Art Travelogues

Craftsman Farms

In the early part of the last century, furniture maker and all-around lifestyle philosopher Gustav Stickley purchased several hundred acres in Parsippany, New Jersey. His idea was to make an entirely self-sufficient school and farm. Fashions changed, war intervened, and after a little more than a decade he had to sell it off.

If you’re not immediately familiar with the name Stickley, by the way, these images are pretty emblematic:

The intervening years were ones in which people used Stickley’s wonderful oak furniture for firewood, such was the style of the times. It wasn’t until the revival of the arts-and-crafts aesthetic in the last couple of decades that the value of his pieces skyrocketed, and the state of New Jersey stepped in to buy what was left of his estate from its private owners, and turn it into a museum.

LF and I visited yesterday, and the $7 per person admission is money more than well spent; more than just beautiful furnishings and accessories, the philosophy behind it is inspirational. If nothing else, click on the link above (here it is again) and watch the slideshow.

In the photo above, you see the house from behind, down the hill where the meadow used to be. The stone wall has stairways built into it, and on either side the taller piles of stone are planters. The semi-circular shape through the snow is a depressed area which is a lawn, and to the left out-of-view is a pond.

Our tour guide, who it turns out lives just a couple of blocks from here, was outstanding even though I don’t remember his name. It was a slow day, and LF and I were the only ones on the tour at that time so we got to ask a lot of questions and see some of the more unusual details.

Interestingly for as good a furniture maker as Stickley was, he got a lot wrong in the engineering area. The house has a lot of problems from the materials that he used. It’s a log home of unusual size, completely heated by massive fireplaces. But the different expansion rates of logs used horizontally versus those used vertically have caused a lot of sagging, to the point where walls are separating and dips in the upstairs floors are very visible.

Still it’s a beautiful place with a warm lodge feeling about it. The group that manages it has done a wonderful job of restoring it. And that’s no small task considering what the previous owners had done. In the photo below, they at one point bleached the floors and painted the walls white — including, if you can believe it, a stone fireplace.

Many furnishings and fixtures had wandered off over the years, victims of periodic estate sales. One heroic couple found the two corner cabinets pictured above. They had been painted white, and sold somewhere in California. They purchased them, had them restored, and donated them to the museum.

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Tom McGee has been building web sites since 1995, and blogging here since 2006. Currently a senior developer at Seton Hall University, he's also a freelance web programmer and musician. Contact him if you have the need for a blog, web site, redesign or custom programming!

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