At Home with Art
A collectors’ condo displays New Hampshire paintings and furniture
Whether building a home or collecting art, John and Joan Henderson of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, are not a couple that does things halfway. Their passion is apparent from the moment you step into their spacious Harbour Place condominium. As you enter the foyer, your gaze darts from place to place, unsure where to rest—on the marble entryway; the elegant, handcrafted furniture; or the breathtaking canvases from their extensive collection of White Mountain art, which beckons from every wall. It is immediately apparent that this home was designed for people with a love for the art they collect…and a vision for how best to enjoy it.
Turn right and you catch a glimpse of the wing containing the spacious master suite and one of the condominium’s two guest suites. Turn left, and within a few steps you discover the condominium’s crown jewel—an art gallery. Stunning details accent this expanse—burnished New Hampshire birch plank flooring, elegant wainscoting, a delicate tray ceiling, and a large curved wall that pushes into the space like a wave breaking on the shore. “It’s probably unusual for a home to have an art gallery, but it was essential because of our collection,” John says with a smile. And what a collection it is, born out of the couple’s love for their adopted state’s beautiful scenery and its artists—both historic and contemporary.
Originally from Illinois, the Hendersons moved to Massachusetts in 1969 so that John could join Data General, then a start-up computer company. Among their new friends was an MIT alumnus who introduced the Midwesterners to the joys of hiking New Hampshire’s White Mountains. “One weekend, we joined him to hike Mount Osceola in Waterville Valley,” John recalls. “It was our first 4,000 footer, and hiking in New Hampshire quickly became one of our pastimes. We fell in love with the state, particularly the White Mountains.”
This budding infatuation turned out to be auspicious. In 1972, the Hendersons purchased a vacation home in the Mount Washington area, and over the next 25 years, the couple spent countless weekends among its fabled peaks. In 1997, they became permanent residents. By then, the mountains were an integral part of the family’s tradition. “Once we were introduced to hiking in the White Mountains, we fell in love with the topography,” John says. “Oftentimes as we drove along, I quizzed our children about the names of the mountains (a habit sometimes not well received), but once you hike a peak, you often find you can identify it from the road.” It was this love of the state’s natural assets that drove the Hendersons to develop a second hobby—collecting paintings by White Mountain artists.
Artists first began traveling to New Hampshire’s White Mountains in the early nineteenth century to paint and sketch, including several—such as British-born Thomas Cole—who were members of the famed Hudson River School. New Hampshire native Benjamin Champney, a favorite of the Hendersons, was among those who fell under nature’s thrall during an 1838 trip to the White Mountains. In 1853, Champney bought a home in North Conway and spent the rest of his life painting in the region and encouraging fellow artists to do the same. As a result, he is often referred to as the founder of the “White Mountain School.”
Cole and his fellow artists viewed nature as a religious experience, painting dramatic landscapes in which nature predominated and man was insignificant by comparison. By mid-century, many artists were creating works that reflected accurate landscape portrayals while also giving form to the country’s nationalist fervor, promoting a sense of optimism and boundless possibility. These literal scenes by painters such as Champney, Edmund Darch Lewis, and Bradford Freeman are the ones to which the Hendersons are most partial. The Presidential Range, a majestic work by Horace Wolcott Robbins Jr., occupies pride of place in the Hendersons’ dining room and illustrates the picturesque imagery for which the White Mountain artists are renowned.
The dining room also contains several outstanding examples from the Hendersons’ sizable collection of handmade furniture from New Hampshire, including a number of pieces by members of New Hampshire Furniture Masters. An exquisite mahogany dining room table and sideboard created by Sam Chase anchor the space. The dining room chairs, which feature a rich mixture of mahogany adorned by crotch mahogany and holly inlay accents, are the handiwork of Tom McLaughlin. In the adjoining gallery, furniture maker Terry Moore’s stunning demilune table provides a delicate counterpoint to painter Samuel Lancaster Gerry’s Mount Washington and the Ellis River from Jackson, NH, while a whimsical bear bench by Jeffrey Cooper invites visitors to sit down for a moment in the airy space and contemplate the mountain vistas on every wall of the gallery.
