Awash In Color

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Originally envisioning a future as an oil painter, Yao Cheng abruptly shifted course into the world of textiles while studying at Rhode Island School of Design. A chance meeting with some watercolor paints and a tutorial from a colleague would alter her trajectory yet again and set her on the path to her current career as an artist and small-business owner in Columbus, Ohio.

What did your path to the art world look like? Did your family encourage your love of art? I lived in China until I was about eight, at which time I came to the United States. My path to art was introduced really early on by my mom. When I was four or five, she took me to an art class in my hometown of Nanchang. I was immediately hooked; it was a very instinctual and natural way for me to express myself from the beginning. My mom definitely encouraged my creative side throughout my childhood. The rest of my family was more of a mix—many of them were not sure if an art education would lead to financial stability. But I knew in my heart that this was the right path for both my education and my career.

You graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a bachelor of fine arts in textiles. Was that always the medium you wanted to pursue? I initially went to RISD to pursue oil painting. Around that time, I became obsessed with knitting. Working with my hands in such a visceral way was really intriguing, and something in me knew I needed to change my major. I saw textiles as evolving my painting interests in a three-dimensional way.

During my junior year, I studied abroad at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou for a semester. That was another distinct experience that has had a big influence on my work today. I learned a lot about traditional Chinese floral painting, as well as the power of expression through calligraphy and brushwork making.

How did watercolor painting enter the picture? Are you self-taught? I was designing patterns for Abercrombie & Fitch’s women’s brand at the time, including painted original designs. A work friend, who was much more experienced in watercolors, taught me different ways that I could play with them. He allowed me to see it from a modern, nontraditional way. It wasn’t about forcing the watercolors to be tight or highly technical; instead, I was challenged to control them only to a certain point and then allow them to do their own thing. It was so liberating and so much fun. I knew immediately that this was the medium that I had been searching for all along.

Did you always envision that your watercolors would go on textiles? No, but it has been an incredibly satisfying experience to see it on textiles. When I started my business in 2012, I was very focused on what I knew, which was painting. I really wanted to get back into painting but with watercolors. From there, people loved the printed reproductions that I was selling of my paintings, so I was able to expand little by little into other categories, including textiles.

It makes a lot of sense to see my work on textiles now, considering that so much of my education was about creating textiles. I find the industry really exciting, especially with the technology of digital printing—it really enhances the vibrancy of watercolors.

There is a lot of plant life in your designs. What draws you to this subject matter? I think my time studying abroad in China influenced a lot of my botanical work. I love trying to capture the life and energy that exist in plants. I find them poetic and so majestic. I love that they are imperfect and organic.

Tell us about your process. Do you sketch anything first? If it’s work that’s outside of my own line of products, I will create rough pen sketches. However, if it’s my own body of work, I sketch in the form of painting. It’s a good exercise to jump right into painting and not rely on previous sketches. The best ideas come from that improvisation process, and I build more confidence as an artist when I know that I can look at a blank page and eventually arrive somewhere that is really compelling.

Do you have any surprising sources of inspiration? I’m currently going through a phase where I want to find inspiration in real life, like going to an art museum. I want to experience art and find new ideas in a different way so that my paintings can move forward and be sparked by a different point of view.

But I think inspiration can also come in other ways, like music. I pay close attention to the tempo of music. The rhythms can spark a new idea or pair with something visual that I found in a book. It’s about combining inspirations from different places. I’m constantly mashing totally different things together—such as a geometric pattern combined with the colors that I see in a photograph of ice cream.

Funnily enough, I also find a lot of inspirations in my dreams. I think it’s my brain’s way of making sense of the things that I experience. Many times, I’ve painted a final piece after a nap or after a distinct dream that triggered an idea.

