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039: My mother Claude and all her wonderful things
An Hermés sheepskin, a Japanese ink bottle, and paprika—oh, my, is there paprika.
Spring’s most vital trend is being your own grandmother. It’s ancestral regression and dipping a cup into the current of one’s individual female lineage. The universal moodboard is simply your own family photos, even and especially those that would be rebuffed by the algorithm. The moment is not aesthetic, it’s thousands of women who’ve chipped away at the world’s marble with an ideological paring chisel to discover and reveal you.
Long silk vests! Art studios in Madrid! Ribboned Lanvin boxes! The color green! Really cold swimming pools! Red hair dye! Majolica!
I’ve spent the weekend with my mother in Washington, D.C. where she lives, to attend the opening event for a retrospective of her mother, Mil Lubroth’s, silkscreen art. I wore my grandmother the artist’s gold suit and decided this week merits a departure from regular programming. I’ve done my best to make this special send sufficiently shoppable, but our usual launches, sales, and retail news will have to wait till next week.
In the meantime, join me in wonderment: Women!
Claude Lubroth Reilly is a little bit of everywhere
An Hermés sheepskin, a Japanese ink bottle, and paprika—oh, my, is there paprika.
Claude Lubroth Reilly has lived cat lives, from architect to archeologist, managing editor to master of library sciences. These days, she spends her time transcribing 16th century Spanish documents for the Library of Congress and designing paper jewelry, adding texture to the days by studying the Georgian language, taking classes in miniature Afghan painting, or absconding to Italy for entire summers. I’m here now in her narrow brick house in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and, as usual, I’m overwhelmed by the density of ideas posited in every corner; the many familiar items that set-dressed my childhood across England and Costa Rica now remixed to match her present phase. At my request, she led me on a tour from the garden level to the top floor, unraveling one story after the next whenever I pointed and asked, “What’s this?”
In the dining room
L: So this is a whole like one, two, three, four-tier bureau. C: This is called a lawyers cabinet, it’s where they used to keep books and things, like the one in the bathroom, and I love them. It was from a flea market in the south of London. I’m trying to remember which… It was a special flea market where stolen goods are allowed to be sold. It's the only market where they legally sell stolen goods.
L: And there are a bunch of ceramics on display, like this porcelain tea set. C: This is Susie Cooper, collectible in England, and it’s a bachelor breakfast set. This is the plate, so you serve the eggs on here, but you have hot water in it, and it seals with a cork. L: So it's almost like a hot water bottle plate. C: And here’s the toast rack it comes with. L: It’s kind of like a small magazine rack for three pieces of toast. C: Here’s the teacup, and here’s the salt and pepper. And Monica found that spoon, that’s separate. I've never really used the set, but I just love it. And then these others are from Ireland, these ceramics. L: These are so familiar because we keep some of this set with the cereal bowls. C: Well they’re probably the same maker. L: It’s, let's see, Nicholas Mosse Pottery.
C: I collect all of this depression glass. I just love these. I think they're from the ‘40s or ‘50s, I have them in all kinds of colors. They’re tinted and sometimes they have etch, but I prefer the geometric. I’ve been collecting them since I came to the States, because it seems like it’s mostly American. So 10, 12 years or so. L: And before that you did jelly molds. C: Those are all English, from secondhand stores. I wouldn’t pay more than a pound or so for them.
The dining table base is a wicker basket, and this is the basket we moved with our things from Paris [right after I was born] to Spain. Mamá used to keep presents for a rainy day in it… L: I’m sure you figured out how to pick that lock. C: And the table top is just a board, signed by all the guests—I want Nir to sign it because he hasn’t yet.
Those banquettes are from India, from Rajasthan in the north. L: And you bought these when we were in Costa Rica, right? C: Yep, that one and the one upstairs. And this is a bench from Spain that was in the house where we lived; when Máma moved into her apartment, we took it with us. Along with this piece here, which I love. L: It's sort of a three legged stool-table. C: It’s just like, chop a tree and you know, there you go. Very rustic stuff.
