Tag Archives: TIM BUTTON

Into the Blue: Tim Button Visits the Galápagos Islands

I haven’t had a solid two-week vacation since 2001, so it was wonderful when a longtime client gave my wife and me a 15-day trip to South America from Overseas Adventure Travel, a Massachusetts-based company that conducts small-group tours to off-the-beaten-path destinations for people 50 and older. The package comprised  eight days in Ecuador (Quito and the Galápagos Islands) and seven days in Peru (Cuzco and Machu Picchu). Since in March and April the desert-like Galápagos are warm while mountainous Machu Picchu is chilly, it was like taking two separate vacations. I’ll describe the excursion to the Galápagos here and do a separate post on the mainland portion of our adventure in a later post.

Flying into the Galapagos Islands

Flying into the Galápagos to start our five-day cruise around the archipelago of volcanic islands that straddle the Equator 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.

The islands, famed for their vast number of endemic species, were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle, which contributed to his inception of the theory of evolution by natural selection. A province of Ecuador, the Galápagos have about 25,000 permanent inhabitants, 80% of them involved in the tourist industry (which is highly regulated for ecological reasons), although there is some farming and coffee growing. But most of the archipelago and its surrounding waters are a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising a national park and biological marine reserve.

Overseas Adventure Travel boats cruising the Galapagos Islands

No more than 30 people may enter most nature sites at one time, so our party cruised the Galápagos, which are mostly dry and desertlike, in this pair of small boats that could each accommodate up to 16 passengers.

Upon landing, we made a short bus transfer to the dock, where we boarded our passenger boat for the four-night cruise. As required, not only had our cruising itinerary been filed with the conservation authorities of the Galápagos National Park (park biologists can make changes to plans to minimize their impact on the ecosystems of the islands) but also our trip was led by a certified Galápagos naturalist, from whom we learned a lot.

The desertlike landscape of the Galapagos Islands

The typical Galápagos landscape has a rugged and barren beauty. 

Our cruise centered on land tours that got us up close to the extraordinary flora and fauna. The birdlife is specially bountiful, the most ethereally beautiful being a subspecies of the Great Blue Heron.

Great blue heron in the Galapagos

 A Great Blue Heron, perhaps the most beautiful of all native Galápagos birds.

The islands’ most famous seabird is the Booby–there are three species on the Galápagos: the Blue-footed Booby, which is the most common; the Red-footed Booby, the only one that nests in trees; and the Nazca Booby, the largest of the three.  The the English name “Booby” is thought to originate from “Bobo,” the Spanish word for clown, which was given to the birds due to their comical ungainliness on land.

A Galapagos Nazca Booby

A Nazca Booby, the largest of the three species found on the Galápagos.

None of the wildlife is afraid of humans so it’s possible to see the various birds, reptiles, and sea mammals up close.  The marine iguana, found only on Galápagos Islands, has the ability, unique among modern lizards, to live and forage in the sea. They grow more than five feet long, and look a bit like Godzilla or some other monster, as Charles Darwin evidently thought back in the 19th century when he wrote:

The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large (2–3 ft), disgusting clumsy Lizards. They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl & seek their prey from the Sea. I call them ‘imps of darkness’. They assuredly well become the land they inhabit.

A Galapagos marine iguana

A Galápagos marine iguana, the only lizard that lives and forages in the ocean.

The Galápagos sea lion is  another species that exclusively breeds on the islands. Beign numerous and social, they’re often seen sunbathing on sandy beaches and rock outcroppings or gliding gracefully through the surf. Their loud bark, playful nature, and athletic agility in water make them the “welcoming party” of the archipelago.

Galapagos sea lions sunbathing on a sandy beach

A colony of Galápagos sea lions enjoying the sun on a sandy island beach.

You don’t always have to trek into the hinterland to encounter the wildlife. Galápagos pelicans and seals gather round the fish market stalls in the harbor towns and are very comical as they scramble for food scraps.

