LESSONS LEARNED… MY FINAL INSTALLMENT FROM MY VISIT TO MARTHA’S
(The East Hampton kitchen where it all took place...)
I was pensive and distracted.
It had been three weeks since I had met Martha, and every time the phone rang at my job (which was often, because I worked for a gift basket company) I literally jumped out of my skin in anticipation. I was like a ping pong ball on an endless table, just waiting to land in a chair, with a phone to my ear, to listen to what my future might hold. Martha had me send my portfolio to Lisa Wagner, an art director and soon to be television producer in Manhattan. It was all so exciting.
As we toured the house and listened intently to Martha talk about the furnishings and the paint treatments, there were more knocks at the screen door. I eyed an ornate wooden mantle topped with a dozen vintage mercury glass vases and spied some beautifully bound art books in glass front cabinets topped with exquisite matte green art pottery from the 20’s and 30’s - beautiful large decorative pieces in sizes that I had never seen before or since, but that have inspired my own (almost miniature in comparison) collection. The ceiling was a masterful feat of carpentry and paint that Martha was very proud of - painted wooden beams with bead-board inserts that were each angled to create an interesting decorative pattern. Time consuming for both the carpenter and the painter, it was an absolutely stunning detail that added just one more layer of fastidiousness to the interior. “Someone likes perfection”, I thought “and it doesn’t matter if the route to get it is slow, arduous and hard core.”
(Multiple urns, leather bound books and a Venetian glass chandelier)
I heard voices in the hallway and the footsteps of someone joining us. Martha was expecting, and now greeting, Sallie La Grone, (her southern friend of more than twenty-five years) who had come for a visit. I recognized Sallie from an early Martha television segment on who made the “best fried chicken”
Big surprise: Martha won that one...
We continued the tour, stopping to note an East Lake-style armoire that had very simple and graphic stenciling on it. Martha said that she had purchased it because of the stencil and would perhaps show this technique in the magazine. All these years later, I have yet to see a story about this type of stenciling. As we toured, I saw more and more pristine collections assembled in mass quantities… iron urns, multiple Venetian glass chandeliers, glassware, dishes, art, alabaster - museum quality collections en masse. I literally began to develop whiplash as we made our way through the maze of different rooms.
Back at the marble kitchen table where I had left my portfolio and the vase of sweet peas (which were dwarfed by the large vases and Jardinières), we each took a seat to look at my designs. Martha flipped the pages and I described what we were looking at. An urn of daffodils, a stack of fig-filled cookies, a chocolate, sweet potato cake. We arrived at a photo of a long loaf of bread stuffed with seasoned ground chicken meat, tied with string, festooned with fresh rosemary and then roasted in the oven. I had learned to make it on a trip to the Tuscany region of Italy. Martha had never seen anything like it and was fascinated. “You must send your portfolio to my art director, Lisa Wagner… she will point you in the right direction, she said.”
Indeed, Martha was very nice to me - at this time in my early career. We exchanged more and more thoughts and ideas for about twenty minutes, until her friend from New Hampshire arrived. She gave me her business card (which was a beautiful watercolor of a garden border with her personal phone number on it). We chatted in the drive way and I thanked her profusely for her time. She shared with us that much of her staff was in California shooting many stories for summer, and then revealed that she would be launching a new company, MARTHA BY MAIL, a catalog that has since disbanded. She said she was busy collecting houses and referred to the Gordon Bunshaft house in East Hampton and Skylands in Maine. I walked away with hope and promise in my heart that perhaps, somehow, I had fast tracked myself to something that would really improve my future.
(Skylands looking somewhat tomb-like as opposed to a comfy nest)
(The Bunshaft house - a property that Martha referred to as another "collected" home)
(Lisa Wagner (left) felt that I was "geographically disadvantaged." Should we let her know that my locale really paid off for years of work for Country Home and so many clients that love the seasons in New Hampshire???)
I have since crossed paths with Martha in a professional way many times (I wonder if she remembers our meeting
(I have a few more stories regarding our connections but I will save those for another time).
Needless to say it, didn’t play out in the way I had hoped. But, looking back, it was filled with valuable lessons and the push I really needed to realize in my youth that no one can truly hand you your opportunity on a plate (a fine French porcelain one at that). You must work hard on your own, make your way, lay the foundation and stack the building blocks all on your own. And while I didn’t let my geography work against me, I realized that I had to take all of my advantages and show myself I could make it work anywhere. Years later - and thousands of photographs - I continue to grow and evolve right here in the state that I was born in. And while I didn’t need Martha’s cache of contacts, I did need the support of my family, friends and readers. And along the way, I’ve collected many vintage, glass cake stands and lots of teal-colored pottery as a side effect of my visit to Martha's home, and maybe in some small way they have inched me a bit closer to success.
Holiday is my way of creating some opportunity for everyone. Please stay tuned to our site for all of the ways you can participate in this magazine of colorful and fresh ideas.
(To see who won our magazine give-away copies, please go here!)