26.9.10

Elegance is Refusal


'Elegance is Refusal' has long been one of my favorite quotes---first uttered by Coco Chanel, later appropriated by Diana Vreeland, I repeated it often through the last two decades of excess, as I saw too many buildings and landscapes, perfect in themselves, altered and renovated beyond reason by people who simply could not resist the human temptation to 'improve'---add a bit of shrubbery here, add a great room there---for whatever reasons: to mark something with an manufactured idea of comfort and status. Restraint, suitability and understatement have been sadly missing from the dialogue.


These photos are from a real estate website. They are of a simple saltwater farm, long used as a summer residence, on exclusive North Haven Island off the mid-Maine coast. The house honors a fast-disappearing and classic vision of Maine, spare and ascetic, as I grew to love it, and as it guided and marked my own aesthetic growing up. The property seems a bargain---for $1,875,000 one gets "A classically beautiful saltwater farm in a desirable location on North Haven's eastern shore, this property encompasses over 90 acres with woods, meadows, and 580± feet of waterfront with a wonderful wide pebble beach. Approached via a private lane, the historic three-bedroom Cape sits amidst open fields in a pastoral and secluded setting with long views to the northeast, offering the charm and simplicity of a historic island farmhouse. The shorefront on East Penobscot Bay offers spectacular views of the islands, and there is an excellent potential building site near the shore."


It it not far fetched, as such properties have gone in recent years, to suppose that the new owner will either renovate the farmhouse---which I like to imagine with curtainless windows, painted floors and simple scrubbed furniture, sea glass collected from the beach laid out on windowsills to catch the light---adding the usual overscaled, over-windowed 'barn' room with super-kitchen, or perhaps build a new cottage, no doubt in a painfully overworked shingle style reproduction on the 'excellent potential building site near the shore'.


My family has a tiny cottage on the beach on a peninsula near here. The peninsula was pure magic in the summer. The landscape was entirely made up of such farms, lovingly and simply kept, some by summer families, some still hardscrabble farmed by the families who had long owned them....old stone walls, meadows to the ocean, hedgerows of steeplebush and fragrant wild roses constituted the landscape. One by one these breathtaking properties are being broken up for smaller summer properties. The formula almost never varies: a section of field or wood is leveled, a driveway with gateposts is built, a square of lawn is created, and a very suburban house is plopped in the middle, usually landscaped within an inch of its life. In short, a landscape that once evoked the best of Maine now increasingly evokes Scarsdale.

Don't get me wrong--I am far from against change. Nor am I even against grandeur, in its place--quite the opposite---I'm as happy as the next architectural tourist to visit Newport and imagine myself for a few minutes the grandson of robber barons rather than farmers and sea captains. No, what I'm against is banality, insensitivity, and pretension and cheapness. As I've said in a previous rant on the subject, If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It.

And maybe I'll be proven wrong---maybe this place will be purchased by some artistic soul who loves and understands it just as it is. And maybe Sarah Palin will go back to Alaska.

Pictures from Landvest.com

HELP!

I am currently unable to upload pictures from the new version of Blogger editor. The 'help' section, of course, is an oxymoron. Anybody else?

19 comments:

Raina Cox said...

Mmm...I can almost smell the salt air.

columnist said...

So true - the runination of simplicity. There are basically too many of us on the planet now!

Regarding the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" maxim, this could easily apply to the changes Blogger has made to uploading photos. But just click on "Choose Files". They take a while (longer) to load IMO, and sometimes the picture appears before the grey "loading" button has completed along the bottom of the picture. But once it's framed in blue it's good to go.

Toby Worthington said...

It goes beyond a disregard for "simple things". What's really lost is a sense of "place"~the gradual disappearance of buildings and landscapes indigenous
to location. Most big houses look the same nowadays,
variations on a theme of watered down grandeur. The
sameness is mind numbing, yet that is what's desired
by the majority, or so it would seem.

Reggie Darling said...

The simple and plain mid-nineteenth century farmhouse with curtainless windows and painted floors that my family once owned sat alone, save for barns and outbuildings, on 40 acres an hour and a half outside of Washington D.C. That is, until my parents sold it to a man who then sold it to a developer who turned it in to a townhome (that's right, townhome) development for commuters to nearby Hagerstown, MD.

And I believe Columnist is right as to how to upload photos, which I am able to do following a similar path.

