The kitchen houses collections, and has from its start. Radios and fake food for instance. The room bends itself into a sitting area in the shape of an el, constructed by the additional extension ten years ago consisting of an inside porch for summer snoozing, a closet, and a small bedroom, all unheated. The walls and ceiling of these back rooms were removed to open the kitchen, but this was done in stages. The kitchen has been remodeled more often than any other room in this bungalow. That suggests its significance in this home. Some collections have been decommissioned along the way, placed in storage, and more art has found its way to the walls.
The original pass-through counter, cabinet, and drawers remain, allowing a person to grab FiestaWare plates or wood-handled utensils from either the kitchen or dining room sides. Hammered tin covers the insets of the old pine cabinets high and low; fancy geometric shaped steel pulls randomly populate the bank of case fronts. The wood is painted a blueish avocado green, with a blue double sink, and grey topped and green edged formica. The last renovation stuck to retro colors. New wormy maple cabinets stained a light green house the trash bins and disposal below the sink. The dishwasher is stainless, as is the stove, fry hood, and refrigerator, all the same brand and bought simultaneously in an effort to update modern. Everything revolves around the blue sink, which was a sale item.
Collections on the counter include a pottery bowl with a cap, with all of Donna’s concert tickets over two decades. A bulbous blue deco seltzer dispenser offsets a plate of spaghetti with a fork winding noodles midair, one of the fake foods that has made the cut. A small blue Fiesta dish offers ground salt, truffle salt, pepper, and yeast, which is a favorite at movie theaters for popcorn, the idea brought home. The small appliances back the counter, from a blue mini-processor to a silver mixer, an automatic can-opener that is nearly useless, and a scarlet drip coffee pot. One Alessi bowl holds compostables; another corks, candy, bananas, and nougat candy. A silver display backs the candy bowl, and includes deco carafes, a silver creamer, a grinder, and a coffee press, along with a tall vase that looks like a steel hi-rise, which holds three silver bar spoons. A Maglite towers above the silver skyline.
The door to the basement stairs features a slide lock on both sides, a large mouse hole with a latching cover at its base, meant to give the cat free rein and restrict the dog. The open door reveals three steel panels at the top of the stairs, where all the photos and postcards and menus and id’s that used to adorn the old refrigerator are now attached with small magnets. A framed Altieri coat of arms painted by Donna’s father hangs above the steel panels, across from a Denver Proclamation for Altieri Instrument Bags presented to city council upon Donna’s sale of her company. Going down the stairs, a red neon tube hangs from the hall ceiling to light the way. Above the door in the kitchen, three primitive painted plaques rest on the sill. The art mostly relates to food, and so we have words and pictures delineating “tea and potato leak soup” and “mash potato” and watermelon eating.
The original add-on room turns the corner at the basement door. Made of insulating clay tiles covered with stucco, during the final enlargement this wall’s plaster was removed around its edges, the tiles framing a graffiti style mural painted on plaster by Patrick Beery. The corner by the door shows the rubble salvage of the builder, where he used broken bricks for the base below the plaster. A shelf at eight feet high runs the length of this room perpendicular to the original kitchen. Radios are displayed there, as well atop the pantry cabinets built in 2008 on the west wall. The cabinets enclose the fridge, which used to sit in a niche of the wall that divided the snooze room and the bedroom. The new preferred spot to nap is a red cushioned, wood and steel base modernist couch that invites a person to relax below the south windows, to sit in the sun from the west window on afternoons. A skateboard painted to proclaim “less is more stay punk stay poor” hangs next to the window on the south wall. From the black coat rack made for a stylish hotel downtown hangs a lariat. The meaning will become clear. Two chrome standing box lamps frame the red couch. Coffee table books of photography and design sit on a grey steel table in front of the couch, and on a black wood and chrome deco table next to it. The Turkish rug features red, black, and brown stripes running in the same direction as the rug in the sunroom below. A steel framed cutout with six panels features Warholian colored photographs of Donna. A mid-century dollhouse sits atop a bamboo table. A white tiled Johnson house miniature sits atop that, next to a small jade that has been bonsaid to resemble a tree.
Hanging from the ceiling is a big mouthed red bass made of metal scales with a tin propeller tail and a meat thermometer as a head piece. Spiraling conduit lamps with work light cans lend light to the rooms. A painting of a transistor radio for rent, 25 cent, hangs next to the covered beam above the new pantry enclosing the fridge. The knobs on these cabinets are sleek and twirly, installed a decade later than the geometric knobs on the old kitchen cabinets. Vintage radios round a half circle above the wormy maple cabinets, an arch of radios facing the long parade of those on the opposite wall. On the north side of the covered channel at the roof peak that once divided the room glows a Sale sign, clear neon tubes that shine red when lit on a red plastic rectangular sign, the favored piece of art in the whole house per testimony of the curator owner.
Into the north end of the extension, which was once a sleeping porch, falls light from the sky through a window in the raised roof. A Betty Woodman print above the wide windows to the west match the colors of a hanging sculpture of Melmac plates and bowls stacked next to the pantry cabinet — not pastels, but rich blues, greens, oranges, yellows, kitchen colors made famous by FiestaWare. A hard wood bench with sinuous curves, two drawers below and a recess, offers comfort below the sunset windows, a pillow full of modernist Klee icons the only soft touch.A larger aluminum can attached to a stainless freezer handle sheds incandescent light on the bench and pillow for warm winter reading.