In the kitchen
This drawing is by Javier Mariscal who was a very well-known designer in Barcelona. He did the mascot for when the Olympic games were there, the little dog. Terry gave it to me even before he was well known, and I've had it in all my kitchens. As well as Monica’s painting of lychees. This one I’ve also taken everywhere. You know the woman who did the cup with the fur? This is her kitchen, Méret Oppenheim. I organized an exhibition on this man’s photography—Frank Yerbury—and so I kept it. The exhibition was in London at the Building Centre.
Olive oil cans. L: And all of the paprika. C: I’ll collect them just as long as they’re graphically interesting. Unfortunately this one’s kind of boring, and this one’s Trader Joe’s, but you have to have a little bit of everything. L: And also with time it might become more interesting, you know, as design changes and it sort of becomes ‘of an era.’ You’ve been documenting them on your Instagram. C: I did at the beginning of Covid, then my necklaces, and the spoons and things.
I have these spoons, too. And I used them for the first time. I think Máma bought these in Paris when I was born, and they’re just so beautiful. L: Made in England by JW Harris, Hanover Square W1. C: This one’s not shined. L: Oh how embarrassing for you. C: I keep them back here with the tablecloths and cookbooks, the liquor cabinet, and all my Russian stuff—cups and serving spoons. L: All this is very present in my childhood memories. C: It’s balsa wood, very lightweight. [She reads a name off the label in Russian, but neither of us really know what to do with the information. In later research, I found the style is known as “ Khokhloma.”]
In the living room
L: Let’s chat about the light! C: This is from Mexico, near San Miguel de Allende where we got the two ceramic pineapples. It’s a pierced copper shield light. And it's also got holes around the side, which gives it that sunshine burst. L: It was front and center at the house in Costa Rica. C: Everybody always took a picture with it.
The coffee table is a daybed, also from Rajasthan, and we got that in London. And the round mill that you also have that we use as a table or ottoman, that’s also from Rajasthan. I put a cushion in it. It was a mill, I don’t know what they crushed, but there seems to be another element that’s part of it, but I don’t think I have that. So you have one and I have one and there's one in storage for Rebecca.
The bookshelves we got at a store called Habitat—they’re very practical. They're just two ladder-like bookends, so to speak, with just wood across and you can adjust the width. They’re very easy to pack and carry around. L: Yeah, very suitcase-able. C: Well the Eames lounge chair and footrest set does fit in a suitcase, it comes undone. It’s heavy and would be a big suitcase, but you can put it in. Dada got it in Italy, he’d always wanted one, and I’m glad he did.
And on the shelves is that long, wooden, well, log with indents in it. That's from Costa Rica and it's for making the tapas of sugarcane. So, after the sugar cane has been squished, it’s in hot liquid form, and they pour it into each of those holes, and it makes sugar cones. You put it on the table and you just shave off how much you need. L: And now it holds candles in it.
C: Then that’s a bed warmer that’s hanging on the wall. They used to fill them with coals and slide them through the sheets to warm the sheets up. I’m amazed they didn’t burn. I think it’s English. The little ones hanging in the stairwell are actually chestnut roasters, not mini bed warmers.
Then of course Margreet Wielemaker’s woman sculpture. It’s so big it’s like the elephant in the room. She had a show in San Jose [Costa Rica] and when I walked into this space, I just fell in love with it. It was much shinier then cause all copper seems to fade a bit. But it's made of an old spring mattress, and it has beads on it. And it has shoes. I mean, it’s see-through, which makes such a big sculpture not have such a huge presence. But she is a presence. She is shrinking a bit too, like me. Everything is shrinking. Even the house is settling. L: Everyone who sees it thinks it’s you. C: Sometimes at night, the light catches her hair. If somebody sees in from the street, it looks a bit worrisome.
