Home & Design September 15, 2009
Facing the Blankness
Four homeowners make the most of unusual spaces

For artists, the blank canvas can inspire both genius and dread. Ditto the blank page for writers. For the ambitious home decorator, a blank wall is no less daunting.

When a wall has its own idiosyncrasies, it becomes a blank canvas with needs. Simply filling space with pretty colors isn’t enough, and the project becomes all the more challenging.
We found four Valley homeowners whose unique and creative approaches to the blank walls, empty corners and lonely spaces in their homes inspire us to never be afraid.

 

The Iron Wall

Roswitha and Don Boss had an artwork quandary: keep the painting or pay for their son’s college tuition. The Ketchum architect and his wife made the tough call: they returned the art (it was hanging on-approval) and invested in higher education instead.

Financially, it was the perfect fix. But for the largest wall in their East Fork home’s living room, a more glaring problem followed. Facing blankness, Roswitha awaited inspiration.
One summer afternoon, following a well-lubricated soiree, she was struck by something like genius.

“I had three margaritas, about a dozen old irons and a funny idea for what to do with them,” she said.

Rewind nearly a half-century, to the day when Roswitha’s grandmother, who lived in a small village outside Düsseldorf, gave her young granddaughter a cherished antique iron. Roswitha packed the unusual heirloom in her suitcase, bound for America. The collection had begun.

Fast-forward to her adult life in the mountains of central Idaho—zoom past the haggling in dusty Mexican flea markets, the traveling antique shows in Germany and the American West, the increasingly predictable gifts from her children—and Roswitha’s collection had grown to more than two-dozen antique irons.

Only one had the benefit of an electrical cord: the early-1940s Steam-o-Matic. The rest transport us to simpler, harder times. For centuries, ironing involved nothing more than applying a heavy, hot and smooth object to wrinkled fabric (the original hot stone massage).

Roswitha’s wall includes a couple of forged metal irons. These weighty devices—if you can call them that—top out at more than twenty pounds. Still others are mysteriously empty—these would be loaded with fire-heated steel slugs, keeping the iron base free and clear of soot and ash. There’s a skinny iron for sleeves; a fluted iron for pleats or accordion collars; and two blue enamel Coleman fuel irons with little appendage kettles heated by kerosene or natural gas.

The collection is as good as any museum curator’s, and for the Bosses’ guests, far more interesting than the television— that noisy box on the other, lesser wall. >>>

 

 

 

The entryway gallery to the Milner home.

The Aluminum Heartthrob

When John and Kim Milner added an extension to their mid-Valley home in 2002, it was all about the art. An avid artist and collector for most of his life, John’s collection was as extensive as it was diverse. The additional room for the couple’s riverside home would provide the space not only to celebrate the art in their possession, but also allow for additional pieces to be acquired in the future.

One space in particular, an outdoor nook protected by overhanging eaves, was a challenge the Milners relished. The space was visible from several angles within the home, and the right piece would fill a giant picture window at the end of an entryway gallery. They searched for a specific sculpture: It needed to be weatherproof, to complement the home’s redwood siding, to be active with kinetic motion, and light enough to be carried by human power.

Casida’s “Heartthrob” by night.

“It would have been very expensive, if not impossible, to crane something over the entire house,” Milner said.

The Milners discovered Oakland, California, metal sculptor Kati Casida on a trip to a San Francisco gallery in 2005. They purchased some small pieces by Casida and, after living with these for a few years, commissioned her for the large, outdoor piece. 

Casida first created four studies before the Milners chose their favorite—a monumental, concentric whirl of painted red aluminum called “Heartthrob.” “We wanted art that we would live with,” Milner said. “It was a fairly difficult decision.”

Sitting atop a concrete pedestal that Milner designed and poured himself, the sculpture’s layers of curling metal recall a flower as much as a heart. Whether lit naturally by day or by floodlights at night, the two-hundred-and-fifty-pound “Hearthrob” is a weightless success and a perfect fit in a growing collection. 

Milner couldn’t be happier. >>>

 

 

 

 

 In Mower’s Elkhorn home, a hallway that might otherwise have been forgotten is transformed with a sophisticated hanging style.

The Humble Hallway

Christine Mower believes every space, no matter how hidden, deserves artwork.

“Art belongs where we live,” she said. “I have art in my closet, in my laundry room, and in this narrow hallway.”

In most homes, a dim hall leading to the garage would have been neglected. In Mower’s Elkhorn home, it’s a marginal space, a transom between the grand, high-ceilinged entryway and the utilitarian bowels of the laundry room. But Mower, who is a professor of English and Women’s Studies at Seattle University, had a vision for a collage of tonality, a “pastiche of texture.”

At first, she was daunted by the pristine wall. “I have an obligation not to put too many holes in the wall,” she joked.

This was a real danger. There were so many frames.

“I have a collecting fetish. I’m always on the hunt.”

Editing any of the collection—mostly vintage female nude photographs taken in the 1920s and ’30s—seemed impossible. To Mower, the images are one part provocative, one part anthropological curiosity. At a time before pornography was as regrettably mainstream as it is today, these photographers and models strode “a fine line between posed, fine-art nudes and pornography,” Mower said.

Mower laid out the collection on her living room floor. “And then I started hanging from the left, using serendipity and artistic invention as I went along.” Not being a “math person,” she didn’t measure her spaces. The result was a salon-style hanging where the spaces between the paintings is never the same and never looks, to use a word Mower said with disdain, “regimental.” >>>

 

 

 

 

On Elisabeth Bodal’s glass shelves, light counters darkness and weightlessness balances heft. Her design aesthetic followed a carefree whimsy. “We just picked everything from here and there,” she said.

The Glass Shelves

Elisabeth Bodal’s Sun Valley home came with a built-in challenge. Lit from above and with plentiful peg holes for height adjustments, these glass shelves demanded attention.

Bodal thought about removing them entirely and filling the space with a painting. But that would have been too predictable, said her daughter, Ellen Bodal. Instead, she would improvise.
The space was a stylistic contradiction—iridescent glass set into heavy dark wood. It combined weight and light, clarity and opacity.

The only way to begin was to begin. First Bodal found a hand-blown glass vase by Dave LaMure, Jr., a southern Idaho artist. The piece, both delicate and sturdy, became a natural centerpiece.

An aesthetic potpourri has since taken over. Glass and crystal is prominent and high, as if lifting the entire wall towards the light. A globular Tiffany crystal hovers like a siren.

The lower shelves are secured by solid things. Wooden jewel boxes are flanked by a ceramic jar and an oversized flask (not safe for drinking, a label warns). Ceramic, water-colored tiles stand like family vacation memories, painted by Joseph Turner.

On the bottom level, books. And not just any light beach reading would do. To anchor this wall, a more somber subject was needed: the Royal Edition of the Universal Anthology. The jacket description: “A collection of the best literature, ancient, medieval and modern, published 1899, London.” Their olive-drab spines hold the collection down and await some casual perusing.

 

 

This article appears in the Fall 2009 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.