Next to the sine bench stands a black Zenith “long distance” radio, one of two standing 1930s-era consoles in the house, this one fronting wood deco arches over the gold flecked speaker and streamlines at its base and top. Atop the radio sits a red formica dinette and two aluminum chairs before the service of a large felt wool sandwich. Transistor radios cover the sill, backed by a safety yellow sign advertising CA$H for your WARHOL. Two wax bowls of ramen jump off the wall, below a tiled mosaic of pears next to a plaster cast Chef Boyardee presumably shouting mangia, mangia. A yellow street sign on the door declaims “ALL SOUNDS CONSIDERED.”
The curvilinear kitchen counter hosts parties of five or a tight six, arranged around a long semicolon shaped gray formica top, custom made for the room when the wall was removed between the kitchen and the sleeping porch — six Grainger steel work stools, four with backs, border the curvilinear counter; another telescoping stool tucks under the counter for an extra guest. A photo and painting gallery curated by Donna backs the menagerie of art objects she’s collected to adorn the shelf: a deco chrome penguin engraved ice bucket, a silver cake plate with a wax stacked burger and baked potato under a glass dome, Speedy Alka Seltzer and Mister Softee bobbleheads, a tower of champagne caps and a miniature table and chairs made from them, a souvenir metal box containing six river stones, a chrome juke box once seen on a diner table, a faux sundae in a cut crystal cup above a spoon sitting in a dollop of melted ice cream, a deco era siren pedestaled silver tray plating a wax fried fish and multiple sashimi and sushi, an old toy green wheelbarrow hauling a larger piece of sashimi, a bowl of fake tempura and noodles, a toy kitchen with tiny plates of Japanese food, and a glass deco lamp lighting stars around a pink globe. One shelf juts out from the center of the wall holding what appears to be a speaker, but when it’s turned on, it shows a video of a bird chirping with a song signal represented by a frequency line at the top of the black box. A large photo to its left shows a woman pointing out a live crawfish crawling atop the same formica counter to a young girl with antennae pigtails; an oil fabric of chili peppers frames a photo to the right that shows two fishmongers cutting up a mound of octopuses into smaller pieces; a light box above presents a weirdly colored transparency of fruit and bagels. Three pictures of fish — one a water-color, one a plate, and one a cutting board — separate the photos surrounding the bird box. A small rubbery TV with blue legs and yellow rabbit ears props out of the black speaker displaying one of those photos that parents love of their toddler dripping mashed potatoes on his face, at a high chair, wearing a Generic t-shirt.
Aluminum blinds slat the window above a row of vintage rainbow pitchers set in a depressed alcove below the formica counter that accommodates the lower sill of the window. A stainless steel tray holds current magazines and books next to blocky steel patterns for a spoon absconded from the Navy yard in Brooklyn. An Alessi tea pot with a missing bird whistle rests on the stainless stove top. A knockoff Herman Miller red ball clock keeps time below the stove hood. The small counter connected to the wall showcases a glass brick vase of spatulas and spoons, an old Toasty oven, a standing Starck noodle head spoon, and two clay plates by Pat Monroe glazed with a dancing harlequin and a Renaissance winged woman. Plastic cockroaches crawl along the maple splash guard below a black wood cut of cucarachas on the wall, where a sketch of toast tops the double art columns of a set of Fiesta cutlery; champagne corks from the millennium New Year in Paris; a colorful still life of onion, lime, and eggplant; pencil sketches of blenders, mixers, and toasters; an outsider wood painting of “Taa Boon Is Meaking His Coon Gumbo;” and another black wood cut of a mushroom to bookend the exhibit. The curvy counter covers deep drawers and cabinets on both sides of the stove.
Moving into this river rock bungalow in 1979, we found that the son of the owner, the debilitated vet who lived in a smaller house on the property but who was responsible for getting the family on down the road to Las Vegas, had switched out all the appliances, taking the best and leaving us the rest, so that on our first Thanksgiving, a few months after the sale, we hosted a large party of our confederates only to find that the stove kept turning off, so we all got suitably sloshed before eating long after 10 pm. We got even when we paid off the mortgage early, by refinancing, with the owner expecting a balloon payment a year later. We didn’t know this would be upsetting, but were glad for it.
We’ve always treasured the pass through cabinets and drawers that allowed service in the kitchen and the dining room, a real class amenity. As for the rest of the kitchen, we’ve remodeled three or four times, each time getting closer to the current livable space. The original back room which now forms the el of the elongated kitchen, was a sleeping porch and small bedroom, which was an addition to the original house that the builder ratted right after getting his certificate of occupancy. A door and window connected the back porch to the original kitchen. During the 1970s, pink formica and angle iron shelves stood below and next to the north window. In the west window cavity, glass shelves displayed our large collection of fake food, only some of which remains on site, the rest of it packed away in one of our storage sheds. The swinging kitchen door and the one that led to the sleeping room were long ago removed, but saved in a shed. Mind you, we found old doors in these sheds that were used for the closet and furnace room downstairs, so we always thought it prudent to hold onto any that we removed.
Raising the ceiling and installing a skylight above the sleeping porch meant we had a tall wall above the refrigerator cubby and door to the small bedroom. After counseling with artist and contractor friends over tapas and drinks, I put shelves in front of a glossy royal blue wall to display our growing radio collection. Without adding backlighting, the radios popped with that background, the shelf edges painted a luminescent green. A vintage office clock hung above the door to the back bedroom which was where our partner Mikey slept before his father-in-law built him an apartment downstairs. This room became my studio as I worked as a landscape designer. A door table on top of pink sawhorses gave way to a classic drafting table purchased at a garage sale that tilted with rotating rulers. We covered the long east wall in this small room with busy red flower wallpaper. The north and west walls were covered with vintage prints and paintings of flowers. One nice red and white florid upholstered chair complemented a corner of book shelves. It was all too much for a small room which meant it was startling and fine indeed.
