On this June morning, the window to my workroom stands open – sun shining, birds singing, weeds growing – the outdoors beckons. When the days of rain return, I will write about our big family adventure in May and early June. Meanwhile – two worn-velvet armchairs – purply-pink from a bedroom and blue from the sitting room of the Ferndale Guesthouse in Enniskerry, Ireland. We spent the night there before setting out to walk along the The Wicklow Way.
When I asked my old friend on Bainbridge to send a photo of her armchair I’ve always admired, I was startled to see it had no arms! It does have a large, matching ottoman, and is covered in flowered chintz that seems classic in her old Swedish farmhouse. And then I found the same floral genre of armchair (the kind that places you in a field of flowers) in the book “In An Irish House.” It tickled me to find Sybil Connolly’s chair upholstered with fabric of her own design, inspired by the paper flowers of Mrs. Delany.
Last summer when we visited Christopher Lloyd’s garden at Great Dixter, I bought a postcard showing the “solar.” It’s a huge room with all the inviting elements – ancient beams, leaded windows, bookcases, and enormous, deep fireplace. On a worn Turkey rug, these two armchairs and an aged green sofa are arranged in a half-moon in front of the fire.
Maira Kalman often paints chairs, “Comfy Chair” depicts a warm-pink wingback with doilies, and she illustrated the book, “Lucky, Plucky Chairs” by Rolf Fehlbaum, told from the chairs’ point of view. From a Design*Sponge story I learned that Maira Kalman’s New York apartment has white slip-covered armchairs on a black and white rug, in a white room (except for art and treasured collections). Her exuberant paintings come from a tranquil, blank-canvas living space.
It’s a relief to wander the Internet in search of armchairs instead of news. An article about Hillary Mantel’s writing room (with armchair pictured) appeared in The Guardian back in 2007, when she was “building her new novel about Thomas Cromwell.” Mantel says she writes “…in the main room of our flat, at the top of a former Victorian asylum in Surrey.” “If I feel travel would broaden the mind I take my laptop up a spiral staircase to a little room under the asylum clock.”
And the Wordsmith pointed out this recent interview with Penelope Lively who has a new book, “The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories.” She has an interesting thing to say about birthdays as we age. I love her novels and her memoir, “Dancing Fish and Ammonites,” which she described as a “view from old age.” She’s just finished a non-fiction book about gardening (I’m eager for that) – and she thinks about a new novel. “A writer writes,” Lively says – lucky for us.
These armchairs live in the sitting room of a 17th Century Northumberland farmhouse full of “characterful vintage,” but I discovered them in the pages of a British edition of “Country Living” magazine. The owner of the house calls a sofa and the armchairs, “indigo-blue rescues.” Together with a red Turkish carpet, low table with tea things and books, and fireplace, they soften the stone walls and wooden beams of an old building.
In addition to providing escape from the continual debilitating, depressing, mean-spirited news pouring out of the other Washington, the armchair project distracts from the iffy spring weather. Sunshine, we long for reliable sunshine! A yellow brocade armchair from a photo in “In An Irish House” provides it. My favorite part of the rattan armchair from Kauai is the little needlepoint cushion picturing flower-trimmed flip-flops.