A Man’s Home Is His Art Museum
KRT US NEWS STORY SLUGGED: ARTHOUSE KRT PHOTO BY ERIC MENCHER/PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER (August 28) Dan Rosenfeld, left, of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and Michael Stern, of the Foundation for Architecture, look at murals found in a Philadelphia home. The FitzGerald family discovered the artwork under layers of paint and plaster. (PH) PL KD 2000 (Horiz) (gsb)
Skip Forrest has filled his home in Fox Point, Wisc., with artwork that he likes to move around to provide a variety of views. (Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT)
Skip Forrest has done a number of things professionally over the years, mostly in design and marketing.
He worked with his father, one of the region’s more prominent interior designers, worked for an architect, launched a start-up, had an art and collectibles gallery inside the Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee and organized international rallies for Harley-Davidson.
But his best life’s work — so far, anyway — just might be his home.
He lives in the smallest home on Holly Court in Fox Point, Wis., among a collection of midcentury ranch homes. Forrest’s is perhaps the most modern of the bunch, with roof lines that tip back and forth like a child’s teeter-totter and a bright periwinkle door with mod shapes.
The house is organized around one giant room, with high ceilings, angular volumes, bright white walls, lots of natural light and an impossibly pristine white carpet inherited from a previous owner 18 years ago. The space has the feel of a museum, and every art object and piece of furniture seems to float in this bath of white.
Rarely does a week go by when Forrest doesn’t move things around, take one painting down and replace it with another, or move one of his decorative objects from India or a textile from Afghanistan to a new spot. In the evenings, spotlights highlight certain vignettes, and Forrest lights candles and sits in a far corner where he can enjoy the exhibition he’s created for himself while reading a book or watching a movie.
For every object, piece of furniture and arrangement in the home, Forrest seems to have a great tale to tell. He talks about his Indian figurine of the Hindu god Vishnu that he found in Chicago, missing its hands; the Hans Wegner dining chairs he describes as “like ballerinas”; the Ruth Grotenrath painting in his bathroom that once sold for $750 but that he picked up for $16; the poster his father bought on his first trip to Europe; the contrasting box joints on his Danish bar, and so on.
Now, though, Forrest is getting ready to leave his sanctuary.
“I’m very comfortable here, but I’ve hit this birthday,” Forrest says, adding that he’s just had a birthday with an “s” in it, “and I want a change. I need to get uncomfortable.”
He’s planning to swap Milwaukee for another city, perhaps one in south Florida. His real estate agent advised him to put some of his objects and books away. He declined flatly. He wanted potential buyers to envision the space art-infused. He was delighted to accept an offer from an artist who will take possession of the home in a matter of weeks.
Forrest recently sat in his favorite corner and told us about the place.
Q: This seems like a great house for someone who is living alone and perhaps a solitudinous life.
A: I think it is. It’s been very good for me for a long time. I knew that giving up a second or third extra bedroom would be a sacrifice. Most of us, you create that as a guest room, and you can push stuff in there that you don’t want to deal with. It’s tough without that extra room.
Q: And living in a small house, it’s a very precise way of living, too, right? You really have to make decisions, and everything has to have a place. Do you like that?
A: Yes, I really do. This is not cleaned up for you, for instance. This really is how I keep it. The only thing I cleaned up is I tucked the laundry basket away.
I live neatly because I find pleasure in that. I do have things I like to look at, and if you put a stack of papers there, it’s going to ruin that view. And the view is important to me. I get a lot of pleasure out of the view. One of the epiphanies I’ve had in the last few years about art is how much we bring to it. I really didn’t realize that until recently.
Q: Really? How did you come to that realization?
A: Actually, it was a movie, Silver Linings Playbook. When I saw it in the theater, I completely hated it. I was saying things like, “Why are they always running down the middle of the street? There are no cars. It doesn’t make any sense.” I was edgy, and I almost walked out, I hated it that much. And then one night, I was in a completely different place, and I loved it. Those little things about running down the street I understood as a sweet affectation; it was intentional. It was completely about my own state of mind. And you have to apply that to all art.
Q: Do you recall when you started collecting art?
A: It happened naturally for me because I grew up with a good interior designer as a father. So I started with a few hand-me-downs. As I’m getting older, it’s taking on more importance.
Q: Did this house change your aesthetic or collecting interests at all?
A: No, I don’t think so. I’ve always had an interest in Danish modern furniture. I like the scale of Scandinavian furniture and the warmth. I also sort of like modern and ancient together. I love the patinas you get on old furniture. So I like that 18th-century Portuguese provincial table. It was my desk when I had a retail business. But the contrast is what makes that. It’s got Deco chairs with it. I wouldn’t want anything to be slavishly one thing or another.
Q: You seem to love this house so much. Why are you leaving it?
A: I’ve reached this point in my life where I don’t think I should be comfortable. I want to keep my life exciting. I have been a serial dater for a long time, and it’s gotten to the point where any new woman I meet knows someone else who I’ve dated. It’s not that I have a bad reputation, I just have a reputation. I have very good relationships with almost all of my exes. I’m in touch with them, I’m friends with them, and I have wonderful stories. But that’s part of it.
I am also getting tired of winters as much as anyone else. I’ll probably go to a condo because I’m tired of the yard work. Now, it’s time to turn a corner.
Q: So now that you know you’re leaving this house, what do you think you’ll miss?
A: I don’t think this space, this large, high-ceilinged room, I don’t expect to have that again. I like all of those lines. I like the angles. I remember being a kid, I liked getting upside down and looking at those angles in the ceilings.
For some reason, that’s what I’ll miss. I do like sitting in this corner and taking it all in.