ELEMENTS Home: The Best of Both Worlds

European style meets contemporary flair in this

Photographs © by John Lewis

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As a builder of fine homes, Rick Clark appreciates the time-honored tradition of grand European houses with ingeniously pitched roofs, interesting angles and elegant masonry exteriors.

But Clark and his wife, Jan, also are aficionados of contemporary classics, the modern artisans who create furnishings that are bona fide works of art, as well.

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Their expansive home in Middletown reflects both those sensibilities. The house, inspired by the Old World, is a vibrant gallery of sorts for designs that sprang from the 1960s and beyond.

“We love living with works from the modern period,” Clark says. “It’s totally us.”

Witness the circular sofa in the gathering room, a one-of-a-kind piece designed in the New York studio of Vladimir Kagan, the German-born modernist whose furniture is displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The sofa’s curves embrace a Noguchi table in which a glass ovoid floats on a sculptural wood base.

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The massive bronze sculpture over the mantel is the work of Paul Evans, a Pennsylvania artist and designer known for strong lines and muscular metal work. The pair of spindle-back lounge chairs was created by George Nakashima, the Japanese-American artisan renowned for pure, naturalistic interpretations of wood.

In the study, there are more pieces crafted by Nakashima in his New Hope, Pennsylvania, workshop, including a small work desk and a coffee table in beautifully grained walnut with a highly desirable free edge, a trademark technique in which the slender edge of the slab is retained.

But the works of art the Clarks value most are striking, modernist paintings and photography by Jan’s mother, the late Patricia DeJohn, a successful model turned artist.

“When I was growing up, everyone at school would watch when my mom was on ‘The Merv Griffin Show,’” Jan recalls. “She was filled with talent and was great at everything she tried.”

The Clarks are partners in both life and design.

Jan persuaded Rick that a large expanse of glass block would provide both natural light and privacy in the master bath.

He is the consummate space planner, laying out not only walls but furniture.

The couple and their two teenage sons, Anthony and Aaron, live in Bohemia Mills, a community of $1 million-plus homes Clark is developing on a verdant parcel of green on the headwaters of the Bohemia River.

“There aren’t many builders putting up homes where they live,” he says. “But for us, it’s working out just fine.”

The 7,000-square-foot house might be the ultimate model home. In the flowing public spaces, soaring coffered ceilings are sheathed in mahogany. The floors are natural cherry, allowing the wood to show flecks of blond.

“It’s more modern, not so heavy,” Clark says.

The couple waited two years for their custom-made dining table, crafted from two slabs of bubinga, an exotic African tree imported in logs that weigh as much as 10,000 tons. The slabs are fastened with contrasting butterfly joinery, a technique perfected by Nakashima.

Simply designed wool rugs, woven in Nepal, feel lush to the feet even through shoes. The Clarks bought their carpets from John Kurtz of New Moon, a gallery in Wilmington.

Finding the right sources for furnishings and materials is an integral part of the couple’s design strategy. To that end, they’ve sought out artists, mined their travels, scoured discount centers and traversed high-end auction houses.

Jim Bomba of Red Pepper Forge, an artisan Jan discovered in North East, Maryland, designed and crafted the distinctively curved wrought-iron staircase that makes a jaw-dropping statement in the foyer.

“We couldn’t have achieved the effect we wanted with wood spindles,” she says. “Having Jim do the staircase was well worth the investment.”

A brightly colored hand-painted sink in the bathroom of the guest apartment over the garage was a serendipitous find. The Clarks spotted it when they were vacationing in Mexico and snapped it up for $40. “It fit right into the overhead compartment on the plane,” Jan recalls.

Most of the modern art and furniture was purchased at auction, the lion’s share from David Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, New Jersey.

To pull all the pieces together, the Clarks utilized the designer’s trick of mixing everyday elements with custom pieces. The key was deciding what to splurge on.

In choosing materials for the shower in the master bath, the Clarks went with 12-by-12 marble tiles (widely available at home centers) on the walls and designer octagonal tiles in slate for the floor.

“I’m a clean fanatic, and I knew slate was always going to look good,” Jan says.

She also chose the mirrored dressers that lend an air of Hollywood glamour to the master bedroom. Large windows provide a cinematic vista of the river.

“The whole house was designed around the water and views of the woods,” Clark says.

In the kitchen, a large center island is artfully set on the diagonal to accommodate a six-burner Wolf cook top, storage and seating for six.

“I wanted lots of seats in case the kids invite friends over,” Jan says.

The fireplace in the adjoining family room is two-sided, also providing a glow on a patio outside that conjures visions of an Italian courtyard. In front of the house, earth-tone pavers, attic dormers reminiscent of a Parisian garret and estate-size lanterns flanking the massive mahogany front door provide European flavor. The stucco around the entry is troweled, providing a textural contrast to the smooth façade.

“For me, a house needs to be masonry—all the way around,” Clark says.

A lavish lower level is devoted to recreational pursuits. The room that sees the most action there is a home gym. The Clarks also can work up a sweat in a sauna. There’s a billiards room, as well as a mini spa with a hot tub. A 4,500-bottle wine cellar includes a humidor for fine cigars. And an auxiliary kitchen and bar are at the ready for large-scale entertaining.

“This is the place where people are supposed to relax,” Clark says. “Now, if we could only slow down long enough to make good use of it…”


Nutty for Nakashima

George Nakashima (1905-1990) transformed furniture into art—sinuous, naturalistic studies in wood that have attracted loyal admirers, including Rick and Jan Clark.

Nakashima was the most prolific and best-known figure of the American Studio Furniture Movement (1940-1990), an artistic renaissance born in Philadelphia that promoted craft as an antidote to mass-produced modern furniture. From 1942 until his death, his workshop in New Hope, Pennsylvania, produced 25,000 pieces, ranging from two-legged Conoid chairs to the massive Peace Tables at the Cathedral of John the Divine in Manhattan and an ashram in Pondicherry, India.

He was the first to embrace the knotholes, fissures and splits in wood as wondrous expressions of nature rather than imperfections. While most furniture makers discard the thin, irregular ends of slabs, Nakashima integrated them into his designs. Known as “free edges,” the elements are factors in determining the value of a piece. Essentially, the more free edges, the greater the value.

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