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Material Things

the art changes but the house remains the same



Photographs by Wendy Carlson

Some people move furniture around when they want to achieve a fresh look in their home. But Tom Grotta and Rhonda Brown have a more ingenious method; they simply change the artwork. Fiber art—both diminutive and massive—dictates the look of the couple’s renovated barn, and it is ever changing. In the light-filled entranceway that doubles as an installation space, a slinky, tubular sculpture constructed of discarded and deconstructed Encyclopedia Britannicas appears to have sprouted from the bluestone flooring. An antique band saw strung with colored thread into a geometric form protrudes from a wall. Nearby, a trio of life-size willow and bronze figures are posed as if secretly conversing. In a few months, this dynamic dialogue of artwork will be replaced by another set of pieces. “People who come here may have seen the house before, but it will look different because the artwork in it will be different,” says Grotta, a photographer and graphic artist. Together with his wife, Rhonda, a lawyer, they own browngrotta arts, an agency that represents contemporary fiber artists.

Operating out of their home, Grotta and Brown photograph artwork, publish catalogues, curate exhibits, organize trade shows and sell online the work of more than 100 fiber artists from around the world. At any given time, about 100 pieces are temporarily installed in the couple’s home, replaced by others when sold or when new pieces arrive to be photographed.

Rich in texture, color, and sculptural dimension, this contemporary art form ranges in size from tabletop pieces made with unconventional materials such as compressed newspaper and plastic, even safety pins and clothes pins, to wall-sized, mixed-media tapestries.

The couple’s passion for art began in the late 1980s when they purchased a small, 1920s farmhouse in Wilton. They moved in with only a few pieces of furniture from Grotta’s college days. “We had a lot of wire-spool stools, and a board set over saw horses for a dining-room table,” recalls Brown. But they placed a four-panel abstract painting by Claude Vermette on the wall above it, making the room instantly elegant. “The furniture was minimal, but we had so much great art, and we felt it was the art, not the furniture, that made the house feel more homey and more spacious,” adds Grotta.

So it was only fitting when the couple and their son, Carter (now 18 and college-bound), decided to move to a larger space. It was for the sake of the art. As business grew, the couple needed a structure with high ceilings and spacious, handsome rooms that could also double as a photo studio. They also wanted a space to showcase how fiber art can be part of everyday décor. “We were looking for a house with good bones, but we needed it to have an open, canvas flexibility,” Grotta says. A decade ago, they found the perfect fit with a two-story, 1895 former horse stable set on two acres, just north of Wilton center. New York architect David Ling designed the barn’s renovation and a new addition that mirrored the original stable.

From outside, the matching gambrel roof, white clapboard siding, and original stable doors make the new wing appear to have always been there. However, the addition is strikingly different: an airy, contemporary space that’s illuminated by a series of French doors and a glass window in one corner of the informal double-height family room and kitchen.

In the mezzanine, the master bedroom, with vaulted, beamed ceiling, is connected to the old barn by a carriage bridge. The original barn now functions as a formal living area and also houses offices, a den, a small kitchen, and guest bedrooms. With less window light, this space also protects artwork from damaging ultraviolet rays.

Throughout the house, reclaimed barn beams, hemlock-wood flooring, and salvaged barn doors work to recreate a natural barn look, connecting the old with the new. In many ways, the end result is a functional work of art itself—a rustic framework that houses exhibition space, living area, and workplace.

Above all, it’s a home that radiates the couple’s lifelong passion. “We felt it is important to show people how they live with art,” says Grotta. “But we also care very deeply about how the art looks within that space.”

This October, Grotta and Brown will open their house to the public for a special exhibit entitled “Stimulus: Art and Its Inception.” It includes work from several dozen international artists, each piece accompanied by an item that inspired the artist, giving viewers a glimpse inside the creative process. The exhibit runs October 22 through November 1, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with an opening reception on October 22, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., 267 Wilton Rd.

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