Sunday, June 18, 2017

Madison's mini-mansion

Most photos courtesy of Coldwell Banker, Realtor.com, and Zillow.com
This modest-looking but space-lavish home in Madison, Connecticut, shows how a summer sanctuary needn't be big to be big. The well- proportioned 1921 Colonial/Shingle Style hybrid fully uses its spatial potential to give its occupants full benefit of the seaside scenery on the Long Island Sound, while fulfilling Sarah Susanka's vision of the Not So Big House.
 
My family spent many summers by the sea here. The beach, ocean and sky expanse across the well- named Seaview Avenue, the salt-sea air wafting into the front porch, the pleasant walk to Jolly's Drug Store and other small-town amenities, the 4th of July festivities, and the way the house was planned and sited so we enjoyed these to the fullest defy description.
Its siting right between Seaview and Fairview avenues was especially lucky (or not) for me, giving me a choice of ice-cream truck: Good Humor or Hoodsie. The former jingled along Seaview, the latter along Fairview, both aiming to catch kids at different times in different playspots: the front lawn or the back yard.  
So my choice of confection depended on timing. Good Humor usually arrived first. Happy as I was with its chocolate-coated vanilla or 'Baked Alaska' banana-nut bar, I'd be crestfallen upon hearing Hoodsie ting-a-ling-linging down Fairview seconds laterfor that was my preference. Good Humor had better ice cream, but I craved Hoodsie's "Circus Surprise" cones for the clownish plastic swizzle-stick geegaws I loved to unearth upon licking them clean. Eager to complete my clownstick collection—and to collect the ten wooden ice-cream sticks necessary to win a toy helicopter—I once passed up Good Humor at the front door to snag Hoodsie at the back. It never showed. I later learned that its ice-cream stock had melted and they couldn't load the truck. Deprived of both my sweet summer refresher and my coveted whirlybird, I had just lived a melancholy morality tale of "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

But back to the house. "Shelter" is the first impression the façade conveys to us. The wide-eaved awning integrates an end-to-end covered porch into the façade's open-armed welcome, and the peaked hood-gable gives a third-floor bedroom added protection from the elements. So "spacious" and "cozy" are our next impressions of what's to come inside.
Our impressions prove true as we enter. A happy medium between inside and outside, the porch takes in a good stretch of the beach, letting us partake of the salty aromas of the sea breezes and the sunny serenity of the sandy shore. This is a fragrant, scenic setting for Sunday paper perusal, family fun, neighborly noshing, or...
...getting out and going to the beach that lies before us. The placement of the path, steps and boardwalk on axis with the house's front walk forges front-lawn continuity between the house and Seaview Beach, making the shore and ocean feel like ours.
And it is ours to explore. Its curve along the sound yields a full eastern view of the coast, piquing our wonder of what lies beyond the comfort zone of home. One day I spotted a faraway "palace" marking the border of Hammonasset Beach State Park and was determined to see what it was like. So my mom and I walked all along the sandy, pebbly, shelly, seaweedy and rocky shore, braving big boulders and craggy cliffs, to get there. We made it—only to be disillusioned that the "palace" was nothing more than a bare-bones wood-frame pavilion of snack-bars, souvenir shops, newsstands, comic-book racks and other temptations for our temporal tastes. But our sheer adventure along sand, sea and sky, and my determination to satisfy genuine curiosity, made it all worthwhile. (And we did it again next summer.)
 
At the west end of Seaview Beach was a big house right on the shore—and how I envied my playmates Wendy and Corey Judd for enjoying such a privilege! Yet our smaller, simpler digs would once again go to show that bigger isn't necessarily better for a full "Madisummer" experience.

When the porch welcomes us back, we don't take full leave of the beach, thanks to the rare east-west corner exposure that lets us take in the entire street, beach and ocean panorama all at once (and spot the Good Humor truck). This airy atmosphere also added a broader, deeper dimension to the many card games I played with my mother—"King's Corner," "Disneyland," "War," "Authors"— yet, sadly, failed to stimulate my interest in reading any of the classic novels, poems and stories listed on the cards of the latter game. (More about that later.)
 