What artists do you admire? There are many contemporary artists that I admire, but I try not to look at their work too much because I believe deeply in respecting the work of others. I think a mistake that a lot of people make, especially in the beginning of their careers as they are finding their own voice, is looking too much at others’ work that they admire. It’s very easy to then subconsciously create work that feels similar. I am a believer that, as an artist, it’s my responsibility to find my own ideas and not recreate anyone else’s.

I’ve often revisited Van Gogh’s work throughout my career. I love that he painted in a medium that’s totally different from mine and that he tried to capture light in a million colors. His work has a shimmer and a glow that make me feel like the fields are moving right in front of me. I’m always trying to capture that same feeling in my work.

How do you fight creative blocks? What resets your brain? A creative block can be very frustrating to go through. I’m currently in one now. Fighting it has never worked for me; doing so only makes me more frustrated and costs me a lot of wasted time. My best defense is to recognize that I’m in a creative block and that it won’t last forever, and then I do something completely different until it passes.

You cofounded Rise & Design, a meetup for creatives in your area. What was the impetus for that? I cofounded Rise & Design with my good friend and creative, Danielle Evans of Marmalade Bleue, back in 2016. Columbus is a wonderful city, but a lot of illustrators and designers are scattered among the suburbs, and because so many of us work from home, it’s hard for everyone to get together. Rise & Design was a way for us to provide a place for everyone to come together and strike up important conversations.

The beauty of Rise & Design comes from the fact that we don’t all belong to one industry, so our discussions are more expansive and provide more perspectives. We also see some college students come through, which is particularly exciting for me because I love being able to introduce the next generation of creatives to the real world of running a design business. Rise & Design is something I’m incredibly proud of and am so grateful to have. It has grown into a community of amazing people. We are all genuinely supportive of each other, and having access to so many resources is very crucial for any small-business owner.

In an alternate universe, what is your profession? I would also love to be a ceramist, a therapist, a pianist, a dancer, or even an astronaut, but being an artist is my focus and love for this lifetime.

Your Shopping List for Hard-to-Kill Plants

Not the green thumb type of gardener? Does your foliage tend to droop and die? Then these rugged plants are for you!

So what makes these plants hard to kill? They are considered to be low maintenance because they just need to be in the right light and given the right amount of water once the soil is dry to thrive. Reference the list below to find out how much light each plant requires, and then match them to the appropriate rooms in your house.

Low Light:
Some plants thrive in little to no light, which means that they would be great for rooms with little natural lighting. Perhaps the most well-known of these plants are the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) and the tropical Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata). Others hard-to-kill plants in this category include the Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema) and the Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum).

Medium Light:
The second group of plants to consider are ones that are a bit more light flexible, as they work well in a fair amount of natural lighting. One example is the tried and true Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum). The intricately patterned Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura) also fits the bill, as does the Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica).

High Light:
Do you have rooms in your house that just pour in the natural lighting? Then load up on these beauties! A great example of a hardy high-light plant is the Aloe Vera plant (Aloe barbadensis), which you can grow and then use the gel from its leaves to sooth burns. Another is the Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla), which adds a touch of outdoor living into your indoor space. The Jade Plant (Crassula ovata), the Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina), and the Zebra Haworthia (Haworthia attenuata) also fall into this group of plants that soak up the sun.

Maintaining beautiful, vibrant plants in your home can be easier than you think, regardless of your gardening skill level. Simply matching the right type of plant with the amount of lighting in your house is a great first step.

Paying Hope Forward

Jeanine Patten-Coble enjoyed vacationing at a North Carolina beach with her husband and son each year, and 2009 was no different—at first. However, the day before their trip, her doctor shared a shocking diagnosis: Patten-Coble had breast cancer.

Devastated but undaunted, she went on their scheduled family beach trip the next day. While running on the beach, mulling over how to tell her son about her cancer, she came across a compound of abandoned houses and found her new calling: creating vacation retreats for breast cancer patients and their families. The seeds for what would become the nonprofit organization Little Pink Houses of Hope were planted.

