THE OUTERMOST HOUSE BY HENRY BESTON INSPIRED THE MASSACHUSETTS GARDEN
One of the major inspirations for the Massachusetts Garden (Sponsored by the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism) is a series of ‘dune shacks’ peppered along the Cape Cod Coastline that were traditionally inhabited by artists, poets and writers including Henry Beston who wrote the seminal text on the area, The Outermost House. This book is now considered an American nature literary classic, written after Beston spent what he called “a year of life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod”. Spiritually shaken by his experiences in World War One, Beston retreated to the outer beach at Eastham in search of peace and solitude.
It was these dune shacks that made such an impression on designers Susannah and Catherine when they visited the region in 2013. Susannah immersed herself in Beston’s book and developed an understanding of the cultural significance of these shacks. Jackson Pollock and a host of other important American artists often visited the area when in search of some inner peace and tranquillity. She felt that any representation of a Massachusetts coastal landscape would not be complete without a ‘dune shack’.
Meanwhile, Catherine set about investigating the plant life of the region and looking at what might be possible to grow in the UK that would be representative of this area of Massachusetts. Susannah knew immediately that hydrangea and Rosa rugosa would both feature strongly as they were so highly visible on this coast and it would be these that would form the key plants on the giant leather panels that she and her team would have to begin designing and stitching.
Susannah’s celebrated leather appliqué work will receive its grandest showcase on the Massachusetts Garden. A 10 metre long panel leading to the dunes features various hydrangeas including h. limelight and h. Marechal Foch in hues of white, cream, blue, green and pale pink. Shaped dune panels along the 10 metre sea wall feature a Provincetown dune landscape scattered with leather Rosa rugosa rubra. The sea wall is 3 metres high with a large photographic banner behind the leather sand dunes depicting a Cape Cod sky.
The leather is cow hide base and intricate appliquéd petals high quality nappa, kid and calf leathers. The panel base is of marine ply and upholstered in the leather by master upholsterer RD Robins & Sons who also build Susannah Hunter’s ‘modern antique’ pieces of furniture – Ottomans, footstools, screens and classic chairs.
The panels are currently being made by a team of five highly skilled women based in Susannah’s Bloomsbury atelier, more than 25,000 handmade petals are required to complete the frieze!
The Dune Shack has been designed by award winning Scottish architect Julian Hunter and is inspired by the Cape Cod wooden beach shack similar to ones that Susannah and Catherine saw on their trip. The shack is positioned towards the rear of the garden, half a metre off the ground and measures 3.5 x 2.5m and is made predominantly of sawn softwood timber. The timber used and the techniques employed to make it are traditional and authentic.
Quotations from ‘The Outermost House’ will be etched into several of the timbers.
“Nature is part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery man ceases to be man”
“Touch the earth, love the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places”
“to-morrow’s morning will be as heroic as any of the world” “Creation is here and now”
“Of the three elemental voices, that of the ocean is the most awesome, beautiful and Varied”
The interior will be furnished in a minimal beach shack style, the only flourishes of colour will be Susannah Hunter leather appliqué scatter cushions with hydrangea and Rosa rugosa flowers. The deck area will tip a nod to the coast with Massachusetts lobster pots and nets.
A path of crushed seashells winds through the grassland area leading to decked steps and a decked path that continues through the grass to the Dune Shack. The land is gently contoured from the end of the grassland area sloping down towards the sand dunes and the Shack and rising up again to the rear and sides. The traditional battered post fence is made of chestnut.
In front of the leather panel representation of the theatrical and dramatic sand dunes, on the approach to the sea beyond, land contouring creates the start of the softness associated with sand dunes. Contouring also continues under the building to allow for planting beneath it. Approximately half of the garden will be dressed with soft sand, typical of a beach shack garden.