Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Vegetable House

(My mother and siblings, 1970's.
I'm the one in back on the left.)

When I lived in England as a child, my parents bought a house outside London called "Hutton Mount", which was a perfectly lovely name for a Tudor-ish dwelling except for the fact that it didn't mean anything to our family. It didn't resonate. My parents had just moved to the UK from Stockholm with five young children in tow and they wanted a house name that felt personal and relevant to their new lives. After a bit of deliberation, they decided to rename it "Brussels Sprouts", because my four brothers and sisters and I were all born in Brussels, Belgium and, well, we were all little "sprouts." Well, as you can imagine, this created quite a stir. No sooner had the name gone up than there was a knock at the door: the news had reached some journalists from the London papers and they trooped out with Hasselblads in hand. Within days, various articles appeared in the broadsheets and tabloids. Of course, they had a field day with the headlines: "Americans Name House After Vegetable" and so on. I have the clippings in an album somewhere; if there's any interest, I'll see if I can dig them out and scan them for you.

This little backstory gives you a bit of insight into why when we moved into our new house in 2008, one of the first things I wanted to do was to name it. Piero and I tossed around an endless variety of monikers, but we kept coming back to "The Kenmore Arms." It expressed just what I wanted to convey: that our home would be a modern-day coaching inn where our friends and neighbors would always feel free to stop by for a pint or a cuppa.

I found a little company in Cornwall, England to fashion a slate sign for us and when it arrived in the mail, I felt a pang of panic that it might be too much for our little refuge to live up to, but my fears were short-lived. Whether our house has grown to fit the name or whether the name has changed our perceptions of the house, I don't know. But I can't imagine it being called anything else.

Does your house have a name?
If it doesn't, what would it be? And why?


bigBANG studio said...

Heavenly! What a delightful post, and what a wonderful childhood you must have had at Brussels Sprouts! I grew up with three sisters on a farm aptly named Green Valley Farm, and now my husband and I live in converted homestead cabin in the Mojave Desert in Joshua Tree, CA. We call our little casita "Roxaboxen" after a favorite children's book about an imaginary kingdom a group of children make up in an abandoned plot of desert during WWII. It's a WONDERFUL book- http://www.amazon.com/Roxaboxen-Alice-Mclerran/dp/0688075924

Cheers! xo

LPC said...

a) I love brussels sprouts. Good for your parents.
b) My mother lives in "Vista del Mar." Which she has.
c) Roxaboxen *is* a wonderful book.
d) Love your blog.

Jan said...

I would call our place "Solas" which is the Irish word for light (it also has the nice play-on-words with "solace"). Our home is south-facing and the early morning sun rising over the Dublin Mountains is the favourite part of my day....The Kenmore Arms sounds delightful :)

Julie K. said...

Was taken aback to see my beaming smirk with yours...we all look filled with wonder and happiness!! I love you, Lisa (and your blog, of course)!!

Susan said...

What a wonderful photograph of you with your siblings. Thank you for sharing it.

Susan B. said...

What a great choice! I loved your story, and I like the name for your current house.

I lived in England for some years as a child also, and my family rented a house in St. John's Wood in London called Garden Cottage. We believe it was given that name because it was a single family one-story house surrounded by a yard and then walled in, unique to the neighborhood of row houses and apartment buildings and certainly unusual for London. There wasn't much of a garden, that much I remember. When we returned to the States, my parents named our summer cottage in NH Garden Cottage and had a cast iron sign made for it in England, much like a pub sign.

Thanks for sharing.

Gaby said...

Brussels Sprouts is quite the fitting name! Our summer cottage on the North Shore of Long Island is named The After Glow. My grandmother picked the name because at dusk the cottage glows with orange western light.

Here's a photo of it:

Kitty said...

that's a great story. i really enjoyed your post! i don't have names for any of our houses, but i have named each of the tenants: there are shennanigans, bacon grease, snake eyes...

Angie Muresan said...

Love the story. We don't have a name for our place, but maybe we should.

Thomas Hogglestock said...

Well, your mother looks fabulous. It seems that creative and fun are in your genes. That would explain a lot.

Jane said...

Great photo. I love
(a) the way your mother dressed you all in the same clothes with no shame. I also love her bouffant full of personality hair. She looks rather stylish!
(b) that the house was named after the vegetable so many don't like when they are little (although I love it)
(c) the way the English generally name their houses. It is not something we do in Australia. But why not, houses have such individuality they should have names.

