Gail & Chil's "Dead Grandmother" Style

House Tour

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Name: Gail Greenwood and Henry “Chil” Mott, Maurice Cheeks and Bear 
Location:
Middletown, Rhode Island
Size: 1,200 square feet plus basement
Years lived in: 22 years, rented for 8 and owned for 14

The first things you notice when you approach Gail Greenwood and Chil Mott’s home are delicate lace curtains hanging in black-trimmed windows and a skull affixed to the yellow clapboard beside the front door. This dichotomy sums up what you’ll find inside of their 1930’s cottage, half of which feels frozen in another time, while the other half tells the story of a rock ‘n’ rock life.

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The couple met in the late 1980’s when Gail began playing bass with Chil’s punk rock band, The Boneyards. The two bonded over music, a shared love of history, and joy rides that lead to adventures exploring abandoned buildings. “I love stories about houses that were just left as they were — with the table still set and everything — the family up and moved, or, sadly, the elderly died or were put away. There are so many abandoned houses that I am dying to break into,” Gail explains. 

Chil’s reverence for the past dates back to his childhood, when he would accompany his mother, a second-generation genealogist and family historian, to cemeteries. He would shine a light on gravestones as she searched for clues to the past. “Don’t be afraid of ghosts,” she used to say, “Just ask them a lot of questions.”

Together the couple has developed a style they like to call “dead grandmother.” The first floor of their home echoes the feeling Gail previously described — minus the dust and cobwebs — of walking into a home untouched by time. The house manages to look a bit like a movie set while still feeling comfortable and inviting.

The kitchen is the most striking example of a time warp. Vintage hand-painted wallpaper with a repeating pattern including a fruit motif is the perfect complement to the house's original cabinets, now painted a bright cherry red and stocked with Fire-King and LuRay tableware. Sparkling white 1940’s appliances look right at home beside a mid-century red and white dinette set.

The bathroom — tiled by Chil in black and white with Vermeer’s "Allegory of Painting" as inspiration — displays old apothecary bottles, vintage glass jars and a working vintage red hairdryer.

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The guest room was inspired by the Nature Lab at Gail’s alma mater RISD, and intentionally has a little bit of a creepy Bates Motel vibe. The red walls feature botanical paintings and drawings from long gone relatives — Chil's grandmother, Gail’s great-uncle — and antique taxidermy Gail acquired for use as study models when she taught drawing at Mass Art. The room holds some of Chil’s most precious family heirlooms: a glass-front bookcase filled with antique genealogy and history books inherited from his mother, and the rocking chair his great-great grandfather was sitting in when he died. 

The frozen-in-time feeling of the home ends on the second floor. Once an unfinished attic inhabited by pigeons, the large open space filled with custom built-ins made by Chil is now the office of Greenwood Associates, the illustration and graphic design company started by Gail’s father Robert in 1954. Gail and Chil inherited the business from Robert and Gail’s late sister Betsy. Although the business has a long history, the office and art studio is filled with things that distinctly mark the space with signs of modern life — computers, magazines, lighting equipment, props for music videos.

A large collection of electric basses and guitars that line the walls tell the story of a life filled with music: the Rickenbacker and Thunderbird Gail played when she was on the road with Belly, L7 and Bif Naked, a black and white Hamer that used to belong to Rhode Island rock legend Carlotta Christy, and the ones they now play with their current band Benny Sizzler. The instruments are also reminders of the old Boneyards days when they first met and traveled with their bandmates Sluggo and Gene in a red and white van, playing shows with the Goo Goo Dolls, Social Distortion and the Circle Jerks. “To this day I have never laughed — nor cried — as hard as when we were all in that van, the "Pack of Luckys."  The funniest people I have ever met,” Gail remembers fondly.

Their band no longer takes them far from home, but their life is still filled with music and laughter. The couple is currently planning a new Benny Sizzler video, complete with costumes and props they make themselves, featuring their charming and incredibly well-trained dogs Maurice Cheeks and Bear.

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Victorian to 1930's/40's — a little bit "dead grandmother."

Inspiration: Old abandoned houses. We love stories about houses that were just left as they were — with the table still set and everything — the family up and moved years ago. Patterned wallpaper still intact but peeling and stained, old-school built-ins, detailed woodwork and trim. We can't watch a movie without concentrating on the trim and molding on set.

Favorite Element: The house is largely unchanged since it was built in '38. Also the small footprint. Just the right amount of space for 2 people and dogs. Who needs any bigger? And the location: on the approach to the runway at Newport State Airport (They built an observation tower to watch the planes.)

Biggest Challenge: Keeping paint on it.

What Friends Say: There goes your resale value.

Biggest Embarrassment: We didn't keep our beautiful original stock windows with the weights and pulleys. We bought the line about new windows saving money on heat. Not true.

Proudest DIY: The bathroom tile. 

Biggest Indulgence: The entire house: Pella architect series wood black clad 6/6 windows. They didn't save money on heat, but they are pretty and don't need paint on the outside.

Best Advice: Don't poo-poo family hand-me-downs as not being "your style". If you live long enough the style comes around again and you are the shit. Plus they are free. And an old saying of Chil's mom Bette: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." 

Dream Sources: Family hand-me-downs, junk shops, estate auctions, the dump, the now defunct Narragansett Racetrack Flea Market, the side of the road, generous collector friends!

