Charlie Lovett greets me in his carport, careful to keep his distance. He’s wearing a mask of his wife Janice’s making — one of hundreds she’s made in her workshop for Project Mask WS.
As we exchange pleasantries and comment on the topsy-turvy times we find ourselves in, I’m introduced to the newest Lovett family member cradled in his arms.
“This is Rosie,” says Charlie, petting their new cavapoo puppy.
“She’s excited to have a visitor.”
I’m excited too, even if I’m not visibly squirming. Charlie and Janice Lovett’s home has been on my Step Inside wish list for years.
In addition to being a New York Times best-selling author, award-winning playwright, and an expert on the life and works of Lewis Carroll, Charlie Lovett is a world class book collector.
His collection of books and bookish things related to Lewis Carroll and “Alice in Wonderland” is among the largest in the world.
As excited as I am to step inside the Lovett’s home; as delighted as I am to be invited into the writer’s studio, the chance of catching a glimpse, however fleeting, of Alice or one of her Wonderland cohorts is making me trippy.
Designed by local architect Bob Arey in the early 1970s for Sen. Ham Horton and his wife, Evelyn, the Lovett’s home originally featured a mixture of Moravian and Japanese influences. Located at the end of a winding drive that disappears into a wooded nook, the house remains hidden for much of the year. It’s as secluded as one can get living in the heart of Buena Vista. For Charlie, who spent his childhood summers in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, it was love at first sight.
It was 1997, the Lovetts were living in Kansas, Charlie had just earned his MFA in creative writing from Vermont College, and he was busy working on a book called “Lewis Carroll’s England.” His work would take him and his family to the tiny village of Kingham, England, (population about 700) where, over the course of six months, Lovett visited places all over England associated with the life and times of Lewis Carroll.
Lovett credits the experience as one of the key factors that led to his eventual breakthrough as a novelist. He and Janice bought the cottage they stayed in and regularly escape across the pond to Kingham, England, to crisscross the English countryside in search of literary connections.
“I like to feel a strong sense of place when I’m writing,” Charlie says.
When the Lovetts finally decided to remodel their Buena Vista home in 2010, years of splitting their time between Winston-Salem and England resulted in an affinity for design and decoration that came out of the English Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century.
In the kitchen, a wooden stove hood and green glazed subway tiles — decorating ideas the Lovetts brought back with them from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London — play supporting roles to handmade Stickley-style cabinets of quarter sawn white oak.
For the Lovetts, who cook and entertain often, the kitchen needed to be “usable and functional,” as well as a veritable feast for the eyes. There needed to be plenty of counter space to work and easy access to essential tools and table settings.
Standing in the writer’s studio, I can’t help but gawk at a 19th-century Hammond typewriter sitting unassumingly on a shelf at the top of the stairs, which is standing in for Lewis Carroll’s own 1888 model that’s currently being restored. Stickley-style bookcases repeat the Arts and Crafts design vocabulary found throughout the house. This is where Lovett wrote his bestselling novel “The Bookman’s Tale,” and where he hosts his popular podcast “Inside the Writer’s Studio.” Vintage “Alice in Wonderland” memorabilia line the shelves and a large British theatrical poster from 1934 promotes a musical adventure of Alice that dominates the room. I may be visibly squirming now.
Charlie is preparing to leave town for a couple of days for a Zoom event with Anne Bogel called a Stay at Home Book Club Retreat.
“It’s nice to have a “pre-tour” event for this book,” Lovett says of “Escaping Dreamland.”
When I ask where his favorite place to write is, Charlie’s answer isn’t surprising.
“Here, in my studio,” he says. “I have been known to write on hotel balconies, airplanes, and (in the case of “The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge,”) in Canterbury Cathedral while waiting for Christmas Eve service to begin.”
For me, Christmas has come early.
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