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Like any place that has known great happiness, a slight nostalgia pervades the stone house in Connecticut's Litchfield Hills, where Nancy Cardozo lived with her husband, Russell Cowles, until his death in 1978. For twenty-five years they lived and worked in creative harmony, she writing, he painting. They reconvened from separate studios for quiet lunches--talk was reserved for dinner--and walks down to the stream or up the nearby hill to pick blueberries. "We ate in the shade of the arbor and danced under the starry skylight of the studio," Nancy wrote in Creature to Creature, a collaborative work of poems and sketches. Though Russell died many years ago, the house today still suggests his presence--his crisp landscape paintings decorate the walls, and his photograph adorns the bedroom. Wistfulness flickers and vanishes as Nancy speaks of the past, and the atmosphere of the property, depending on the clouds overhead and the wafting of warm breezes, ranges from melancholic to romantic to euphoric, like the restored stone silo, open to the sky: on gray days it towers to the heavens like a medieval ruin; on sunny days it's a fairy-tale leaf-strewn changing area for the nearby pool.
The house itself is stucco-covered stone, built in the 1820s by an affluent Englishman, no doubt in the manor style of his home county, with two pointed Gothic windows high on either side. The front facade is blunt and classical, with two rows of evenly spaced ordinary windows and a paved path leading directly to the door. (In 1839 the house--including 100 acres--sold for $250.) When Russell bought the place in 1940, he made few changes to the exterior; he patched up holesand added a lintel, a pineapple flanked on either side by two round balls, made of carved wood covered in stucco.
Off the back of the house sits what had been the original owner's manger for livestock, with an enclosed hayloft above. Exposed on one side, with two doors on the facing wall, the lower space feels both sheltered and airy, the darkness lit up by sunlight on the green fields beyond. Russell and Nancy paved the earth floor and installed a grill for cooking, but the feel of the place, with its stone walls and coarse timber ceiling, is still marvelously primitive, even a bit brutish. With smoke, snow, and "an imported shaggy pony, Nancy's son, Jan Egleson, a film director, turned it into a sixteenth century Irish manor hall for a television series several years ago. Stacked logs line one wall, and huge stone slabs step up into the main house. As boys, Nancy's sons slept in the large whitewashed loft above the garden room, and the whole family still gathers here for meals and to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other happy occasions. A thirty-year-old trumpet vine frames the view toward the stream and hill, and the fragrance of alyssum and twining roses drifting from Nancy's gray-green garden sweetly suggests the summer nights when, as Nancy wrote, "eating by candlelight, in the breezeway that once housed sheep and cows, we talked the hours away."