Personal Spaces -April/May 2012
by: Leslie Linsley
photography by: Terry Pommett
Many people on Nantucket work from home, allowing for “flex” time that those with traditional jobs envy. Some home workers are in the creative arts, others have online businesses and work on a computer with office space carved out of the corner of a living room.
Writers seem to like a tucked-away office where there is complete privacy and quiet, while artists often need more expansive space, sometimes converting a basement into a studio. Everyone works differently and has different requirements for their personal spaces. Working at home requires discipline and most home workers create a schedule that incorporates exercise and other personal time like walking the dog or going to lunch with friends.
But their work time is defined and fiercely protected from intrusion. They have the freedom to design their spaces to suit their personal likes when it comes to the furnishings, accessories, colors, etc., and make them as comfortable as possible.
A WEAVER’S HAVEN
ANNA LYNN-BENDER has been weaving since she was a little girl in Stockholm, Sweden. “I grew up in textiles,” she says. “I always liked rugs and used to go to auctions with my father. I was fascinated by the colors and textures. When I was little I would watch my grandmother weaving. It was fun to go to her house and weave with her. She inspired me.
” Over the years, Lynn-Bender developed a freer approach to the craft than what she had seen all her life. Although a designer and artist at heart, she studied economics in Sweden, and later attended Pratt Institute, a prestigious New York City college specializing in design. There she met a friend who, on spring break, introduced her to Nantucket. She loved the island and met other Swedes living here. After college she came for a summer to intern under one of Nantucket’s best-known weavers, Margareta Grandin-Nettles. While here, Lynn-Bender met her future husband, Steve Bender, an island fisherman. Influenced by the beauty and peacefulness of the island, it was not difficult for her to imagine a life here. Today the couple lives in a house on Orange Street, built in 1793, where they converted the basement, once a root cellar, into The Weaving Room. The studio, which is about 900 square feet, is painted white including the floor and beams overhead.
“We had to raise the house to dig down in order to make the ceiling 10 feet high to let in natural light,” Lynn-Bender says. “There are windows all around the studio at street level. Tourists walking down Orange Street toward the Nantucket Bake Shop often stop to peer in, attracted by the colorful skeins of yarn visible in the floor-to-ceiling cubbies. Two looms, one a Macomber from Maine, the other a French-Canadian import, are in constant use to accommodate the high demand for her custom-made rugs that are sold through interior designers and architects or directly through the studio.
“Many of my customers buy for their off-island houses as well as here,” she says.
On a recent early-spring day while LynnBender worked, her new Labrador puppy Hugo was busy unraveling yarn and basically doing what new puppies do, getting into trouble. When asked about working at home, she says, “I make my own hours but of course I feel the pressure to finish orders all the time. Most days I work from 9 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. I need to get out in the fresh air and since I’ve always had a dog, walking him is a good excuse to exercise and take breaks. Then I’m refreshed and can come down into the studio to work for concentrated periods of time.”
At the height of the season, Lynn-Bender often employs an intern, which “is fun for a while, but I find it’s important for me to work alone,” she says.
She does her production work during the week and uses Saturday for finishing rugs and making appointments with her clients. On Sunday she goes oystering with her husband and plans the day according to the tides.
Lynn-Bender uses the winter months to catch up on paperwork and create new designs for the following season. She draws inspiration from fabrics, color combinations, paintings and tapestries.
“This is also when I recharge, “ she says. The couple takes a month off each year, often to go back to Sweden where she always finds inspiration. “The light is so different there,” she says. “It gives me another perspective.” Some people who work at home make a point of interacting with other people on a regular basis. Lynn-Bender, however, says she likes working alone because she is always thinking about new ideas. As an artist, she paints a water- color design for a rug and works from this, making sample pieces for her customers beforehand. Having designed the studio exactly to suit her needs, she finds her workroom is a perfect retreat, with the kitchen not far away for an occasional tea break. Hugo loves it too.
A WRITER’S AERIE
NANCY THAYER is best known for her family-relationship novels. Many of them take place on Nantucket, where she has made her home since 1984 when she came here from western Massachusetts. Her husband Charley Walters is also a writer and the two have separate offices two floors apart in their early 1800s house on Orange Street. A library on the first floor holds hundreds of books on floor-to-ceiling shelves.