In the office
L: You have so many things on the shelves behind your desk. C: All the ink bottles. The Japanese ink bottle [by Pilot Iroshizuku], that’s my favorite. The glass has a small point in the hollow where the ink sits that makes a really nice shape. It’s my green ink and I use it all the time. And then I had another bottle that had a scent, it had sandalwood perfume in the ink. Hm. I wonder if I can add perfume to my inks.
Other than lots of photos of cousins and family and you guys, I have what looks like a Neptune pitchfork, but it’s for catching eels. And I have a beautiful real moth and butterflies, and a little bird’s nest that’s amazing. I have my chops, which are the Chinese seals you use when you close letters with wax. I have some enamel signs with Grandma’s name and my “Modista de Vestidos.” Oh, and the Turkish bath boxes. I think they were initially copper or brass-coated, but since they’re old… They would be used as sponge bags, and they all have holes in the bottom for carrying soap or sponges so the water could come out.
The clock hanging on the wall was a present from Grandpa Frank to Dada. And it works as well, but I don't have it going cause I don't know how to hang the weights properly. But it's a nice piece, and it has the little family history of who had it first and how it was passed down marked on the inside of the door. Then there's the barometer. It’s called a stick barometer, and I think it’s 18th century English. I have a piece of paper about it somewhere. When Dada left U.I.P. to go to Costa Rica, they gave it to him as a present. L: It was pretty accurate the other day when it was raining. C: Yeah it works. I had it filled with mercury when I came back to the States because we had to take the mercury out when we left England, you can’t travel with it. When I got here, I found a person down in Virginia who knew about old barometers. So I took it down there and he filled it with mercury and it works. Perfectly accurate.
And on the other shelf, there’s the Byzantine terra cotta pipe. It’s a square conduit with hole in it so the steam could escape. They were part of the Byzantine baths in Jerusalem that we found from the excavations near the Western Wall where the Dome of the Rock is. It was given to me [during my time as an archeologist there], so I did not steal it.
There’s lots of tchotchkes everywhere.
In the bathroom
The master bathroom has all of the combs. There are the little tiny ones that were Dada’s mustache combs. L: I always thought those were Barbie combs. C: And then the black and white ones that looked like credit cards, they were laser cut. And some are from Sevilla that you put in your hair, a kind of tortoiseshell type. I still have your soap on a rope of a fish that’s too pretty to use. L: I got that for you? C: Many moons ago.
In the guest bathroom, I have a collection of soap boxes, they’re the Roger Gallet soap boxes. They used to be much more elaborate, but as the years have gone on, they’ve gotten simpler and simpler and simpler. But I still like them.
In the bedroom
And then in the bedroom, the bed is made of almendro. It was made in Costa Rica for us, and the guy, J. Morrison, after he made it for us, said it doesn’t float, so don’t plan on using it as a floating device. These side tables are part of a set with three large dressers, also mid-century modern, and some lamps that were Grandma Eileen and Grandpa Frank’s. I think they got them when they went to Libya in 1960-something. So the set’s traveled all over. That’s where I keep a pile of old hankies with embroidery of some other people's initials on them. I use them, that's fine. I’m sure they don't mind.
This medicinal cabinet Grandpa Lu gave to Grandma Mil because he felt guilty about something. I don’t quite know the story behind it, but it’s beautiful. It has the latin names of herbs and things. And there’s some smaller drawers probably for the more expensive, lower doses of medicines or pharmaceutical botinges. It’s Spanish from the Rastro market. L: It’s so colorful for a pharmaceutical storage unit. C: Well, when you think of how much medicines cost now, probably then, too. It was a luxury.
This little chest is also from the Madrid flea market, the Rastro, when it used to be a good place to find stuff. It was a gift but I don’t remember who gave it to me. L: What’s below the chest? C: Oh this sheepskin. It’s from when I was a baby. I think Máma told me it was from Hermés because of that orange color.
And here’s Adam’s photos. L: And then Grandma’s paintings all over. C: All over the house and in every Lubroth residence everywhere.
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