Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Butler's Manor - House History, Part 3


Houses are adapted to suit the needs of their owners. Wings or second stories are added to accommodate burgeoning families; basements finished to accommodate the privacy needs of teenagers or to function as recreational space. In houses as old as ours (150 years), it's sometimes difficult to know where the original bones are.

Unless someone decides to uncover them.

Chris and I had been told that at one stage in the many iterations of the house here at 244 North Main Street, the dining room's walls were two stories high and that the center of the house was vaulted to the ridge peak. To relate that to the layout of how A Butler's Manor appears today, this translates to two rooms missing: Cliffside (over the dining room) and Oak Knoll. I'm usually pretty good at visualizing things, but this one escaped me...until Mike sent his pictures.

As you see from the photo on the left, once it was possible to stand in the upstairs hall and look down into the dining room...or up and see the clouds through the round window up in the very top of the house's face. In the picture on the right, what is now the room Goose Creek opens off the doorway on the left, and the stairs go down to the front door.

I wish I knew how the owners used the space in the left foreground. Was it a sitting room? A library?
Was there perhaps a circular staircase in one corner, leading up to the loft above? And what was that space used for? For me, getting a taste of history whets the appetite for more answers, many of which can perhaps never be answered.

A later owner (re?) enclosed the space and added the two guest rooms, but in this case, what was literally uncovered were all the original beams, many of which are still visible today...incorporated into the walls in the rooms Oak Knoll and Villefranche as well as the living rooms and halls. Our guests invariably comment on them with appreciation.  History has a way of doing that to you, I guess.
the dining room today

Though never on the scale of the renovation pictured here, Chris and I have remodeled all of the houses we've ever lived in. While none was as historic as A Butler's Manor, we've always been conscious that others might find clues of the lives lived prior to their occupancy as interesting as we do. To that end, we've left little "time capsules" with a dated photo shut up in walls, for someone in the future to find...for it's certain that humans will continue to remake their abodes to reflect their needs and wants.






Quote of the Day: "He who loves an old house never loves in vain." -- Isabel LaHowe Conant



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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Chris's Debut on the Small (and Smaller) Screen

High tea
As most folks know, before there was A Butler's Manor, there was a butler...Chris spent some twenty-plus years "in service." It isn't a common way to make a living, and until the Internet, most of those who did so worked in relative isolation from one another. (This, by the way, was the employers' preference, to prevent their butlers from both comparing notes on issues like compensation, and being poached.) It is, I think, an interesting way to make a living, which is why I wrote A Butler's Life: Scenes from The Other Side of the Silver Salver a number of years back. The confluence of these two disparate points is that when someone Googles "butler" for some reason, between that book, Chris's memberships in the few butler/household management/domestic staff [groups] and connections with the few schools worldwide, and A Butler's Manor, chances are good that the name Christopher Allen comes up.

Which is what happened when Scott Ross, an entertainment reviewer for NBC, decided that it would be an interesting idea to have a real butler comment on the recently released remake of the 1981 classic "Arthur," now starring Russell Brand. Tracking Chris down through A Butler's Manor's, he invited him (us!) to join him at a pre-release screening of the new film in New York City. What fun!

The original of course starred Dudley Moore in the title role. Sir John Gielgud, as Arthur's butler Hobson, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the role. I found this particularly apropos because, when Chris and I first met back in 1986, one of the things that captivated me was that he looked rather like a cross between Davy Jones and Dudley Moore, and he could (and can still) do a perfect "Arthur" imitation.

So two weeks ago this Tuesday, we met Scott near Rockefeller Center and walked over to the Warner Bros. screening room where we joined some 50 other viewers, mostly journalists. Scott had said in his email that it would be especially appropriate to go out afterwards and discuss Chris's reactions over afternoon tea. (Chris joked that, the movie in question being Arthur, we should really discuss it at the nearest bar.) "Tea and a shoot," Scott had written, which Chris interpreted as maybe a photo to accompany Scott's blog. Hah!


Following the movie, we took a cab to Lady Mendl's Tea Salon  in Gramercy Park area, a lovely old residential building that is also an inn, and were shown to a small private dining room where a table was set for two...surrounded by a camera, lights, and a videographer. Eeeek!!! Scott interviewed Chris for perhaps forty minutes, which like anything in television was slated to be edited down to a few good sound bites. You'd never know by the video clip here that Chris didn't dare sip his tea during the interview, for fear of exposing his shaking hands!
 
Afterwards, we all had the wonderful high tea: salmon, egg salad, cucumber, and cream cheese sandwiches, mini scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, and a yummy cake made with what seemed like two dozen layers of crepes spread with Bavarian cream. They brought the latter out with a candle in it, as it had been Chris's birthday the day before. It was everything Hobson would have approved of; a class act.
 
Believe me, we had a more Arthur-appropriate beverage once we got home, as Chris was still shaking!
 
Oh, and is the new Arthur worth seeing? The short answer? Nah -- wait for it on Netfliks. However, the original version is available in our video library, for your enjoyment on your next visit...

Quote of the Day: "I've taken the liberty of anticipating your condition. I have brought you orange juice, coffee, and aspirins. Or do you need to throw up?" -- Sir John Gielgud as Hobson, Arthur, 1981)

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Butler's Manor - House History, Part 2

244 North Main Street, rear, circa 1970
An old house is like a mystery, and old photos provide invaluable clues. I am like Sherlock Holmes with my magnifying glass poised over snapshots, looking for details.

I think the reason I am so drawn to discovering the origins of our house has much to do with the fact that my own upbringing was so decisively modern. Raised in southern California, I make jokes that if it's 50 years old, we Californians knock it down (or an earthquake does) and rebuild! I watched the tract house I grew up in being built in the early '60's under my father's watchful eyes. (It still gives me a distant shock to hear realtors describe my old neighborhood as "established.") Palm Springs and Laguna Beach both have historic preservation committees to honor their structures that date back to the 1920's and 30's. By contrast, here in Southampton there are houses like the Halsey House on South Main Street that date from the mid to late 1600's!

So once upon a time, before there was an amazing garden, there was this piece of property with a great big house on it that had orginally been part of a greater piece of land where the Jagger family farmed.

If you've ever visited us at A Butler's Manor, you'll especially appreciate the vast difference between the yard then and the garden today. On the right side of the top picture you can see the old (!!) barn, demolished sometime during this renovation. I'm not sure how the property lines were drawn back then, but today the foundation upon which that barn sat is located just on the other side of our northern fence. The grande dame centerpiece of our garden, the Sycamore Maple tree under which we serve breakfast in summer morns, looks so young!


What fascinates me is the back porch...or is it the entrance to another apartment within the house? The porch is located almost exactly where I am writing today in our sunroom/office; the doorway is where the kitchen meets the office, and the blank wall just above it is now contains a window so that Eton Court's occupants can look out at the garden and pool.


In the second picture, taken partway through the remodel, the porch is gone, and some new windows have been added.  The barn has been removed, and some grooming of the grounds is evident. In fact, if you'll look closely beneath the tree, you'll see the original planting of the pink Queen Elizabeth rose garden that now surround our fountain on the patio. Forty years ago...guess that would qualify them as "old growth" roses?

Today
While we've certainly made additions and enhancements to the property since we bought it in January of 2002 -- especially to the garden -- we didn't start with the blank slate the yard appears here. Each of the many occupants of the house that William Jagger built back in 1860 has left their own stamp. Like animals, we mark our territory, figuratively carving our names into the doorframes of that which we call home.

To be continued!

Quote of the Day: "The past actually happened. History is what someone took the time to write down." -- A. Whitney Brown