Patten-Coble spent the next year receiving treatment and having surgeries while laying the groundwork for Little Pink. From the beginning, she admittedly felt doubtful and eventually felt overwhelmed—especially since she had a full-time job in education and was devoting all her time to planning. Nonetheless, she soldiered on, and, in 2011, the first five Little Pink retreats were held, and she left her full-time job in education to focus on her true vocation two years later.

breast cancer survivors group

© Little Pink Houses of Hope

Since its inception, the organization has provided free weeklong getaways, from Costa Rica to California, to over 800 breast cancer patients and their families. In 2019, it has twenty retreats scheduled, each at a different location, and will serve over 200 families overall. Morning activities are offered, such as a beach day, a boat cruise, or riding ATVs, as are nighttime activities, from a family game night to a bonfire on the beach to stargazing, depending on the location. The families eat meals together as well for further bonding.

“People are desperately looking for similarity,” Patten-Coble explains. “They want others who empathize, who they don’t have to explain everything to. It’s a different story when you’re with people who get it. You can really talk about the experience in terms of how it’s impacting you instead of trying to make other people feel better that you’re sick, which is exhausting for a cancer patient. Our whole model is based on the idea of creating these organic environments of support. People at the retreats become friends, which leads to a much larger, deeper support network that’s meaningful long after the retreat. You come as strangers, and, at the end of the week, you leave as family. The commonality of cancer and shared experiences bonds people and strips differences away.”

It takes about nine months to plan a retreat. Each location, chosen not only for its locale but also for its community feel, has a local retreat coordinator, a retreat director, and a one-to-one ratio of volunteers and participant families. Houses are obtained in two ways: through word of mouth and, more often, by partnering with local property management companies, which can reach out directly to individuals who might be inclined to donate—simply because, as Patten-Coble says, they understand the difference they’re making in the lives of others. As a sign of gratitude, Little Pink requests off-peak weeks to minimize income loss, plus each homeowner gets a handwritten letter and photo from the family who stayed in his or her house.

breast cancer survivor paddleboarding

© Little Pink Houses of Hope

Ultimately, Patten-Coble says, Little Pink retreats are about empowerment. “We use the word empowering a lot because, for a lot of families, their experience with this disease has been anything but,” she shares. “Their week truly empowers them to get back to who they are as a family unit because they experience brand-new fun things every day. We want cancer survivors and cancer patients to see themselves as thrivers and as people who, despite their diagnosis, have this new chapter that they’re in control of writing. They might not be in control of the ultimate progression of their disease, but they control how they live every day.”

And that includes teaching guests to celebrate every day and to grab every second possible out of life. Though she has countless stories of participants doing this, Patten-Coble says one still stands out from Little Pink’s first retreat. A woman named Shari was nervous about the group activity, paddleboarding, so they went out on the water together. To ease her worries, Patten-Coble told Shari that she didn’t even have to get up, but she insisted. Immediately, Shari’s two boys, eight and ten years old, started screaming from the shore at the top of their lungs, cheering on their mom.

“They were so full of joy and full of excitement. In that moment, Shari wasn’t a cancer patient. She was a rock star mom,” she remembers. “Shari turned to me and said, ‘This is why I had to do it. This is how I want my boys to remember me—it doesn’t matter what happens in your life; you still get up and try every single day. They’re going to need that lesson when I’m gone.’ Thinking of this still makes me cry, but it encompasses the joy we’re able to create, even when it’s mixed with pain. We have a chance to impact people. It’s about touching one heart and one life at a time.”