Pelicans and seals

Pelicans and seals in the fish market at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. 

Next up: Our travels in Peru and Ecuador.



Home Study: Our Favorite American Landmarked Residences and Historic House Museums, Part I

The US has an abundance of landmarked residential buildings and historic house museums. Modest or grand, simple or complex, they embody some of the most characterful architecture and design of their respective eras. Here are Scott BromleyJerry Caldari, and Tim Button‘s favorite American historic houses; Bruce Bierman, Laura Bohn, and Barry Goralnick‘s picks follow next week.

SCOTT BROMLEY: For me, the ultimate New York City pied-à-terre is the landmarked jewel box on East 52nd Street that architect Philip Johnson completed in 1950 for philanthropist, collector, and future MoMA president, Blanchette Rockefeller. She needed a place to put up guests, to entertain, and to display a growing collection of contemporary art that her husband, John D. Rockefeller III, didn’t want in the couple’s Beekman Place apartment.

Philip Johnson, Rockefeller Guest House (1949-1950), 242 East 52nd Street, New York, NY, exterior

The Rockefeller Guest House, 242 East 52nd Street, New York City, designed by Philip Johnson in 1949-1950 and landmarked in 2000.

Johnson tore down an existing carriage house, keeping only its brick side walls, which he painted white to best set off the art. The new two-story building’s facade is solid brick on the ground floor and steel and glass on the second floor. The large, open living-and-dining area downstairs (with a guest bedroom and bath above) is separated from the master bedroom in back by a courtyard and small reflecting pool. (A kitchenette, once located in the living area, is now in the basement.) A less-is-more composition of brick, glass, and steel, the house looks a lot like the abstract art it’s meant to display.

The house has had several owners over the years. Johnson himself rented it in the 1970s, and in 2000, the year it was landmarked, the art dealer Anthony d’Offay sold it at a Christie’s auction for $11.1 million to cosmetics tycoon Ronald S. Lauder, himself an important collector and chairman of MoMA.

Philip Johnson, Rockefeller Guest House (1949-1950), 242 East 52nd Street, New York, NY, plan and street facade rendering

A rendering of the guest house’s brick, steel, and glass street facade, and the ground-floor plan, which is bisected by a courtyard and reflecting pool.

Philip Johnson, Rockefeller Guest House (1949-1950), 242 East 52nd Street, New York, NY, interior

The living area in the 1950s, when Blanchette Rockefeller owned the house.

Philip Johnson, Rockefeller Guest House (1949-1950), 242 East 52nd Street, New York, NY, courtyard

Looking from the master bedroom, across the courtyard with its reflecting pool and stepping stones, to the living area. 

JERRY CALDARI: In 1944, Henry Miller visited Big Sur, California, at the time a remote, inaccessible paradise, and was awed by its “grandeur and eloquent silence.” Miller wrote to his friend, the painter Emil White, that he had ”discovered a place better than Mexico” where he wanted to make his home. White also moved to Big Sur, and during the next two decades the duo are credited—or blamed—for generating the first wave of tourism there and popularizing the region. (In fact, the completion of the Pacific Coast Highway in 1937 created the influx of visitors.)

Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, CA, exterior

The Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, California

Miller left Big Sur in 1960, but White stayed on. In 1981, a year after the novelist’s death, White turned his own rustic cabin into a shrine to his friend, which he called the Henry Miller Memorial Library. Set in a grassy clearing surrounded by redwoods, today the compound not only houses a trove of Miller’s papers but also serves as a non-profit bookshop and cultural and educational center. In summer, an outdoor screen is raised across the backdrop of mountain and conifers so movies can be shown under the stars. Benefit concerts have featured artists such as Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, and Philip Glass.

If there’s a lovelier place to hear live music in California, I can’t imagine what it is. The slightly ramshackle cabin is a modest but excellent example of the region’s hand-built vernacular architecture—and an authentic player in the creation the Big Sur’s famously easy going bohemian lifestyle.

