lunes, 19 de marzo de 2012

In the country house of the French designer Isabel Marant

There’s no address — the road has no name . . . it’s not even really a road . . . it seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere,” says the French accessories designer Jérôme Dreyfuss, explaining how to (possibly never) find the rustic country retreat he shares with his wife, the fashion designer Isabel Marant, and their 8-year-old son, Tal.
Surrounded by acacia trees on the banks of the Loing River in Fontainebleau, the tiny clapboard cottage is only 35 miles southeast of central Paris, but it feels worlds away, thanks to its untamed, verdant surroundings and lack of mod cons like electricity, heat and plumbing. (You flush the loo the old-fashioned way — with buckets of water hand-pumped from a spring.) The spartan setting suits the family just fine. “It’s surprising how little you really need,” Dreyfuss says. “The expression ‘less is more’ takes on real meaning here.”

There’s a strict no-fashion-talk policy in effect at the cottage, which is strewn with colorful old kilims, flea market finds and stacks of thick wool blankets for use in the winter months. “We barely have time to speak to each other at all during the week, so the last thing we want to discuss when we’re here is work,” says Dreyfuss, whose handbags are hot commodities on both sides of the Atlantic. Adds Marant, whose namesake cool-girl label enjoys bona fide cult status: “We don’t see friends in Paris anymore. We invite them to Fontainebleau. Especially the ones with children; it’s truly a kid’s paradise.” As if on cue, Tal takes aim at a nearby tree with a crude slingshot, using chestnuts as ammunition, and then attempts to vanquish an imaginary foe with a bow and arrow made from branches. “Our petit sauvage — that’s what we call him,” Dreyfuss says affectionately, as his son drags a kayak down to the water. “Half the time, we can’t even get him to wear clothes. And he never, ever wants to go back to Paris on Sunday nights.”

Looking around, it’s easy to see why. In addition to the kayak, a canoe and a surfboard for paddle boarding, Tal has a nifty treehouse, a tree swing, ropes for Tarzan re-enactments, a trampoline, fishing poles, water guns and numerous pup tents, which double as guest accommodations for his friends. A few minutes later, the youngster can be heard challenging a group of hapless kayakers, demanding a toll before they can pass. “He thinks he’s the boatman on the river Styx,” Dreyfuss quips.
Serendipity led the couple to their piece of paradise seven years ago. “We happened to see an ad in a free paper we picked up outside a bakery and called the broker immediately,” Dreyfuss says. “The first thing we noticed when we got here was the air — it’s pristine.” And blissfully free of the usual sounds of civilization. “Aside from people paddling on the river, you hear only nature,” Marant says.

Sometimes, nature can be a little loud. “I came here with Tal right after we bought the place and woke up in the middle of the night to hear someone breathing heavily right outside the bedroom,” Dreyfuss recounts. “I was terrified and began plotting how I would make a run for the car with the baby. I fell asleep with him in my arms and a giant kitchen knife next to the bed.” In the morning, Dreyfuss discovered (rather sheepishly) that the nocturnal intruder had been a wild boar.
These days, most of the couple’s visitors are of the two-legged variety, and besides child’s play, much of the activity centers around food and drink. “I love to cook,” Marant says, “but never have time to do it in Paris.” She spends Saturday mornings at the market in the nearby village of Bourron-Marlotte, buying fresh bread, croissants, beautiful cheeses, meat, fish, eggs and produce. Perishables are stored in a little fisherman’s cabin embedded in the riverbank that is equipped with a vintage icebox. “I buy tons of food, because we never know if we’re serving 5, 10 or 25,” Marant says, as she prepares a platter of locally made saucissons, rillettes, cornichons and olives in the minuscule kitchen area. “Jérôme’s in charge of the barbecue, and I try to balance all the meat he makes with lots of fresh salads and seasonal vegetables.”

Lunches are always long, laid-back affairs that melt into convivial evenings lit by candles and kerosene lanterns and fueled by lots of good French wine. After the kids retire to their tents, the adults take out the tarot cards and sip brandy.

