About a month ago I read a sad but inspiring article in the Great Homes and Destination section of the NY Times about Jay Fielden, editor in chief of Town & Country magazine and his family. He and his wife, Yvonne Orteig Fielden, and their two young children had just moved into their new home, a Connecticut modernist glass house, which they bought for $900,000 in 2007 and spent eight months renovating. Shortly after, he lost his job as editor in chief of Men’s Vouge (which folded as a result of the economic downturn). In addition to this, a series of other misfortunes befell them during this time. Then, in October of 2010, after being out of work for a year and the birth of their third child, an electrical fire tore through their home, destroying almost everything.
This story has a happy ending, I promise…
All this tragedy gave Mr. Fielden a new outlook on life and the things that matter. “If you define yourself by your things,” he said, “who are you when you lose all those things?” For the Fieldens the object became, ” how do we create a place that reflects who we are but doesn’t own us… or put us in debt.”
When it became clear that the most pragmatic thing to do was rebuild their home (“not an easy or joyful decision”, they said, “because what you really want to do after a catastrophic fire is walk away”); Robert Dean and Jesse Carrier, the architect and designer who had rehabbed the house in 2007, helped them rebuild.
The Fieldens managed to salvage half of their book collection, along with artwork by Irving Penn and by their children, and some family furniture. The new house is open and light, yet private and safe – almost perfect (with a lot more Ikea this time around).
Designed by James Evans, a protégé of Louis Kahn’s, and built in 1960.
The marble coffee table is Italian vintage, and a new purchase. The Fieldens bought the pair of Robsjohn Gibbings chairs from the Celanese House. They survived the fire (just barely) and have been recovered.
The new sofas are from Restoration Hardware, as is the dining table, which Mr. Carrier covered with glass. The wing chair is from the Turnover Shop, a thrift shop in Wilton, Conn. The dining chairs are Danish modern.
The kitchen was designed by Robert Dean. The counters are from Silestone. The faucet and sink are from Kohler.
The Fieldens bought this lacquered linen bookshelf, one of a pair, from an auction of Brooke Astor’s belongings. It was designed by Albert Hadley. Hanging from it is a Slim Aarons print.
A barn door in the TV room. The leather club chairs survived the fire, as did the mid-century wood side table.
In the TV room, a Danish modern piano the Fieldens bought in Hudson, N. Y. The baby grand that had belonged to Ms. Fielden’s mother did not survive the fire.
Mr. Fielden found the antelope head at a local antiques store. The parsons desk was bought with the house, and survived the fire. The rug is new, from Ralph Lauren Home.
The bed is from Room & Board; the bedding, by John Robshaw. The painting between the windows is by Frances Dautian, Ms. Fielden’s great-grandmother.
The bedside table is French, and vintage. The lamp is from the 1950s. The grasscloth wallpaper is from Phillip Jeffries Ltd.
The sofa in the master bedroom came from the Turnover Shop in Wilton, Conn. Mr. Carrier added the fringe. The glass tables are fire survivors, and belonged to Ms. Fielden’s family.
The Fieldens’ closet is by Close-ette. When they lost their belongings in the fire, friends, neighbors and colleagues rallied in startling, heartbreaking ways, donating clothing, shoes and shampoo, and even taking their two cats to the vet. The Vuitton bag is a hand-me-down from Grace Coddington, Vogue’s creative director, with whom Jay Fielden collaborated on an early version of her memoir; many of Ms. Fielden’s shoes are hand-me-downs from Vogue editors and friends.
The bathroom fixtures are by Kohler. The Regency mirror belonged to Ms. Fielden’s family.
In Jack’s room, snakes by Guido Mocafico (Jack is a big snake catcher, his father says); a signed portrait of Eli Manning; and a portrait of John Lennon, a gift from the photographer Harry Benson. The bureau is a vintage Baker piece. Clara’s bed is from Ikea. The collage was a gift from Michael Roberts, now fashion and style director of Vanity Fair, when both men worked at the New Yorker.
Mr. Fielden saved nearly half of his books. Two architecture books survived the fire. If you look closely you can see the smoky silhouette of one on the other.
“If you define yourself by your things, who are you when you lose all those things? I work in a world where the material things are paramount. There’s nothing wrong with loving these beautiful things, but they can start to own you. Even though it was a harsh lesson, it was nice to know that we can stand on our own feet. Especially for our kids to have that lesson early in life. To realize the house can burn up but the relationships, the care, can’t be torn apart.” – Jay Fielden