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Rheta Grimsley Johnson: Home is where the art is

 

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

 

 

FISHTRAP HOLLOW, Miss. -- Last week the temperatures dropped, the sedum in the front yard turned blush pink, SEC teams took the field, an owl hooted, and it was safe to go on the porch again. 

 

Fall is always worth the wait. 

 

To celebrate cooler weather, I visited my friends Ric and Reed, who have a house in the woods that is the spectacular combination of old lumber and fresh thought. The power company mows a trail through the trees that gives a visual walkway to sunset, and old buddies took advantage as we sat and talked and ate and laughed till we couldn't do any of the above anymore. 

 

I think of the wonderful homes I've been privileged to see, mostly because of my job. Once I got to tag along to Hickory Hill, Robert and Ethel Kennedy's estate near Washington, when my former husband won an award. It was a great old place, dog-friendly, with hog wire stretched around a tree on the National Register for Historic Trees to hold the family's pet turtle. 

 

Then there was the home of the late cartoonist Charles Schulz in the gentle hills of Sonoma County, California. I got to spend the night there once while working on a book about the "Peanuts" creator. The small house was full of art by artists you've heard of, and books signed by authors you've read. 

 

In Cross Creek, Florida, the home of the late, great writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was two board and batten sharecropper shacks cobbled together like a sentence being diagrammed. The rustic interior contrasted beautifully with the author's elegant touches -- flowers and nice china and paintings. 

 

But most of the homes that inspire me don't belong to famous people or rich people. They belong to creative sorts who have a knack for making their nests artistic and fun even if on a shoestring budget, perhaps because of shoestring budget. 

 

There is a real talent to that. Else, everyone would have such homes. Everyone doesn't. 

 

Near Carrollton, Georgia, I once wrote a column about a house built atop a decommissioned steel bridge, the creek rushing beneath it. I loved the look but wondered how you'd ever listen to music or conversation above the roaring water. That house burned. Oh, the irony. 

 

Another unusual Georgia home was a tree house made from an old airplane fuselage, which allowed for beautiful views but wasn't a place in which to grow old. 

 

Ric and Reed, on the other hand, have such a comfortable layout you start scouting the rooms immediately for a place to roost. You could sit in any spot and have something to look at for hours -- photographs, paintings, mementos, books, wood-burning stoves, family furniture, the old walls themselves. 

 

Theirs is a home that seems lit by memory, not light bulbs, with splashes of color against dark, time-worn walls, proving true what the art photographer Richard Sexton once wrote about old New Orleans houses: And when the plaster of those high ceilings has a few cracks, the crown moldings develop a crazed finish, the sash rattles wildly in the wind, and the shutters lose some of their louvers, we feel the inevitable effects of age and are enraptured by the gravity of human experience that all those telltale signs evoke. 

 

In the best homes, time is the decorating scheme.

 

 

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