Chris Brennan Interview:
This is file # 31, cycle 2. Today’s date is June 15, 2016. This is jean McMillen. I am interviewing Chris Brennan. She is going to talk about how she came to the area, her business, several of the businesses and private homes that she has worked in. We shall probably talk about all the other civic activities she done including the Salisbury Association of which she is presently President. We’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
JM:What is you birthdate?
CB:March 17, 1951
JM:Your birth place?
CB:De Moines, Iowa
JM:Your parents’ names?
CB:Patricia Hansel Preston and Carroll Preston
JM:Do you have siblings?
CB:Yes I have 5 siblings there are 6 of us altogether 4 boys and 2 girls.
JM:May I have their names?
CB:There is Steve, Kathy, Chris, Mike, Tim and Pete.
JM:Educational background after high school?
CB:I have a BS in Elementary Education, most of it was done at De Paul University in Greencastle, Indiana then I finished the last few courses at the University of Minnesota. I have a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, was from the University of Minnesota. I have degree in Interior Design from Fairfield University in Connecticut.
JM:How did you come to the area?
CB:I came to the area because at that time I could live anywhere. My husband and I were doing a business where we traveled. We chose to move to New England; we landed in Salisbury. Actually we met with Harold and Florrie Corbin, who at that time lived in falls Village and owned an antique shop. We were very interested in antiques. We stopped in their shop and they helped us find a place to live, a small cottage in the center of Salisbury which was for rent for $100 a month.
JM:Oh my word!
CB:I know; times have changed.2.
JM:That would have been in 1978?
CB:Yes, 1978 is when we moved here.
JM:Now you have a fascinating business. What is it? Why do you have it? And what do you do?
CB:I am an interior designer in the terms of architectural interiors. I design bathrooms, kitchens, and anything to do with interiors. I also help people with colors, fabrics, wallpapers, textiles, lighting, and furniture for their home. I do a fair amount of historical work, but I have also done contemporary.
JM:Which do you prefer, historical or contemporary?
CB:I prefer anything that has good scale. They all appeal to me and it is good design and good scale and proportion. To me that is the most important thing.
JM:I think you said that you started out doing primarily color and then your customers sort of pushed you into expanding into other areas.
CB:That is correct. We built our house in 1980. At that time when my husband Joe saw an ad in the Shopper’s Guide for flooring, antique flooring for sale. He went up to look at it; he agreed to buy it. He bought it thinking that it was just flooring. As he was pulling out of the barn, there were all of these wood grained boards that were obviously wainscot in a building and they were all 18th century wood grain painted. He bought everything. Because we had all of these wood grained original boards from the 18th century, I needed to learn how to do that because we had doors and windows that needed to be painted to match it. That is when I first started really looking around and finding out how to do that. I went to workshops on Long Island, upstate New York, and everywhere I could. I learned as much as I could. Thus I got into the faux finishing, the decorative finishing through that avenue because I just kept doing more and more and learning more and more about how to do it. That is where all of the color knowledge came from, mixing paints. I mixed a lot of glazes, a lot of paint. You learn a lot about color doing that, how not to make mud! That is the goal. Then I became a faux finisher; as people came to me for color and faux finishing, they kept asking me for more and more. I needed to know what I was doing with the interiors, I felt in order to help people efficiently, well, and do a good job. I went back to Fairfield University and I go my degree in Interior Design.
JM:When did you get that degree? What year?
CB:It took me a while. I think I finished in the early 2000’s.
JM:Well you had children; you had other things you were doing.
CB:Oh yeah I worked all day, and I went to school at night and I had three kids.
JM:When did you actually start your business, just with the color aspect?
CB:Oh the color part, I started that in 1985.
JM:Did your business dovetail with what your husband was doing?3.
CB:Yes they worked together because of the historic work in terms of the historical finishes that I did, but I also did very contemporary finishes. At that time in the 1980’s there was a huge awareness of faux finishing. It was very popular. It came from England; Jocasta Innes was doing it. John Fowler was really the one who started doing it back in the 1970’s. He was a partner with Nancy Lancaster who was an American. She came from Virginia. She was one of the Langhorne sisters from Virginia. She had lived in England so that is how that all got started.