Dreyfuss surveys the darkening compound contentedly, pointing out his latest gardening feats (“I’m quite proud of my roses — they add that English garden touch”) and the sun beds he just finished making for the deck. “I’m always trying to build things out of wood,” he says. “It’s so much more inspiring than shopping for them in Paris.” Next up: a new treehouse for Tal. “He says the one he has is too low, that it’s for babies. He wants a big duplex. Now we just have to find the right tree.”

lunes, 5 de marzo de 2012

The Sweet Life

It’s a cool and rainy day in the Catskills (worthy of a Rip Van Winkle nap), but the oven keeps baker Craig Thompson’s cottage toasty and warm. The country home is tucked between a rocky creek and the rising slopes of muffin-shaped mountains. Surrounded by patches of garden, everything here is thriving and lush, made greener by the rain. Today Craig is making a blueberry tart, and an irresistible aroma wafts through the front door.
Inside it’s cozy and charming. Exposed wooden beams and timeworn furniture are arranged with a stylist’s eye. The tiny kitchen is curated with vintage cookbooks and cake pedestals, Mason jars, and ingredients poised for baking. “I’m extremely visual so it goes beyond taste… it’s about how it looks through the entire process. I love the way cracked eggs look next to butter and sugar. It’s almost like they call to each other and want to be mixed together.”

Mixing influences is a way of life for Craig: melding the traditions of baking with the aesthetics of a stylist, childhood favorites take inspiration from a contemporary palette, and life in Manhattan influences his rural habitat. “It’s a beautiful combination of urban and country life. In order for my work to function in either place, it has to borrow from the other. I love the way that rustic food can function in a modern setting.” His pastries evoke the topography of the Catskills as chunky boulders of chocolate are found at the center of a cookie. Trail bars borrow flavors from a favorite hiking snack. Tarts with torn edges cradle just-picked fruit from local farms— each bite taps into something very primal.
“Memory is where my passion for baking comes from, it is the core value of why I bake. I remember my Grandmother’s corn starch pudding, my Mom’s apple pie, a doughnut that I had when I was little. I think about those memories and try to recreate and idealize them. If you went back in time, that doughnut probably wouldn’t taste as good, so the idea is to match or surpass the memory.” Whether drawing on family recipes, recalling a croissant eaten in Paris, or conversations about food on a recent trip to Ireland, Craig has honed his ability to evoke past experiences through taste. “I wouldn’t make anything that I didn’t love. When I develop something that stays with me, I can go back to it consistently. I’m also honoring my Mom and Grandmother.”

His own memories have translated into new traditions for his patrons, many of them making ritual visits to his booth at the Pakatakan Farmers’ Market. A customer recently commented “I had your pie last week and it was so delicious, but what I loved most was that it was perfectly imperfect.”
“There’s so much value in making it honest. If it’s honest and has imperfection or irregularity, there’s so much beauty in that.” He laments the importance placed on superficial-prettiness and the uniformity of food found in supermarkets, as it’s lead to a wave unconscious eating. Connecting through food means understanding where it comes from, thinking about what the farmer has gone through to grow it, and appreciating the scars that show it was grown naturally. “When things are made with beautiful product, you slow down and you savor. When you cook with beautiful fresh things, people wake up when they taste it.”
On the surface “slowing down” and “waking up” may seem at odds with each other, but they harmonize perfectly in the Catskills. Here it’s a bit easier to pause and take a breath. Vision adjusts to a clear focus, rather than the blurry and hurried views of life in the city. A drive on a winding mountain road can be a moment of consciousness. 

Craig has an adept awareness of what inspires him and staying true to that. Baking is a way to connect and share with people, and those relationships give so much in return. "I’ve always wanted to have a little shop that people could come to. For me the oven is the heart of the business. I really want people to be able to walk in and experience where that’s coming from, and to express my creative vision fully, and have a place to put on a show. I love the idea of opening a bake shop, keeping it nice and small, and growing within that smallness.

But that’s for the future. Right now, the blueberry tart is being pulled from the oven and it’s time to enjoy the moment. A memory is about to be made.
You can taste Craig’s baked goods first hand at the Pakatakan Farmers’ Market and see his entire offering at Shandanken Bake.

