One of the reason Swellesley’s editors love our job is because our workplace is all over town. Just last week we interviewed a local business owner, shot video of the new lacrosse wall at Sprague Field, and picked up multiple story ideas in the course of our wanderings. At some point, though, we’ve got to hunker down and write the stuff up. That’s when we retreat to our swell office suite, which is what we call a converted upstairs bedroom and bathroom of our home.
Earlier this winter, Mrs. Swellesley looked at the bathroom in dismay. The place was a shambles, she decided, in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint, and more. The framed insect prints hanging on the wall were looking very 1990’s. The cellular window shade, an early 2000’s holdover, had years ago (yes, years) been on the losing end of a battle with a Swiffer stick. A stab wound sustained by the window shade during the cleaning skirmish never did heal. How had appearances been permitted to sink so low?
It took a village to get the Swellesley corporate bathroom back into shape, but it’s almost done. And the results are fabulous. Regular readers know that our home decor depends heavily on Wellesley Recycling and Disposal Facility Reusables Area finds, sprinkled with shop-local goodies. It’s a system that suits our former worker’s cottage, a this-old-house kind of place.
Our home-sweet-home is is kept in condition by the loving attention of maintenance professionals who actually relish working on a 150+ year-old place. There are two types of home-repair guys who walk into our house. There’s the kind who crosses the threshold, looks around, and kind of sighs. Then runs for the nearest exit. And there’s the kind who crosses the threshold, smiles, and says, “Ah, I just love an old house.” We only work with the latter.
We also can take advice. When we called in our regular handyman to tackle the upstairs painting job, he looked at all the sanding, caulking, and priming to be done and gave it to us straight: “You need to hire a real painter.”
So we called in Ian Reeb of Reeb Fine Painting & Paperhanging. Ian didn’t blink. After writing up a detailed estimate with such music to our ears as “fill any holes or imperfections” and “scape off all loose and flaking paint from ceiling” and “prime all walls and ceiling with oil-based primer,” we knew we’d found our man. Ian didn’t come cheap, but he was worth every penny. He and his assistant were there when they said they would be, came every day until the job was finished, kept a clean worksite, and produced meticulous and beautiful results.
On his way out, Ian commented that we didn’t exactly have the typical Wellesley house. “I can walk around most of them with my eyes closed,” he said. If you’ve been spoiled rotten by living in a house that’s been built to code (or renovated into that kind of submission), don’t try to walk around our house with your eyes closed. From kitchen to family room to mudroom, like a New England woodland, the terrain is varied. The sight lines offer no untrammeled view across a vast tundra of square footage. We don’t have an open floor plan. We have rooms.
After the painting was done, it was goodbye framed insect prints, hello found art, sourced from our dear RDF. An internet search suggests our find is paper art handcrafted in the Mexican amate tradition. Artisans source tree bark from cuttings of a tree called the Cream Micrante Blume (also known as the Jonote Colorado tree), which grows in the coffee zones of Mexico. They then boil the bark, soak it in water overnight, and beat it to a pulp with a flat stone. Next, the material is dehydrated, and the bark strips are placed into a design. Once the design phase is complete, the work dries in the sun for 12-18 hours.
Another amazing RDF score.
We took our amate paper art to Ryan Black at Page Waterman Gallery for framing and were thrilled with the results. We know that no matter what we drag into Page Waterman—RDF-found photograph, 1970s embroidery project stitched by my mom, inspired winter painting of Elm Bank diminished by an uninspiring frame —it will be treated with the same time, attention, and respect given to the actually valuable art the gallery’s team regularly handles. Ryan is an amazing and prolific painter in the Boston School style, an American impressionist way of looking at subject matter. This talented artist handles the front of the Page Waterman house, and brings everything he knows about color, design, scale, and proportion to every project. I love visiting the frame room and testing out different frame and matting combinations with Ryan. Sometimes my project comes together almost immediately. Sometimes I change my mind a half-dozen times (or more) within an hour (or more). It doesn’t matter to Ryan. There’s never any rush. The job takes as long as it takes to get it right. And Ryan makes sure it always turns out right.
Lest you think we’ve gone over-the-top with tastefulness in this bathroom update project, let me reassure you. Mrs. Swellesley is still the same person who rescues half-dead plants from the clearance table at the Linden Square CVS, and finds a place on the dining room hutch for any piece of thrifted plain white china she can find. The two-headed turtle our older son made in a Wellesley Middle School art class remains as bathroom decor. As does the wooden box our younger son made in shop class.
In this crazy thing called work-home balance, the new paint job and the art with its neutral-cool vibe represent “office.” The kid-made turtle and carved box symbolize “home.” Somehow in the course of this bathroom update, work, home, and the fuzzy line between the two have come together in harmony. It’s a swell life in this swell town we’re lucky enough to live in and write about every day.