JM:Now I am going to ask you about some of the public projects that you have done and what specifically whether it was design or color or faux finishes. I may not have them in the right order, but we will start with the Day Care Center on Salmon Kill Road.
CB:Oh right that was the exterior colors for the Day Care Center and the Visiting Nurses.
JM:The same thing or not-exterior color?
CB:Exterior color. I don’t remember doing interiors on that; I am not sure why. I worked with Lao Brewer on that; she contacted me for that.
JM:The Scoville Memorial Library?
CB:The library I did all the colors the lighting, and furniture of the library.
JM:Now we have had so many renovations which one was this?
CB:This one was in the mid 2000’s it seems to me, perhaps 2003-4.
JM:The Academy Building
CB:I designed the interior which meant storage to be efficient.
JM:You did a wonderful job.
CB:Oh thank you. I designed all of the storage for the second story for the three groups that work out of the Association building; the Historical Society, the Land Trust, and the Civic Committee. I did the colors, the lighting and the flooring.
JM:The only question I have is how do you change the light bulbs?
CB:that is not easy. You have to get on a big ladder; you have to unscrew the globe, bring it down. It is no easy.
JM:Tell me about the fire house? Have you done any work inside on that or is it still in flux?
CB:It is all designed. What we did is we had a structural engineer come in and look at the building and survey it. There are designated areas but it is not fully designed on the inside. It is very self-designed because of the way the space works with the kitchen. A restaurant in the one area, the old
area that is two stories high has the kitchen so that is a natural design. That is what we would keep it as a natural design.
JM:It is more efficient and less expensive.
CB:Exactly. It is a really wonderful building; it lends itself well to what we are trying to do. Right now we are still working on getting the final permits from the Historic District, approval for the certificate of appropriateness from the Historic District Commission. They approved the front of the building but they are looking at the parking and they have a few questions. The landscape plan has been done for that too. Parking and landscape all of that has been done. It was approved at Planning and Zoning at a public meeting.
CB:St. Mary’s I did the community room, the colors and the tile for the kitchen. The kitchen has already been designed so it was just that.
JM:The railroad station
CB:We are still investigating the railroad station but that again doesn’t need much. It is going back to the way it was originally.
JM:Oh good, it is a nifty building.
CB:It is a wonderful building. Again it is in a great location.
JM:Oh yes, definitely. I am not going to ask you specifically about private homes, but can you tell me roughly about how many private homes you have worked in?
CB:There are probably about 60 some were very minor and some more extensive.
JM:I am assuming that when you started your business you might do a room.
JM:This sort of like Topsy, it just grew.
CB:That’s right and I have worked in Montana, Michigan and upstate New York in the Adirondacks, Maine, South Carolina, and New York City with multiple projects.
JM:How do people get ahold of you? Do you have a website?
CB:I have a website, but it is not good. It is word of mouth. I have a website but I don’t have time. I agree with you because that winnows out immediately people who don’t understand what you are all about. With word of mouth people explain and somebody see what I have done they like it or they don’t like it. Then it is a self-vetting process.
JM:But that makes it so much easier because then you are not messing about with people that really don’t know what they are talking about.
CB:Yeah exactly that’s right.
JM:Is there anything more that you would like to add about your business before we move on to the Salisbury Association?
CB:I don’t think so.
JM;How did you get involved with the Salisbury Association?
CB:I was asked to become a Trustee in 2007 or 2008 when they were just forming the Historical Society See file # 22, cycle @Ron Jones). So it was a natural for me to be involved with it.
JM:Do you remember who asked you?
CB:It was Carl Williams (See file 111A Carl Williams).
JM:So you have been in it approximately 9 years.
JM:You are holding what position now?
CB:I am currently the President serving a three year term.
JM:You have heavy responsibilities with this accreditation.
CB:That is right. The Land Trust Alliance Accreditation has been a lot of work. I think it has caught all of us off guard as to what it involves but it is such a beneficial thing because it has allowed us to really become aware of and then update our governance which is crucial in today’s world.
JM:What is governance?
CB:Governance is the framework for the organization to operate. There are policies and procedures that have been adopted which allow us to have guidance to best practices.
JM:That has been a long process. How many years has it been that you have been working on this?