Understandably, choosing the families for the retreats can be a painstaking task, so the organization uses an assignment committee that reads through every application, first word to last; the members pored over 3,000 applications for 210 spots in 2018. People who are currently in treatment are top priority, and those selected choose the retreats they’d like to be considered for, which is often based on their treatment schedule, their kids’ school schedules, or proximity. Patten-Coble notes that Little Pink is especially mindful of geography, having started on the East Coast and expanding all the way to the West Coast: “Most of our expansion in 2019 is in the Midwest and the West, which is to help meet a need—lengthy travel is often very difficult for cancer patients, so the more locations we have spread across the country, the less time people have to travel.”

mother and son on beach

© Little Pink Houses of Hope

For her efforts, Patten-Coble was named a CNN Hero in 2017. The network raised money in her name, which allowed Little Pink to start a scholarship program for the children of families who have attended a past retreat. “I am a firm believer that family is for life,” she states. “We maintain relationships with our families long after their retreats. The scholarship is a way to remain a part of these kids’ lives long after their retreat and say, ‘You’re loved’ and to encourage them to always be the difference in the life of somebody else. Our hope is that they take it, get a great education, and, one day, pay it forward in some other way.”

Paying hope forward is what Jeanine Patten-Coble has been doing ever since taking a beach run the day after her breast cancer diagnosis. She has continued doing so by offering more retreat locations and penning her memoir, Struck by Hope. In the future, she plans to replicate the Little Pink Houses of Hope model for people with other types of cancers, such as ovarian, uterine, and lung cancers. “We’ve clearly seen how much people are willing to get involved, if given the chance,” she says. “We’ve become a great vehicle for people to use their gifts and talents in a way that’s truly meaningful. I have a front-row seat to the goodness in the world, and it’s why this model works. It’s simply about embracing people with a humongous hug during one of the worst times of their lives and bringing other people onboard to hug them. We’ll keep developing ways to give time, happiness, and hope to as many people as we possibly can.”

Must-Have Phone Numbers for Your New Home

Moving is largely about looking back and looking forward. We make meticulous lists of everything before the move: from what has to be packed up or tossed out from the old house, to the utilities turn-off dates and the moving van’s pickup time. Likewise, we do our best to make sure that everything in the new home is ready to go so that we can seamlessly start our new life.

And an important part of that post-move plan is to be prepared. Sure, you’ll probably have a good idea of what you want to put in each room as you unpack. But what if you suddenly need a dentist? Or your son gets sick? Or a pipe bursts in your basement? Would you be prepared for any of these situations?

You should make a list of of important phone numbers before you move (or, at worst, soon after you move in), and make sure to share it and its location with everyone in your household. Here are some ideas for what numbers to put on your list.

Police department/Fire department.
If you have an emergency, you should call 911. However, it’s always helpful to have the local phone numbers of these personnel handy as well, in case you have a question about ordinances, need to report something, or need other non-emergency help.

Doctor/Hospital.
Be sure to have the phone number of your physician in your new town (as well as the physicians for everybody else in your family) in case there’s a sudden illness and you need a same-day appointment, or if you just need some medical advice.

Dentist.
People don’t usually think of needing a dentist’s number right away, but if a dental disaster occurs—such as a chipped tooth—trust us, you’ll be glad you have it. If your kids have braces, make sure to have the contact info for their orthodontist as well.

Poison control.
Hopefully you won’t be one of the approximately 24 million people who call poison control each year. But with harmful chemicals common in households, it’s a good idea to have the number at the ready, just in case.

Vet.
We can’t speak with our pets, but we can speak with their vets. Keep your local veterinarian’s contact information easily accessible in the event of your four-legged friend needing some expert help—especially since that possibility is enhanced as they explore their new surroundings.

School. 
New school district, new school, new friends. All reasons to have the school’s phone number readily available as you and your family adjust to a new area. The school will have your phone number in case they need to contact you; you should do the same.

Plumber.
Researching for a plumber can save you from a ton of headaches, especially if your new home’s in a different area of the state or country. Look at reviews online, ask around, and keep in mind the plumber’s proximity to your new home. Once you decide on one, add his or her number to your list.

Utilities company.
You likely already have the contact information for your new utility company on your new bill or service agreement. Jot it down on your list in case you have an issue such as a blackout.

