Thursday, June 20, 2019

Victim of Circumstance

You know it takes a lot to lure me to the suburbs.

But that's exactly what I did when I headed to Chesterfield County in rush hour, during a thunderstorm and why? Because Modern Richmond was opening up a 1978 house originally designed by NOVA architect Joseph Boggs. And while Northern Virginia in general makes my skin crawl, I admit I was curious to see the house.

Besides being honored by the American Institute of Architects not once but twice - in 1978 and again in 2012 after a renovation - I was intrigued at seeing the state of modern architecture at a time when my top priority was college and clubs and not necessarily in that order.

Translation: I wasn't paying attention to residential architecture being built at that point and now I am.

Just as I was overcoming my distaste for the entitled-feeling neighborhood and the lackluster houses in general, I came to the one in question. Situated into a one acre lot that rose much higher in the back, it at least had character that I hadn't seen in other houses I'd passed.

Right away, I gave it points for the fish pond in an island in the driveway and the fact that the concrete walkway had been poured with an opening for a large, existing tree. Inside the house, I was struck by the large expanses of glass, the abundance of skylights, vaulted ceilings and clerestory windows (so Frank Lloyd Wright, but what did I expect?).

Standing near the kitchen, I overheard a woman tell her husband, "I don't know about those windows," referring to the rectangular windows located between the counters and the kitchen cabinets. "I'm good with them," her husband opined and kept walking.

Looking through one of the large expanses of glass - the windows were a mixture of the opening kind and not -  several of us spotted a Mama deer and two babies just behind the plastic playhouse in the elevated backyard. I guess they have lots of nature in the county.

A narrow, carpeted spiral staircase seemed dated, but I gave it a few points for how it reminded me of climbing a lighthouse because of the extremely tight fit making my way up and down. At the top was what seemed to be a playroom with toys on shelves, although a full box of rolled up blueprints indicated otherwise. Bookshelves contained books on Gaudi, Impressionism and Frank Lloyd Wright, the latter no surprise.

After having been through a lot of Modern Richmond houses old and new over the years, this one fell somewhere in between the distinctive mid-century styles and the lackluster creativity of newer modern construction we've seen. Vintage details like cypress tongue and groove paneling on walls and ceiling certainly elevated this one.

I couldn't stay to hear the current owners talk, but on the way out, I ran into a gallerist I know coming up the driveway and we immediately bonded over the schlep from the city (she's in Church Hill), agreeing that the suburbs are not for us.

Happy to be headed back to my natural habitat, I made a bee-line for the Byrd to meet Mac for another pre-code movie from 1933, just like last week. This time, it was "Baby Face" with a young Barbara Stanwyck. In the introduction, Byrd manager Todd told us that this was a very salacious film for the time in that it showed a woman taking control of her own life. "nowadays, we call it reality TV," he joked.

Granted, she did it by sleeping her way to the top long before Madonna was a gleam in her Daddy's eye, but, come on, it was the Depression and a woman's options were limited. Except that the story used a kindly cobbler character to introduce our heroine to Nietzsche and his theory that all life is exploitation. He tells her to exploit herself by using men to get what she wants.

You never saw an Erie, Pennsylvania girl get the hang of using men so fast, resulting in fur coats, an expensive apartment and lots of bling. Along the way, one of her ex-lovers kills her present lover and then himself, so that gets a bit messy, but our girls keeps going anyway, landing a job in Paris and, ultimately, the grandson of the bank's founder. He's smitten and sends her a note at work: "Pick you up at 8. We are dining and dancing." A bit blunt, but a solid plan, if you ask me.

But it's still 1933, so ultimately, she tells him all she really wants is for it to say "Mrs." on her tombstone (aim higher, honey!), so he marries our little go-getter.

This pat Hollywood plot twist is how the studio placated the New York board of censors before it was allowed to screen there. Even so, he winds up shooting himself (this girl was rough on men's hearts), but he lives so there can be a happy ending.

You want to know how happy? He told her he wanted to buy her a house in New York City and one in Paris, which means she'd never have to live in the suburbs.

Now, that's true love, Nietzsche-style.

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