24 Corners said...

We live near Seattle in a neighborhood called Lake Forest Park, there's a beautiful lake and a FOREST...we're surrounded by glorious trees, that's why we live here. Our neightbors have one tree left on their lot...a magnificent, at least 90 year old, taller than a three story house, oak tree...all the rest have been terminated, along with the beautiful old rhodies, cherry trees and other flowering green gifts from God that used to be there. The oak is to be next, we're just sick about it.
Scarsdale is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest too (right next door)...it's a coast to coast disease! =[

(I won't even begin to tell you about the house...)

The Ancient said...

Mister, you're a better man than I ...

Because I am not going downstairs in the morning to the single shower in a four bedroom house.

(Call it "The Elegance of Recusal.")

The Down East Dilettante said...

Raina, nothing like the smell of roses by the sea on a breezy summer day

Columnist, thanks for the tip

Toby, Nail on the Head. Bravo

Reggie, how opposite my goals and aesthetic from the majority never fails to flabbergast me

24 Corners--it defies imagination, doesn't it, the desire to dominate the landscape?

Ancient, LoL, you wise ass. Add a nice little wing---one in scale with appropriate fenestration--turn the fourth bedroom into a bath....just don't build a big silly house...

Suitability and comfort are not mutually exclusive goals...

Anonymous said...

Although my personal motto is "too much is never enough" your words and pictures were truly inspiring (as usual).

This particular scene brings to mind another of my mottos, which is quite appropriate here - "less is more, nothing being most"

Daniel-Halifax said...

I could not agree with you more on this one! First, that house is absolute perfection! Where's my trustfund when I need it?! (there's never going to be a trustfund) Like something from a Wyeth or Hopper painting.

Second, I'm sure you can agree with me, but it drives me absolutely bonkers when people from out of state build these heinous monstrosities with 4 turrets and a yard of boueys, then go back to Jersey and leave them for us to glare at for the rest of the year! AGGHHH!! Where's a hurricane when you need it!?

Janet said...

Those spare, elegant lines made all the more wonderful by that beautiful northern light. Sigh.

home before dark said...

I agree with all above. This beautiful piece of silent perfection should be worshiped. Suspect it will be bulldozed by the well meaning. Kinda' sums up my ideas of religion.

Janet said...

I stopped breathing for a second when I saw this farm - we are losing ours too here in Nova Scotia, but at a slightly slower rate and at somewhat lower prices. No consolation however. If it ain't broke dont fix it,indeed!
The capitol city of my province is losing it's scale and essence as a backwater 18th and 19th century colonial armed forces base, losing what is left of the two and three story Georgian and early victorian housing and commercial buildings to the god of real estate development.
Here I sit in my 1820's unpainted and only slightly "improved" shingled cape house - when I'm gone it will be bulldozed and a McMansion built unless my grandson hangs on to it.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Janet, it is strange and alarming---all this is what Maine and Nova Scotia was all about, and suddenly, after years of reverence, in less than a decade, all has changed, and all is in danger...it's very disquieting...

Anonymous said...

Difficult to post as my family is the seller, we live in Scarsdale and my wife and I are trying like hell to save a piece of it for our kids. For all who read Dilettante's article and dreamed about what it must be like - it's even better than you may think. He did not exaggerate in evoking the land or the farmhouse and the only thing missing are the original watercolor paintings of Maine by the former owner hanging on the walls

Author said...

'We are dangerously without culture and that is why we are in the mess we are in, because no one is thinking' Vivienne Westwood.

Does make one ponder the question of just how did this all start, and most importantly how to minimize it?

Anonymous said...

Tax reform on farmland would be a great start.

Anonymous said...

It is a pipe dream to think that anyone paying $1.8 million for this property will leave it as is. North Haven Conservation Partners, the excellent local land trust, could play a role in helping protect this property - keeping it a farm and limiting changes to the historic cape. Please support their efforts by contactig them today.

penelopebianchi said...

It is true about agricultural taxing. It must help.

I know nothing about taxes (Lordy!) But here in Santa Barbara some things are being saved from "mansionization " (I almost capitalized that!!! EEEEEK!!!!!)

It all makes me sick.

Anonymous said...

This is quite a late comment on this post but I thought it might be of interest to anyone still reading that one of my family members purchased this farm. Growing up we spent some happy summers in Maine and the property is also very like the places we loved as kids. There are no plans that I know of to change the property in the way suggested- with a McMansion, bulldozers or otherwise. Indeed, the simplicity and charm of the property was one of the main selling points. I believe it needs some essential works to maintain it- for example, the roof- but nothing to alter the nature or character.