Summer Lovin' in Northern California
I credit the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap for my fascination with American summer camps. Despite not being particularly outdoorsy, I wanted nothing more than to live in a lakeside cabin where I could partake in all kinds of nature-loving adventures. Failing that, the movie also made me wish I could live in either a ranch in Napa Valley or a fancy London townhouse. I grew up to learn I wasn’t alone in my preference for real estate.
A summer camp, or former summer camp, wasn’t an obvious choice of home for everyone. New York-based Blythe and Mark Harris went to the viewing of a derelict summer camp in northern California. The couple quickly walked right back out and dismissed it as too much of an undertaking. Two nights later, Mark woke in the middle of the night said, “We've got to buy that house.”
Such a light bulb moment wasn’t exactly a safe bet. For starters, the couple were based in New York and were expecting their second child. But, on the plus side, had the creativity and energy to give to the project. Not everyone shared their passion. The house was a YMCA summer camp in the late 1800s but by the start of this century, was a “deeply dysfunctional situation for a family”. Yikes. Well, you know what they say; One man’s thrash is another man’s treasure.
No stranger to a labour of love, Blythe is a creative partner in jewellery and accessory brand Stella & Dot for which she designs. "I'm used to making the creative decisions," she says. "Suddenly, my lawyer husband is having all these ideas. I didn't know he had it in him. We put our styles together, and our family style emerged.” Never underestimate a man on a mission. "A house can be a vessel for change," says Mark. "To envision how it will shape your life and then to live the way you'd hoped—it's kind of profound.”
"We spent a lot of time imagining what would go on in the house," explains Rita. "The Harrises believe in details and discoveries, and they trusted me. So I'd buy something odd, like a ship in a bottle or a stuffed seagull—I mean, who bothers to stuff a seagull?—and they'd get excited about it. Other clients might say, 'That's a detail; we can deal with it later.' But they understood that sometimes, little things matter most." Details are what allow you to create the story that gives life to a house. Life brings you things that don’t necessarily fit in your decorating scheme”.
Indeed. Spoken like someone who’d take on a 19th Century abandoned summer camp and transform it into a functional family home. Rita, I salute you!
All photography by Eric Piasecki for Elle Decor.