This sense of expansiveness is a luxury to which the Hendersons are accustomed; before moving to Portsmouth, the couple spent nearly 20 years in a spacious home on Lake Winnipesaukee in Moultonborough. When they purchased their Portsmouth condominium, building owner Dan Plummer of Two International Group recommended Dann Batting for their architect. “Dann had extensive experience in our building working with spaces that had been commercial and converting them to residential,” John explains. “Partnering with him proved to be a fortuitous decision; he knew the pitfalls we might encounter.” Mike Wood, also of Two International, supervised the build-out and was largely responsible for realizing the Hendersons’ vision.
After visiting the Hendersons in their Moultonborough home, Batting grasped the look and feel the couple was after. It was he who conceived the idea for the curving wall in the condominium’s art gallery. “The Hendersons were moving to the condominium from a much larger home that housed a sizable art collection,” Batting says. “They still wished to maintain ample space in which to entertain family and friends and display their beautiful art, but they were also looking to establish personal spaces for their hobbies.
“It was critical to achieve the proper sense of flow in the home, and I feel we’ve done that,” Batting continues. “When you enter the home, the foyer is a small art gallery in its own right, preparing you for what is to come.” As you enter the main living space, you see the primary art collection, displayed in a large gallery dominated by a curved wall that both distinguishes the space and leads you beyond the gallery into the main living area. Once here, visitors have marvelous views of downtown Portsmouth and the Piscataqua River, framed by six large windows that punctuate the area.
Like Batting, other members of the condominium’s design team joined the project serendipitously. A neighbor referred the Hendersons to Mike Pelletier, who installed the tiling, and to Carlisle Wide Plank Floors, which supplied the birch flooring. William Corcoran of Neighborhood Hardwood Floors handled the flooring installation, while Cindy Regnier of Rockingham Electric Supply Company worked closely with the couple to find the proper low-voltage, high-intensity halogen lighting for the paintings. The Hendersons discovered designer Mark Gillies while wandering around kitchen design studios in the Portsmouth area and immediately felt a personal connection. At that time, Gillies worked for Lifestyles Kitchens and Baths in North Hampton; he is now with Portfolio Luxury Kitchens in Stratham.
“The Hendersons have an extraordinary art collection but wanted people to feel comfortable in their home,” says Gillies, who spent time discussing the specifics of the kitchen with them. The corner marking the transition from the art gallery to the living and dining area was particularly perplexing. “My concern was that an exposed, sheetrocked corner would designate an abrupt transition between the two spaces, when what we sought was a fluid, conversational relationship between the rooms. My challenge became to create a wet bar that was both functional and elegant, without calling undue attention to itself; the artwork is the main attraction, and the setting is meant to be supportive.” Gillies’s solution: a cherry panel on the wall above the wet bar that creates a seamless transition from the gallery into the common space.
Joan’s brother Jim Ruud of Chicago-based James E. Ruud Inc. Interiors designed the condominium’s four bathrooms, each of which features a unique look and feel. One of the guest baths evokes thoughts of the White Mountains that the couple so enjoys with its slate-colored tiles and smaller tesserae in grey, red, and cream. “Jim saved me from myself,” Joan says. “I’m very traditional, but Jim saw how we lived and he was familiar with our painting collection, so he chose everything. Now that it’s done, I love it!”
“From the time we first began working on this condominium, we had a clear vision of how we live,” John says. “Joan’s a quilter and wanted a dedicated space to work on projects; I’m a computer person who spends a lot of time in my office, but we knew from the outset that we wanted an open concept in our home. We’ve achieved that here. We never tire of viewing and living with our artwork. We feel we have brought the White Mountains to Portsmouth.”