6.14.2010

Paradise Found: LongHouse Reserve

I don't often visit the Hamptons, so the occasion of a talk on behalf of the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton gave me a chance to (finally) take up Jack Larsen's kind invitation to visit him at LongHouse Reserve in Easthampton. I knew about the place, of course; we had done several stories related to it at House and Garden.

Now I can only wonder why it took me so long to make the pilgrimage; but this is a perfect example of why I needed to learn some things about slow love. I made this visit at the urging of my friend Frances Palmer, the potter, who decided to come down from her Connecticut studio and accompany me. Everyone needs friends in their lives like Frances, who just have to see as much as they can, do as much as they can, and who love company on their adventures. One of my favorite activities now is field trips; I try to plan them into my schedule, as they always inspire and refresh me. I've found that it is important to make time to see new things--even if they are only around the corner from where you live.

One of the speakers on the morning's program was the artist April Gornick, who turns out to be enough of a techie that she graciously saved my slide show after long minutes of panic when the projector refused to communicate with my computer. April gave a provocative philosophical talk that included musings on how she was drawn to clearings, not only as spaces that inspired paintings, but as places that calmed and grounded her. I thought about how what I call Slow Love Moments come of mental clearings; one must give them a chance to appear, or, give oneself a chance to recognize and bask in them. LongHouse is such a clearing. And so is Jack Lenor Larsen himself. Some people are so special that simply to be around them is a profound experience.

Larsen has long been renowned as a modernist textile designer. He introduced interpretations of exotic weaves to this country, including ikat and batik, and he experimented with unusual yarns and papers. Many of his designs were bought by Florence Knoll in the 1950s for her eponymous line of furnishings; he also created upholstery for Pan American Airlines--back in the day when air travel was a thrilling adventure, and one dressed stylishly to board a plane. Larsen is also an avid collector of handcraft, focusing primarily on ceramics; the displays ranged in cabinets, hidden behind sliding doors and gently illuminated, are stunning. His pieces by Lucie Rie are among the most beautiful of her work I have ever seen; likewise the pieces by Jim Makins, whose elegant grey spires displayed stalks of Stachys byzantina, Lamb's ear--a perfect choice.

LongHouse, which he designed in collaboration with Charles Forberg, was completed in 1992. The design was inspired by the Ise Shrine in Japan; the building is raised on stilts so that visitors can gaze out over the expansive gardens filled with intriguing sculpture. One approaches across a bridge and then enters into a large, airy, light-filled conservatory filled with plants in the winter. The rooms unfold across its length, one opening into another; it has an open plan, and yet the spaces are clearly defined. The house is powerful, large and open, made of thick beams and walls, punctuated by expansive windows. It is a curiously American interpretation of a Japanese temple, with its giant scale and the immediate sense of material richness that greets its visitors.

Everywhere, no matter how small the corner or how large the table, the eye falls on moments of beauty, intimate landscapes composed of books, vases, stones, flowers, baskets; evidence of a live well--and passionately--lived. The central room is furnished entirely with delicate, sensual pieces from the 1940s by the legendary Wharton Esherick. In the living room, furniture by Edward Wormley is arranged around a modern hearth that provides the only heat in the winter; a grand piano is tucked away in the corner. I could almost hear music being played, which I want to be Bach, but I didn't think to ask whether Jack is a pianist, nor what it is he loves to hear. Many things, I suspect. I didn't get to ask so many questions...But I did get to savor the place. We were served lunch, with asparagus just picked in the garden, on ceramic plates that looked as if they had just dried on the potter's shelf; Jack is also an excellent cook.

The skies opened up, so we got a tour of the garden via golf cart. We whizzed past pieces by Buckminster Fuller, Yoko Ono, Lynda Benglis, Sol LeWitt, Willem de Kooning. The elephant standing on his trunk is by Miguel Barcelo. The "pond" fountain with the cross, at the end of this post (and please catch Jack's shadow...) is called Black Mirror, by Ed Drohan. The oval bench slathered with a concrete-like stucco, with water coursing along the top, is by Mia Westerlund. Sitting in its embrace, leaning against its high walls, which we were allowed to do for the briefest of seconds, we were surrounded by the sound of water washing over its steps. As we careened around other corners of the garden, with me hanging my arm out the back so that I could literally "point and shoot", I vowed that I would return in the autumn and linger. The gardens are open to the public to visit, though the house is not--as Jack lives there! Many of my pictures caught only a blur of impressions, appropriately enough. There was too much to take in on one visit. But what struck me forcibly was the demonstration of how one can live deeply, elegantly, serenely, and excitingly, in a place, surrounded by the treasure of passionate, engaged forays out into the world. Forays that always end with a return home.

We are used, now, to the look of mid-century modernism. In its day, though, it was provocative and exciting. Jack, who is in his eighties, was--and is--a radical; like all artists he brings a refined but idiosyncratic sensibility to everything he touches, whether he is designing his fabrics, or displaying his pots. He has never been afraid to live exactly as he wants to, and that alone is a valuable lesson.