Thayer says she reads her favorites over and over again. Her “private sanctuary” is on the third floor of the house, accessed through a maze of rooms, through a bathroom and up a winding narrow staircase to what was once referred to as the attic. The room is 12 by 15 feet under sloping eaves filled with shelves holding personal mementos like birthday cards and drawings by her grandchildren, and favorite books that create a comfort zone closed off from people and the activities of daily life. A half-round window in the office affords the only distraction with a clear view of Nantucket Harbor. Thayer says it is important for her to have lots of color in the room, which comes from collectibles, as the walls are the original dark wood. One corner is filled with a wonderfully romantic “swooning” chaise right out of a 1920s movie.
“When I’m not on the computer,” Thayer says, “I write longhand while relaxing on the chaise. I can think differently here.”
When asked what she reads for fun, she doesn’t hesitate, saying, “I am a mystery fiend.”
Her favorite author of all time, however, is Thomas Mann, and her favorite book is “Magic Mountain.” “I’ve read it over and over again. The things he says are so right for my life,” she says.
Always an avid reader, Thayer knew from an early age that she wanted to be a writer. Her first published book was called “Stepping,” about being a stepmother, and her 22nd book, “Summer Breeze,” will be published next month. When asked what inspires her she quickly answers, “My kids’ lives are forever fascinating to me and I shamelessly use them for ideas.”
She has a grown son, Joshua, and a daughter, Samantha Wilde, who is also an author and the mother of her three grandchildren.
Thayer’s typical daily routine begins with coffee at 7 a.m., which she takes up to her office where she continues where she left off the night before. She neither answers her phone nor makes calls before noon, when she takes a break for lunch. After lunch she answers the many e-mails she receives regularly from fans, then does her errands and basically “has a life” that includes visiting her grandchildren in Northampton, Mass. as often as possible. She has a 30-minute exercise routine of riding a stationary bicycle and weight-lifting. In the afternoon she generally reads what she wrote in the morning, hand-edits (from the chaise) and ends her workday around 6 p.m. “My brain never stops,” she says. “I usually have a two-book contract so once one book is finished I am already into the next, which has been brewing in the back of my brain.”
Thayer says she feels most comfortable on Nantucket, which offers the best possible environment for a creative person to flourish.
“I can be as eccentric as I want because this town embraces differences,” she says.
JUDE DEVERAUX is a familiar name to more than 50 million readers. She describes herself as a writer of historical and contemporary women’s fiction and does not cringe, but rather embraces, the moniker of “romance novelist.” Having moved to Nantucket just a year ago, Deveraux is working on a trilogy with a Nantucket background. Ghosts and early houses figure prominently into the theme. Some of her more familiar titles are “Scarlet Nights” and “A Knight In Shining Armor” among the 56 titles she has published.
In 35 years she has never had an agent and negotiates her own contracts. She no longer does book tours as her books are long-awaited before a new one comes out and she is learning how to communicate with her readers through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.
“Even men read my books,” she says, “especially now that they can get them online so no one knows what they are reading.”
Deveraux is in the middle of reconstructing the house she recently purchased on Meadow View Drive and jokes, “I love bossing men around.”
A workman interrupts with a question and she makes a quick, definitive decision before turning back. “My heroines are always strong,” she says, perhaps explaining her own personality.
This small (under five feet) package of energy, with a soft-spoken Tennessee accent, moved from there to Florida on her way to Nantucket where she has family.
Deveraux’s office is on the second floor where she’s taken over one of the bedrooms. There is nothing fancy about it and everything has a purpose: a heavy mahogany desk with computer, an ample leather sofa, television set and a drafting table, each for different stages of work. Adjacent to this is a sitting room with a built-in window seat and a chaise lounge. This room is done up in decidedly feminine colors like pink and seafoam green, floral patterns and flounces. She calls this her “girly” room. It is exactly the environment in which her readers would expect to find her.
A no-nonsense writer, Deveraux is dedicated to her craft and keeps to a regular schedule. “I’m an early riser,” she says. “I start between 4:30 and 5 a.m. and work until between noon and one. I tend to write longhand while either sitting on the sofa or on the window seat and then I type what I’ve written with the TV on. I print it out, read and correct with spell-check on the computer. Then I print a second copy to edit the next day.”
