In the foyer, craft art forms a bold and witty cortege, with a settee by Judy Kensley McKie, Tommy Simpson's carved wood ladder and Czech artist Bohumil Elias's fountain-like glass spire. 20th-century American Realism paintings by Jon Hunt and Joseph Konopka depict urban scenery.
Filtered through trees behind a towering window wall, light animates a procession of monumental craft objects like contemporary totems stationed along the entrance hall in this Maryland home. On one side, a cut, layered glass spire and gnarly wood ladder soar in the vaulted space. Opposite, bronze monkeys kneel like sphinxes forming the arms of a ceremonial settee. The impression is of a temple dedicated to each anointed work of art.
Yet peeking from behind the glass wall, a giant steel giraffe hints at something beyond. Rather than a cathedral of art, this gallery is the gateway to a welcoming home with a stellar craft collection, both much used and enjoyed. As one of the homeowners makes clear, “Our priority is we’re a family that lives with art; this is not a museum. We want everyone to feel comfortable here.”
The collectors assure that this happens. When they host charity receptions, guests carrying drinks casually wander into the first-floor master suite. One wary visitor, wondering whether to place a cup of hot coffee directly on a hand-painted table, is assured, “Don’t worry; it’s ceramic.”
During frequent family drop-ins, the couple’s young grandchildren ride tricycles in the 40-foot-long entrance hall. While remaining calm, the amiable grandmother of nine admits that at times her heart skips a beat when the tricycles turn corners around treasured William Morris glass artifacts, displayed on open pedestals.
The owners’ fun-loving spirit is evident in the playful character of their collection. Humor, wit and an element of surprise prevail in one-of-a-kind pieces created by some of America’s foremost craft artists. Dan Dailey and Thurman Statum in glass, furniture makers Sam Maloof and John Cederquist, Viola Frey and Beatrice Wood in ceramics, fiber masters John McQueen and Diane Itter and wood turners Edward and Philip Moulthrop are among the many artists whose work can be found in museums and in this personal collection. In the couple’s sometimes topsy-turvy universe, trompe l’oeil and literal objects mix and mingle, often amusingly. “We want people to smile,” one of the collectors affirms.
At first glance, a dining table seems to be supported by classical figures that, on closer inspection, turn out to be robots. A glass chair floats, mid-air, in the living room. Here and there, familiar objects appear out of scale, out of context or made out of unexpected materials.
It’s easy to overlook what appears to be a well-worn leather briefcase resting on a foyer table. In fact, this contemporary facsimile was crafted in clay by Marilyn Levine. And in the library, it’s startling to discover that the hanging wall piece—a convincing portrayal of a draped satin tallit, or Jewish prayer shawl—was actually carved from wood by Fraser Smith.
The collection started out with a functional purpose. When the couple built their 9,000-square-foot home 17 years ago, they brought along 110 paintings, but little furniture. The house had wide halls and high ceilings so guests could stand back and enjoy the owners’ collection of 20th- century American Realism paintings. These works, depicting buildings and urban views, reflect the husband’s interest in craftsmanship and realism, and, indirectly, his background in engineering and real estate development.
Viola Frey’s ceramic Grandma with Baseball Player (opposite) greets guests entering the dining room. On the sideboard, the Man with a Hyena lamp by Dan Dailey incorporates a blown-glass shade and a patinated metal base. Another whimsical figure (above), Patti Warashima’s sculpted clay bust of a woman, A Slice of Life, sits on a side buffet. Greg Payce’s series of five clay forms (below), inspired by Italian Renaissance apothecary vessels, takes advantage of the negative space between the jars to create the illusion of male figures.
Interior designer Mallory Lawson designed the breakfast room wall unit to display teapots and other large pieces. Each rests in a mirror-backed niche with built-in illumination. Apple Slice, a painted bronze centerpiece by Politeo, sits on a curly maple dining table by Ed Zucca. Robots form its sculptural trestle base. The collectors commissioned the table after seeing Zucca’s work in a museum exhibition.
Lawson, ASID, a craft and art enthusiast and art-jewelry collector. She has noticed a trend: “Once people who collect art that’s flat on the wall see the quality of these three-dimensional craft pieces, they get hooked,” she says.
Arriving three years ago to renovate the master suite, Lawson moved on to update the couple’s most lived-in rooms, bring order to their existing collection and integrate newly acquired pieces. Her work weaves seamlessly into the home’s existing fabric.
When she began, the surroundings were all safely neutral. In the master suite, she retained the graphite-gray upholstered silk walls as a serene background, adding texture and lightness with new fabrics, deep carpet, Lucite tables and a redesigned bed and nightstands. On both sides of the fireplace, closets were converted into display shelves.
Lawson also renovated parts of the kitchen and reorganized much of the art and craft for heightened impact. A ship model built by the owner became the central focus of the library display, where wood-turned vessels that he crafted in his basement shop are grouped on glass shelves, along with other small wood objects from around the house. “Little things don’t work in great big spaces,” Lawson advises. “Bringing them together as a collection makes more of a statement.” To further the neat look, she alternates shelves of books and objects in a checkerboard pattern.
In the breakfast room, Lawson designed a new built-in wall unit for larger objects, employing her effective craft-display principles.
Lawson moved an étagère, originally located in the breakfast room, to the lower level and filled it with the husband’s wood-turned vessels. Paintings re-hung around the room, ship models floating on discreet cantilevered shelves and vivid oxblood walls transform this expansive gallery into a glamorous entertaining space, where the couple frequently hosts up to 100 for a lecture or 85 for dinner.
Meanwhile, the process of collecting and rethinking goes on. “It will probably be a lifetime project,” Lawson says.
“I hope so!” her client promptly adds. “It continues to be a source of pleasure…trips, learning, meeting people—a big extended family.”
The wife hoped the home would become a magnet for visits from their three out-of-town daughters and their husbands. The movie Field of Dreams had just opened, promoting the message “If you build it, they will come.” She adopted the theme as her own, along with the related idea, “They should all want to come and play.” The plan worked beyond her wildest dreams: The entire family relocated back to the area.
Before moving in, the couple attended craft exhibitions in Chicago and had purchased two craft pieces. A strategy emerged. “It was an epiphany,” the wife recalls. “It occurred to us that if we bought a coffee table, we would have a work of art, a one-of-a-kind piece, and we’d be investing in an artist’s career. We realized that the cost wouldn’t be much different from buying good mass-produced furniture.” The search began for one-of-a-kind craft furniture and accessories, complemented by upholstered pieces for comfortable seating.
The couple’s first commissioned piece came about by chance soon after. They had just sold stock in Jaguar, and the funds remained in a bank in England. Their interior designer at the time, the late Sam Morrow, advised them to order a piece by English furniture-maker Viscount Lindley, a nephew of Queen Elizabeth. The commissioned marquetry cupboard, a regal piece of architecture with inlays of burl elm and Macassar ebony, anchors the living room and center of the house.
Whether the value of any piece escalates doesn’t concern them. “We never bought for investment,” explains the wife. “We buy what we like and somehow it all works together.”