Thursday, November 14, 2013

House Envy: Julia Child at Home (Architectural Digest, 1979)

Good morning!

I meant to say earlier this week, in light of that post I did about how much I haaaaate wearing glasses, that I appreciate all your advice, sympathy, and kind words you took the time to add to the conversation on we four-eyed women of fashion! I think I wrote back to every one of my nearsighted brethren who commented on that post, but I just wanted to add to it a hearty "thanks, man!" to everyone who made me feel a little less grouchy about donning my spectacles against my will. In that post, I mentioned that I have been reading a living ton of old Architectural Digests from the late seventies' and early eighties', and I wanted to show you what I found, before nearsightedness got my ire up enough for me put off telling you about it!

This, Bird readers, is Julia Child, circa year of our Lord 1979. As if you weren't trembling in your boots enough to think of her cheery prowess at la cuisine fran├žaise, wait until you get a load of the GORGEOUS Cambridge, Mass. house she shared with husband, Paul. Up until  the purchase of the house Child describes in the accompanying text of the article as "Cantabrigian", Julia and Paul Child had led the life of expats together. The couple met in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) while both were members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which Julia joined during WWII when her six foot two frame disqualified her for work as a WAC or a WAVE (first the Rockettes, now the US military! Whaddya have against tall gals?!). They lived in France from the late forties' up until the early sixties'. 1961 marked two big milestones for the not-yet-famous chef-- the US publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the Childs' long delayed moving into this house, after having purchased it two and a half years earlier while still primarily residing in l'Hexagone

The house boasts two living rooms-- and somehow, I don't think Child is talking about how I have a real living room and then a room I call a den which is really a finished garage type deal. These are possibly what you would call a sitting room and a parlor, or a front room and a study. Seriously pretty real estate here! These built-in bookcases and large scale rooms remind me of some of the estate sales I've been to in Belle Meade and its similarly vieux riche environs in Nashville. When I was little, lots of Sunday drives were taken to the 37025 to look at some of the old houses and point, Gomer Pyle like, at how the other half lived. This was before McMansions started popping up on the former sites of some of Nashville's moneyed forties' residences-- apparently living in a 1939 structure meant to look like an 1859 structure was outmoded by faux Italiante villas of the early millennium. Boooo. At any rate, I remember asking my mom, I was maybe eight or nine, "How do you get to live in a place like that?" Her pessimistic response? Something like "Well, those people's parents were doctors, and their parents were doctors, and probably their parents' parents were doctors." Haha, talk about an anti-Horatio Alger speech! I still might live in a house like this some day, hope springs eternal.

See another view of the first living room here. How about that coffee table and the bookshelves over the doorway (correct answer: yes, please)? Can't you imagine nestling up in front of the fire, on that teal couch, under an afghan, reading a book of Robert Lowell poems with your glasses low on your nose? I can, I can!

The dining room, as the staging place of many of the illustrations in her cookbooks, is suitably well furnished-- I like the golden rod yellow and sage green against all that natural wood! If you weren't impressed enough by the dining room table set here, the caption reveals its provenance: "an English mahogany table, [with] French fruitwood chairs depicting La Fontaine's Fables". Bust my buttons! Still, Julia reveals in her commentary accompanying the photos that the dining room is far more often used for photography than for its intended purpose...even this revelation doesn't diminish my yen for a real-live-formal-space-for-entertaining-dinner-guests! I would eat Cheerios at one end of a morning's repast, and Matthew down to the other, each of us peeking at the other over the floral centerpiece. Dreams do come true!

Child mentions in this and other sources that her New England home was the site of her ninth kitchen during married life with Paul. As such, she wanted to make sure the "large and well proportioned room" was used to its best advantage, as the kitchen, in her own words, "is the beating heart and social center of the household". A splendid cook would say that, wouldn't they. The carved woman dominating the picture is a cookie-mold! Did you know? See more here, I would have a million of them if they weren't so expensive online. I have a large wooden one like this of a woman, and a small, metal one of a knight somewhere in my archive of wall-decorations (ie that shelf of junk in the utility room of which I refuse to part with any sole piece), both of which I found at estate sales for less than $10. I hate how estate sales will get me hooked on items (at a low introductory price) that could get me in trouble if I pursued my collector's appetite online! Check out the robo-microwave (which I'm sure was top of the line at the time) to the left of the frame. Each time I see one of these hulking pieces of obsolete technology out in the wild, I'm like...what is this, a replicator? Why is it so ginormous?

Child's architect, Robert Woods Kennedy, decided to place a pegboard over one of the windows to allow Julia better access to her famous, gleaming copper metal pans. Doesn't this sound insane to the modern day amateur interior design enthusiast (ie you or me)? You want as much light as humanly possible, with natural rays of sun suffusing the room in warmth and color. Yet! When I think about all the times in my tiny kitchen, I've been down on hands and knees in front of the bottom cabinets scrabbling for no not that heavy bottom pan, the other one! with mounting impatience, I guess I wouldn't blame a true artist in the kitchen wanting her tools close at hand and easily arranged for best access.

Paul Child passed away in 1994, and in 2001, Julia decided to leave her residence of forty years for a smaller home in California. There's the happiest ending ever to this story, though--did you know (and you might if you've seen the movie/read the book Julie and Julia...girl, it has Meryl Streep in it, you know I have!) that Julia Child's whole kitchen was donated to the Smithsonian Institute, intact, just as it was in this 1979 spread? You can tour the kitchen online and learn all kinds of interesting little factoids about the space, such as (these are direct lifts from the site):

  • Two 25-pound turkeys fit inside the oven in this kitchen (how many people are you expecting for Thanksgiving dinner?! Good Lord!).
  • The maple countertops were built two inches higher than in most kitchens to suit Julia's six-foot, two-inch height (finally! A little consideration for us tree-toppers!)
  • A plastic-covered Marimekko print tablecloth protects the wood of the kitchen table. (Marimekko! How chic!)
Anyway, I'm in love with that house. Maybe some day I'll have a fine, Cantibrigian homestead of my own!

How about you? What do you like best about the Childs' Massachussetts digs? Are you someone who cooks a lot and is very particular about the kitchen, or do you find you attentions are taken up by other parts of the house? Any celebrity houses you've seen lately that have made you drool? Let's talk!

Have a great Thursday, and I'll see you tomorrow for Photo Friday. Til then!


  1. i love her peg boards. i have one in my pantry that i hang my pots on and it is amazing! travis was very sweet and painted it my favorite color one day as a surprise! i LOVE julia child. have you read her book "my life in france" ? It is SO GOOD.
    did you get your cookie mold at an estate sale in inglewood? the one with all the japanese stuff and beer steins? i have a few cookie molds from that one

  2. I love the coffee table and the cookie molds. I love cookie molds! They're a recent obsession of mine. I only own one at the moment (got it for $5 off Craigslist), and it's not that old (from 1990). But it's really cute! I've seen some really cool ones where the cookie mold is on the rolling pin and you just roll it into the dough!

  3. great post. we just saw the movie (julie and julia). even my husband is american and a cook, he had never hear d from her before. now he is hunting her books on ebay. ;)



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