Babysitter. 
This one is almost second nature for parents. Because of the important role the babysitter plays, you very well may have to plan ahead to find a reliable, trustworthy one in your new neighborhood. When you do, you don’t want to have to root around for her number.

Pizza place.
Yes, this is important, especially when you first move and may not have everything unpacked and set up at your new place (including pots, pans, or silverware). Fortunately, many restaurants send complimentary mailings to the new family on the block, so you can easily transfer the number onto your list.


Click below to get this handy list of important phone numbers, and put it on your fridge or near your phone—any place where you or anyone else in your household can easily access it at any time.

Spooky and Sustainable Halloween Decorations

Halloween is one of the most festive holidays of the year, but there are plenty of reasons to rethink traditional decorations. Making your own decorations cuts back on plastic and other materials that can harm the earth. Get your home Halloween ready with these eco-friendly crafts and accents!

A few tips on sourcing your supplies 

Forgo expensive Halloween pop-ups this season and shop local. Farmers markets usually sell gourds, mums, and pumpkins for cheap. Thrifting is a fun way to find unique accents and fabrics. Antique shops are another resource for old picture frames, bottles, candle holders, and lamps to recycle into eerie Halloween decor.

10 craft and accent ideas for a green Halloween 

1. Before you recycle your old black trash bags, check out this adorable spider web craft. Unlike fake spider webs, trash bag webs don’t pose a threat to owls, bees, and other wildlife. Love to knit? Repurpose extra thread into webs on bushes and trees.

2. If you’re hosting a Halloween party, give your guests a cute and creepy pour with jack-‘o-lantern wine bottles. Make the table even more festive by repurposing small pumpkins into sparkly place cards. For an understated look, find supplies to make this eerie centerpiece at the Dollar Store.

3. Evoke the chilling atmosphere of haunted hayrides by decorating stacked hay bales with gourds, mini-pumpkins, and corn stalks. Cut up old autumn-colored flannels and drape them over single hay bales. After the season ends, you can recycle your hay into compost.

4. Bright orange, green, and purple might not mesh with your home. Hang up a black twig wreath to keep it chic and make it spooky. Collect branches in your neighborhood to make this no-fuss craft, or buy this beautiful hand wrapped wreath by GNVDesigns.

5. Save your old sweaters from the donation pile – cable knit pumpkins are chic, eco-friendly accents for the patio and the dining room.

6. Transform old tin cans into spooky luminaries by following this easy DIY tutorial. This craft is a great alternative to paper bag luminaries, which are more likely to fly away and turn into litter.

7. Black cats are a Halloween staple. This black cat carved from recycled wood by SoAddictDecor will charm trick or treaters and guests alike.

8. Ring in the season of the witch by hanging witch hat luminaries around the front door. The tutorial recommends buying cheap hats, but making your own out of cardboard is even more Earth conscious.

9. Set out soybean skull candles by StoryofTheScent to create a chilling atmosphere. Halloween stores sell candles made from paraffin wax, which emit chemicals that pollute the air. (If you don’t like skulls, decorate your end tables with sweet pumpkin head candles by Hickoryhillcandle.)

10. Mason jars are so multifunctional — you can even use them to make a ghoulish apothecary in your kitchen. Simply fill your mason jars with a combination of moss, glycerin or vinegar mixed with food coloring, and throw in creepy items like doll parts and old toys. To go the extra mile, decorate your mason jars with authentic looking labels.

How to Tackle Spring Cleaning in One Month

Care to knock out your spring cleaning in a month? It may seem impossible, but take it week by week, and you’re sure to have a sparkling clean house before April showers give way to May flowers.

Week One: Declutter
Decluttering is a big aspect of any cleaning project. Whether it be your closets, bathroom, basement, garage or other areas of your home, don’t leave this to the last week of your spring cleaning responsibilities. Decluttering and organizing should be done before any major cleaning, as you don’t want to be dusting and wiping things that you may not even end up keeping.