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39 comments:

Town and Country Mom said...

I love the idea of planning field trips. Great adventures await!

Ann said...

It's hard to believe that this is all in one location.

Mr. Larsen's sense of humor and inspirations shine through his "home."
It must have been fascinating at every turn!

julie degni marr said...

This is wonderful! Another person who is 'so special that simply to be around them is a profound experience' is topiary artist Pearl Fryar of Bishopville, SC. Definitely worth a field trip! http://www.fryarstopiaries.com/

c said...

OMG, thank you!!!

This weekend, i'll be there. Can't wait ... savouring the moment(s) already.

katiedid said...

What a wonderful home! So often a modern house does not have such variation and passion. Simply beautiful! And I agree....field trips should be mandatory for life!

William said...

That place looks awesome - excellent midweek day trip potential. But Dominique, Yoko Ono in the same sentence with Buckminster Fuller and Willem de Kooning? Really?

One Woman's Journey said...

You are a very lucky lady to have visits like this "a part of your life". I just garden and dig in the woods!!
At the moment I do not think anyone could drag me out....

Cristina said...

I do like very much the peculiar fountain (a modern pond?): enchanting!

cvanlang said...

Thank you for the beautiful post and images. You manage to touch me on so many levels - personally and design aesthetic-wise.

Ronnie said...

Dominique, I just love when I learn something new! This post is so visually appealing and inspiring to me. Love, love those un-glazed vases. Can you really eat off plates that, "looked as if they had just dried on the potter's shelf"...???

willow said...

LongHouse is just fabulous. Thanks for sharing your visit. Your photos are wonderful. I love your blog and now I must go find your book!

Edith Hope said...

Dear Dominique, I have just found your blog and, after reading the posting on Larsen's wonderful house and garden, I am hooked.

Clearly, here is a man who embraces all the Arts and his environment reflects not only exceptional taste and a good eye for form and design but also a huge sense of style and fun. In particular, Larsen's eclectic Contemporary Art collection would be of great interest to me. What great fortune to have been able to visit as a guest.

Dominique said...

PLEASE NOTE, you can visit Larsen's gardens, which are open to the public! And there are different displays in the exhibit spaces. Click to the LongHouse Reserve website for more information.

And yes, you'll find Yoko Ono, Buckminster Fuller, Willem de Kooning, and many other characters, all breathing the same fragrant air...

Dominique said...

And so sorry for sloppy captioning, Christina. That "pond" is a piece called Black Mirror by Ed Drohan of Ray Smith & Associates. d

mary said...

"To not be afraid to live life as one wants"...that is a goal that I'm inching towards. Great inspiring post--thank you.

Karena said...

Dominique how fabulous a retreat and such an astounding museum/ collection of art! So happy that Frances accompanied you for the getaway!

Karena
Art by Karena

Cristina said...

your photos are so charming (the perfect match to your lovely & suggestive posts), that no one could possibly care for a less than exact captioning: don't worry!

Blue said...

I read this with such pleasure. I once had a book about Mr Larsen whose work I have admired for so long. I say once had because someone clearly loved it as much as I. The interesting thing is that his rooms, personal and judicious in their layout, are timeless. I wonder how many in our industry still value the individual and the hand-made - that intersection where craft and art are one. Odd how that distinction between art and craft, so of the 19th century, is still made.

dterrydraw said...

What an interesting house and garden....I took one look at the 7'th photograph and thought immediately (something tells me the sculptor/designer wouldn't be surprised at my doing so) of the "fountain banister" at the Generalife, just outside the Alhambra in Granada.

I saw the fountain-banister for the first time about two weeks ago and, so, am still able to recall it.

that said? I'm about to go outside in my own large garden and figure out where I'm going to place the birthday present that arrived last night. A longtime friend (which is to say that she's heard me complain for YEARS about folks who giddily walk their dogs on retractable leashes and allow them to do anything they please) has just given me (apparently, she commissioned it) a cast-iron, 14" tall statue of a white terrier (I keep west highlands) holding a sign that reads "No Dog Piss! Tired of asking politely!" (and I quote)

....the thing's sitting on my desk as I type this....it weighs about 15 pounds, and will probably be stolen by the very folks who ruin the front thyme beds.

Advisedly yours as ever,

David Terry
www.davidterryart.com

Joanna said...

Cool house design and garden! Great post, check out our 3D Rendering

Dominique said...

Please send a picture of your dog in action, holding his sign, David Terry. Very funny post....

Jayne said...

"Moments of beauty..." Thank you for bringing us to those moments in your life, as you find them. JLL - Wow! Still going strong!

a n t o n n i a said...

Jack Lenor Larson has been an inspiration to me since my first year of design school. It wasn't until later I discovered that we attended the same high school as he is from my hometown of Bremerton, Washington....a small shipyard town. His Longhouse is on my list. Thank you for sharing your visit with him through your wonderful snaps and musings.

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