REMEMBRANCES OF CHILDHOOD DREAMS AND TOYS TURNED THIS STORETOP INTO A SOPHISTICATED HOME
REMEMBRANCES OF CHILDHOOD DREAMS AND TOYS TURNED THIS STORETOP INTO A SOPHISTICATED HOME
“I’M CLEARING OUT this attic,” the lady was saying, “and it’s filled with a lot of weird old junk. It looks just like your apartment. Maybe you should come over.”
The lady happened to be a cleaning lady and she was describing the attic-clearing to two of her once-a-week clients, Doug and Hedda Johnson, a handsome young Toronto couple who make their living as illustrators.
The Johnsons did check out the attic, and the “junk” did look like their kind of things. And they came away with, for them, a hoard of treasures: beaded handbags; frail, lovely tea gowns so old they were almost transparent; boxes of postcards from the 1930s.
The objects the Johnsons discovered in
the attic that day fell naturally into place with everything in their home over a hardware store on Toronto’s Yonge Street. Their apartment is pleasantly crowded with secondhand throwaways from such places as the Crippled Civilians, Trevor’s Antiques, New York thrift shops and war-surplus stores. They include a wild range of the bizarre: a photoscope; a 1919 child’s Industrial Design roller desk; a dentist’s fountain with a Kewpie-doll leg stuck on top of it; a child’s windup bumble bee that flops over when it’s in motion; an old cabinet of U.S. mailboxes which Hedda uses as a sewing cabinet; stray pieces of cloth, feathers, beading; an enormous sequined collar, which she wears.
All these objects have nothing to do with junk or Camp or with trying to create an atmosphere of nostalgia. They’re simply the Johnsons’ style and they also happen to reflect their work as illustrators. “We don’t know why we get these things except they touch us visually,” Hedda says. “They don’t have to be old, or mass-produced. We just need them around all the time.”
Doug explains their kind of collection this way: “We’re not in a position to digest everything we know is valuable, so we have to create our own little world in a house that will influence us all the time. That’s why we have separate studios — we each have to have our own objects around.”
In Doug’s studio (also the living room), he has designed and made a series of wooden modules. These square white cabinets contain all the Johnsons’ records, books, art supplies and office materials. And the modules can be rearranged to make seats or tables. Doug's objects are grouped around an easel — a dance program from a 1943 Moose Lodge dinner, flat, stand-up toy soldiers, a bulldog doorstopper, a flattened-out 1920 store mannequin, a 1938 bodyscope. And some old helmets. “When I bought those helmets,” he says, “I really thought that maybe I’d be able to wear them someday. I didn’t intend to start a helmet collection.” “Our things are like toys, toys we’d like to have had when we were children,” Hedda says. She lived in Germany until she was 13, and spent most of her childhood moving
and leaving behind things that she hadn’t finished playing with. Douglas, who’s 27, was born in Toronto and, like Hedda, graduated from the Ontario College of Art. Their love of their toys — and their love for each other — is reflected in their illustrations. Whether this special atmosphere they’ve created evolves into the playful surreal images of Hedda’s drawings, or into the romantic drama of Doug’s, it’s affecting a lot of art directors these days. Their work appears in Maclean's, Harper's Men’s Bazaar, Esquire, GQ and GQ Scene, Playboy, Seventeen, Saturday Night, and in promotions by Paramount Studios and NBC. Doug at the moment is working on 54 illustrations for the first six issues of a glossy new German magazine, Jasmine.
The Johnsons feel that, in most cases, it’s their technique that’s bought, not their way of thinking. “Most art directors aren’t aware of illustrators as total thinking beings. If they don’t see exactly what they want in my samples, they just don’t hire me.” So the extraordinary commission from Jasmine fazed even Doug’s normal cool. “This guy saw nothing in my samples that he wanted. But he had confidence in my work and could see beyond what I had just done. The man who senses what you’re all about, believes you can do a job with anything — which you can if you draw well — his jobs come along only once or twice a year.”
As an occupation, illustrating is unpredictable, demanding in time and ingenuity. It could become obsessive. However, the Johnsons aren’t prisoners of their work, and their interest in other subjects, from history to politics to art and films, is formidable. Though they seem to attract vast numbers of stylish, talented people around themselves, you won’t find them first-nighting with the social set, or attending the very political cocktail parties of their trade. They prefer being at home with the people they like best. And they like to cook for them. When they’ve been working in isolation for a few days, the escape into preparing a meal can be very sweet indeed. As with most things in their lives, eating is an occasion. To share one of these occasions, turn the page.
