The Book- And Art-Filled Highland Park Home Of Anne And Alan Bromberg

The book- and art-filled Highland Park home of Anne and Alan Bromberg is richly decorated with years of obsessive discovery.

The Brombergs in the upstairs observatory, part of a new addition finished in 2004, overlooking the back garden. The exposed-beam ceiling was patterned after the ceiling in the free-standing library in the back yard, which is visible from the observatory’s Palladian window. The free-standing library was designed by architect Downing Thomas and was completed in the late 80s. All of the Brombergs’ books are categorized by topic; the books in this library include titles on natural history, botany, and birding.

Sacred Treasures
The book- and art-filled Highland Park home of Anne and Alan Bromberg is richly decorated with years of obsessive discovery.

Like riverbeds, houses accumulate sinking things belongings that become old habits, drifts of incoming matter, the detritus of living. The house of Alan and Anne Bromberg on Stratford Avenue, though, is an accumulation of a different order. Walking through it is an archeology. Year after year, as each trip recedes into the past like a rich flood, their travels leave behind books and fabulous artifacts, their order unpredictable, their continuities and resemblances as full of wonders as something from one of Scheherazade’s Arabian Nights or a tale by Jorge Luis Borges.

The Bromberg house has seen two major additions in its lifetime. The latest features two octagonal turrets connected with hallways lined with books. JPS Contractor took great care to blend the new addition with the house. It duplicated the windows and cedar wood siding to match the previous facade. The new shingles were very different in color from the originals, of course, says Judy Cunningham of JPS Contractor. Our finish foreman concocted a solution that immediately made the shingles look very similar to the aged ones next to them. (Above right) The inscription on the oak hardwood floors in the upstairs expansion was a surprise gift from architect Philip Henderson.

Both Brombergs are native Dallasites. Anne, the Cecil and Ida Green Curator of Ancient and South Asian Art at the Dallas Museum of Art, was brought up (nee Anne Ruggles) with her sisters in this very house. Alan, University Distinguished Professor of Law and a renowned expert on securities, corporation, and partnership law at Southern Methodist University, grew up in a home designed by Arch Swank and O’Neil Ford on Wendover Road near White Rock Lake. From childhood, both have been avid readers like their parents, lovers of theater (especially Shakespeare), devotees of opera, and collectors of art.

Since they bought the house on Stratford (speaking of Shakespeare) from Anne’s parents decades ago, they have been engaged in the complex act of making it their own: lovingly inhabiting it, never letting an interior designer touch it, maintaining it without any help. “We’ve been designing our house as we went along from year one,” Alan says, “starting with what we inherited from our respective parents, trying to learn how to use that, and fitting it in with our personalities.” About a year ago, after Alan’s mother’s death, they built a new addition designed by Philip Henderson and built by JPS Contractor on the east side of the house to help accommodate their new possessions – and their old ones. Books, thousands of them, cover every available wall, upstairs and downstairs. The addition was necessary, in part, because their collection of books overflowed even the two-story octagonal library designed by Downing Thomas and built years ago in the midst of their back yard, thinking it would suffice for their lifetimes. It did not come close.

LIBRARY: This library is one of the couple’s favorite rooms (just as it was Anne’s father’s). The two spend most of their time here, sorting slides from their many travels and sitting amongst the collection of books. The furniture here and throughout the house was largely inherited from both sets of parents.

The real task now is both practical and symbolic: putting their own tastes and passions beside those of the ancestors. In the front foyer, for example, sculptures of a bare-breasted Hindu goddess and a bull stand on one side of the cloakroom doorway, a contemporary American statue – a crow’s head on a square column – on the other. “The things that started out in here are our kind of things,” Anne says, “the statue of Parvati, the god Shiva’s wife, and the Nandi bull head, which is Shiva’s mount. Theatrical, festival-type things. We had these, and after Alan’s mother died, we got this wonderful piece.”

We turn to look at the crow, which reminds me of the illustrations in poet Ted Hughes mordant 1970 collection, Crow – no accident, it turns out.

The breakfast room looks out onto the garden and free-standing library. A large African mask serves as artwork.

“It’s Leonard Baskin,” Anne says. “This is called Crow Term, and it’s obvious how something from a contemporary American artist fits in with the bull. It’s what you get in so many non-Western cultures – that the animal is divine, that nature is a power, just as much as people are. This was in the small library in Alan’s parents house for many years. As you poured yourself a drink at their bar, the crow’s beak would gently nudge you from behind,” she laughs.

Anne says they used to worry about how to get things home once they bought them on their travels, a concern that fell away long ago. Now the question is how each new thing will find its place among the others when they get back home and a truck shows up with a huge crate.

