Earlier this year I visited chef Lydia Shire at her home in Weston, Mass., to write a story about her kitchen, and more importantly, her overflowing collections of kitchen paraphernalia. The piece “A Cook’s Collection” was published last weekend in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. (If you’re not acquainted, Lydia owns the restaurants Scampo and Locke-Ober in Boston and Blue Sky in York, Maine.) She’s a colorful character, as her home attests…
Outside, the house is a quietly pretty, traditional New England clapboard colonial/farmhouse. As you can see, it was a snowy day when I visited. Unfortunately, Lydia was dealing with some type of flooding that occurred the night before; there were all sorts of workmen there. (Hence, the Chevy pickup.)
Inside, it’s bright, cheerful, loud, decked out in an abundance of color and kitsch. The photos I shot of her living room are too blurry to post, but here’s a great one of her fantastic dining room.
The kitchen is amazing. It’s at the back of the house. The entire back wall is glass, with red steel windows, and a door that opens to the patio and field. (The property was a farm way back.) Lydia’s daughter, Lisa Shire, designed the renovations it as her first project out of architecture school, after everyone Lydia brought to see the house told her not to buy it because it was too run down. I wish I had a better photo, but this will have to do. Just be sure to imagine that the window frames are bright red, as is the Venetian glass chandelier. The table, which she got at Brimfield, has a copper top.
The floor is concrete. Here’s the story Lydia told me about how it came to be:
“I saved money to do the house over. I had X dollars, and you usually go over and scramble at the end. I didn’t know what kind of floor I wanted here; the rest of the house has quarter sawn oak. I started looking at limestone and other stones, but they were all so expensive would have sent my budget reeling. I had gone to this restaurant in Seattle that had colored, poured concrete floors, so I suggested it to my contractor. We did this for $3,000. It’s poured, polished concrete, with no color, because I didn’t want it fake. It’s perfect with the fieldstone.”
Here’s a photo that her publicist, the wonderful Jo Swani of the The Moxie Agency, sent me of the patio in summer:
Here’s the area of the kitchen where the cooking happens. It’s on the smaller side, considering how large the room is, but that’s the way Lydia likes it. She has this to say:
“The great thing is this kitchen could not be better. I love the small workspace. I don’t have gadgets. To me, cooking is a pan, an instrument in your hand, it’s a cutting board, your refrigerator your stove. I don’t know why people make these massive things. For what?”
Her favorite part of the kitchen is the red stove.
Here’s Lydia’s stove story:
“It’s Chambers; probably made in the late ’40s, maybe ’48, the year I was born. It’s America’s answer to the Aga stove, though it’s gas. My aunt had one in Newton when I was a little girl growing up. I loved it. It was an old fashioned green. I was in California in ’86; I went to Antique Stove Heaven and I saw this. It was in perfect mint condition, so I bought it for a little over $1,000 and had it shipped to Boston. My meat purveyor stored for it me. I didn’t have a house, no place to put. I finally got it out when I moved in here.”
The stove has a built-in mashed potato cooker, and a broiler that opens from the top of the stove, in which she she cooks chicken legs quite a lot. But her favorite use for the Chambers stove seems to be chocolate cake…
“It makes chocolate cake better than my Gagganeau, which is so well insulated that the heat is very uniform, so it bakes the cake slowly, whereas in this one, the heat is more intense, so the cake gets crusty on the outside and gooey inside. I always make chocolate in my old oven, progress is not always good. I could make the same cake in both ovens and you’d like the one from my red one better.”
Just a few more pics before we get to the collections…
This is Lydia’s butcher block. It’s old, though the stand is newish. It came from England. She says, “”I’m an incurable carnivore,” she says. “I love to think of all the happy carcasses that met their demise here.”
She’s especially fond of pigs.
Lydia is just as much a collector as she is a chef. She says her husband calls her stuff junk, but actually most of the stuff is pretty special. She stores/displays most of the items in the pantry, a room within her kitchen with walls made from two-ply laminated glass sandwiching a layer of mesh, so they’re sheer but still provide some cover.
Finally, here is a sampling of her stuff!