DOUG AND HEDDA’S CHAMPAGNE LUNCHSIMPLE, ELEGANT AND INEXPENSIVE
One evening, in a fallow work period a few years ago, Doug and Hedda Johnson served their dinner guests small paper bags of hot popcorn. That was it, popcorn. They somehow managed to make it the most fashionable, if somewhat startling, dish one could serve at the time. But now that they’re beginning to make money at illustrating, they can serve food that not only tastes great, but looks as handsome as in these pictures.
Both Hedda and Doug care about food and they like to eat well, so they are excellent cooks. They have the instinct to present food attractively. It isn’t just that they select the crockery that perfectly complements the dish. But that’s part of it. Nor is it the care they lavish on table decorations. But that counts, too. What it is, above all, is style; and style is what radiates from everything the Johnsons put their hand to. The champagne lunch is fairly typical of their style — romantic, luxurious, a 1968 version of a more elegant and glamorous era. It’s also inexpensive to prepare.
To begin with, their kitchen is a marvel of efficiency, in spite of few cupboards and no counter space. They use an old marbletop sideboard to store all canned goods, herbs and staples. A large packing crate, painted black, has a thick chopping board attached to the top. This becomes both a working area and a place to hang pots.
Their method of working is efficient, too. It has to be. When Doug cooks, he takes charge. And when Hedda’s recipes are be-
ing prepared she does the ordering around. She chalks up things to be done on a Victorian billiard scorer that disguises an ugly old radiator. They consult it periodically so there’s no falling about in such a small space. The lunch: hot walnut meats, pickled egg plants, green-bean salad with vinaigrette dressing, rice with blueberries, croissants, Dolmas and Oeufs à la tripe.
The fresh walnut meats are sautéed in olive oil and salt until dark brown and very crisp. Jars of pickled egg plants have a peculiar texture, but the flavor is extraordinary. Both items are dripping with oil and salt, and if you can get through them without downing all the champagne, you’ve a will of iron. Dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, require
special shopping. Jars of pickled grape leaves are usually available in stores that cater to Italians or Greeks. Dolmas are messy to prepare, and only the tenderest young leaves should be used. But it can all be done the day before. Hedda claims the success of the dish depends on all the ingredients being chopped very fine. She also believes that the best rice is ignored rice. She uses long-grain rice, adds twice as much water and simmers it, uncovered, until it's perfect. For flavor and color, she adds about V2 tsp. ginger to 2 cups of cooked rice, and garnishes the top with V2 cup of fresh blueberries. The beans are cooked only long enough to turn a rich green color. Dressing should be added just before serving.
1 tbsp peanut oil 1 jar of vine leaves (16 oz)
1 lb minced lean beef or lamb OR half beef and half lamb VA lb mushrooms 3 small onions, finely chopped V3 cup cooked rice 1 tsp finely chopped dill or dill seed
1 tsp oregano salt to taste
2 tbsp sugar
2 sliced lemons Juice of Vá lemon lVá cups dry white wine
Chop mushrooms fine and sauté in peanut oil in a heavy frying pan. Add minced beef and onions; continue sautéing until lightly browned, stirring frequently. Stir in cooked rice, dill and oregano. Salt to taste.
Use about 36 of the tenderest vine leaves from the jar. Stuff the leaves by placing about a teaspoonful of the meat mixture in the centre of each leaf and overlapping the points of the leaf over the mixture to make a neat roll. Arrange rolls in layers in a medium-sized casserole, topping each layer with thinly sliced lemon. Sprinkle with sugar and pour over lemon juice and white wine. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Cover and bake in a 350 F. oven for about one hour.
VA tsp white pepper Ve tsp grated nutmeg Vs tsp tarragon VA tsp Dijon mustard
2 sprigs parsley
Chop onions fine and add to 2 tbsp butter melted in a small heavy saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and blend in flour. Return to heat and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Do not allow to brown. Remove from heat and add scalded milk slowly, stirring constantly to ensure a smooth mixture. Stir in salt, pepper, nutmeg, tarragon and mustard. Add parsley sprigs, cover, return to low heat and simmer for 15 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Peel and split eggs lengthwise, place in sauce and continue cooking, covered, over hot water, until eggs are heated through. Add remaining butter cut in small pieces. Serve hot in heated round dishes. (Serves 4.)
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