The porch also provides a smooth spatial transition into the living room, making sure we never lose sight of Seaview as we complete our passage from outside to inside. The vertical knotty-pine paneling may cause some to feel Brady-Bunch blasé, but it seamlessly complements the wood- plank floor, enriching the intimacy of the space.
This made the living room a serene setting for my daily two-hour TV take-in of the stale but well-cracked jokes of Mr. Goober ("They're making a new TV show about an astronaut who splashes down in a pepper factory. They're calling it Lost in Spice!"). He punctuated his punchlines with goofy fade-out music, glass-crashes, gong-bongs, or overriotous laughtracks to force the funny out of otherwise bad puns. He interspersed his gags with cartoons (like the minimally animated adventures of Clutch Cargo and the scientific inquiries of The Big World of Little Adam), children's birthday wishes, glances at the Goober Gazette ("Never pay to see a fish dance. It's usually a flop."), and letters from his pals, like Yukon Cal: "Greetings from the land of ice and snow and Eskimos, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and your orange juice is frozen all day!" (Personally, I'd have gotten discouraged up there—that wasn't my kind of summer.)
 
Performed by the late Mike Warren, this plaid-shirted, overalled, bespectacled, porkpie-hatted grandfather of a gentleman often made me wish he could be my grandpa. (Especially when he apologized that a cartoon didn't end because of the "Apollo 15 Special Report" that had cut it short, mollifying the aftereffect of one of my pet peeves at the time.)
The living room flows right into the dining room, where a broad bay window extends the space for large dinner parties. The living room's somberness is brightly contrasted by the dining room's luminosity. The built-in china cabinet with serving shelf adds a touch of classic New England to any luncheon, dinner or buffet.
 
But the eat-in kitchen is true New England, in the countrylike simplicity of its paneled doors, its milled door and window moldings, and its Puritanesque ornamental restraint (unlike the foppish, ostentatious palaces today's chef's kitchens have become), with plenty of space for flexible furniture and appliance arrangement. 
 
The breakfast table was my space every morning. It was there that I soaked in the Summer of Love of '67 through our Sony transistor radio, tripping out on the history-making hits: the soulful psychedelia of the Doors' "Light My Fire"...the jazzfunk jolt of Blood, Sweat and Tears' "Spinning Wheel"...the feed-your-head phantasmagoria of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" and the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"...the collegiate cool of the Association's "Windy"...the soaring soul of the 5th Dimension's "Up, Up and Away"...the suburban cynicism of the Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday"...the sunshine sound of Spanky and Our Gang's "Sunday Will Never Be the Same"...the beachclean blisspop of Every Mother's Son's "Come On Down to My Boat, Baby"...the beat goes on. Remote as I was from all the hippie-happenings that summer (and too young to blow grass or drop acid, for that matter), I got a good serving of its country-changing counterculture as a side-dish to my toast, prunes, apricots and (unfrozen) orange juice.
 
Other good servings of space are found in the bedrooms upstairs. The master bedroom's four-window southwestern corner exposure lets us wake up to abundant light and scenery and enjoy evening sunsets in full fire. The exposed beams and purlins counter the spatial spread with ship-cabin intimacy.

This was my bedroom, connected to the master for clear reasons, but just as large and light. Its continuation of the master's ceiling beams emphasizes the familial connection. Its beadboard wall gives it more cabin-like coziness, referencing the boating culture on Seaview Beach (and the spirit of Every Mother's Son's song).
This third-floor guestroom is right under the gable, giving it a tentlike feel conducive to sound sleep. The peaked hood-gable emphasizes the triangularity of this tent effect in a way that recalls the teepee-like tent I would play in on our lawn in my games of "Cowboys and Indians" with a neighbor.
The sleeping porch, though awkwardly tacked onto the back (in a way unnoticeable from Seaview, however), expresses its function boldly: peaceful out-of-the-way shelter from main-street traffic, yet far out enough for a "fair view" of its so-named avenue (and, of course, the Hoodsie truck).
And this was my shelter, socially and psychologically. It was here that I OD'd on the Sunday funnies:

The hackneyed hee-haws of Mutt and Jeff...

