April 21, 2013

“Not a grog-shop, or gambling saloon, or dance-hall was to be seen…

~Dellenbaugh, Kanab, 1872

Is it an illusion, a mirage this biblical expanse of desert in southern Utah?  Our client gamely reminded himself that this was precisely what he’d been looking for-a landscape unchanged since 1872-as we set off into the piercing light.  The house will be a lair out of a James Bond movie.  Lucky for us, there are no bad guys to be found, only one of the most attentive and friendly client we've ever had the pleasure to work with.

The house will have floor-to-ceiling windows with vivid desert views making you forget...turn off that I-phone!  The perfect way to finish the day is to sit out on the terrace, cozy up to the roaring fireplace, gaze out at an endless sea of stars, and haul with the coyotes.

But I’d also wanted to explore southern Utah in the footsteps of an improbable outdoor adventurer—Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh, who at the ripe age of 18 joined the last great voyage of exploration in the Old West. This Gilded Age Hardy Boy made it through the raw desert in May and June 1872 with a group of amateur explorers who were hardly more qualified than himself. In his later years, Dellenbaugh traveled the world as an artist and writer, and helped to found, in 1904, the esteemed ExplorersClub, now on 70th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

I was fascinated by his teenage adventure, largely forgotten today, when he and his friends found the first route through southern Utah’s maze of canyons, discovering the last unknown river in the continental United States, the Escalante, and the last mountain range, the Henrys. They were the first to peer into that phantasmagoric expanse of Bryce Canyon and the first to cross what is now Capitol Reef National Park. At one particularly tricky canyon crossroad, they tried to convince a Ute Indian to act as a guide, “for the labyrinth ahead was a puzzle,” Dellenbaugh later recalled. After the man wandered off, the group pressed on anyway, trusting to their spirit and wits.

Parts of southern Utah have since been immortalized by the painter Maynard Dixon, the novelist Zane Grey, the photographer Ansel Adams and countless Hollywood westerns.  And yet, it still qualifies as the best-kept secret in the West. While millions of travelers are drawn every year to Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, many unexplored areas offer a seemingly endless choice of natural wonders that lie blissfully forgotten and empty.  It’s America’s Outback. I drink to that.  Where’s that Polygamy Porter?

April 15, 2013

Architectural delights.

The airplane dips its wings along the west coast, above the crystal waters, blue against the white sand beaches beyond that you see the brown and green hills dappled white and pink with coral stone and wood buildings roofed in grey shingles and red clay tiles.
For this tiny island is an architectural delight of old and new, of elegance and simplicity, of history and tradition preserved and repeated through the years.It is a land of Jacobean and Georgian buildings built with coral and ships ballast, of Victorian homes and wooden chattel houses trimmed in gingerbread fretwork, of sophisticated hotels and their manicured lawns amid the open spaces of the golf courses, the cricket pitches, the polo field and the Garrison Savannah. It is a land of pirate’s castles with their fresco ceilings, ornate Italian sculptures from the 16 century and Gothic churches. It is the home of movie stars living beside cane cutters, the aristocracy, the artisan and the fisherman. It is a blend of people, style and structure. It is Barbados. 

It was the British, who came with the long and narrow medieval buildings, the Georgian, the Jacobean and the Victorian designs. 

It was unbroken British conservatism that led to consistent uniformity, to balance and harmony, without the more flamboyant influences of the Spanish, French and the Indian Ornamentation so typical of other islands in the Caribbean. 

It was the wealth of sugar that built the great plantation houses, solid structures of coral rock, furnished with mahogany. 

(Mahogany trees have been around and its timber exploited since prehistoric times by the indigenous people of the Caribbean. The natural dispersal of mahogany seeds is very interesting and rather unique. The seeds are stored in a pod and as the pod matures it cracks, the seeds shoot out, carried away by the wind.  Mahogany trees have almost completely disappeared on Barbados.)

It was the Barbados natural coral limestone, cut out of the terraces of the ancient sea cliffs that became the distinctive building blocks of the stately homes, setting Barbados apart from its neighbors with their mostly wooden buildings in the Caribbean style.

It was the Caribbean climate of wind, rain and heat that led to gable roofs, the big open verandas, the low hurricane resistant rectangular shapes, and the sturdy shutters of the sash and jalousie windows.

It was African craftsmen, with their skills and traditions that adapted European style and symmetry into a unique Barbados heritage of wood, stone and coral.

It was history and tradition, a people set apart, unbridled privilege, bondage, pride and passion, both African and British, that mined the coral stone, carved the wooden banisters and cast the terracotta tiles to lay the framework of this heritage.  It was a past, rich in tradition and history that influenced all that followed it.

And I was told that there are many ties between the charming town of Charleston and Barbados.  Although they seem to be worlds apart the fact is that the bulk of first settlers to Charleston were indeed from Barbados. Liquid gold (sugar) had brought great wealth to many English families on the island. Alas, since English property law of primogeniture passes on house and land from eldest son to eldest son without dividing it up among family members, “spares” were left to accumulate their own wealth. Over 350 years ago Charleston provided an escape for these entrepreneurs.

Historians claim that the Englishmen packed also their architectural style. The ‘single house’ style, which is now dominant in downtown Charleston, existed in abundance in the 1600’s in Barbados.  Its purpose was to allow for as much ventilation as possible in a hot and humid climate with the patio following along one side providing a shaded place from the direct morning or afternoon sun whilst the Gabled or shorter end always faced the road. Unfortunately, many of the houses, which boasted this fabulous architectural approach, have been demolished in Barbados.  However, there is one living piece of proof of Barbados’ influence on Charleston’s architecture – Arlington House, located in the laid back city of Speightstown.  Arlington House has been transformed into an engaging and educational museum where you can experience for yourself the history of Barbados. This integral segment of Barbados’ culture ought to be a must see when you 'loop' Barbados.

Our project house too had been built to maximize the islands climate especially the sea breeze. The whole house has marvelous cross-ventilation.  Small 'green' upgrades and a natural landscape is all that is needed to revitalize the space.