Essay / The House that Could
This was our home for six years. There aren't many places that can stir a soul like this one does mine. The lessons it taught me are many. Living here demonstrated everyday the value of simplicity, living with nature, of authentic materials and quality construction, and the power of details in design. It also was a lesson in geometry and proportion and the organic. And so many other things that have continued on to live in Modernplum. The house was built in 1967 by two professors at the University of Illinois in Urbana and no doubt they loved it. But it was in terrible shape when we arrived. Mold covered the exterior and there were big holes in the hardwood floors, and the glass walls were dirty and all fogged up. The home had changed owners many times that produced a slew of bandaid patches, fast fix-its, and lazy neglect that this 1967 beauty couldn't really fake anymore. But we knew it would be ours anyway. The restoration was a slow process like anything worth doing usually is. My husband began by power washing the entire exterior, patching and repainting almost every surface inside. Instead of replacing the original cherry wood cabinetry, we cleaned and cleaned until it shined again. Same for the glass walls and wood flooring. In full restoration mode, we thought that the painting brick, drywall, glass and cherry wood materials made up the soul of the place and they could never be replaced. We imagined getting a newer version of these things, but where deterred by the very real possibility of cheaply made, chemical-laden, veneers, and suspect craftsmanship which just would not fit here. The glasshouse was made from a simple and recognizable group of materials that created honest interior spaces. That's why the place was so authentic and real. Authenticity is sincere and as living beings, we respond to and thrive in this kind of environment, I think.
The glass walls were the defining feature of the house. The house was shaped like a rectangle with an interior courtyard and three inhabitable sides and looking south onto a golf course. A series of floor to ceiling glass walls made the home transparent from back to front. Nature and light defined our daily experience. It was an experience of changing colors, forms, and light during the year. We were one with nature, like indoor campers protected from the elements but very much integrated with the outdoors. I felt at peace here, connected to something greater than the folly of technology, politics, and commerce.
I felt at peace here, connected to something greater than the folly of technology, politics, and commerce.
As the work on the house progressed into its third year (yes, there was a lot to do!), we debated on the textiles. What kind of bedding, pillows, curtains, and table linens should we get? What do they need to be in order to respect and blend in with the environment? As a textile artist, I am fascinated with the Bauhaus philosophy, in particular, how textiles were integrated within midcentury homes during the 50's and 60's. During this time, architects and artists worked together to seamlessly integrate textiles into the spaces. Textiles were responsive to the architecture in their forms, colors, and materials. There is a degree of intentionality in this way of working that I find refreshing.
So the task of making those textiles began. I selected linen as this fabric is simple, natural, hardworking, honest, and beautiful, just like the glasshouse. Some would also say that linen is high maintenance. That's a matter of opinion since linen can be completely wash and ware but let's say it is true -- linen is high maintenance. Truly beautiful and extraordinary things often are. My first pieces for Plum came from this place both literally and in these thoughts. The Anna Collection and Lucia Collection bedding came first and then the Jean Table Collection. Follow this link to view these products. All of these designs are simple but focus on the quality and richness of the materials as well as the craft in sewing. Then the line expanded but the focus has remained: to create authenticity in daily life through thoughtfully designed and made textiles has sustained my creative self ever since. We moved away from the glasshouse in 2016 due to some new opportunities out of town. We now reside in Chicago and could not be happier with our new community, but I miss it. It was our home and much, much more.