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The Dining Room Table on the China Terrace

The China Terrace is my way of representing the past in the present, of giving a new life to memories of the years when Glen Villa Inn welcomed summer guests from near and far. According to a local newspaper of the time, Canadians and American visitors “from every state in the Union” came to spend their holidays here in North Hatley, Quebec. The hotel’s life was brief, though. Built in 1902, it burned to the ground in 1909, shortly before opening for its eighth season.

Not long after moving into Glen Villa in 1996, I discovered an enormous cache of broken china from the hotel, and over the years I incorporated those shards into the design of a space that remembered the hotel. The broken china pieces composed a mosaic at the entry to the Inn.

 

Some pieces of the broken china we found showed the name and location: Glen Villa Inn, Massawippi Lake. Local artist Caroline George used them to form this mosaic welcome mat at the entry.
Some pieces of the broken china we found showed the name and location: Glen Villa Inn, Massawippi Lake. Local artist Caroline George used them to form this mosaic welcome mat at the entry.

 

They formed a rug under the dining room table.

This photo is from 2008, the year I made the rug.
This photo is from 2008, the year I made the rug.

 

They became part of bricks that divided the space into ‘rooms.’

 

This photo from 2020 shows the China Terrace as a whole.
This photo from 2020 shows the China Terrace as a whole. In the foreground is a staircase to an imaginary second story.

 

I set the dining room table with plates that our children had used when they were growing up. Before embedding them in the wet cement table top, I deliberately broke the plates into large pieces to suggest that the past did not tell a single, unbroken story but one that was fragmented, that varied according to your point of view. I added cutlery, goblets and napkins that I made with the help of Lucy Doheny, a talented local potter.

 

This photo is from 2007, when the napkins were still new.
This photo is from 2007, when the napkins were still new.

 

Over the years, with the freeze and thaw of winter, the plates broke into smaller and smaller pieces. The wooden goblets made by Greg Hirtle, a local woodworker, began to rot and the pottery napkins began to crumble.

 

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By this spring, the whole table was a mess. This state of affairs left me in two minds. I could leave things as they were, allowing each element to deteriorate further, or I could set the table anew. I decided to do the latter. Because while I liked the sense of change that the broken plates and rotting goblets suggested, the disintegration was so complete that it made it difficult to tell a comprehensible story.

 

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Renewing the dining room table was one of my goals for this year, and I’m pleased to say that the job is now almost complete. Using a grinder, Ken Kelso removed the shattered plates and deteriorating cutlery that I originally embedded in wet cement .

 

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Once he had finished and the table top was washed and dried, I was ready to put the new plates and cutlery in place.

 

Indentations in the cement show where the old plates were. The new ones are ready to be glued in place.
Indentations in the cement show where the old plates were. The new ones are ready to be glued in place. We used the stack of bricks to add weight to the plates until the glue completely dried.

 

Using plates with the same pattern I’d used before was important to me — that pattern was the connection between the history of our family and the history of the site. It took me several months, but by searching on line, I finally found eight plates with the same design. To make them last longer, I decided not to break the plates but to leave them whole, trusting that the weather will break them soon enough.

 

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Now, with new goblets and with the plates and cutlery glued in place, all that is missing is the centrepiece and the napkins which I will make later this fall, again with help from Lucy Doheny.

 

table overview (1 of 1)

 

I know that for a while the table will look as raw as it did when it was brand new. I also know that with time, the wooden goblets will begin to rot and the plates to crumble. And that the moss will also grow again on the sides and top of the table, giving the impression of age that makes the China Terrace feel so ghostly.

 

Still missing is a centrepiece and new napkins. They should be in place by mid-October.
Still missing is a centrepiece and new napkins. They should be in place by mid-October.

 

The original motivation for the China Terrace was my desire to recognize the history of the site. I wanted to mark the passage of time and the changes that occurred, and will occur, that register that movement. The table, the moss-covered bed and the outline of chairs do that. So does the katsura tree that I planted along one ‘wall.’ It was a tiny shrub when I bought it in 2003. Now, seventeen years later, it is is a full-grown tree.

 

The katsura tree -- Cercidiphyllum japonicum.
The katsura tree — Cercidiphyllum japonicum.

 

Its growth provides a counterpoint to the deterioration of the man-made elements on the China Terrace. Its life underlines a contrast between what grows towards the future and what looks to the past. Finding that balance is what makes the China Terrace a significant element in the garden at Glen Villa. Pondering that balance adds substance to the garden itself.

  • annewareham

    It was your table that originally made me fall in love with your garden. Good to think it has new life. Xxxx

    • Ann Macaulay

      agree!

      • Even though I am pleased to give the table another life, I’m a tiny bit worried about the raw look of it now. This despite knowing it will weather soon enough.

        • annewareham

          That’s part of its life too. And one of your winters will batter it!

          • It’s the moss growing on the table that I miss. Probably the plates will begin to break over the winter… unless I keep the table covered. Not sure I want to do that. It adds extra work and that makes me tired just thinking about it.

          • annewareham

            O – I do so know that ‘tired just thinking about it’. It’s hard. I guess we have to start taking ourselves into account….. Xxxx

    • And it was your hedges and reflecting pool that did it for me!

      • annewareham

        It’s great to think of these things, reaching and communicating across the world.

  • PlantPostings

    That is special! I really like the carpet and the bricks and the mosaic and the renewed table settings. So creative!