Week Two: Clean
After decluttering, it’s time to start deep cleaning and disinfecting your home. Do a wipe down of your countertops, furniture, and flooring. Don’t forget about those often skipped over areas—like the baseboards, dusty corners, and behind and under furniture. Break out the cleaners (better yet, make your own), put on a winning playlist, and you’re one step closer to making your home brand new again.

Weeks Three and Four: DIY or Remodel
A DIY project or a total remodel can take longer than a week, but is often a part of spring cleaning. When bins are stacked with winter’s goods and the counters are shiny again, you may decide you want to completely redo a portion of a room or an entire area. There are plenty of projects to consider—turning your typical storage bins into hanging shelves, making decorative trays to spruce up your decor, replacing kitchen hardware, or repainting areas in desperate need of a revamp.

Spring cleaning doesn’t have to be a daunting undertaking. Break up your tasks in a reasonable order to get your home in tip-top shape for summer, and the months to follow!

Economy Slows

The major economic data released this week was mostly weaker than expected, which reduced the outlook for future inflation. This was positive for mortgage rates, and they ended the week lower. 

As expected, Friday’s key monthly Employment report was consistent with a slower pace of job creation from the very strong levels seen over the last couple of years. Against a consensus forecast of 145,000, the economy gained 136,000 jobs in September, and upward revisions added another 45,000 to the results for prior months. The unemployment rate, which is calculated based on surveys of workers, unexpectedly declined from 3.7% to 3.5%, which was the lowest level since 1969.

 

The other major component of the labor market report contained much less encouraging news, however. Average hourly earnings, an indicator of wage growth, were flat from August, far below the consensus for a substantial gain. They were 2.9% higher than a year ago, down from an annual rate of increase of 3.2% last month. 

In addition to the disappointing wage data, two closely watched reports from the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) released this week revealed weaker than expected economic growth. The ISM national services index, which covers the bulk of U.S. economic activity, showed a sharp drop to 52.6, which was the lowest level since August 2016. The ISM national manufacturing index declined to just 47.8, which was the worst reading since June 2009.

Looking ahead, The JOLTS report, which measures job openings and labor turnover rates, will be released on Wednesday. Fed officials value this data to help round out their view of the strength of the labor market. The minutes from the September 17 Fed meeting also will come out on Wednesday. These detailed minutes provide additional insight into the debate between Fed officials about future monetary policy and have the potential to move markets. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) will be released on Thursday. CPI is a widely followed monthly inflation report that looks at the price change for goods and services. In addition, news about the impeachment inquiry or the trade negotiations could influence mortgage rates. 

How To Keep Your Kids Entertained During Winter Break

Winter break is an exciting time for kids­—days off from school, giving presents and receiving them, and more time to have play dates with classmates. But that time off can quickly turn from exciting to boring for your young ones. Take inspiration from these ideas that will keep your kids entertained all break long!

Take them ice skating
This classic winter break activity is so popular for a reason—it’s guaranteed to make your kids feel like the star of the show, while also getting some physical exercise. You can snap pictures that will last a lifetime, and maybe they’ll leave the rink with a new favorite hobby.

Have a movie-filled day    
Spend the morning at the movies for a leisurely day relaxing with the kids. The best thing about matinees is that they are usually cheaper, and many movie theaters play old favorites during the winter months as well. Another way to keep kids occupied is having a movie marathon. Pop in their choice Disney film or feel-good flick and get the popcorn ready for a cozy day on the couch.

Get crafty indoors
With the weather turning colder by the minute, most kids probably won’t want to be outside for long periods of time. Make those hours spent indoors count and lay out several crafts to complete. Having options will beat boredom and make your kids more likely to enjoy their time inside. Try out this upcycled jet packbookmarks inspired by their favorite book character,  or this sock snow pal.

