Thursday, February 23, 2017

From Ruffles and Bows to Harry Bertoia

Editor's Note: Enjoy this from Guest Blogger Diane Orr from a few years ago about making and loving a home 

By Diane Orr

James Herron Antiques, Fort Worth Show
 of Antiques & Art
John and I married in the fall of 1953.
For the record, October 3, 1953.
How mid-century can you get.

Daddy had given us some money and we spent it on shiny brand new hard rock maple Early American furniture. Oh, it was beautiful.

We packed everything in the feed store’s bobtail truck and drove to our first house, 706 Cherry, in College Station. All the houses looked alike and we were on a cul de sac.

I had milk glass for wedding presents, cranberry glass, blue and white Spode china. I found a calendar of antique cars and framed 12 pictures in small black frames. We had rooster prints and chicken prints to hang over the back of the couch. I Pennsylvania-Dutched every inch of the walls that weren’t already covered. John’s mother made muslin curtains for the windows with ruffles all the way down and bows for tie-backs.

Oh, it was beautiful. 


We met the architects.

They were our best friends. Tiny and Muff were with the fledgling CRS firm and Jim was a senior architectural student at Texas A & M.

Jim and Joan’s one room apartment had low slung beds and canvas director chairs to sit on. Joan was a potter and the dishes were all handmade. Jim built a huge wire and bamboo birdcage for a partition between the kitchen and the living room and a population of finches thrived.

Muff and Tiny’s house had plastic molded chairs around an oak pedestal table. There were canaries in Mexican cages, white dishes, Swedish Facette stainless flatware. Muff kept fresh flowers in a tall clear glass cylinder vase, more pottery everywhere and floor to ceiling windows that brought the woods inside.

I loved that house.

Before we moved back to Fort Worth, I had an Early American garage sale and neighbors gleefully hauled off everything. I waved a fond goodbye to rooster pictures.

There were four of us now and, to save money, we rented a small FHA duplex in a field of other duplexes and started over.

I bought two iron butterfly chairs with aqua canvas slings. We had a George Nelson Bubble lamp and Muff had given me a birdcage for the finches.

Mother gave us a four piece place setting of white Russel Wright dishes from Cox’s department store, $12.99 a set. We splurged on 16 pieces of Facette stainless flatware and two years later we built our flat top roof mid-century dream house in Wedgwood. Jim was the architect.

The closet doors were painted Frank Lloyd Wright colors. Jim could get a 50% discount then from Knoll and he ordered six wire Bertoia chairs for our dining room ($44.00 each). Mother kicked in again and bought us the round oak pedestal table like Muff’s.

For the living room, we had a high back Bertoia “Bird” chair in black and brown upholstery that rocked a little. But when the twins were born, I got an Eames molded plastic rocker. We were stuffed in that wonderful little house.

Then Thomas came and, with five children, we had to move.

Jim was studying at the time under Louis Kahn at the University of Pennsylvania. For his masters project, he designed us the most exquisite house I have ever seen, five cubicle bedrooms for the children, nestled in the hill of the lot we bought.

He made a model of the house and the grounds and I worked for two years trying to get someone to build it. The foundation bid came in more than the whole budget, but I wouldn’t give up.

When Mrs. Tibbit’s obituary was in the paper, a friend called John and said her house was for sale in Park Hill under a trust. The family wanted a quick sale. John called the young bank trustee, inquired about the price, and bought the house over the telephone.

He was a little sheepish when he came home and told us. “You don’t have to live there,” he meekly said.

The neighborhood, however, was perfect, good schools, close in. You could buy big old houses cheap then. Mrs. Tibbit’s house was built in 1928, solid Oklahoma rock, two stories high with a red tile roof, turrets and a basement. The front was covered with cemetery Cedars. I would call it dismal. Besides, it had only three bedrooms.

Then came Mariana.

Mariana was an architect in Fort Worth who lived in a mid-century house of her own design. I went over to meet her. There were pre-Columbian figures and pots stashed everywhere and all built-in furniture. The cups for tea were handmade, the teapot elegant. A ficus tree and ferns dominated the living room.         

Mariana made the inside of our fortress mid-century modern. We’ve been here 46 years I think and the Noguchi lanterns hanging in every room are fragile to the touch. The six Bertoia chairs are each one broken at the same stress point. I should tell Harry. We have a Corbusier chair in the living room and an Eames chair so old the leather seat is crackled white. As you can tell, I’m a sucker for big names. The desk top that I am writing on now is the same Formica slab that was our coffee table in the little house.

Jan found for us at Canton, in a box of hotel utensils, 30 or 40 pieces of the Facette stainless. The Russel Wright has grown to 20 place settings and I gave both girls the fancy wedding china.

We have spent a fortune re-caning Bauer chairs but it was worth it. The bamboo blinds on all the windows have a soft patina. Stainless hinges are on the old doors.

Mariana made the garage our den and the room attached to the garage the boys shared. An oversized carport pulled it all together.

There are worn Navajo rugs on the floors. There are tansu chests for our clothes. Being an English teacher by trade, I cherish every forlorn paperback. The walls are bookcases. I bought 12 white Luxo lamps when Tonny Foy closed his business. For $20 each. We use those to read and work by.

A few years ago, we took the low ceiling out of the garage and put glass in the eaves and added a small loft. I hate to say it, but it looks like a cathedral. Mariana’s son Brian did that.

I’m even embarrassed to tell you, but there is a Corbusier feathered canvas sofa in the future. At 80 years old and 83 years old, we love to live in this house.

I wish everybody had a house to live in that they love. 
Gordon Harrison, Fort Worth Show
 of Antiques & Art

Editor’s note:
The story continues several years later, with new Noguchi lanterns ordered from the Noguchi Museum in New York, an architect for a grandson and finally the feathered Corbusier sofa, after only a few tries. The Bertoia chairs are used every day. They are still cracked at the stress point.       

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