“Then it arrives – the giant ancestor figure from New Guinea, the Rama from Bali, the tiger from China – and you look around the house and think, ’Where will it go? How will it fit in with everything else?’” she says.

The Hindu god Shiva and wife, Parvati, command attention in the living room. African masks adorn the wall and entryway leading to the dining room.


 

The Rama from Bali is a large, striking sculpture of the hero of Hindu mythology struggling to kill a monster as Vishnu’s eagle Garuda swoops down to help him. It dominates the living room. I ask whether, in its presence, they tend to remember how they got it in Bali, and Alan answers instantly.

“We think about it primarily in terms of the mythology from which it comes,” he says. “This is one of the great adventure stories of the Ramayana, and we’re seeing it illustrated here. It’s a very early kidnapping and rescue effort. This is a great piece of mythology. I grew up on myths. They were very powerful parts of my childhood.”

KITCHEN: Anne Bromberg makes Earl Grey tea in a ceramic teapot from Berkeley, purchased in the 1970s when Alan taught at Stanford University. The kitchen is virtually the same as it was when Anne and her sisters were growing up in the house.

“Rama is one of the incarnations of Vishnu,” Anne adds, “the preserver-god in the Hindu pantheon, and in all of his avatars or incarnations, Vishnu saves the world or the gods. He reestablishes cosmic order, which is what Rama’s doing there. Those are stories with very profound meanings in Hinduism, and they mean a lot to us, too.”

Other sculptures of Garuda, brilliantly colored, appear dramatically in almost every room because the Brombergs don’t really “decorate” their house in the usual sense; they align its meanings, inhabit it poetically, unobtrusively establish a cosmic order, not just with their art, but with their reading and their love of nature.

The living room displays the couple’s fine collection of Indian pottery, as well as textiles and African masks. The house originally ended on the fireplace wall. What you see beyond is a part of the most recent expansion.

Upstairs, a bench placed before the great Palladian window overlooks the garden (another of their passions) that they tend themselves – crape myrtles, althea, flowering peaches, magnolia, purple-leaf plum, Japanese maples, and dogwood, with a heated swimming pool in the back corner that they use every day. Overhead, the exposed beams, unpainted and unstained, are Alan’s idea. “Pure geometry,” he says, looking up at the starburst of beams from the center of the octagon. Just off the room is Alan’s workshop (“More repair work than creativity,” he quips), and when Alan eventually moves his office from SMU, his desk down the hall will overlook his favorite tree, the Magnolia soulangeana, on the eastern side of the house. “Purple-red blooms burst out in the spring,” he says, and Anne explains that deciduous magnolias “bloom before the leaves come out, which is why they’re so spectacular.”

This sitting area on the first floor of the octagonal turret inside the new addition houses a menagerie of artifacts.

Back downstairs, on the wall beside the entrance from the living room, several drawings inherited from Alan’s parents, including a Matisse drawing, again illustrate the ongoing work and pleasure of merging lives and collections. On a low platform opposite the drawings is what looks like a spectacular piece of driftwood until a second glance reveals the shape of a great tiger twisting its body to attack an enemy discovered behind him.

When they built the addition, Anne explains, “We’d just gotten the Chinese tiger from Xian. We just love it. It’s like Rama – just to see it was to say, ’Yeah, wow, wonderful.’ So we wondered if it was really going to work with these 20th century modern things. She sets me at an angle. If you look at the Matisse face and you look at the tiger, it’s the same face,” she says – and it’s impossible to deny. “Look at the nose of the Matisse and the nose of the tiger. And those intense eyes, those slanting eyes. Isn’t that great? Even the mouths are similar. That’s what I’m saying. It would never, ever in the world have occurred to either one of us. So you put things up in startling juxtapositions, and guess what? It works.”

So well does it work that days later, reading Roberto Calasso’s Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India, I come across this sentence about Garuda, the presiding spirit of their house: “Buried deep among the tree Rauhina’s branches, Garuda read the Vedas. It was years before he raised his beak.” Tree, eagle, book: One could dwell upon such a coincidence – or dwell with it, like the Brombergs.

The free-standing library was built in the late 1980s to hold the remainder of the couple’s overflowing collection of books. The Brombergs thought the addition would hold enough books to last a lifetime, but two years ago their large-and-growing collection of books necessitated a new two-story wing. The upstairs features an unfinished, raw-wood cathedral ceiling, a naturally illuminated Asian shell sculpture (a gift from a family friend), and, of course, walls and walls of books. The spiral staircase and bird mobile preside over the center of the downstairs portion of the library.

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