Outside of popping the top on the north end of the addition, nearly all of the improvements to the kitchen and back room over the years were cosmetic. With the pink shelves we put down black nickel linoleum, knockoff Pirelli, which needed scrubbing every day. We had bought hammered tin for the cabinet insets and it remains, but the biggest change came with us removing the west wall of the kitchen, and the wall separating the sleeping porch from the bedroom and raising the ceiling throughout the addition to create a long open room that added a relaxing dimension to the kitchen itself. Before the west wall came down, we envisioned a kitchen counter that reflected the original lines of the two rooms, but once removed, it became clear we could extend the kitchen counter into the back room in a curving island, that brought the rooms together. We installed a wooden bench custom made by two Pirate artists on the outside wall with back and seat curves that reflect the bend of the counter — unfortunately, one of the artists first built a Lutyens style garden bench when we were out of town. It didn’t work, and we designed its replacement. All the wood cabinets were stained a light blue or green that alternated with the natural wormy maple color. The pine floor was stained a complimentary grey. An assortment of Tunisian and Turkish rugs cover the floors throughout.
A few years later we moved into Phase 2 of this major remodel, taking out the fridge and radio wall, raising the ceiling in the back bedroom, removing the flower wallpaper and chipping away the plaster at the edges leaving a canvas framed by the original insulating bricks. That’s when the mural of Little Reata, Spanish for lariat, and the name we adopted for our property based on James Dean’s inheritance in Giant, was painted by a former student, and the radio shelf across the top of this new long room was installed. So this became the sitting room attached, included as part of the kitchen. Everyone wants a bigger kitchen, because that’s where people gather. Whereas most of the rugs are woven in stripes, diagonals and straights, and geometric patterns, a new Turkish rug sits in front of the bench decorated with three big multicolored fish on a navy background, their bellies filled with a psychedelic mix of traditional woven patterns, the fish presention serving to feed the themed art that carries throughout the kitchen.
A few friends devoted to and entrenched in the Craftsman style were horrified by some of the changes we made to our modest hand built bungalow. Raising the ceilings to gain some movement and light through the main rooms of the house represented a travesty to them, as did the brown brick fireplace in the front room that we tiled to bank a stream of rock we plastered across its face — after all, a river rock house does inspire. We are purists not by any means, but eclectic collectors of music, art, furniture; making art and crafting fashion and objects ourselves, always welcoming friends to enjoy the potpourri. Some have retreated from our company, possibly inured by our constant stylizing, but even they first enjoyed our hospitality in the kitchen, where all the art and influences come together. Home is where the heart, the art, the hearth is. Where the food and drinks come first. Where our close knit family can enjoy home mades around the counter. Where whenever my wife was out of town the men I know would gather to gab at a Guys Party. House parties start in the kitchen before they overflow into adjoining rooms.
Early years in the house, a chalk board hung below the large brown office clock, that looked like the official timepiece in a train depot. Whenever the whistles blew down the block meaning a train was passing, I would run and stand next to it, sometimes with my young son, feeling the power of the locomotives and the lure of the tracks. Here was the wanderlust that complemented the homemaking, and I would write the time and day of the train on the chalkboard as a record of missed opportunities to hop a freight. The first leg of light rail in the late 1980s included a raised track over Santa Fe and Kalamath which blocked my access to the RR tracks. Now we hear the train and light rail horns bluster at Bayaud and it reminds my wife of foghorns on Long Island Sound, reminds her of home before college in Connecticut.
Sitting on the tallest metal stool with a back on the west side of the curved kitchen counter, I can see to the the front door, to first witness the arrival of friends, so I can bound towards them in welcome, bid them a drink. On my 33rd birthday which we were celebrating with my mate Michael who was born a day after me, I recall seeing Fr. Becker arrive, the party blessed by our favorite teacher Jesuit, so happy to see him that I shouted “Why have you forsaken me?” He was the priest who married Donna and me, and baptized Dexter. We didn’t attend much to religion after that knowing we had the basic indelibles on our souls. Becker died of a brain tumor not long afterwards. The kitchen is where we represent our inner selves, speak closely to friends and hug and kiss loved ones. Where breaking bread, eating mussels, drinking wine is our primary focus. The room where we most clearly remember those who have passed.
Three horizontal barn sash windows surrounded the back room — no doubt Henry Roth found them as surplus when he built the addition. When we renovated the room, we replaced these single pane windows with new wood sliders that gave us big views onto the west and south yards. On one house tour, one of Henry Roth’s great grandsons bought one of those old barn windows for his mother, preserving a slice of the house where Henry died in his sleep on that sleeping porch. Mary Roth, Henry’s younger wife, distributed sandwiches out the back door to the homeless riding the rails during the Great Depression. That was her kitchen heart.
In the extended dogleg of a room sits a modernist doll house that Donna shows off to the granddaughters when they visit from down the block. It’s completely furnished with modernist furniture and paintings and Beatles records and Life magazines. The girls love looking at the objects, rearranging the furniture, opening and closing the sliding glass doors. This miniature is so unlike our house, as it’s done in a single style, and maybe that’s why it’s fun to play house at that scale. It’s understandable. Our house, and especially the kitchen, is post-modern, with so many influences making their mark, drawing reactions that are emotional due to their significance, the solastalgia of the items displayed. We are not talking about a hutch with ceramic clowns or Hummel figures, but popular objects jumping off the counter and walls, hanging from the ceiling, that make the room appear to be a salon in a carnival. When the Sale sign and color reversal light boxes are lit, the bird in the box is tweeting, Esquivel is tweeking from the speakers atop the pantry cabinets, and the formica counter features a fresh smorgasbord of crackers, cheese, salamis and anchovies, a person might forget where they were, or could not imagine being anywhere else. Think communion in the kitchen, a mass of bread and wine for friends and the faithful.
