Thursday, March 10, 2016

Changing the Minds of Pretenders

Who doesn't enjoy seeing inside other people's houses?

Walking Monument Avenue today with another avid pedestrian discussing architecture - Ionic versus Corinthian columns, servants' porches, Italianate facades - I pointed out certain houses I had experience in.

For starters, there was the former Symphony Designer House I'd toured with a friend, and the one-time doctor's office I'd gone to for years and the recently-purchased and eccentrically-decorated manse of a woman who shares my name and the sprawling apartment with a butler's pantry and maid's room that a former boyfriend had lived in.

"So basically, you've been in half the houses on Monument Avenue," my companion ribbed as we walked.

It was a good launching point for tonight's adventure, a tour courtesy of Modern Richmond of a recently-constructed house on Leigh Street in Jackson Ward.

I know the couple who owns it - I've interviewed the one and the other and I have had rendezvous at any number of local eating establishments - so I'd heard construction details for the past couple of years, but this was a chance to see.

Rule #1: remove your shoes or sheathe them in disposable booties at the front porch. I had no problem padding barefoot throughout.

Because the house was built on such a narrow lot, it was too close to the property lines to allow windows on the sides, so the architects cleverly solved the natural light issue with a massive skylight bisecting the center of the house that goes down three floors to the kitchen.

A hearth of light and shadow, so to speak. I was equally impressed that there were opening windows on the front and back of the house.

The most striking features were the two glass bridges on the second and third floors, looking down into the kitchen. Nearly everybody had a moment of trepidation before crossing them - it's not often you walk on glass and look through to floors below - and some people were superstitious enough to wait until no one else was on them to cross.

As far as I was concerned, having on a dress while 100 people stood below me was far more of a concern, although the novelty of bare feet on glass more than made up for any modesty concerns.

Equally as impressive as the walkways was the couple's 300-piece art collection placed throughout and displayed beautifully. The simplicity of the house's design and the subtly gray walls (a color called "Big Chill") lent itself to be the framework for so much art.

As long as I'd been watching this house be built, it was gratifying to finally see the inside and backyard, even if it was as crowded as moving through the "Breakfast at Tiffany's" cocktail party.

After the Q & A period with the owners and architects, I meandered up Adams, where an apartment window was wide open and speakers facing out to the street were blaring Earth, Wind and Fire's "September." It was just the kind of gorgeous, warm evening where you'd want to hear something exactly like that.

My destination was Bistro 27 for some dessert. My backside had barely hit the stool when in walks an architecture critic I'd just recently seen at the opening of the Virginia Historical Society's new seating exhibition ("So have you written it up yet?") and I suddenly had company.

His panties were in a wad about how bad traffic on Broad Street has gotten at rush hour, but he also gave me a little neighborhood history while he was at it. By the time my chocolate torte was history, it was time for him to leave for his weekly date with friends to watch "Survivor," but not because he cares about the characters. Oh, no.

Seems this group of his used to play poker on Wednesday nights but they gave that up so the could watch "Survivor" instead...and bet on who gets voted off. I wished him good luck and left for Gallery 5.

It was a good night for female voices, first with my latest crush Dazeases, a one-woman musical powerhouse who sings emotionally-charged songs to her pre-recorded sound tracks, allowing her to emote and pantomime as she sings in a voice that could destroy you with its honesty and intensity.

Dressed in a chemise and sheer robe, she almost forgot to do her most radio-friendly song, "Sad College Kids," then destroyed the audience with it and acknowledged, "Now I'm a sad college graduate." As if.

Next came the female-fronted Blanks with husky-voiced Jessica out front and under-the-weather Zoe on cello and everything from debut songs ("No one's ever heard this one except the band") to classics like "Tidal Wave" to Ween covers ("They're one of my favorite bands," Jessica shared) on their set list.

Headlining tonight was Brooklyn's Teen, all clad in red and all arriving intent on engaging the crowd with their '80s-sounding take on synth pop and well-honed musicianship.

Some of us were particularly enamored with having three females who sang, while others of us were satisfied because it was all so dancey in a way that's instantly familiar because we already danced to it in the '80s.

Using fuzzed-out keys, driving rhythm section and the occasional frenetic guitar, the band delivered sassy pop music with a lead singer with a terrific voice, strong stage presence and fabulous harmonies.

I was far from the only one happily dancing in place to their energetic sound.

Although in all likelihood, I was the only one who'd walked over glass bridges, discussed Eames chairs and pointed out strangers' houses beforehand.

Want to bet on it?

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