Deveraux is no slouch, writing approximately 2,000 to 4,000 words a day.
Working at home is a single-minded existence, but Deveraux follows a tradition long established by many well-known writers who use local pubs or favorite hangouts as another place to write when they feel the need to leave home. “The Downyflake has become my home away from home,” she says. “There is something about the down-to-earth environment there that speaks to me. Nobody interrupts, you can sit as long as you want, and I get great ideas there. It’s the right energy.”
While this famous author works far more than she plays, she does have passions other than writing. “I love to cook,” she says as she shows off her new, emerging kitchen complete with countertops built specifically for her height. Then there is the garden, where she has grown fruits, vegetables and flowers in delineated areas outlined by wooden structures and pathways. Rows of fruit trees have been planted in front of a newly-constructed fence around the property. “I love to garden,” she says, and it is easy to see that whatever this new transplant puts her mind to, she does with all her heart and soul.
STEEPED IN HISTORY
The house at the corner of India and Gardner streets is one of the oldest on Nantucket, and MORT and REVA SCHLESINGER have done their best to preserve its historic lineage. Even the furnishings are authentic to the period in which the house was built, and the kitchen is devoid of such modern conveniences as a dishwasher.
When they bought the house, they assumed the role of caretakers, and are responsible for appreciating what is here and respecting what was. A visit to their home renews one’s understanding of the importance of preservation and a respect for things that have stood the test of time.
The Schlesingers are silversmiths, continuing a long tradition of craftsmanship on the island. Their work is inspired by the colonial period, but they have been influenced by art nouveau and other styles, and continue to challenge themselves with new design directions. Their bowls, vases, candlesticks and larger three-dimensional pieces are part of the permanent collection on exhibit at the Nantucket Historical Association’s whaling museum. They donate four or five new pieces each year. The Schlesingers’ series of silver holiday ornaments depicting the museum’s historic buildings are sought-after collectibles available at the NHA’s Museum Gift Shop.
“The first known silversmith to come to Nantucket was John Jackson in the 1700s,” Reva says. “There are 20 known pieces of his sil- ver, mostly spoons, still in existence. During the 1800s there were few practicing silversmiths on the island, and we hope to take our place in history as the only Nantucket silversmiths to create large, raised, hammered pieces.”
Late this winter, Mort was in the process of finishing an ornate lacy cover to fit around the outside of an exquisite antique vase they had purchased on an off-island trip.
A rather precarious winding stairway leads to the historic workroom with it original exposed beams. “There was a free-standing shed at the back of the property that at some point was attached to the house,” Reva says. “A room was added over it with a back stairway from the kitchen. This seemed like the perfect tucked-away place to claim for our workshop.”
Indeed, one could imagine a silversmith from the 1800s being quite at home in this space.
The Schlesingers sit on opposite sides of a workbench in the middle of the room, the tools of their trade within easy reach. While small, the room appears to have evolved over time into a well-functioning space exactly suited to the work that is produced here. When they aren’t working individually, Mort and Reva spend many hours companionably engrossed in the creative process. After 50 years together, their routine is beautifully choreographed so that they are just as comfortable working alone as together, their styles sometimes different from one another but also complementary.
Reva worked with silver, making jewelry as a hobby when she was a teenager. Later she became a film editor in New York City and also wrote and produced documentaries. Her film, “Rembrandt, A Self Portrait” earned her an Academy Award nomination. Mort was a textile chemist specializing in the dyeing and finishing of fabric. In 1961 he traveled to Israel as a consultant to textile mills. After retiring he became interested in crafts for relaxation and took various courses in New York where they lived. Reva suggested working with silver and it was the beginning of a new career. In 1992 they made Nantucket their permanent home.
Reva says they used to stick to regular working hours but have slowed down production quite a bit. Mort likes to work in the evening and Reva finds she’s more creative in the morning.
“I usually work out my designs at the kitchen counter before going into the workshop to create the piece,” she says.
When they have orders or if they are in the middle of a project they might work for longer periods of time. Making a personal schedule is one of the advantages to working at home. Regular exercise is part of Reva’s day and for this she uses a stationary bicycle in a guest bedroom right off the workroom.
What is the Schlesingers’ next creative project? Together with photographer Jeff Allen, they have produced a beautiful full-color book of their work called “A Silver Journey In Nantucket.”