The lines lead diagonally from the driveway gate into the sunroom. A garage with green wood doors when we moved in two score years ago. Inside, a long Turkish rug with lines of red leads to a cabinet pulled from someone’s kitchen, a smoky mirrored front, painted white and black in its contours, bare wood sides. Glass jeweled pie plates, ham cans, and hubcaps with pictures of Christ and JFK are stacked up the wall behind the sideboard. The yellow Scotchgard convertible couch displays a thin Mexican blanket with black, white, salmon, and blue stripes running parallel to the floor rug. It has a chevron in the same colors at the cushion top. Small vertically striped pillows, and a doll from Havana that switches from black to white face, native colors to gingham by flipping her dress, line the headrest. The sofa, a comfort settee for people changing babies or dropping bags or sleeping for the night, looks out into a yard of tall pampas and maiden grasses, steel sculptures of a pool float and a palm tree, and a swimming pool that has replaced the driveway to the garage, at the same diagonal of the former. Ley lines spirit friends into the house to sanctify the soul of its dwellers.The lines lead diagonally from the driveway gate into the sunroom. A garage with green wood doors when we moved in two score years ago. Inside, a long Turkish rug with lines of red leads to a cabinet pulled from someone’s kitchen, a smoky mirrored front, painted white and black in its contours, bare wood sides. Glass jeweled pie plates, ham cans, and hubcaps with pictures of Christ and JFK are stacked up the wall behind the sideboard. The yellow Scotchgard convertible couch displays a thin Mexican blanket with black, white, salmon, and blue stripes running parallel to the floor rug. It has a chevron in the same colors at the cushion top. Small vertically striped pillows, and a doll from Havana that switches from black to white face, native colors to gingham by flipping her dress, line the headrest. The sofa, a comfort settee for people changing babies or dropping bags or sleeping for the night, looks out into a yard of tall pampas and maiden grasses, steel sculptures of a pool float and a palm tree, and a swimming pool that has replaced the driveway to the garage, at the same diagonal of the former. Ley lines spirit friends into the house to sanctify the soul of its dwellers.
The walls replete with roma red and indigo blue colors, framed in gold and green boards and stained ochre stairs, feature bright paintings of garages and churches, a photograph of an altar to JP2 lined with Mexican oilcloth, a “famous artist” piece that aligns holy cards of Pope John XXIII with packs of Buckhorn cigarettes. Colors vibrate from every plane, from the heavy wool blanket of maroon and pink indigenous geometrics that separates the sunroom from the laundry room, to the bright green bingo cards that cover the olive portmanteau where the bedding for guests is kept. A replica rooster that doodles on demand, a papier-mâché doll, and sugar skull stand guard around an old tube radio atop the trunk. Two framed salvaged portraits of Jesus and Mary show the pair shuffling decks posed as sacred card sharks. A purple rope hassock sits in front of the trunk. A window into the workshop next door is recessed through a foot thick stucco foundation wall, the stained glass window and tabernacle altar hosting crucifixes made from matchsticks, bottle caps, and seashells, and extreme unction kits. Paint by number boards of Jesus holding a lamb and the Virgin Mary with praying hands panel the sides of the holy niche.
Across from the couch stands a wood curio cabinet marred with errant paint daubs on one bottom drawer but full glass doors house Mexican blankets rolled and stored on the top shelf, ceramic pots on a lower one, Greek Orthodox statues of saints, glass negatives of religious scenes, a shrine kit to Janis Joplin in cellophane, a vial of Holy Water, and other saintly artifacts displaying crowns, haloes, thorns, high school and college yearbooks, commemorating the lives and deaths of the habitants’ youth. Two drawers at the base are stuffed with her scarves. On the gray wall to one side of the hutch hang a memorial to his mother – photographs of her wedding and with girlfriends at the beach, glass aquamarine and smoky quartz jewelry, prized postcards, a favorite green flowered scarf – given her during her stay at a nursing home to remind her of her life before it was over; and a Plexiglas box housing a red baby shirt, a fanciful broach of a bride and groom, and a Dexter cigar box dedicated to his son: portraits of beginning and ending. Two pastels of Immaculate Conception Cathedral and St. Cajetan’s framed with yellow stained cedar boards hang above a steel drum on the other side of the cabinet. Three flowering jade plants that move outside in the summer occupy the space near the atrium window in front of the church drawings and drum, while two large cocoa plants border the glass brick that replaced the garage door, next to a copper table bookended with Lives of the Saints, next to the yellow convertible couch.
An extra rough hewn pole to bolster the beam that holds the house in place was installed next to the stained green wood stairs, the treads furrowed from the wear of feet. Thirty crosses that once circled christened necks hang from this post. A statue carved from a tree trunk resides next to the beam, next to the mirrored cabinet, a statue of the Blessed Virgin, sporting necklaces of Mardi Gras beads and rosaries. An ancient green door so distressed it mimics the dried and cracked mud of arroyos hides the closet at the base of the stairs. Salvaged gold and green wood trim sporadically edge the sunroom. Lined patterns encircle and evoke the sunlit shadows of memories, of people palpable to touch.