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Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS

  • All paint Benjamin Moore. All colors custom mixed to Pantone Charts

ENTRY

• Mirror and runner handed down from Chil's mom's family.
• marble mantel over radiator from estate auction

LIVING ROOM

This room is literally a complete meld of both of our childhood living rooms combined. Chil's mother was a genealogist and family historian, as was her mother before her. And they were savers who saved everything. Since both of our mothers died within the last few years it's kind of a tribute to them. (Or an indication that we refuse to grow up.)

  • Cemetery oil painting -  by Chil
  • Highboy handed down thru Chil's family dating back to late 1700's.
  • Furniture: Gail's mom - chosen by her, made in the 60's in North Carolina
  • Antique Persian Rug - Gail's mom's biggest indulgence. Took her years to save up and then years to choose this rug. Gail is now the family steward for the piece.
  • Portraits: Chil's great-great-grandparents
  • Civil War commemorative sword - Chil's great-great-grandfather
  • Red Sox banner and photo  - Chil's great uncle, 1912 World Series pitcher Ray Collins
  • Green secretary's desk - Gail's family
  • Green-blue ceramic decanter and cups -  made by Gil Warren (gift of his daughter, Dana)
  • Human skull - gift of Gail's Aunt Betty
  • Golden Eagle - Chil's great grandfather's
  • 3 boxes of dog ashes - RIP Edith, Annie and Chiquita
  • Predicta pedestal TV - custom built by the Predicta Television company
  • Altimira floor lamp - gift of Dana Warren Gee
  • Glass front bookcase - Chil's family
  • Sconces - Original to house
  • Cart: Narragansett Ale wooden crate converted to tool box and dog prop with wheels from wagon found at the dump.

KITCHEN

  • Vintage wallpaper - Second hand Rose, NYC. Hung by Doug Leonardo, Papercuts, Newport, RI
  • 1941 GE Fridge  - neighbor was throwing out
  • 1940's Universal Stove  - Earthen Vessel Appliance, Providence
  • Glass front cabinet and corner cabinet - designed and built by Chil, old glass and moldings from N. E. Demolition and Salvage, New Bedford
  • All Fireking and Luray china gift of Bryan and Daryl Duarte
  • Fake ice cream sundae - Gail bought in Tokyo on tour with Belly
  • Clown cookie jar - gift of Tanya Donelly
  • Green towel rack - made by Bryan Duarte
  • Green recycled hand blown glass bowl: Maho Bay - gift of sister Laurie and daughters
  • Red/white enamel table and chairs - N.E. Demolition and Salvage
  • Custom shades  - A Shade Above, Middletown, RI
  • Red Kitchen light - Acquired from Vanicek house demolition
  • Over sink light - Original to house
  • RCMP (Mountie) bank: flea market gift from friend and former  Boneyard bandmate Sluggo
  • Flour and Sugar Jar: Chil's family
  • Women salt and pepper shakers: gift from Gene Severens, lead singer of Boneyard, Gail and Chil's first band together.

MASTER BEDROOM

  • Vintage wallpaper - Hannah's Treasures. Hung by Doug Leonardo, Papercuts, Newport, RI
  • Oil Painting of farm couple - painted by Gail's mom Dorothy Greenwood
  • Drawing of plant by Chil's grandmother - Frances Finney
  • Drunkard's path red and white quilt- Chil's family heirloom
  • Steif animals - Gail's family
  • Bakelite Purse - Narragansett Race Track Flea Market
  • Dressers- Gail's family 
  • Mirror - Chil's family
  • Iron bed -  internet 

GUEST BEDROOM

  • Bed - Antique store Greenville, RI
  • Crazy Quilt - Antique store, Bakersfield, CA
  • Taxidermy - Flea markets
  • Aerial bombs from WWII: winning bid $50 each at the Tuesday Night Fall River Auction
  • Scale - estate sale
  • Rugs - Chil's family
  • Glass front bookcase - Chil's family
  • Early 20th Century tin horn - Chil's family
  • Victorian Frame - Antique Store Portsmouth, RI  (customized with vulture feather)
  • Monkey drawing - Chil
  • Herb Fink nude drawing - Gail's family
  • Bakelite Radio - Gail's family
  • Various nature themed items - family
  • Rocking chair: Chil's great-great-grandfather's. He died in that chair.
    Smoking lamp and ashtray - estate sale

BATHROOM

  • Tile by Chil
  • Corner cabinet by Chil
  • Wave print by Chil
  • Original fixtures
  • Hair dryer: Salvation Army, Newport
  • Old apothecary bottles: Chil's great-grandfather, who was a small town doctor and also some found in basement of the house (a whole box of Murine!)
  • Glass jars with red lids: Gail’s sister Betsy's from the 70's
  • Toothbrush holder: Chil's mom's childhood milk pourer

STUDIO

  • Tariq Aziz painting by Chil
  • Boy sketch by Gail
  • Built in book cases- designed and built by Chil
  • Alva, Fred Smith skateboard by Chil
  • Herman Miller silkscreen poster
  • Cast iron drawing board - Gail's dad
  • Flat files, conference table, stand up drawing board - from Gail's sister Betsy
  • Guitar and basses- Chil and Gail
  • Giant Toblerone  - Gail bought on tour in Europe with Belly. Consumed (in two days) by Gail's parents
  • Postman's boxes - internet
  • Couch - estate sale
  • Work/computer desks - reclaimed yarn displays from local yarn store.
  • Dog costumes - handmade

OTHER

  • skull by front door: Ceramic. Made by a RISD student, gift of another RISD friend

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Thanks, Gail & Chil!

(Images: Jacqueline Marque)

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