The Brothers Haslegrave

One afternoon in late winter, Evan and Oliver Haslegrave, the brotherly design duo behind half a dozen New York City restaurants and shops including the Manhattan Inn, duckduck and Goat Town, sat side by side, at matching timber drawing desks in their Greenpoint loft. Each leaned over his work table, uncapped a black technical pen and hovered its inky tip just centimeters above a completed architectural draft while a camera flash strobed onto their shoulders. Evan tried to hold still for the camera while he spoke, “Hand-drawn drafts are beautiful… but they are really time-consuming! We draft to pass ideas back and forth, to work out concepts—then we render CADS for clients and contractors.”
The photographer paused to modify her aperture settings, and the brothers relinquished their drawing poses. “We’ll generally have an idea of what we want in a space. It’s usually just cultivating a pool of ideas or inspirations and then tailoring each stage as we go,” Evan said. Between the brothers, ceiling moulding ran unexpectedly upward from the wooden floor boards, intersected the wall at a diagonal and projected back out to hold the base of a lamp four feet above the ground. “And it’s always better to let the space take you to a certain level,” Evan said.

Oliver and Evan grew up in a small town outside of New Haven, Connecticut with their younger sisters, Hadley and Morgan, where their mother worked in financial services at Yale and their father was the lead architect at a residential remodeling firm.
At an early age, the children were drawn to their father’s work, so he allowed them to help with his construction projects. “It was a huge part of our lives. As children, some people have babysitting jobs. Ours were cleaning up job sites,” Evan said. The boys then employed their knowledge of construction at home, where they demolished things around the house to build couch forts, outdoor forts and every other sort of fort imaginable. “Tons of things were deconstructed and reconstructed, about as much, I think, as parents could stand—or maybe even more than they could stand,” Evan remembered with a smile.

Oliver left home in 1997 to attend Wesleyan University, where he received his bachelor’s in Film and then moved to New York City where, some years later, he was hired as a literary fiction editor at Brown Publishing. Evan moved to Brooklyn in 2007 to attend Pratt design school, so the brothers moved in together.
They both waited tables for a few years to cover their rent and other expenses. Evan tired of the night owl lifestyle, so in 2008 he left the restaurant industry and began working as a handyman. “We had to keep the lights on,” said Oliver, with a shrug of his shoulders and an impish smile. As he relaxed this gesture, Oliver leaned against the back of his chair, a curved seat made of blond wood which was covered in black pen markings. It was the prototype for the white-tiled booth seats that he and Evan had dreamed up for Goat Town restaurant in the East Village.
Evan glanced at Oliver and returned his smile. “Oddly enough,” Evan said, “New York Magazine named the handyman business Best of Services in 2008, so it was way more work than I could handle.” It was around this time that Oliver began helping Evan with his handyman work.

Shortly after their business was featured the brothers were asked to design a bookshelf for a residence in Brooklyn. “The project was to disassemble this big old colonial entertainment center in Cobble Hill,” Evan said. “The clients wanted to do a library on their mezzanine level that also went up to their rooftop, so we designed a staircase that was also bookshelves, that kind of wrapped around.” The clients were so pleased with Evan and Oliver’s work that they invited the brothers to renovate their East Village business property. “They were like, ‘We have this bar and we want to redo it,’ and that’s basically how it went,” Evan said. This was their first major design project, Elsa.
Elsa is described by her Yelp reviewers as a cozy and unpretentious speakeasy with an “adventurous cocktail list.” In memory of the Blind Tiger establishments that grew in popularity during Prohibition, Elsa’s beer tap is disguised inside a vintage Singer sewing machine. Adorned with salvaged wood and lit by candles housed in mason jars, Elsa always draws a heavy crowd.

Working on Elsa allowed the brothers to imagine themselves giving up their collection of jobs and focusing solely on design. By the time that Elsa served her inaugural tumbler of Old Fashioned in late 2008, Oliver had quit his editorial job, and Evan had left from Pratt. The brothers retained their handyman work until the following summer, of 2009, when their design work became more substantial. They called themselves “hOmE,” a close-to-the-heart acronym that combines the first letters of their forenames with those of their sisters’: Hadley, Oliver, Morgan and Evan.