CB:Since I became President! Yeah three years January of 2013, I walked right into it and not even knowing. Dave Heck said oh it runs itself, but at that point they had just begun.
JM:No one knew. When do you think you will actually be finished with this process?
CB:The pre-application goes in on June 28, 201. That gives us several months to tweak it. There are questions from the committee that is looking at it on the Land Trust Alliance c side. Then the final
application goes in in September of 2016. So we are at the tail end. We have done all of the hard work, the heavy lifting.
JM:There was a lot of it.
CB:There is a lot of it.
JM:I have been fortunate enough to attend a few meetings and was very impressed with the dedication of so many people to get this through. Now is this Land Trust Alliance just state or national?
CB:It is national. So we are meeting their standards and practices which is a national guideline. The bar is very high as it should be.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add about the Salisbury Association?
CB:I want to speak to the quality of the trustees and everybody who is involved in it with the Land Trust committee, the Historical committee, and the Civic committee. I love the knowledge and experience that these people bring to the table and the discussions. I find them really energizing. Jean I would never have had a chance to get to know you if it had not been all the historical things and I have enjoyed that so much.
JM:I have too. I find it interesting in doing the oral history; I have done a lot of committee members. They all say the same thing. This is a special area where so many people have so many skills and gifts and are willing to volunteer and are dedicated. I hear this over and over again. I am thinking, Yes this is what you want to make a community evolve.
JM:We are evolving; I think in a very good sense. It is a little messy at times.
CB:Exactly but changes are hard. I agree with you. Every committee, trustee, board or whatever I have been on, I have really enjoyed it because of the people on the different committees.
JM:You meet different people with different boards. Well that just leads us right into tell me some of the other civic committees that you have been on.
CB:I have been on the library board, the Scoville Memorial Library, 2 terms, non-consecutive. (See file #22, cycle 2 Ron Jones)
JM:This would have been mid 1980 for 15 years and then you went back on about 2000ish.
CB:That is right. Another one is the Salisbury Ambulance Board. (See #104 Tina Chandler)
JM:That was approximately in the 1990’s?
CB:Yeah about in the 90’s.
JM:How many terms did you serve?7.
CB:I did one term there. Then I was on Berkshire Hills Music and Dance. That was probably in 1980’s. See #118 Al sly and #127A Jo Loi)
JM:That would be in the 80’s with Al Sly.
CB:That was really great. The quality that they brought was just phenomenal.
JM:Al had high standards; he was particular.
CB:Then I was on the Salisbury Central School Board.
JM:When did you do that?
CB:I was on it for 12 years which meant 3 terms. I did that from the 1990 until 2006 or 7.
JM:Then I must have met you in the 1990’s when I was working on my book and you helped me with the weaving part.
CB:Yes, that’s right. Then I taught for at least 12 years if not longer ice skating through the Salisbury Recreation at Hotchkiss. (See #170 Lisa McAuliffe)
JM:Is there anything else? Although you have done plenty!
CB:I don’t know.
JM:That is another thing I find with people that generally they don’t do one thing, they do several.
CB: Yeah for you to be able to look at it and evaluate how people do things that is pretty interesting. This is my anthropology coming in.
JM:That is wonderful how people relate with one another and how they work. Before we close this interview, is there anything else that you would like to add about your organizations or your business?
CB:The one thing that I do want to add is about raising our children here in this region. They have had such a wonderful experience and they will say this. They really loved being here, growing up in the village, going to the village school That was a choice for us to keep them at the village school because we wanted them to know the children of the village. It was a great experience for them to go through the village school and the summer programs. They did the tennis, the swimming, swim team, they were also involved and then they did the Summer Youth Job Program (See file #65 Patty Stevens). Two of them did. That was prenominal for them.
JM:That is special to this town.
CB:Very special so we never felt the need for them to go to camp or go away because it was like we were living in a camp where everything was available to them. Then the sports they had their sports at school; they had their fall sports, winter sports and spring sports. The school took them downhill skiing
in the winters. They had that with their school friends. They had a well-rounded education, all the sports every season. I feel really good about that.
JM:Thank you for putting that in because it is important. We have a good school system and good teachers.
CB:We really do with really good teachers.
JM:Thank you so much.
CB:Thanks Jean I appreciate it.