Photos by Chris Casella

The heART of the home

Yeah, I have a project pile.

A bunch of finds I picked up in my various travels to thrift, secondhand, and resale stores that caught my eye for some reason—the line of a table leg, the cut of too-big tuxedo jacket, a sweet coat of paint peeking out from under a layer of standard beige. Each needs a little smooch, a little work, a little tweak to makeit lovely. Even though I have all the best crafty intentions in the world, these projects rarely get past the envisioning stage; yet the makeover pile sticks around. Some day—maybe this summer—I’ll get around to the remakes because, goddamn, my ideas are sweet.

Doug Fordyce and Chris Thompson, on the other hand, actually complete these projects, and the one-of-a-kind style and aura of workmanship and care make the couple’s Westgate kitchen so singular.  It’s not a hulking Viking oven that makes a great kitchen crib, it’s the subliminal sense of warmth that wraps around visitors and adds a welcoming glow to the prepared foods.

Fordyce, a local artist, stands next a gorgeous armoire that once called his grandparents’ kitchen home. “When my grandma died, there was a family auction, but I couldn’t make it,” Fordyce said. “But this was left in the basement; I spent two summers stripping it.” A sturdy four-top at one end of the kitchen is the result of Thompson’s refinishing talents, turning a dark wood resale find into a subtle gray industrial anchor of the space.

The kitchen speaks to Fordyce’s past, as well as his present. On a small shelf, there’s a smooth, oft-used and, loved bowl of his grandmother’s watching over the kitchen. “My grandmother was a really good cook, she had 12 kids and would prepare these giant meals,” he said. High on the wall above the sun-flooded sink area hangs a cross-stitch of Fordyce and Thompson that is so adorable and sweet it rivals any kitteh meme, ever.

“Sometimes I stand here and look at the house and wonder, ‘Is our house too circus-y?’ But it’s our house, we like to make it fun.”

“Ciara Simula made that for my 50th birthday,” he said. And over on another wall is a statement piece by Amandda Tirey. “That is the very first painting she sold,” he recalled. “We went to undergrad together, and all quarter I watched her paint that.” He bought it for $350, a lot less than the thousands she commands today. “Every time she comes over here, she just looks at it and shakes her head.”

Modern cookbooks sidle up to old, plastic-ring-bound community tomes. “My father worked in an aluminum factory in West Virginia for 40 years, and that cookbook is a collection of all the wives’ recipes—it’s hilarious.”

While Fordyce has the greater presence in the kitchen,
Thompson’s aesthetic is on display in the dining room. Painted a deep red, various artworks featuring skulls adorn the walls. “In our old place, he had a little room for his skulls that was also painted red,” Fordyce said. “When we moved, he got a bigger room, and it just happened to be the dining room.” The mash-up of death on display and food for play is like a living version of memento mori.

Entertaining often, Fordyce believes the trick to being a good host is to just relax. “Make everyone feel comfortable,” he said. “At my 50th birthday party, we had a range of food—carnivore to vegan and beyond.”

“Sometimes I stand here and look at the house and wonder, ‘Is our house too circus-y?’” he said, standing in the sunlight of the kitchen, near a lemon sprout in a glass of water on the windowsill. “But it’s our house, we like to make it fun.”

And with those inspirational words, I went home, checked out my personal project pile and set about finally revamping that awesome spice rack I found at a yard sale. I’ll hang my grandmother’s copper measuring cups from the hook on the bottom. It’s a start.