Suggest that they cook dinner
This doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds. Kids will rejoice at the chance to pick out their favorite meals—chicken nuggetsmac n’ cheesepizza, and ice cream. Look up healthy or unique spins on these kid meal staples to guide them in the right direction, and then let them be a part of buying ingredients and cooking the dinner!

Museum hop for a day
Take your kids downtown for an afternoon and check out some museum exhibits. Look up beforehand what museums offer free or discounted admission for kids, and have a route planned out before you leave. This is a great way to integrate learning into their winter break, and you can learn something new, too!

Play board games
Dust off the board games from the basement and have a day filled with friendly competition. This gets kids away from the temptation of technology, as well as providing some fun and laughs.

What Bulbs to Plant in the Fall

Preparing for spring can never start too soon! These are the best bulbs to plant this autumn to make sure your spring garden blooms in full.

Daffodils

One of the first signs of spring comes in the form of these familiar yellow and green-stemmed flowers. Plant bulbs of the Carlton or Sunlight Sensation variety to make your yard the brightest shade of yellow on the block come spring.

Hyacinth

Few things bring you back to spring like the fragrant of hyacinth—too strong for some, but reminiscent of the season nonetheless. Popular bulbs are delft blue: a periwinkle color that stands out from the crowd, or Carnegie, which is a bright white staple.

Snowdrop

Consider planting snowdrop bulbs, which are one of the earlier spring bloomers. These white and green flowers do best when they’re not fully exposed to the sun. Plant the giant bulb type for these lovely flowers to bloom in full this spring.

Tulips

Who can forget these colorful and bold flowers? Darwina is a bulb you’ll want to plant if you want the biggest reward, i.e. a garden that will make any neighbor envious. If you’re worried about the rodents, try planting a smaller type, like whittallii.

Dwarf Iris

These flowers bloom in early spring, and give the perfect elegant look to your exterior. Pauline is the most familiar variety—with the classic purple and white color combination. Pixie and rhapsody are other types that when planted now, will make spring that much brighter.

Where Time Stands Still at the Shore

Take a drive down the New Jersey coast and you’ll encounter plenty of photo opportunities—dynamically designed houses propped on stilts surrounded by gray-and-white-pebbled lawns, bicyclists strapped with surfboards and beach towels, and weather-worn mom-and-pop shops touting everything from freshly made bagels to hermit crabs.

But the scenery changes when you get to the state’s southernmost point: Cape May. You’ll still find beachgoers on bikes and sea-sprayed storefronts, but you’ll notice that the strikingly modern homes found in some coastal towns, with their random portholes and Picassoesque frameworks, are nowhere to be found—at least not in the town’s historic district.

This district spans 380 acres and is made up of 600 famous buildings, and even though the Victorian-era dwellings have been around for over 150 years, it wasn’t until around 40 years ago that Cape May Historic District was declared a National Historic Landmark. Today, Cape May is recognized as one of many historically important places in the US, with visitors coming from all over the world to tour the town’s famous feats of architecture.

cape may lighthouse

© CapeMay.com

America’s Premier Seaside Town
At first glance, many of Cape May’s Victorian buildings have similar features—pitched roofs, ornate porches, and colorful framing—but each house is actually quite unique and has the history to back it up. Visitors can see a number of different styles by walking just a few blocks. Carolyn Pitts, who supervised the recording of Cape May’s architecture and was instrumental in the town’s declaration as a National Historic Landmark, even said that Cape May is “the best textbook of Victoriana in the nation.”