Henry Miller in Big Sur, CA, in the 1950s

Henry Miller (1891-1980) in his own Big Sur cabin in the 1950s.

Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, CA, bookshop interior

The Henry Miller Memorial Library bookshop

Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, CA, outdoor movie screening

An outdoor screening, part of the Big Sur International Short Film Series, at the Henry Miller Memorial Library.

TIM BUTTON: In a previous post, I wrote about one of my favorite historic house museums, the Mills Mansion at Staatsburgh in New York’s Hudson River Valley. The 1896 remodel and enlargement of a house belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Ogden Mills—she was a Livingston, one of the region’s oldest and most distinguished families—it was designed by Stanford White of starchitects McKim, Mead & White, and is an outstanding example of the Gilded Age country estate. But the same year McKim, Mead & White were commissioned with what is in many ways an equally impressive specimen of the era’s chateau-on-the-Hudson style: the Vanderbilt Mansion in nearby Hyde Park.

The Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York, eastern facade

The Vanderbilt Mansion at Hyde Park in New York’s Hudson River Valley, designed in 1896 by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White.

Faced in gleaming Indiana limestone rather than the Mills Mansion’s white stucco, the fifty-four-room Neoclassical Beaux-Arts house (the only one ever built in the Hudson River Valley) was designed by Charles Follen McKim; Stanford White assisted McKim by serving as an antiques buyer for the project, whose interiors were variously executed between 1896 and 1899 by Herter Brothers, A.H. Davenport, Georges Glaenzer, and Ogden Codman, Jr.

The house belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Frederick William Vanderbilt, one of the lower-key branches of that formidable family of conspicuous consumers. But they were still not quite “established” enough for Eleanor Roosevelt, who as a representative of the old order of Hudson Valley families, characterized the Vanderbilt’s house as a “modern castle” lacking in historical significance compared with the neighboring Mills estate with its Livingston lineage. The former first lady was particularly critical of Mrs. Vanderbilt’s fussy, pretentious taste, writing in 1947 wrote that she “had a passion for bows and, with her own hands, used to decorate every bathroom with bows tied on everything in sight. . . . There are still on the tables some photographs of the kings and queens whom Mrs. Vanderbilt knew in Europe, for it was the era of kings and queens and knowing them made a few of us feel more important.”

Mrs. Roosevelt notwithstanding, the Vanderbilt Mansion’s potent combination of masterful architecture in an Arcadian landscape offers a compelling vision of how the American billionaire class spent it in the late 19th century.

Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York, northern facade

Perfectly positioned on the right bank of the Hudson River, the Indiana limestone mansion stands on the site of a Greek Revival house that was razed when it proved too structurally unsound to expand. 

Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York, Mrs Vanderbilt's Bedroom

 Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom suite on the mansion’s second floor, was designed by Ogden Codman, Jr., co-author with Edith Wharton of The Decoration of Houses (1897), which became a classic of American interior design.

The view of the Hudson River from the Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York

The peerless view of the Hudson River from the Vanderbilt Mansion’s superbly landscaped 300-acre park.


Lobster & Steak: Designers Collaborative Celebrates the Holiday Season


Almost all members of Designers Collaborative (plus significant others) attended a delicious Holiday Dinner at City Lobster & Steak

Although Designers Collaborative has been meeting for 20 years, in all that time we had never had a proper end-of-year Holiday Dinner. This year we finally did, going to our friends at City Lobster & Steak where they customized a menu specially for our group.  Tim Button, Barry Goralnick, Scott Bromley, Bruce Bierman, Ron Bricke, Susan Arann, and new member Amy Lau all attended with our significant others. Here are a few photos from our evening, and we wish you all the very best for the Holiday Season and the New Year.

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Left: Bruce Bierman, Laura Bohn, and Scott Bromley. Right: Tim Button

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Left: Barry Goralnick. Right: Laura Bohn

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Left: Amy Lau. Right: Bruce Bierman

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Left: Ron Bricke. Right: Susan Arann

Bromley Holiday Dinner Party Menu