If you could read my mind, you would know my life looking around this sunroom. It is the most realized room in the house for its convertible design, found art, and cultural heritage. When we moved into this river rock bungalow, it was the garage, fronted by doors that swung out into a driveway that extended from a gate on the south side of the property. When we forgot the front door keys, we would saunter down to the garage doors at garden level and slip the latch to enter a basement with a small bathroom and large octopus-like furnace that spread its airy tentacles below the first floor of the house. Worn wooden stairs led to the first floor. When our son was young, we carpeted the stairs and let him ride a laundry basket “downtown” we said.
An atrium glass panel and door and glass brick wall long ago replaced the green garage doors. I remember almost dropping the atrium unit as Richard and I were unloading it from his truck. He was framing the space out for us, and I was helping install the door plus buying the glass brick. He hasn’t forgiven me for being too cheap to buy the plastic spacers for the brick – one of the first forty we installed cracked after the fact. Richard is a bike mechanic who knows construction, loves tools, and always wanted to be a doctor, perhaps the ultimate dream of any thinker in love with how things work. I bought the spacers for the other sixty glass brick we installed in place of the wood doors that enclosed the workshop next to the sunroom. Buying one hundred bricks gave me a discount. Hiring and helping friends helped up avoid high contractor costs. Putting in the atrium door and glass wall gave us an extra room on the garden level. We started filling it with artifacts.
First there was the upright piano that our partner in buying the house unloaded in the room. Across from it, we installed a wood futon couch that converted into a double bed. Donna covered it in car vinyl found at the surplus tool place on Alameda near Pecos, rose and blue with grey piping, which introduced the Mexican meme of bright colors. I switched the window that connected to the workshop to create an altar above the couch. One of the crosses and one last sacrament kit belonged to my mother. These were installed after her stroke and move to a nursing home. The room took on a life of its own, as people began to give us religious mementos. The sunroom became the “Our Lord Jesus” room; strangers didn’t know how religious we might be. We were married in a Mexican chapel at Regis that housed many Milagros, but Father Becker, a friend and the priest who married us, kept any mention of god out of the ceremony, at Donna’s request. If people looked closely at the large framed Mary and Jesus portraits done by Mario Rivoli, they might notice that the icons were shuffling cards. That was just the start of the communion host tongue in cheek decorating of this room.
One of Richard’s friends was studying piano tuning and he proceeded to ruin the upright. We didn’t play, my wife not since she was a child, and so the piano was donated to Goodwill, carted away by the Gate City family of movers located across the alley from us. We replaced it with a glass cabinet surreptitiously removed by one of Donna’s old friends, Gid, from Norlin library. He wrote up the invite for a baby shower for me at the Punch Bowl at 20th and Stout, a transformed dive bar owned by a friend of mine. Gid hosted many summer solstice parties at his place in Rollinsville before finally succumbing to AIDS. The wooden cabinet has never been refinished. Donna threw the pots when she took classes from Betty Woodman in Boulder. The Greek statues of saints were given to us by friends of a former renter who passed – he owed us money, a compassionate cabdriver who died of drinking. On the center shelve sits an oak box holding the ashes of Donna’s parents. So many of these items signal a life of faith, of passed time, and death; others exhibit a nihilist gloating over misplaced ardor.
The best man at my wedding, David, drew the chalk drawings of the churches. At my wedding, he read a Melville piece from “The Confidence Man.” He was a devoted church goer and cynic till the end, a Nebraska farm boy who arrived in Denver as a kid and proceeded to rebel to his own tune, an artist of landscapes and portraits who seldom showed his work, though it’s worthy of a Kirkland exhibit. He passed from bladder cancer, refusing to entertain doctors, suffering privately, saying scarcely a word to his wife and sons. I built the steel drum for my wife before there were how-to books; it looks nice with whorls of hearts, but only a few notes register.
When we moved in, a brace of 2x4s supported the beam alongside the stairs, but it wasn’t enough, as the wall kept cracking in the boy’s upstairs bedroom. Richard and I sunk a caisson and installed a telephone pole to match the others in the basement, and that took care of the upstairs seam. Friends donated many of the crosses hanging on the pole in memory of their parents.
The crazed green closet door and gold and green wood trim we found at Garrett’s Lumber and Salvage in Commerce City. We would wander salvage yards like Garrett’s and Queen City and Mendoza Brick to find wood, and flooring, and bricks to compliment our river rock DIY bungalow. The handrail attached to the wall ascending the stairs is a mahogany balustrade bottom rail with stained glass strips inserted into the baluster cutouts. Donna found a box of colored glass pieces that perfectly fit. We painted the floor in color stripes at one point, reflecting the old vinyl couch. For many years, one blotch of oil perennially gleamed through the paint, reminding us the sunroom was once a garage. We considered Mexican tile during the last renovation, but we opted for a gray floor to set off the heady mix of wall colors recommended by a colorist. Donna quickly put the design over the top with the purchase of the purple rope hassock that sits in front of the olive trunk for most of the year – summers it’s ensconced by the pool.