The aimless binges of French-fry fatman Andy Capp...

The kid-calamities of Dennis the Menace and The Family Circus...

The social run-ins, fall-outs, turn-ons and brush-offs of Funky Winkerbean...

The joyless jock-talk of Tank McNamara...

The antiestablishmentarianism of Dunagin's People...

The Washington watchdoggery of Doonesbury...

And, of course, the wit and wisdom of Peanuts...or lack thereof.
 
Yes, I took bad cues from Charles M. Schulz's psychologically prodigious but emotionally edgy characters, particularly from the following exchange between Lucy and Linus:

LUCY: "Someday you're going to be asked what you did during your life, and all you'll be able to say is, 'I watched TV.' "

LINUS: "That's what happened to Grandpa. All he was able to say was, 'I listened to the radio.' "

Grandpa from Peanuts was far from Mr. Goober, but I sadly ended up following in the former's footsteps that final sleeping-porch summer. My Panasonic Toot-a-Loop radio, a groovy plastic novelty that you could twist into an 'S' and string around your neck but sounded like music filtered through a cheesecloth, gave me endless hours of singles from the Summer of '72some with poignant messages for me:  

Alice Cooper's "School's Out for Summer"—how appropriate.

The Eagles' "Take it Easy"—an irksome reminder of my idleness.

The Doobie Brothers' "Listen to the Music"—just as I did all day.

Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again, Naturally"—the heart-rending result of my radio retreat.

Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose's "Too Late to Turn Back Now"—a dead-on description of the inexorable social revolution I was turning my back on while it was happening.

Looking Glass' "Brandy, You're a Fine Girl"—a fitting follow-up to the maritime subject of "Come On Down to My Boat, Baby," and a love-interest area I needed to explore.

Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now"—which we could do from virtually anywhere in the house.

Rod Argent's "Hold Your Head Up"—what I needed to do to get my head out of the funnies and "see clearly now" the world around me.

Procol Harum's "Conquistador"—rife with the spirit of adventure I needed.

Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"–timely with my farewell to the golden sands of Seaview.
 
This was one way my yet-to-be-diagnosed Asperger's syndrome narrowed my personal interests and my big-picture perspective on the world around me. For a home like this is not just a haven for escape. It's a catalyst for living. Its large, light-filled spaces with bountiful nature and neighborhood views should encourage you to broaden your horizons by piquing your curiosity about the world out there, and then to go out, take a walk on the boardwalk (it's right at your doorstep), and experience and enjoy Madison to the max, socially and environmentally. 

A good way to begin is to spend your porch-time reading classic adventure stories, as both stimuli for world experience and intellectual alternatives to unfunny funnies, ho-hum humor, and card-game cravings. Relevant works from the "Authors" roster includAlfred, Lord Tennyson's Crossing the Bar (the sandbar, that is—a good metaphor for going beyond your comfort zone)James Fenimore Cooper's The Pathfinder; Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe; Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and Treasure Island; and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Other good ones are Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe andappropriate to the context of this houseC.S. Forester's The Captain from Connecticut. (Some of these will be on my reading list this summer.)

So my words of wisdom to this house's next owners are: Kill the TV. Silence the radio. Put down the funnies. Box up the cards. Pocket the phone. Shut the laptop. Bag the tablet. Mothball the Nano. And read. Think. Find out. Go out. Explore. Meet your neighbors. Invite them over. Play ball. Walk. Run. Bike. Boat. Sail. Surf. Swim. 

And, when you're sweltering from all that fun in the sun, sand and sea, don't forget to listen for the ice-cream truck.

Those are some of many ways to reap the full benefit of this not-so-big house, and make it seem bigger yet. Happy summer!


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