Have a happy day. xoxo

Ginny said...

What a fun read. Yes, our home in Sierra Madre is "Maison de la Porte Rouge" the house with the red door. The door is always open and all are welcome.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

bigBang: I am SO going to get that book...thank you for mentioning it. Can't believe I don't know it!

LPC: a) xx

ulysses101: As does "Solas"...seriously, watching the morning sun rise over the Dublin Mountains...?!! You're killin' me over here.

Julie K: xx

Susan: I love St. John's Wood. Have you ever gone back to the house to see Garden Cottage? I'll be there in December -- want me to snap a photo of it? Let me know... I love the description of that sign, too.

Gaby: Oh, "The Afterglow" is a wonnnnnderful name. And I just looked at the photo...it's utterly charming! How wonderful it must be to visit there.

Kitty: You just made me spit my tea out of my mouth. That is tooo funny.

Thomas: She indeed is a fervently eccentric woman!

a) We were the Von Trapps for many years.
b) I still have all her clothes from then: bright red leather maxi coats, Marimekko dresses, caftans from Marrakech...thank God they fit me.
c) Yes, quite ironic about the sprouts!

Ginny: "Maison de Porte Rouge" is so chic and friendly. And Sierra Madre is not too far from me...!

Mrs. Blandings said...

That picture is pure delight. If it is a true glimpse of your childhood you were blessed indeed. Brilliant.

Louise said...

What care your mother took in the attire of her children. A very precious photo! Particularly love how the second sibling is embracing the younger.

Lisa said...

LOVE the moniker your parents gave your home in England, it's perfect! Your parents are too cool! I've been searching for the past 14 years for the perfect name for our home when we moved into what I consider my dream home - a sorta English Tudor. I've always harbored a fascination for "Musgrave Manor" as it fits the family, but it sounds a bit pretentious for 'these parts'. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would approve but in Iowa you don't 'name' your manor much less your house). Now I'm leaning toward just "Frogmore" - don't ask. I'd love the door sign as you have, but would settle for just some stationery with the name. After 24 years, we're still considered 'outsiders' and I'd hate to ruffle any local poultry.

Meg said...

Adorable. Great great story! I've always loved the name of your house, since the first time I read your blog. I admire that you love and respect your home so much you've given it it's own name. My husband and I are living in our first house, it's over 100 years old. I desperately want to name it. But first I want to do some more research as to who owned it etc before I go choosing something willy nilly! :)

Ramesh Gandhi said...

My husband wanted to name our house Humayan's Tomb, a bit grandiose perhaps; but he felt that he would move in and never leave it -- yet if anyone knocked at the door of the tomb he would appear and invite the person in. His mother wanted to name it Ganesh Bhavan. When my husband reminded her that he is an atheist, and therefore no thanks, she said, "I knew you were an atheist, but not THAT much of an atheist." There's no sign, but I guess it is still Humayan's Tomb.

vicki archer said...

That is such a lovely story and 'Brussel Sprouts' is the best name for a house I have ever heard. We inherited the name of our house and have never changed it....xv

Anonymous said...

I'm totally in love with your mother. Funny, Creative, Fearless, Stylish, Brave (moving from one country to another with 5 kids is a challenge. I've done that 3 times with just 2 kids),.....I don't know, she just got It for me!! Wow...Thank you Lisa, X.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic Picture..and what a great name too!!!

Nick Heywood said...

I grew up summering in The Big Red House (not very creative, but it's had that name at least 60 years). Things were always getting mixed between the city and country house and my mother went a bit nuts, labeling the bottom of everything "BRH" ... people always thought it was some sloppy monogram. I'd love to have some BRH plates made for the house.

These days my partner and I live in Nuthouse, and our fictional (as of yet) summer house is Birdhouse. Pretty self explanatory ... life is crazy in the city.

Mlle Paradis said...

I'm a little late on this one but the sign outside my house would have to say: "Dun Moanin'"


'Fox Run' because when my husband and I were dating I hit a fox on a country road one night...I thought I killed him but he got up and ran away...legend has it that a 3 legged fox is still wandering around in that area.

Valerie Wills Interiors said...

I just happened to find your blog and loved reading about your house name.... loved all the mix of being in the UK, parent from Sweden, born in Brussels, etc.... I'm from the UK but now living in San Francisco. Really enjoyed your post.

Anonymous said...

