Tag Archives: Philadelphia

The Outdoor Rooms in Our Lives

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Some of us consider our outdoor space essential to our survival, but really we’re just fortunate. If windowsills were all I had I’d be growing something on that, and that would be my story. But as it is, I am dealing with a deck, an upper deck. And a deck, I dare say, is different than a patio in terms of what it wants.

The deck below knew just what to do. It’s appointed with half a dozen Adirondack chairs, cedar stump tables, lifejackets of every size hanging on a rack, and a bevy of water shoes, boots, and waders in a cubby. Considering where we are and what we’re about, it’s perfect.

The top deck, my concern here, steps off our open space living/dining/kitchen, and is currently furnished with all the traditional black wrought iron furniture that moved in with us from other homes. And they just don’t work in this cedar shake house in-the-woods-by-the-sea.

I purchased many of these pieces by visiting consignment stores along The Main Line outside Philadelphia in the two years we lived there. We were living in an old stone farmhouse at the time, and for the Pennsylvania Bluestone patio I picked up assorted wrought iron pieces, mismatched sets, in various colors. Sanded them all and gave them a coat of flat black Rustoleum. It worked. The furniture looked like it been with the house for all time. We felt remarkably settled on that patio in Bryn Mawr, in the evenings mainly as the summers were so warm. Canapies and cocktails, the sound of cicadas, and fireflies dancing across the lawn until it was time for bed.

Then we moved west and I didn’t know what else to do but load all my patio furniture into the moving van. It took awhile but finally, six years later, the traditional wrought iron looked well appointed again on the patio of a small English Tudor on Queen Anne hill in Seattle. Every square inch in a walled city garden is precious. The cushions were upholstered in a black & white awning stripe, and a dining table, chairs, and a candelabra, all in black, were added to the collection. Our outdoor room was a green oasis where climbing hydrangea scaled the walls under a pair of magnolia trees, all very reminiscent of New Orleans, Paris, or Nob Hill in Boston.

From there we moved out to The San Juan Islands and all the wrought iron pieces came with me again, and they shouldn’t have. If furniture could talk they would have told me this.

Now here we are, on an island where the trees meet the sea eleven nautical miles off the state of Washington mainland, and north of Victoria, B.C. Both rustic and remote, we couldn’t fantasize New Orleans, Nob Hill, Paris, or even Queen Anne, if we wanted to. The uptown girl furniture was made for patios, and patios, by nature, are turned inward. A patio is social. Upon the decks, we are always turned out. We listen to birdsong and our gaze is far. Like the running boards of the deck our line of sight extends to the sea, the stretch of beach, the coastal shrubs, the stance of heron, the flight of the osprey, and the rising moon. This land, this sea, this sky, becomes us.

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Being Here (Where I Am)

“Do you think the wren ever dreams of a better house?” Mary Oliver

The desire to live here, there, and over there, in this, I may be the craziest person I know. On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon I went looking at high rise condominiums in downtown Seattle. I wanted to see what it would be like to reinvent my life from that vantage point, overlooking the port, The Sound, and into sunsets every night. Then hours later, setting up my city lot terrace on Queen Anne Hill, I thought, how could I ever leave all this….

This is the terrace we imagined from the deck that had been out back. A stone paved and planted formal outdoor room, evocative of many places: France, New Orleans, Boston’s Nob Hill…. This is the rock wall we envisioned and the climbing hydrangea we planted that now completely covers the high wooden fence surrounding us. Assorted wrought iron pieces collected in consignment stores up and down The Main Line in Philadelphia, painted black, and cushioned in a black & white awning stripe. The pair of magnolia trees that grew from saplings to their two-story height in a few short years—such is the growing power of the Pacific Northwest. The trees are shaped like topiary, low box hedges beneath kept trim, and potted herbs lined up like sunbathers on a étagère. Into this black & white outdoor room I specified all white flowers: rhododendron, climbing hydrangea, the stand of lilies beyond the fountain, and the dinner-plate sized blossoms the pair of magnolia trees serves up. Of course, the lavender plants will bloom in a lavender color, the rosemary, a blue, chives, mauve/pink, roses will climb over the fence, and other assorted plants, such as columbine and forget-me-not, have a way of hopping or dropping in. And like friends, they are all welcome.

As a child I frequently rearranged my parents’ furniture in the night. People would wake up and bump into things. As a single person and later, married, I was all too game for every move. I even remember the moves that we didn’t make, because I had, in a sense, inhabited them. With the position that would have relocated our young family to Iowa, I pictured a house with a wrap-around porch on a prairie where one could see anyone coming over the horizon in any direction. The house, the landscape and its serenity, grew on me such that I was almost disappointed when my husband did not take that position. Iowa.

I could fill volumes with all the houses I have loved that I did not live in. “The ones that got away,” I call them. Some people have affairs; I look at houses. Perusing MLS listings, attending open houses, drawing up floor plans if I’m interested, sketching, coming up with color schemes, and re-imagining life with each one. It’s like a chemical dependency, this willingness to make a complete overhaul of one’s life. In an effort to get more than one life in, I have to wonder, might it be at the expense of one life fully realized?

Yet there is hope. While I continue to look and sketch and imagine, I do notice a waning in the energy to pull off any of these desired moves. This has come with age. For the first time in my life, the thought of moving is exhausting—something others have known all along. And while I may still harbor harbor views, all I have to do is sit still on this terrace, plant, or clean up in this garden, and I can be where I am. And this I must do more often. And keep the drama on the page.

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