembered and obeyed it.

An old neighbor of long ago, the one, who had four little towheaded boys when our towhead joined the neighborhood line-up, was the source of several tricks and truisms. (I was so new to both homeownership and motherhood at the time that I readily absorbed her rules.) She declared that if the toilets weren’t clean, the house wouldn’t seem clean, and recommended at the approach of unexpected visitors to pull out the vacuum. A vacuum in the middle of the floor signals a cleaning in progress!

My old friend who lives on Bainbridge Island taught me about counter wiping. We joke about it, but it’s true. A nurse, she knows germs. Also, she possesses Scandinavian blue-and-white clean genes, and her house can sparkle – with towels and sheets fresh from hanging on the line outside, cut flowers on the kitchen table, homemade preserves.

No shoes in the house is second nature to anyone who has lived in Alaska.

From my very good high school friend’s mother, I learned to always leave a house or a cabin clean when departing. Dirty windows block a huge amount of light. That’s longtime Anchorage garden writer Jeff Lowenfels’s rule to encourage light for houseplants – and lifted spirits for humans.

My painter friend taught me to shut the shades and close out the dark each evening, a ritual I love here where the winter nights are even darker (not now thankfully!).

The rules for how to hang paintings come courtesy of Don and Julie Decker, the owners of the Anchorage gallery where I used to show. The museum rule is the center of the painting at about five feet above the floor – the Deckers could masterfully eyeball that height. It’s so easy to hang things too high, and as our younger son said to me recently, it looks weird once you notice.

Cheryl Mendelson in “Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House” taught me her way to make beds – to add an extra flat sheet over the wool blanket, then fold the top sheet over that – protecting the blanket. Mendelson’s book contains 854 pages and many rules – great stuff really – how to “properly” wash dishes by hand, how to light a fire, how to clean most anything in a house.

And same with Ellen Sandbeck’s “Organic Housekeeping,” a gift from Mrs. Hughes, I read it from front to back, and the rule I remember is no sponges (“bacterial incubators”) for dishes. Ever. Maybe.

Rules. Are these rules about rigidity or about comfort? You must have them also. Probably some of yours contradict mine.

But we all know what rules are for, right?!

Scizzors,chore lists

“On Whirlwind Hill”

Blogs and houses suit one another, and within this month’s house focus, I get to tell you about my painter friend’s brand new blog – “On Whirlwind Hill: an artist’s memories of a family farm.”

For longer than I can even imagine – some 300 years – her family has lived in their part of Connecticut, farming on Whirlwind Hill. Although other houses also appear, a beloved farmhouse occupies the center of her story. With my childhood homes being many and motley, I am drawn to people who live their young lives in one place – with roots in houses like the farmhouse on Whirlwind Hill.

In part this blog came about because of an exploration during sessions of The Workroom, so I’ve read some of the story (and seen wonderful drawings of the farm), but I don’t know how the narrative will unfold in this blog as memoir. I like to watch my painter friend’s creative mind turn memory into writing and image, and look forward to following along.

I hope “Her spirits rose…” readers will have a look, Mondays and Wednesdays and the occasional Friday. The address for Whirlwind Hill is

It would be great to see you there!

Houses – and Dolly Parton

When I dreamed up the house theme for “Her spirits rose…,” I didn’t expect to spend so much time at Downtown Abbey. But I was much in Anchorage as the result of a fall on an icy running trail, which changed Mr. Carson into a temporary Mr. Bates, without the metal brace but with the walking cane, a trouble compounded by another injury – of Lady Baby’s friend RoRo (who cares for her on work days). Fixable woes, but painful and discombobulating to life and schedules.

So this April brimmed with much unexpected Lady Baby fun, and instead of contemplating books at home and further in my archive, searching for thoughts about artists’ houses or thinking of my house, I’ve been making a study of animal houses. The sort of houses that provide shelter in the scores (and I mean scores) of books we read these days to Lady Baby.

She listens to a pile with breakfast, a stack with lunch, a good selection after getting cozy in the sleep sack before nap and bedtime – and throughout the day, during moments of “lets sit down and have tea and read” (me), or the sudden discovery of a book on a shelf or a table and the request “pease read this” (Lady Baby). One book almost always leads to “nother book” and “nother,” and this bottomless appetite thrills me. Grandparents, being all about time to read and read and read, rarely have to set limits.

We read lots of books about animals, animals that have their houses built-in like snails, animals that build their houses like birds or spiders, or animals that find houses like bears’ caves, raccoons’ hollow trees, and the holes of mice. Of course, many animals live with us in our houses – “Clifford The Big Red Dog” being a tight fit, “Six-Dinner Sid” resides in six houses whose owners don’t know about each other.