The porch or the veranda historically represented the intersection of private and public space in American houses – the covered cool evening spot to collect thoughts and talk to neighbors, but that has disappeared from the landscape. Suburban houses made the garage the entrance that shielded itself from contact with neighbors. Rolling front lawns mimicked golf course serenity, and afforded children a place to play, but adults cavorted in the backyards, behind privacy fences. City condos made private balconies the choice of refreshment, lofts over the old street stoop, the precursor of the single-family porch. Although we attempted to play our porch as a welcome wagon to neighbors, it was behind a six-foot chain link fence with barbed wire at the top when we moved in. We were the only house on a block of industrial properties, and the property kitty korner we soon recognized as a nuisance – it’s now boarded up after many police complaints. So we grew trees and shrubs to shield the front, but invited guests to saunter down to the garden level and enjoy the pool and yard outside the sunroom door. The public side of the patio comes from having two other houses surrounding the pool, rentals from the start. So ours is a public interior community, like a motel court where people reside for more than a night. That is how the sunroom became our room with a view.
We say let all the people come. Summer parties for family swirl around the pool. Let friends drink poolside and enjoy an outdoor swim-up movie like Lawrence, Woodstock, or Dick. Mother-in-law treads water for hours to stay in shape, pushing leaves into the skimmers out of a sense of purpose. Let the Design Council invite lovely patrons from Cherry Hills who ask to move into the cozy cottage and cabin. Le bon fils rides the backhoe at the age of eight when the pool is being dug. Let a tenant arrange a formal dinner for her birthday on the lawn green that fronts her cottage. Birthday parties and celebrations steam late into the night. Let the early avante garde of Denver host a musical celebration of drums, Theremin, and shouting before being shut down by popo at ten. Over five hundred renditions of the “Girl from Ipanema” stereophonically sift through the yard, thanks to the Blind Lady collection of one tenant. Let the granddaughters swim with their champion mom in the short pool that replaced the driveway. Women come and go talking about Hockney and Warhol – cash for his art a sign proclaims. Let the plastic and steel D, M, R, and T letters kindle memories of the parents, dwellers, and son who have majorly occupied the premises. The powder coated steel yellow loveseat rocker, four person blue bench, and orange table all made by le bon fils stand guard; the salvaged and spray-painted metal chairs in YSL colors surround a flagstone top and cast iron drain pipe base assembled by the father – these the furniture acolytes to the yellow couch and purple ottoman of the sunroom. Let the nurses and engineers and jazz singers and lighting designers and cabdrivers and photographers and punk drummers and concierges and body botanical salespeople and flaming youngsters and reflexologists and installation artists pay their rent and stake their claim to the house and yard that Henry Roth built which the dwellers maintain as hosts, inviting boarders and family and friends and travelling performance artists and lecturers to partake of their sacrament of hospitality at the “Our Lord Jesus” altar, where the sacred and profane commune, for holy is the large body of water that ordains this sunroom: holy, holy, holy our water floating and sunroom slumbers.
The kid had shades, cowboys and wagons on heavy dark red fabric, to shield his wake-up calls from sunny rises during the school year. The barn sash upper windows and rippled glass lowers are clear of fabric for the present, but that could change with more writing taking place at the old school desk, laptop doing an arabesque. Books piled high to the left of me include Alexander’s Pattern Language, Patterns of Poetry, Learning from Las Vegas, Blind Spot by Teju Cole, and Patti Smith’s Devotion. The Sanyo turntable and NAD amp await their turns. A white deco-styled iPod boom box set up for blaring the Shuffle of 5280 songs out the window for summer pool parties holds a KLH speaker on its deck for now, the other one to my right on top of filing cabinets holding old lesson plans from teacher days. The upper lines of the windows cross at right angles with the slotted boards of the eaves and gutters. Rows of teeth in a salesman’s black box catered to dentists when bridges and dentures were the remedy sits in the left window, like seeds growing next to the palm in an ochre ceramic pot that has taken over the corner. A purplish blue vase filling with pennies holds an industrial size incandescent bulb with a filament that looks like a cocoon. A metal wire rectangular box holds carpenter pencils and markers. A compact tape deck sits next to the hand-cranked civil defense alarm. An aluminum apple and brass reception ringer occupy the base of a brass deco desk lamp that swings from a spheric knob. A hammered copper buzzard perches on the window sill. The desk looks out into the yard, over the pool and the river rock cottage, a floor above the sunroom. The study where books and records happen.
As a person enters this second bedroom become a studio, a wall of books and records and photo books some opened and duck decoys and a fox cast model for taxidermy and Andy doll in repose wearing a Captain’s hat holding a wool felt camera and the white plaster ear of Michelangelo’s David and small paintings of flowers and a landscape and Indian cane bocce balls and baseballs and a black transistor radio with Am and Fm windows shout out to the anonymous suitor. Fifteen rectangular steel boxes all a wall shelf, three covered with sliding panels of yellow, green, and grey, arranged artfully in the salon style of favored objects complimenting the library of literature and music. A Dexter cigar box with a glass cover separates the Country Western albums from the Classical in the top left shelf. David’s ear listens to the CW records, two Sleepy LaBeefs its favorites, and Donna’s doll George hangs with limbs akimbo detached and wired into a mobile from the corner post – le bon fils says it would scare his young daughters. Two fat duck decoys, worn sculpted and painted sit atop the section. Rock ’n’ Roll records catalogued alphabetically start the shelf below, with Carl Van Vechten’s photos of Faulkner and Ella openly displayed from a book of black and whites. Thirty editions of Lapham’s Quarterly hug an illuminated King James Bible and big books about nature and design, Curtis’s photos of the First Americans, Kate Dunlap’s Gold Rush diary, and An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio fame. Two hazard yellow panels hide boxes of slides on the fourth shelf down, plus a high-8 camera and tapes in two silver lunch boxes recorded by le bon fils. The fifth shelf holds six plastic and steel briefcases, one made from Kodak gold 200 film boxes, containing mix tapes made during the 1980s and 90s. A stack of CDs made by students asking for the ear of their beloved teacher crowd the dividing post. Four books read the last month, both M Train and Devotion by Patti Smith, stand inside red metal bookends; silver bookends showing a fighter jet in flight await their turn.
