The Anatomy of a Vignette

November 4, 2014

By Paula M. Bodah

seitz vignette

Photograph by John Gould Bessler

Readers often compliment the beautiful images on the covers of our magazine, but the photo that graced the cover of the fall 2104 issue of New England Home Connecticut seems to have struck a special chord. The vignette is from the home of Joanna and Bill Seitz, owners of the New Preston, Connecticut, shop J. Seitz & Co. Designed by Joanna, it’s inviting, warm—and decidedly beyond the ordinary. The Seitzes love this spot in their dining room, but Joanna confesses to a bit of surprise at the reaction the picture elicited. “Other designers have said to me, ‘You’re on the right track. We’ve homogenized things so that everything is so beige and neutral,” she says. “They say, ‘This looks so rich and lush. We’re so used to that other look now, we forgot about this one!’ ”

For Joanna and Bill, it’s a very personal look, the result of their years of traveling together to search out unique pieces for their customers. We wanted to know more about how Joanna arrived at such an arresting composition.

For this nook, which sits in the entry to the dining room, Joanna says, “I wanted it to be arresting and visually rich and kind of surprising.”

She began with the painting of the zebra, a reproduction by a friend of an 1863 work by the British painter George Stubbs. “I always loved this painting, and I always wanted to do something around it because it’s so otherworldly with the bold zebra in front of the mysterious forest.”

The peroba-wood console, acquired through a friend who helped the Setizes import antiques from Brazil, seemed the perfect piece to sit under the painting.

Many of us would have stopped right there, perhaps setting a couple of framed photos or a lamp on the table, but Joanna was just getting started. “I looked underneath and thought, ‘That’s a big gap. I should put something there.” The old terracotta pots, also from Brazil, were her choice. “They have age and interest and surface texture that seemed to go perfectly with the table.”

Among the eclectic collection of items on the tabletop is a circa-1910 bronze representation of the Hindu deity Lakshmi, the goddess of health, love, and prosperity. “She is a family heirloom from Bill’s parents’ collection from when they lived in India in the 1940s and’50s,” Joanna explains.

The statue made her think of a little stone Buddha in her garden, so she brought it in, washed off the dirt, and set him in front. Around his neck she hung an old reliquary heart she found at a Paris flea market. “It just seemed right: a spiritual piece on a spiritual piece,” she says.

The Majolica lamp, another family heirloom, and small Majolica plates play off the green in the painting. The orchids—a nod to her husband who is, she says, “a mad mad mad gardener and orchid grower”—echo the botanicals in the painting.

Two hurricane candles of etched glass on iron stems join the mix. “Those are by Jan Barboglio, a Texas artist,” Joanna says. “Her work is divine; I have her pieces throughout my house.” Tall, heavy cast resin candlesticks from Oly flank the Lakshmi statue. “They’re amazing looking, with a wonderful texture and patina to them,” Joanna explains.

The final touch is a tiny bud vase by Elizabeth MacDonald, a ceramic artist and painter who is a friend of Joanna’s. “I love to live with my friends’ creations,” she says. “It makes me happy to be surrounded by things made by people I love.”

And there you have it. “I put it all together and said, ‘That works!’” Joanna recalls. “It’s a mysterious tableaux as you pass by that’s arresting to the eye.”

The lesson here? Says Joanna: “Trust your instincts and live with what you love.”