And, maybe most memorably, we read about animals that have houses containing all the attributes and comforts of home. We always like to visit Peter Rabbit’s little burrow, and the intricate structures built by the mice in the Brambly Hedge series – dwellings with cozy fireplaces and bunk beds piled with quilts. Chester, a young raccoon, lives in a hollow tree with his family, and in one book has to leave his home and move to another part of the forest. “Bear Snores On” in his cave that is often the site of parties with his friends. Anthropomorphism, yes, but so much fun.

“Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse!” is a definite favorite. Ms. Mouse, a decorator, architect, and builder, provides plans for houses for all sorts of animals to meet their specifications and needs – an elegant hanging pear for a worm, a three-level below-ground fox den, an Asian-flavored, “leaping success” of a pad for a frog.

When we moved from Anchorage to Washington much of our Downtown Abbey library was transformed into credit at Title Wave, the huge second-hand bookstore in Anchorage. When I suggested to Lady Baby that we go there and buy a lot of books she nodded yes, and added, “and eat French fries!” Okay. Sounds good.

Lady Baby is lucky, she has lots of books and chances to go to the library. In one of her books I noticed a label from “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.” When I asked Mrs. Hughes about this, she told me the book is from Dolly Parton. If you sign up, Parton’s amazing organization will send your child a book each month from birth to five years!

The books come in the mail, addressed to the child, are age-appropriate, and include some classics like “The Little Engine Who Could” and contemporary books. One day we received “Pretend,” and that seemed perfect – as pretending is just beginning for Lady Baby in a big way – aided and abetted by books!

I’m in awe of The Imagination Library ( – what a wonderful thing for Dolly Parton to do.

Ms. Mouse with book list


“Red House West”

A spirit-lifting announcement today! I want to point you toward a newly launched blog – “Red House West” – a partnership between Mrs. Hughes and a dear friend of hers. By happenstance, though now separated by geography, each lives in a vintage red house.

The blog’s tag line reads “two old friends and two old houses,” but the proprietors of this blog are not at all old. Their friendship is long and strong though, and the tale of their houses, and what they are inspired to make of them, promises to be the foundation for a pleasurable and interesting blog.

“Red House West” will be about how you find furnishings and do things to houses when you don’t live in Brooklyn or Los Angeles or any hotbed of design. These bloggers love “thrifting” and fixing up. They love design, write well, have terrific senses of humor, and find much to contend with – and potential – in their old houses.

They aim to post three times a week, and on Fridays will feature “Good Scores” – intriguing finds from local second-hand shops or online sellers – inviting readers to submit their own discoveries.

It’s very exciting to watch such a creative endeavor begin, and I wish them every success! I hope “Her spirits rose…” readers will have a peek at “Red House West” – its fun to be in on the beginning.

The address is simply: – please stop by!

Considering April

My young friend and her parents came to stay at the Buffalo during her spring break, and I loved having them here. It seemed so neighborly to have people you love next door, like in my old neighborhood. They enjoy this place – like sleeping late and reading, walking in town or on the beach, going out to dinner or eating at home by the fire, some nights rewatching favorite movies.

As they headed to the ferry on their last day, we walked the trail at Bloedel Reserve – past pink rhododendron blossoms, hellebore, and primula, much green grass and ducks on the pond. Part of the charm of Bloedel is the manor house, a graceful mansion that looks so livable (if one were really, really lucky). My young friend’s mother and I smiled to see it.

Houses have been much on my mind. I recently read both Bill Bryson’s book “At Home: A Short History of Private Life,” where he rambles, as is his wont, through our relationship to houses and their contents, and “A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman,” a collection of Margaret Drabble’s stories. These wonderful stories span her whole career as a novelist, but have never been collected together before. I remember houses in Drabble’s books the way one remembers characters, and first wrote about her here.

Then, looking for April inspiration, I came across the dummy pages, quotes, and illustrations for a house journal my young friend’s mother and I once talked about doing together. I also found an old sketchbook with line drawings from a solo trip to Hawaii long ago, when I drew all the utensils in the kitchen drawers instead of vistas or flowers.

These thoughts moiled around until April seemed a month for houses – with open-ended possibilities, visits, details, houses in movies? The art of life is much about house and home.

In these parts March has gone out like a lamb (albeit a lamb well-hydrated by rain), a beautiful ending with flowering trees and blooming bulbs. Indoors, on the sunny days, light reveals cobwebs, dust filigrees, and smudges – and that will surely be another part of the month of house – to see if I can inspire myself to a “deeper clean” or just draw pictures of sun splashes, never mind the housework.

Frances in a sunspot