The steel shelf that occupies the west wall of the room is divided into three vertical stacks and five horizontals, butting up against the north wall, where paintings and posters hang above two designer chairs, knockoffs of Breuer’s Wassily and Saarinen’s Tulip; two filing cabinets stand between the unit and the wall to the south, where autographed and photographed and illustrated and photoshopped portraits of rock heroes hang: a Radio Ethiopia album sleeve autographed by the Patti Smith Group; Bowie in concert; a photograph of him altered with diagonal desire lines by Mario Zoots; a comic graphic of a guitar hero playing a chicken drumstick, a painting of Elvis Costello, and a digital imagining of Michael Jackson as empire builder, all by John Adams; and a photo of Elvis in concert. A polyurethaned True Romances portrait of lovers leans against the wall on top of a mud cloth covering the tan double drawer cabinet that sits atop the green military case. A green glass power line insulator holds a compass and drafting tools, a surveying wood tripod lamp stands over a speaker. A lit diorama of a fish swimming amongst seaweed and shells and coral completes the icing on the layer cake of cabinets. To the top for the middle stack.
Art books of Picasso and Warhol and Art Deco and Hockney, music books of jazz language poetry, photo books of An American Century and Helmut Newton styled on their sides above the top shelf would make boards balk but this is steel. Short story collections from Borges, Bowles, Chandler, Fitzgerald, Hammett, Kafka, Munro, Oates, Parker, Proulx, and Updike stand their ground alongside a plaster white whale gifted by a student who read Moby Dick, a stuffed leather doggie grey and brown from her childhood, Andy languid. A wood box from an art fair containing a pencil with an eraser on each end awaits an aesthetic response. Second middle shelf continues the alphabetical rollout of rock albums with Peter Paul and Mary and terminates with 45s in sleeves, boxes, and stacked bare on their edges. Here holds sway the transistor radio and the baseballs, along with an ‘80s photo of the river rock house of the padrones, and a stack of books currently being read or awaiting their turn – The Sound and the Fury, Ulysses, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and The Familiar, Volume 1. Books of plays and poetry including a stack of Shakespeare volumes occupy most of the third shelf. Another group of books being read or awaiting their turn, including A Brief History of Seven Killings, Stream System, The Idiot, and Resurrection by Tolstoy, stand between alabaster cherub bookends, one reading and one writing. Works by John Stilgoe, J.B. Jackson, Simon Schama, Garrett Eckbo, Jane Jacobs, and other design and landscape books populate the next shelf, with a wood block printed with the marquee of the Federal theater. Grey and key lime sliding doors hide notebooks and old iPhones and point and shoot cameras and bumper stickers and tracing paper and stamps. To the top of the third stack.
A triangular block of broken art glass retrieved from the floor of a studio in Santa Fe accompanies two nicely carved and painted duck decoys made by a friend’s father, along with the fox cast model looking out from the perch atop the shelf like a shorn yellow amphibious dog. Nonfiction books two deep are flanked by a small indigo mountain sunset framed with wood boards. Sexual Personae and Being a Beast find camaraderie in books by Joan Didion, James Baldwin, and Henry Adams. More of the same on the shelf below, with Malcolm X sidling up to Jackie Oh! with Twain and daVinci looking and listening. Jazz and soundtracks and miscellaneous recordings like Disney songs, Polka collections, and songs from Paris nightlife fill the middle shelf of this north stack. More garden, landscape, and design books hide behind two long and tall picture books of Bridges and Skyscrapers. Two sliding grey panels hide the contents of the bottom shelf, where envelopes, blank notebooks, and garden catalogues reside. That is a sample of what the steel shelves hold, on the west wall of the room where once reclined a double bed, then a crib, a futon followed for the growing son, before the second bedroom became a studio.
The two chairs frame a molded plastic magazine rack cum table topped with Jimmy Corrigan, a small photographic book of American landscapes seen from the air, and a porcelain black gold and iridescent white-leafed deco lamp. Water colors by Zoa Ace and Wendy Wilson surround a Keith Haring poster. The east wall is relatively bare but for the Tiffany lampshade mounted like a sconce, ochre glass with brass ribs; a charcoal romantic death scene of a cowboy fallen from his horse dead in a snowstorm near a graveyard monument in a nice gold leaf frame; and a colorful reproduction of a bucking scene from The Electric Horseman framed in grey steel. Above the closet door hangs an illustration of the owner as an icon of the Baker neighborhood by one of Denver’s renowned cartoonists.
A rectangular patchwork black rug of hide scraps rimmed with leather is partially hidden by a dark tanned cowhide which covers half of a long braided ivory-colored rug leading into the room from the door. A woven green and tan picnic basket sits on the stained gray pine floor in front of the army green metal filing cabinet.
When Mikey and his mother and Donna and I bought this ramshackle paradise back in 1979, the studio was my bedroom – Donna had the master at the front of the house, just down the hallway, and Mikey had the unheated add-on room at the rear. His mother was investing in her beloved son, who introduced Donna to me. Eventually, Mikey’s step father helped him build a bedroom in the garden level basement, but he occupied that space for only a short time before moving in with his boyfriend. I kept my bedroom although Donna and I mostly slept together. When the boy was born in 1980, his crib was planted in the studio. A nasty cat named Jack Rose that an old girlfriend shipped out to me from Chicago peed in the crib shortly after the baby was born, and we shipped him out to the Dumb Friend’s League. Eight months of steady growth made us remark that we should lower the mattress as he was standing up more and more; he end-overed onto the floor that night. Woulda, coulda, shoulda!
