A Place for Everything
In this Roslindale home, found treasures become high art.
Left: Found objects from Joanne Rossmanâs travels to Morocco, Paris, and throughout the U.S. are arranged in an antique cabinet purchased in Troy, New York. Right: Indian kantha wait to be cut and sewn into womenâs jackets, sold at Rossmanâs Roslindale store.
JoannaÂ Rossman has always been a collector of things, experiences, and stories. As a fabric and clothing designer, she constantly gathers ideas for her pieces; as a business owner, she seeks out unusual and âunnecessaryâ treasures for her store. You could say that sheâs an aesthetic adventurer. In 2006, though, it was time to let go, in a way, and leave the West Roxbury home she had shared with her partner, Byrd Swift, an artist who died of cancer in 1998.
The house Rossman found, a 1915 gambrel on a hill in Roslindale, was a disaster. There was no running water in the kitchen, and worse, she says, it had linoleum. But there was a forest of silver oaks beyond the backyard, and charming details like a tiny bathroom off the kitchen. And it was a short walk to Roslindale Village, where Rossman has operated her eponymous gift and home-goods shop since 2000. Still, she says, âIt was a hideous house. I donât know what possessed me to buy it.â
Almost instantly, Rossman had buyerâs remorse so intense that she spent the first three nights sleeping at her daughter Marenâs house. âOnce you own a house, you start seeing all the flaws,â she says. âThe gold flecks that are in the Â swirly-plastered walls all of a sudden have neon lights blinking at you.â She resolved to overhaul the kitchen, do a quick interior paint job, and sell.
Whether or not she was going to stay, Rossman was determined to make the kitchen the center of the house. Working with Dedham contractor Lou Brennan, Rossman raised the ceiling and created room for open shelving by covering up the side windows overlooking her neighborsâ house. She removed a built-in china cabinet to create extra space for the concrete counters and added a Wolf range, recessed lighting, and, of course, plumbing.
Other improvements, mainly superficial, included installing crown molding in the front living room and plastering over the gold-speckled walls in the dining room. The kitchen opens to a sunroomââMy boys call it my âFlorida room,ââ Rossman saysâwith windows on three sides. Upstairs, she removed a closet from a small bedroom, which became a library and a place for her collection of antique shoes, and created space in the stairwell. Through all of this, she learned firsthand how discouraging old houses can be: âAs soon as you open up a wall, be prepared to be surprised,â she says. Even so, two months into the renovation, she found herself falling in love with the place.
And just at that moment, her backyard forest went away. She woke one morning to the sound of chain saws. âI went out onto the balcony off my bedroom and shouted, âWhatâs going on?ââ she says. âAnd they said, âWeâre going to be making some noise for a while!â The trees were falling, and the birds were having a fit, and thatâs when I realized what was happening. But what are you going to do? I canât spend my life being upset that the trees are gone.â
Today, the two-story house is at once precious and lived in, filled with antiques, art, and keepsakes collected from travels and friends: beaded ceremonial headpieces from a trip to Morocco with designer John Derian, a dear friend; collections of inkwells from Spain and glass trees from âeverywhere;â an antique Chinese lantern she found in San Francisco. The dining room features a former library table that she found years ago in a Back Bay alleyway, and there are stacks of cookbooks throughout the house. On the walls, Swiftâs abstract works hang alongside grand oil paintings, pinhole photographs by David Ellis, and block prints from Patch NYCâs Don Carney, another close friend. Also on the wall: a lampshade she found in a barn in Troy, New York. âIt still has the original bird droppings on it,â she points out. âIsnât that a hoot?â
An 18th-century English etterge with cabriole legs, inherited from Swift, is the oldest piece in the house, and perhaps Rossmanâs favorite. âEvery single thing has a story,â she says, from the Moroccan tea table to a chipped 1940s white side table with gold and turquoise tassels that she originally purchased as a gift for Derian but decided to keep. âI love old things and I love items that have been repurposed: mismatched plates, old bed linens. Every single piece in here has a memory or a history, and thatâs what I love.â
In the European style, each year she closes her shop for the month of August. Though thereâs no more space in the house, she spends her free time antiquing, searching for things for her store and just browsing. âI spent a lot of my life without money, so I would always go to Goodwill or junk and antiques stores,â she says. âIt became an incurable addiction. And Byrd loved antiquing, so the two of usâŚwe were just ridiculous. We would go on these fabulous adventures, and it was great fun. I savor all of the memories I have of when she was alive.â Here in Rossmanâs house, she still is.
Clockwise from top left: In the dining room, a castoff library table got a showstopping makeover from Patch NYCâs Don Carney, who painted the faux woodgrain on the top by hand; aÂ Byrd Swift painting hangs above a Japanese table and a rug purchased in Marrakesh;Â a detail of a silver fish necklace from India.
Clockwise from left: A circa-1850 French bronze chandelier lights the living room near a 1942 painting of Swiftâs motherâByrd Worthington Swiftâby an unknown artist;Â an oil painting by Don Carney; a Victorian brass shoe given to Rossman by designer John Derian.
A table in the foyer featuring found objects such as a Chinese funeral lantern, ironworks art, and a rose lampshade made by Swift.
Clockwise from left: Chinese dolls from the 1800s, found at an estate sale, look elegant under a Victorian glass cloche;Â Rossman repurposed a heavy vintage wooden table found in Troy, New York, for her kitchen island, accenting it with antique piano stools, and open shelving holds mismatched china and pottery; Victorian-era stuffed birds make for a lifelike display.
Rossman sews a jacket in her home studio.
Clockwise from left: A view of the library; an American iron chandelier from the 1920s; a 1915 French chandelier purchased at Brimfield; a midcentury Italian iron chandelier.
A Coromandel papier-mĂ˘chĂŠ-and-wood screenâmade in India for export and accented by a Jeanette Farrier canopy with pillows by Rossmanâserves as the headboard on Rossmanâs bed.
REVEL IN THE DETAILS
Row 1:Â Rossmanâs collection of coin-silver spoons, displayed in an English stoneware sugar boat; an ink-on-paper drawing by Don Carney; antique English inkwells; an assortment of fabric trims in Rossmanâs home studio; the bedroom wall, adorned with antique memorial pieces, vintage paintings, and found objects.Â
Row 2:Â A horn inherited from Swiftâs family holds Rossmanâs feather collection; a button bouquet made by Swift; a detail of a homemade shrine in Rossmanâs studio; a pair of antique shoes from the designerâs collection; Rossmanâs own handmade pillows.Â
Row 3:Â Another shoe from her collection; a second shrine features religious artifacts from around the world; alabaster saints and makeup brushes mingle in the bathroom; a detail of a 1720 English chinoiserie cabinet with the original finish; an antique wooden coffee table in the sunroom.Â
Row 4:Â A pug-shaped oil lamp was a gift from John Derian; yellow tassels hang on a painted chest; Miss Rita Rose, Rossmanâs store mascot; one of more than a half-dozen chandeliers scattered throughout the home; a detail of a settee Rossman salvaged and reupholstered.
Architecture and Interiors: Joanne Rossman
Contractor: Lou Brennan, Dedham
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2012/10/antiques-collector-renovates-house/