Romeo & Juliet doors in Highlands Castle
A 'defining moment' is: A point in your life when you're urged to make a pivotal decision, or when you experience something that fundamentally changes you. Not only do these moments define us, but they have a transformative effect on our perceptions and behaviors.
My moment would stem from the breakup of my marriage in 1978 at the age of 23. Living in a townhouse rental (with five other guys) was certainly not a good situation, especially when spending time with my 3 year old son. So I spoke these words to him "This is not our home... this is temporary... Someday I’ll build a home for the two of us. Someday Jason, I will build you a castle".
From that day forward, I began the quest to do whatever was necessary to make good on the promise. What I didn't realize at the time, there would be plenty of help along the way, charting a path, and directing my steps.
How do you build a castle? My way was to do it backwards. I sketched designs and floor plans for years, I bought Gothic Revival furniture, antique light fixtures, and suits of armor. Each purchase solidified my commitment so there could be no 'turning back'. Besides, I thought once the place was built, it could take years to find the ideal furnishings? Seemed rational to me!
Here's my favorite 'Doing it backwards; Directing my Steps' moment: I took my son to Cape Cod one summer and pulled into an antique store in Dennisport. Massachusetts. There were four stained glass panels, one in each of the four corners of the shop with a 'NOT FOR SALE' large index card placed on the front of each piece. I met the shop owner (Mr. Snell) and told him the shields & halberts on the stained glass caught by attention. He explained that the shields were actually family crests (for the Montagues & Capulets) and the other two panels were of 'Romeo & Juliet'. These were his 'conversation pieces' for his store and he had owned them for 59 years. Tiffany had been consigned to create the doors for one of the Vanderbilt homes in the late 1800's. I shared with Mr. Snell about building a castle one day for my son and left him my phone number in case he came across any "castle-like" antiques in the future. We headed back to New York at the end of our vacation getaway. A few months later, Mr. Snell called me saying "I'm 78 years old, and my health is failing. I never had any intention of selling the 'Romeo & Juliet' doors, but I'm calling you first to ask if you would be interested in buying them". And so I did, and drove back several weeks later, wrapped them in blankets, and put them in storage with the other antiques I had collected. I designed my whole house around these doors that would lead into 'The Great Hall' one day.
Here's the head scratcher:
I purchased these doors before I acquired a mountaintop property that had no lake & mountain views at the time (as 100's of trees were blocking the views until I began clearing for a foundation). I designed the placement of these doors (before finding the property) to open into a grand room in the heart or center of the castle. When you look at the artwork on the stained glass, you'll see a lake and mountains. Now, when you open the doors and look into the Great Hall, 21 windows are facing Lake George and the Adirondack Mountains!
Look closer. The flagstone floor artwork (underneath Romeo & Juliet) also matches the flagstone floor in our home, something my wife pointed out just a few months ago! The balusters in the artwork also match the exact shape of the outside railing balusters of 'The Castle Cottage', a separate castle that sits next to Highlands Castle.
What do I think about all this?... Mr. Snell was holding onto these doors until I showed up. His wife, Rebecca Snell would call me years later when she was in her 90's (by simply looking up my last name, calling my father first who gave her my number). She asked me "Did you ever build the castle that you told my husband about?" I was so pleased to let her know that I designed my entire home around her husband's doors, and that I remembered how significant they were to him, and they would always be just as significant to our family. At the end of the conversation, Rebecca Snell said "I want to send you a check for your project". I told her that was a nice gesture, but one I couldn't accept, as the project was my home. (I wonder if I turned down $10 or an inheritance?!)
I did mail a letter to Rebecca, with photos of the Romeo & Juliet doors (trimmed in oak as shown), along with an invitation to stay with us anytime. Unfortunately, that was the last contact we shared. She was going down memory lane and I was delighted to spend a little time with her on this special path.
John A. Lavender II, owner of Highlands Castle overlooking beautiful Lake George in Bolton Landing, NY