of sylvias at rock harbor

by Justine on April 20, 2012

in inside - design muses

Yesterday while walking on the flats at Rock Harbor, I noticed a profusion of mussels. This is something new in my life-time; when I was little there were not so many. They reminded me of Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor,” which is about harvesting these very same mollusks at the very same place where I took this picture. And it reminded me of another Sylvia who used to haunt Rock Harbor and hunt its shoales for her own favorite shellfish (clams not mussels), my Grandmother, Sylvia, who today is 96 years old.

I’d like to take this occasion to honor my Grandmother, who in many ways inspired so much of what you see in this blog. It was my grandmother who instilled in me a love of flowers – she always had fresh ones about the house (which we sometimes pilfered from the unoccupied homes of summer residents). It was my grandmother who taught me to love animals, and who supplied me with my first doll house – built by her own father – where I executed my initial experiments in design. But most of all it was the way my grandmother related to her home that inspired me.

Though her house is not “my style” and though aspects of it are now completely dated, there are unmistakable marks of genius in Gram’s home. Her styling is balanced, the details often witty and clever. Though she never had much money, she achieved a great deal through ingenuity and creativity. At times daring, Gram was not afraid to mix materials and styles, or try new things. Most importantly, her home was a constant source of joy, pride and inspiration for my Grandmother. She was continually changing it, and playing with it, as well as whipping up great feasts and entertaining guests within its walls. It was, and is, full of her favorites things – animals and momentos of her family – so full of her. In the messiness that is life, it seems to me that Gram’s home was the place in which she put forth her best self.

Today, Gramma Sylvia is in a nursing home, and my grandfather keeps the house exactly as it was when she was still there. Today my own summer home, that I am constantly changing and photographing and responding to, stands right across the street from Gram’s house. There it enjoys the same view of Rock Harbor, where Sylvias before me walked the shores.

the dining room with a watercolor by my Aunt Sheila, which depicts the same corner of the house

Grandma’s china

living room mantel with some of Grandma’s many beloved dogs

a corner of Gram’s bedroom with more animals

open shelving in the kitchen with more animals and plates from Norway, where her father was born. Note the antique dog cane hung on the wall.

70′s bath! My mother sketched the bear when she was a young woman.

The impossibly steep stairs which Gram decoupaged with flowers from a magazine. The sloppy paint job, cobwebs and Grampa’s railing repair reveal the advanced age of the home’s occupants.

The upstairs hall. The dress was worn by my grandmother’s mother, my great grandma, Mable. The cut out next to it is of me when I was about 7. It was done by my mother. The toe shoes hanging on the background door are also mine.

My mother’s bedroom growing up. I used to sleep here too when I was little. The chest at the end of the bed still holds my childhood books. 

Sheila’s room – love the wall paper ceiling!

Gram’s home as seen from Rock Harbor. You can just make out my porch under the maple trees. Sylvia Plath must have also seen this house at the time when my Gram lived there. (Photo by Cody Updyke, my brother-in-law.)

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane April 22, 2012 at 11:07 pm

What treasures…the house and your post both.

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Michelle April 23, 2012 at 8:26 am

Thats just lovely to see! The layers of family, the generations of talented women and the inspiration you have had to do what you do now! Makes me think of all my mother taught me which has lead me to who I am now.

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Katrin April 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm

This is just so wonderful Justine. I always yearned for a house like that with a lot of family history.

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