Don Metz's new book
"Confessions of a Country Architect",
is now available.
Don Metz's Confessions describes the life of a residential country architect with wry humor and pathos. This book will delight all those who have built a house, forearm those summoning up the courage to do so, and calm those who realize their talents might be better confined to an armchair with a view. Readers will be seduced by the author's adventures as he confronts the awkward, intractable, and hilariously messy job of building dreams.
Confessions of a Country Architect
From James Kelsey
Don Metz has written a book of great charm about architecture and life in rural
New England. Metz's keen insight into the colorful characters, both working
native New Englanders and the clients he has served, weaves a wonderful, warm
and witty tale that is as vivid as a Vermont autumn hillside. While he
touches on subjects of heated debate in the high academia of the architectual
world, he does not intimidate, but enlightens the casual student of form and
function. The story line however, is in the characters --
Morty Bailey the earth mover, Giovanni the plasterer -- and in the hilarious
tales that unfold while working with his compelling, though occassionally
eccentric, clients. This is a feel-good book that is a blend of Peter Mayle's "Year in Provence", Bill Bryson's witticism and Richard Selzer's professional
By Dan Mackie, for the Valley News
You don’t expect a book that’s nominally about architecture to lack pictures, because a picture, in such a visual endeavor, is worth the clichéd thousand words.
Confessions of a Country Architect by Don Metz of Lyme has no artwork, but it doesn’t suffer for the lack. It’s a book about architecture and life, not a guide to building.
Confessions is a quiet little book, eminently likable. The Metz we meet through his writings is thoughtful, self-effacing, serious about his work and playful as well. He reveres the tradesmen he works with and is kind — with one exception —in his descriptions of colorful clients.
The book is a series of essays by an architect who, if he hasn’t seen it all, has seen a lot. The first chapter sets the stage with a short tribute to a character who built his own little sawmill out of spare parts. “Horton Bowles was tall and angular with a commanding nose and a crusty accent worthy of the Smithsonian. A master of rural New Hampshire etiquette, his speech was designed to never quite inquire, never quite inform — and always understate.’’ Horton discusses the roads, weather and wildlife sightings, and traverses a few more conversational back roads before he declares, “This fella’s got to have some lumber. … Guess we got to stop yakking, and amount to something.’’ Later, without a bit of malice, he puts the then-young Metz in his place.
When Metz tells the sawyer that he’s an architect, “Horton nodded politely and squinted into the unrepentant sun. There was sawdust stuck to the stubble on his chin, and a hint of pity in his voice when he replied, ‘I should think that would be awfully boring.’ ”
Confessions of a Country Architect doesn’t make it seem dull at all. Metz has built a good career in a rural place. He’s written several books about architecture and his design work has received awards and notice in places such as the New York Times. His early interest in “green’’ building has proven timely, to say the least.
Metz, in fact, strikes you as one of the lucky ones, who has found work and a style of life that entirely suited him. Despite a shot at big-city, prestige work, he chose to move to the country and work for different stakes. What he gave up in grand projects, he seemingly gained in connections with people and the community.
Early chapters contrast Metz’ studies at Yale, where the reader gets a modest dose of architectural theory, with his summer job at a quarry, where Metz learns the rough genius of working men.
Metz describes his early homes, and his delight in operating a bulldozer. He describes clients who take his advice, and others who choose disastrous contractors. He considers the careers of classmates who take a more high-flying path, and his own route of interesting, diverse work, with an option to take a day off to hike up a mountain when that seems the perfect thing to do.
The stories are told with an agreeable grin and with such, dare I say, fondness, that I thought I would grow tired before the end. We have all read enough ain’t-life-in-the-country-swell chronicles.
But about halfway through, Metz reveals stronger passions. “My interest in trees is aesthetic, scientific, and personal,’’ he writes. “I can smell the difference between oak sawdust and pine, between maple wood and brown ash. I remember certain trees more vividly than I remember certain people,’’ he says in a chapter that tells of his encounter with a loutish man of wealth who was remaking his land, and dispatching trees, with the sensitivity of the creator of a Wal-Mart parking lot. Metz skewers him in a manner that’s restrained, but it’s a skewering nevertheless.
Then follows a heartfelt chapter about a trip to Mississippi to work on a Habitat for Humanity house. Metz witnesses simple faith and a wealth of gratitude from a poor family. The homeowner thanks the work crew every day. He thanks the Lord for a new counter, new flooring, every single thing. “When I was in architecture school, we would have all kinds of plans for improving Maynard and Delia’s lives. Aesthetics, to us, were the natural path to enlightenment. Years later, in Maynard’s new Habitat kitchen, I wondered if the better part of enlightenment wasn’t coming from Maynard to me.’’
Throughout the book, Metz stops for little lessons about architectural history and theory. He says some academic language is overblown, and he never takes the reader in too deep.
Metz’ own preference is for architecture that respects the past and the land, that knows when to say enough. He praises the out-of-favor front porch, and admires the pride of a long-gone farmer who cared enough to add classic touches to a mere milk house. He writes, “We enhance our lives by paying attention to history and making buildings that pay attention to who we were then, and who we could be now.’’
As our own Upper Valley sees a faster pace of building (perhaps about to take a break for a bit), we can only wish that more of our architecture was guided by similar wisdom.
Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon, NH.