We don't have an official name for our house, it has a nickname "the cottage". Other places we have lived include the "chalet", "funhouse" (the floors were so tilted), "boathouse", and "chicken shack". Instead of a
divine Italian I have a sublime Pole for a husband (who cooks!) Love your blog.

Lori said...

Our house is called Sparkings. Partly as a joke because of the electrical problems we had upon moving in and partly to call to mind Starlings, the Miniver's country house in Mrs. Miniver (the book and movie)

elle said...

Mr Nielson better known as Sid, and I bought a holiday cottage called 'windyridge'; it's the seaside cottage you read about in children's storybooks. We never gave the name a second thought.

On our first night there, the paintings in the lounge gently flapped against the clapperboard walls!

We called the agent in the morning to instruct her to sell the house. She said, 'grow up and call me in three weeks if you still want to!'

We nevr did!

And by the way Ms Brussel Sprout, getting a message from you, was like getting a letter from the queen!

xxx elle

Annie Crowninshield said...

I come from a long line of named homes. Not ours now (unless The Warehouse counts) or my own growing up but as far as my grandparents and their siblings were concerned thats what was done! I approve.

Teacats said...

Our basic suburban house was quickly named "Rosemary Cottage" because of the ONLY living plant left in the garden! And we still have lots of rosemary and other herbs in the gardens! Along with a pretty pottery sign with its name by the front door. Which caused a stir hereabouts -- and the locals would stop and ask us if we had started a business! LOL! When I told them that many homes had names in England (I lived near Windsor in the 70s!) -- they were amazed!

Jan at Rosemary Cottage

Miss Cavendish said...

Love the idea of naming a house, but we have not done so. I will think a little harder now. (I do not think that cars should be named, though!)

pve design said...

I am the designated "Brussels Sprouts" maker for Thanksgiving. I add chestnuts! I do love homes with names and stories. Our home is "Lookout" as we live on a hill. It does feel like a lookout. I have no signage which I think I must now have.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

We originally christend the house "Blandings House" since it took forever for the contractor to do the renovations (eight months late and we were between houses....) and there were numerous scuffles. When I started blogging and found Mrs. Blandings... well, nowadays, we call it The Manse. 102 years old a Queen Anne Victorian.

No sign. As of yet. I like yours!

Emma said...

After a summer vacation at my in-laws' summer place, named Cove Cottage by my husband's British stepmother, my then four year old daughter decided that our house's name would be Buttercup Cottage and that she would make a sign for the door. You have to be patient in the presence of les artistes though, and thus two years on I am still waiting for my sign!
I adore reading your blog, and I realize that bloggers are the diarists of our age. You are a great one, a la one of my faves, Cynthia Asquith.

Anonymous said...


Linda in AZ * said...

* I am actually GLAD I couldn't sleep, as I "discovered" your precious, entertaining, fun n' family-loving blog! (That pic w/ Mom, "the sign" n' you kids is sooo darling & simply PRICELESS~~~ & most certainly the MEMORIES that must go with it can't be beat!

When my husband retired from 38 years in the Army a few years back we, of course, got "T*H*E" house~~~ We, & our friends, have all been "just about everywhere", so now it's fun to travel just to see EACH OTHER~ nobody wants to sight-see... we just play golf, relax, chill n' grill, etc!

I have a ball "going overboard" when old friends ARE coming, ensuring everything is fun, beautiful & "special" for them, & it's SUCH FUN for me to do!!!~~~

Our desert home is quite large, w/ pool, spa, magnificent city views n' lights, and large expanses INDOORS also of glass and stone, etc... Our friends have dubbed it, using our last name first, "___'s Ranch n' Spa". Reading all the fun things here, I DO think NOW< that it's about "time" we came up with a "SPECIAL MONOGRAM" for their fluffy white robes n' slippers!!!

TERRIFFIC FUN HERE~~~ THANKS so much, and yes, "I villll be baaaacckk!"...
Linda in AZ *

tasterspoon said...

I love the idea of naming a house and wish we did more of it in the States. An English friend bought a home and named it The Bimble, isn't that the sweetest? (I only just now looked it up, I didn't realize it had a meaning.) When we buy our first home, naming it will be Priority #1.

notes from dove cottage said...

And our small two bedroom bungalow is named Dove Cottage. We have Morning Doves cooing in the back garden in summer when we awake. The little blue and white tile that proclaims the name came from the French Number Company (online)
But Brussels Sprouts tops them all! Judy.

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