A red plastic shopping cart from the local grocery store became a changing table with the addition of a red vinyl pad. This sat near the twin windows, and was replaced by a red toy chest and stackable red plastic containers, still in use in the workshop. A bed for the boy with home sewn denim pillows to create a couch and coverlet rested against the west wall where the rack of books and records stands. A desk and chair took up the space in front of the windows as he started school. During his elementary years, the school would not allow students to throw out food, and so he brought home his mother’s weird sandwich concoctions and placed them in the drawer of his desk – we found them months, years later, moldy sandwich bags of mush. Why didn’t he throw them out? Spawned from parents who seldom threw food away, who always asked for doggie bags, who suggested to him that thrift store purchases and sale items were usually the better choice, not just for price, but for style. He has turned out to be a minimalist who goes for expensive crafted jeans and t-shirts, nice multipurpose coats for warmth and movement, but seldom does he buy clothes for style, except in his subtle and pragmatic way.
As le bon fils grew older, we purchased a white Formica desk, dresser, and bed with drawers unit that mamacita covered in blue denim splash painted herself. The window coverings were the same blue denim with streaks of vibrant colors. The desk had a raised table for drafting or drawing. A smart room indeed which we sold to another family down the line, after the boy went away to college. We purchased a futon for him at that point, as we were used to sleeping on them in our room, for his return inter semester visits.
The room was his for most of our lives in this house. Only once did we catch him drugged up, as we suspected he was trying to huff and was dazed. We were clearly upset, but years before when he was a youngster, over some miscarriage, I picked him up by his neck, my big hands under his chin, and was ready to wrangle him into submission, when I realized what I was doing, and let him down. Never again would I consider corporal punishment, so the glue violation was loosely dealt with, maybe with understanding over how a kid might experiment.
Many of the prize records I gave to the kid or he adopted them, since he only plays vinyl at his Ivory Castle of a condo. I cleaned and filled a metal model truck with the best 45s a few Christmases ago. There’s still lots of music, and as each room has been refurbished, I sit with a close friend and try to make it home. This studio has the two designer chairs and the DoubleButter roadrunner at the desk, so a few guys can ingest the music during one of my Guy Parties, famous over many years, as Donna travelled for business, and I would invite the boys by to carouse away their partners. The parties don’t happen as often as they used to, but some of the OGs still come out when a bash gets announced.
The white cast to scale of David’s ear was a gift from Donna’s girl Pat. The painting of a coleus meant to look like a palm tree was painted by David on a board to fit a deco frame Donna gave him – she requested a palm and he gave her a plant. Don painted two tulips in a glass jar on a board, and a small mountain sunset landscape. The Patti Smith band autographed sleeve was from an old girlfriend who worked at WXRT in Chicago – she sent it to me in an album which I already had and gave to Don. She called and made me get it back because I had never looked at the sleeve. Donna found the Keith Haring poster on the street in NYC and copped it. A great aunt charcoaled the horse and dead cowboy in a graveyard, a picture I grew up with. The copper buzzard I bought in Ajo, AZ during a charrette with the Conway School, as designers gathered to guide the redevelopment of the town once a resort, now run through by border patrol agents. There’s the graphic of iconic me by Denver cartoonist Kenny Be commissioned by friends on my sixtieth. It’s as nice a gift as the Adirondack by the pool crafted by a woodworker as a gift on my fortieth. The painting of the electric bareback bronc rider was a gift from John Adams, who probably holds the record for the number of pieces in our house, although Mary Mackey may recently have surpassed him; she sells her art, whereas John has rarely shown and usually gives pieces away on his birthday. The grey powder coated frame to match the background of the bronc buster was welded by the boy.
This room doesn’t protect privacy with a view, a dichotomous request made by clients of landscape architects – “I want to see out without people looking in.” The lack of shades eliminates privacy, but the belvedere from the second floor onto a pool surrounded by a river rock cottage and cabin, all a part of the owner-occupied compound, insures its own reward. Indeed, it is a room with a view: a study, a studio where one watches and listens and reads and writes; a studio where generations of students have studied. The marked up desk came from Denver Public School’s surplus room. The wall of books and records and memento mori and artifacts assembled for the remembrance of things past encourages the student to divine life’s connections. In the studio, the student collects knowledge, which has been rearranged into new taxonomies; duck decoys and commemorative baseballs have been removed from their original environs. The sunroom may represent the public’s summer side of the house, but the studio reveals the solitary soul of home, housing the things that matter in posterity: knowledge and the art of youth. Friend’s manuscripts reside here, as well as the plant scrapbooks fashioned by a young landscaper. The records signify a continuum of tastes, the importance of a life’s soundtrack. Nino Rota and Henry Mancini abide. The collection of objects may connect the occupant to memories, but the records, books, and art tell their own stories, like Russian dolls of mimetic but differently sized experiences and scholarship. Ventricles from the public heart of the sunroom rise to enfold the intellectual soul of the study. The words of Hopkins and Stevens reverb, the observations of Dickinson pulse through the room. Music plays to the throngs of swimmers from the sleek boom box on the tattooed desk, and the hand held siren announces family dinners during the summer. The studio is the control tower of culture in contemplation and reverie. There is always another record to rehear, and book to reread, to reconsider age old meanings in new circumstances, and parlay to private and public audiences for their fresh and unfettered responses.