I was seven years old when I stepped foot into my first Connecticut country house. It was a small white quintessential Cape Cod-style house perfectly tucked behind its gracious manse in Southport – just a stone’s throw away from the beach on Long Island Sound. The Cape Cod – style house, and the manse, belonged to Mrs. Gilman, my Mom’s employer. My Mom would help Mrs.G. at her cocktail and dinner parties. And as a very shy little girl, I would tag along from time to time, and just quietly hang around taking it all in. Mrs.G’s primary residence was in New York City at Sutton Place, and this country estate was truly her Connecticut country house(s). When Mrs.G. stayed in Connecticut, she would stay in the big glorious colonial mansion that she and her husband shared. One year, as a birthday present, he had the small white Cape Cod-style house built for her, back in the garden, to serve as her artist studio. That’s the house that I remember so clearly and fell in love with so long ago. It had an open floor plan with a big fireplace in the living room area. She loved that fireplace so much so, that my Mom recounts the story of the couple throwing a dinner party out there, where each guest was given a long metal barbeque skewer and a steak, and had a ball roasting their own filets in that big old hearth!
My Mom and I loved her spirit. And I loved everything in and about her artist studio. It was warm and inviting. It was full of fabulous antiques that were so livable and comfortable. My Mom remembers that her dining table and chairs were just like mine – an old pine harvest table surrounded by windsor chairs. Just a coincidence? I don’t know. But, I do know that when Mrs. G. moved to Florida, she very generously gave my Mom most of the contents of that fabulous little studio. Everything from an old George Smith-style burgundy leather sofa that was extremely deep with matching burgundy rich velvet seat cushions stuffed with a ton of down, to her extensive album collection of classical, jazz, and Broadway music. Today, only a few things remain intact and loved. My china collection started with her pieces of English Copeland Spode’s Tower, and a petite Le Creuset casserole dish in flame red, sets the tone in my kitchen for a Le Creuset stock pot. One of my most favorite pieces, is a small 8×10 inches oil painting of a white country church on a town green. It’s palette knife technique on board is so colorful and uplifting, it makes me smile every time I look at it, because it reminds me of my hometown of Fairfield (even though on the back it is described as “the church in Mystic”). I could never quite make out the signature on the front of the painting – but I like to believe that it is a Mrs. Gilman original (just like her).