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Gretchen Dow Simpson Decorates for Christmas

Gretchen Dow Simpson Decorates for Christmas
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Gretchen Dow Simpson’s home in Providence, Rhode Island, is all about what she loves: art and architecture. Her striking paintings hang on every wall of her circa-1935 Dutch Colonial.

Arresting black-and-white photos by Aaron Suskind, Harry Callahan, and Salvatore Mancini make the living room feel like a gallery.

The artist is perhaps best known for her 60-plus New Yorker magazine covers. Most of these images are details of buildings: doorways, windows, stairs, rooftops, and porches. “Proportions are important to me,” she says, and with that declaration, it’s easy to see why she chose this house. High ceilings, long hallways, wide doorways, a broad foyer highlighted by a handsome staircase — all could easily have jumped from her art.

The house is nestled in a vibrant neighborhood of lovely older homes on the east side of the city. Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design are nearby, with their happy bustle of students, professors, good food, and culture. Gretchen attended RISD, so when she was looking to relocate from New York in 1987, “I followed my bliss to Rhode Island,” she says.

“When I lived in New York, I was nostalgic for the country and its feeling of space,” she explains. “Looking at architecture in an abstract way while working on those New Yorker covers gave me a sense of freedom. I was able to take out of the picture what wasn’t necessary.” Her home reflects this same simplicity.

When Gretchen describes her paintings and speaks of the particular elements of her house that she enjoys most, her language is similar. “I’m drawn to geometry and scale,” she says. High ceilings that accommodate her six-foot-tall frame also complement the interior views that she admires, such as looking from her living room into the doorway of her kitchen and the porch beyond.

In many of her paintings, you’ll see a scene more distant than the immediate one. This attraction to the vision beyond is something she likes about her house; from each room there’s a partial view of another room. “I like feeling that I can move around freely,” she notes, “because the space is very open.” Gretchen’s art is marked by a minimalism that’s echoed in her house, where linear stretches of rich heart-pine flooring meets white painted woodwork. Her art, her home, and even her holiday traditions work together to paint their own picture of her passions. She speaks to her lifestyle perfectly when she says, “I like to look at things in a different way–that’s the job of an artist.”

To learn more about the artist and her work, go to: To see Gretchen’s New Yorker covers and to order prints, visit:

Updated Thursday, October 23rd, 2008
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