Architecture & Design

Jane’s Home

It’s a South Temple mansion filled with ideas – as well as a major Utah art collection. A singular place founded on a single principle: that of the Golden Rule.

Jane’s Home belonged to gallery owner Bonnie Phillips’ mother, Jane Dooly Gile Porter, until her death four years ago, and now the family is trying an arrangement where, in a large sense, it belongs to the community. It is available to nonprofit organizations as a meeting place for serious discussion, respectful dialogue based on the Golden Rule, for no more than 25 people (to limit impact on the home and the neighborhood) or to house visiting professors, filmmakers, musicians, writers and poets. It survives on donations and is not a B&B. When we were at Jane’s Home, a woman from the Audubon Society was staying in an upstairs suite and a guitarist was spending several nights in the guest house – or carriage house — where he could practice freely without disturbing anyone prior to a performance with the Classical Music Society. NPR’s Alex Chadwick is a frequent guest; Congressman Barney Frank was once there along with two filmmakers who were making a documentary about him; Vernon Jordan and other early civil rights leaders stayed during a photographic exhibition at The Leonardo; two Irish poets visiting Westminster College lived in the guest house for a semester; the local Holy Cross nuns use the house often. They rely on sponsors to make sure guests are appropriate, give each one a key, tell them it’s their home and to be sure to lock the doors. The nonprofit organization has never advertised but seems to have an event of some sort going on every day.

It is run by Phillips Gallery artist Michael Hall, who took care of the home and of Jane Porter for some 20 years. He lives just next door and is available to guests at all hours, as he was to Jane. He squeezes in time at his Sugar House studio from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. When he returns he checks on the house, then on the cat that adopted the house. He says his job is to take care of the place and “see that it’s well used.” He books guests, discusses “the appropriateness of their being at Jane’s Home and if their group can afford to be there” (the first guest, a lecturer for the School of Architecture at the U of U, paid $120 for a night at the home and that has become the somewhat negotiable benchmark; donations for meetings are arranged on a case-by-case basis), keeps a plumber and electrician on call, oversees the gardeners and obeys the housekeeper who he says really runs the place. Superb care is clearly taken of the home, outside and in.

The Terry Mansion was long empty and in total disrepair when it was purchased in 1987. Windows were broken out, old growth birch paneling had been painted over, wallpaper was in multiple layers and shag carpeting covered the wood floors. In short, Hall said, “a hundred years of decisions by families” was in evidence. So architect Max Smith made the decision to take the Georgian Revival style home down to its original state. The new owner was 70 years old in 1989 when she finally moved in.

It is a comfortable home, left much as it was when Jane Porter lived there. A quiet place filled with filtered light|1| and the intriguing sound of a Stephen Goldsmith fountain coming from a garden courtyard centered on a massive London plane tree visible from many of the remarkably charming rooms. Utah art dots all the walls and sits on every surface.|2| An enormous Tony Smith abstract painting dominates the living room in contrast with the formal furnishings and carpets|3| while a lifelike wooden Sylvia Davis dog lolls by the staircase.|4| It all works seamlessly and elegantly together.

However Bonnie Phillips doesn’t want people to place their focus on the elegance. “Everything that is lovely about that home is there to serve the way people in our community can build understanding of one another,” she says. It is a place to promote an honest exchange of ideas, the kind of give and take she heard around the dining table as a young girl. Phillips recalls that her parents invited people, regular folks like the milkman and, more often, community leaders, to have real discussions about who should be governor, or how best to serve the health needs of the community or to help people in many other ways. “There were disagreements but they always found ways to resolve them,” she says. That’s what she envisions continuing today. An honest exchange of ideas “can be done in my basement, for heaven’s sake,” Phillips says, “but mother did do this kind of home and our hope is that in its exquisite setting we can come to a greater understanding of one another — and not just admire the house.”

But you can’t help but admire it, especially if art and architecture are high on the list of things you value. Bonnie and Denis Phillips have been putting this important collection together since the late 1960s and it represents an enormous chunk of Utah and especially Salt Lake City art history. The basement holds an intimate library with a scarce Bonnie Phillips’ landscape and a scene from Francis Zimbeaux’s Mexican series. In fact, there are 19 book niches in the dimly lit room, each holding a small, carefully chosen painting. Just outside the door is a large David Dornan and around the corner a Bonnie Phillips’ geometric satin piece. (This was a rare opportunity to see some of her best work, just a few pieces — all in the basement.) Enormous temple rubbings from Angkor Wat hang in some of the hallways, as well as more superb art by Utah painters.

There are four unique bedrooms in the main house, their walls covered with appropriate art from the Phillipses’ massive collection – paintings even hang inside the closets, along with another surprise: textile art – period clothing like heavy, heavily beaded jackets, flowing gowns and even a pair of ladies’ swimming shoes that Jane Porter had stored in the attic (relatives’ things – some went to Pioneer Theatre Company) — is scattered through the upstairs. And, of course, a fluffy robe is available for each guest. There is matching Italian tile in every bathroom and a bathroom in every room – the completely redone master bath is radiant heated, surrounded by windows and complete with bidet. The master suite is enormous, with an attached sitting room and huge walk-in closet. The next-largest room is the brightest, with windows that have clever screens on rollers (invented by Jane Porter) that come up only when the windows are open but don’t otherwise obscure the view as well as shutters that crank open and shut. It is all about refinement and light. The smallest room, once probably the maid’s quarters, is perhaps the most charming. It’s a colorful and whimsical nook with one of Patricia Forsberg’s Pierrot triptychs above the bed and Sam Wilson, Don Olsen, Denis Philips and others on the walls and, of course, hiding in the closet.

Bonnie Phillips reminds us that the Golden Rule project started years before Jane’s Home became a part of it, and insists the house is not about the art but about bringing that adage “into our lives in a very common sense, everyday way.” The central principle for any gathering at 129 E. South Temple is: “First seek to understand, carefully listening to others; then seek to be understood.” Framed broadsides illuminated by local artists containing numerous versions of the Golden Rule from a variety of traditions and cultures can be found around the house – and in local schools, too, which is the work of the Golden Rule Project begun in November 2003. Three of the broadsides (two in English, one in Spanish) now hang in the halls of the Utah State Capitol following passage by the Legislature of a Golden Rule Resolution.

Categories: Architecture & Design

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