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Author Topic: Profile: John's Bloomington Home Circa 2001  (Read 18997 times)
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« on: February 07, 2014, 12:09:16 am »

Elaine and John Mellencamp in Bloomington, Indiana

By Michael Frank
Architectural Digest, June 2001

"All creative acts begin in the same place,” observes John Mellencamp. “Whether you’re writing a song or a story, or painting on a blank canvas, or decorating an empty house, you start with nothing and you try to make beauty. The creative impulse, whatever form it takes, is one of the things that make life bearable.”

The Indiana-born songwriter and performer knows a few things by now about using creativity to make life bearable.

For the past three decades Mellencamp has drawn on his intimate knowledge of blue-collar, rough-and-tumble heartland life to make music that has filled sixteen albums to date. Born with spina bifida, he became a classic American teen rebel of the sixties, identifying, at just twelve years of age, as his role model Hud, the angry, amoral antihero played by Paul Newman in Martin Ritt’s 1963 movie of that name. Complaint and lament often marked his early music (“And they call this the Great Midwest / Where you sacrifice body and soul,” John Cougar, 1979), but as he matured, Mellencamp began to display a more nuanced, compassionate and socially conscious understanding of the world he’d grown up in.

By the time he made Scarecrow (1985), the angry young man had evolved into a more seasoned, even in places down-right didactic, adult: “You’ve gotta stand right up for somethin’ / Or you’re gonna fall . . . for anything,” he sang; and “The Midwest is my home / We’ve got to start respectin’ this world.” When Mr. Happy Go Lucky (1996) was released, a widening perspective had mellowed him further: “I’ve seen the goodness / I’ve known the baddest around . . . And I’m glad to say I’ve enjoyed every day / Of the full catastrophe of life.”

Mellow, perhaps, but seldom facile and never mawkish—it’s the “full catastrophe” of life that Mellencamp ends up enjoying, after all. His is bliss with a barb or two.

In several ways success has allowed Mellencamp to range beyond the heartland, but place—specifically Bloomington, Indiana—has remained at the center of his music, as of his domestic life. When he married model Elaine Irwin ten years ago and began a family (they have two sons together, Hud and Speck), the couple lived in a house Mellencamp had bought and renovated in the early eighties. “I wanted it to look like the Hotel Bel-Air,” he says with a laugh. “That was my idea of class. It was all I knew—from being on the road all the time.”

But just as Mellencamp’s music matured, so did his sense of style. “I’ve had the opportunity, over the years, to be in some spectacular houses,” explains the singer, who, at the height of his career, in 1989, took a four-year sabbatical, during which all he did was stand in front of canvases and paint. “I’ve always loved art, I’ve always been detail-oriented, and I’ve always understood the importance of having a home that’s a refuge, a retreat.”

Five years ago the Mellencamps bought fifty-six acres on Lake Monroe, one of the largest reservoirs in the Midwest. “John loved the area,” Elaine Mellencamp remembers. “Our original idea was to build a little cabin, a weekend getaway. I don’t know exactly what happened.” “It became our main home is what happened,” says Mellencamp. “I’d promised Elaine a place of her own—and finally we were able to build it. This house is about our life together, our family. It’s not about my past—it’s about our future.”

When it came time to think about arranging their interiors, the Mellencamps turned to Fred Dilger and Monique Gibson, the Atlanta-based designers, who have just opened an office in Manhattan. Their recording industry clients include Elton John (see Architectural Digest, May 2000) and manager John Reid (see Architectural Digest, October 1996), who introduced the pair to the Mellencamps. “We did their first house, on Hilton Head, without even meeting them,” Gibson recalls. “All meetings were by phone. This kind of thing happens in the music world all the time. These guys are so often on tour. They know what they want, but they can’t always talk to you about it face to face.”

It’s doubtless a good thing that, as Elaine Mellencamp points out, Dilger and Gibson are especially gifted listeners. “Both of them have a strong sense of where their own talents lie, but I think what they do best is take in what their clients have to say.” And what, in the Mellencamps’ case, did the designers hear? “Well, different ideas from John and me. John’s taste is more traditional; mine is more eclectic. I’ve traveled a lot in my work, and I wanted the house to reflect that. John asked for a simple, elegant background—plaster without paint, plain draperies, strong furniture. Nothing fussy or ornate. We both wanted a house that would stand up to the wear and tear of family life, one with big open common rooms. We envisioned an environment that could grow over the years.”

The lakeside setting, of course, was key. The house has generous, dramatic windows, soaring ceilings and abundant light. Its materials, though, are simple: the plaster walls Mellencamp had specified, wide-plank wood floors, tiled baths. In searching for a model for the interiors, Dilger and Gibson settled, after some thought, on southern plantation houses, whose spare interiors, handsome millwork and open spaces seemed to reflect a similar sensibility. “John’s lyrics are frank and honest,” says Dilger, “and he has the same approach to furniture and decoration. He likes things that are straightforward, and he also—just as in his music —has a lot of respect for old things, for age and patina, for history, for legacy.”

“We sought a certain level of sophistication too,” Gibson adds. “Bloomington is a college town. There’s a Buddhist monastery there. And the Mellencamps have traveled widely and collected pictures and accessories that reflect their interests and their experiences. The house may have begun as a lakeside cabin, but that’s not what it’s become.” Since Dilger and Gibson came on to the project around the time construction was wrapping up, their structural contributions were modest. They did specify beams and wood tables and cupboards for the kitchen, to contrast with the re-strained thirties whiteness of the surrounding shell. They suggested an iron-and-wood banister for the circular staircase. Largely, though, they helped as- similate, interpret and expand the Mellencamps’ collection of furniture and objects.

In the great room, for example, John Mellencamp commissioned an artisan to reproduce a fourteenth-century French iron cross that rests on the mantelpiece. The designers allowed it to set a spiritual tone that runs throughout the interiors. (A powder room is filled with santos and icons; Elaine Mellencamp says that these objects appeal “mostly for the general feeling of spirituality they convey rather than any specific religion.”) Chandeliers—which burn candles—were reproduced from models Dilger and Gibson saw in a sixteenth-century monastery, while the torchères are fifteenth century.

As a counterpoint to these rather sober objects, the designers introduced comfortable, neutral upholstered furniture (“When a woman looks like Elaine and a man has a personality like John’s,” Gibson says, “you don’t need a lot of color”), an American farm table, a pair of Anglo-Indian armchairs and a mother-of-pearl-inlaid desk.

The designers’ attention to their clients’ lifestyles is typical of their approach to their craft. “When we’re working with recording artists, we listen to their music all day long in the office, and we look at their cover art, and the sets they use when they’re on the road, and how they dress,” Gibson explains. “It’s especially important to find a way to help these frequently traveling performers integrate their experiences with their houses.”

John Mellencamp agrees. “My home is my anchor,” he says. The musician, who is completing his seventeenth album and is about to set off on tour once again, is as modest about his new house as he is about his place in life. “Elaine and I are fortunate to have made this peaceful world here by the lake,” he says. “And I’m fortunate to be able to leave it, to go out on tour and still draw ten or twenty thousand people in most towns I visit. I’ll probably go on doing it as long as I can or until nobody comes to see me anymore.” He pauses, then adds: “I hope that won’t happen anytime too soon.”

Photos of John's home:

« Last Edit: February 08, 2014, 10:02:04 am by walktall2010 » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2014, 11:40:20 pm »

Very Nice!

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