There are a number of different documented styles of Victorian architecture across the town—Queen Anne, Medieval Revival, and Bungalow, to name a few. The American Italianate style is represented at the Levy-Neafie House—the only private estate in Cape May still standing. The Carpenter Gothic style can be found at the Eldridge Johnson House (also known as the Pink House), which receives a lot of praise for having the most decorative porch in town. There are also a number of other Gothic-style cottage homes, such as the Joseph Hall Cottage and the J. Stratton Ware House.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, wealthy families began building homes along New Jersey’s southern tip during the Industrial Revolution because of the area’s close proximity and easy access to Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, DC. Industrialization allowed carpenters to flex their skills with power tools—experimenting with new patterns and designs in the framework and forming the gingerbread-style Victorian homes.

historic hotel in cape may

© CapeMay.com

“From the whaling and shipbuilding days, there had emerged a community of carpenters who became even more creative with the invention of scroll and steam-powered saws,” says Karen Fox, Cape May historian and author of The Chalfonte. “They carved gable trim, balusters, and arches, made sawtooth siding, pierced cornice brackets, and cut lacey balustrades. They turned plain frame boxes into works of wooden art.” The construction of many of these original buildings coincided with Cape May’s growth as a bustling beach town during the mid-1800s.

Among the most famous buildings constructed in these years is the Chalfonte Hotel—the oldest original hotel in Cape May (and one of the oldest in the US). It was built in America’s centennial year by Civil War hero Henry Sawyer, and it has been reconstructed several times due to fires that swept through the town in the late 1800s. “The Chalfonte is often described as an overgrown wedding cake,” says Fox. “But it is considered American Bracketed Villa—a stylistic hybrid.” The hotel has hosted innumerable guests through the years and, in the early twentieth century, it served as a summer retreat for wealthy southern vacationers, who were brought in by the new owner, Susie Satterfield.

The Rebirth of Cape May
The hype of Cape May among vacationing families died down after the early twentieth century because of interest in other South Jersey hotspots like Atlantic City. However, it was revived in the 1960s, when a group of interested preservationists decided to stop the destruction of the town’s historic buildings. Through the work of architectural historian Pitts and the Historic American Buildings Survey, the group worked to catalog Cape May’s most important structures. Pitts recruited a team of architects to create detailed pen-and-ink drawings of twenty-nine of the homes—an effort called Operation Gingerbread.

The drawings were responsible for Cape May Historic District’s designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and helped revive interest in the historic buildings that dot the town’s streets. “It was becoming obvious that Cape May’s past could well be its most valuable asset in the future,” says Fox. And, thankfully for the millions of people who are able to enjoy Cape May’s architecture each year, Pitts’ and her team’s efforts paid off.

victorian front porch

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victorian street in cape may

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victorian front porch

© CapeMay.com

victorian street in cape may

© CapeMay.com

victorian front porch

© CapeMay.com

victorian street in cape may

© CapeMay.com

Preserving this splendor and tradition of Cape May makes the town feel truly distinct from the rest of the state’s summer destinations. New Jersey is full of family-friendly beaches, but Cape May has something a little bit different. Visitors can stroll down Washington Street or Beach Avenue (the two main thoroughfares in town) and feel like they stepped into another century entirely. Tours of some of the most prominent homes, the restored World War II Lookout Tower, and a critical piece of the Underground Railroad, as well as a moonlight ride through the historic district, give visitors a comprehensive look at not only how the town has changed throughout the years but also how it has stayed the same.

Fox says that when she first discovered Cape May in the 1960s, the architecture was essentially abandoned, disregarded in favor of more contemporary construction projects. But over the last quarter century, she has had the pleasure of witnessing these buildings come back to life. “Today, the nation’s first resort by the sea is a romantic, colorful, and architecturally preserved National Historic Landmark city,” says Fox. “It’s beloved for its friendly culture, the beauty of its homes and gardens, its beaches and bikeways, its abundant local produce and wine, and its diverse dining, music, and theater.”

Without its vast collection of nineteenth-century vacation homes, Cape May would still exist as a resort town. It would bring in tourists eager to hit the beaches and local ice cream shops, purchase postcards from five-and-dimes, and take turns building sandcastles. The architecture is not the only thing to see in Cape May, but it is the thing to see—and the glue that holds it all together.