Best-selling author Elinor Lipman cares deeply about the use of precise words for communicating. She also cares about her home’s artfully designed decor. When the two overlap, she describes her furnishings and wall colors with exactness and begins to sound like one of her novels’ deliciously idiosyncratic characters.
For instance, she stands in the lovely sunken living room, in front of a modern fireplace mantel designed with “lace wood and granite,” and points to two Hoffman chair reproductions. After some mild anxiety and great reflection, she describes them as the color of “pale rhubarb.” The color also threads throughout the immense Oriental rug.
The tiles in the spacious kitchen, complete with breakfast nook, are “forest,” she says, or, well, maybe evergreen, but no matter: They are soon to be replaced with a more contemporary material that, she emphasizes, will most likely be “mined from the earth,” but won’t be granite — too passe, she hints.
Off the kitchen, in the sunroom, where Lipman indulges her “chronic” hobby of knitting sweaters, scarves, and afghans for gifts, she relaxes on a spacious couch that could pass for pale purple but is, she maintains, a cross between “elephant and plum.”
The recently renovated guest bathroom floor is parquet, stained in a “textured shiny black with linseed oil and paint,” and the walls are “gray-green.” When a visitor suggests they might be “avocado,” Lipman is adamant, “no, that’s so `70s.”
On the second floor, the walls of her office are “pale pale pistachio,” although she concedes that she might edit out one “pale” if it were in her writing. The third floor houses the master bedroom.
Label anything and everything whatever you will, the three-story new-Victorian home she and her husband, Robert Austin, built 17 years ago on 1 1/2 acres is an inviting space, and Lipman is far from a snob; she is a warm host who just likes to get words right.
Married 29 years, she and Austin make decor decisions together, guided by decorator Barbara Jo Metcalfe of Shelburne, who helped select paint colors, and Amherst interior designer Annick Porter, who also served as Lipman’s design consultant for her 1995 novel, “Isabel’s Bed,” set in a fancy house with two ornate bedrooms, one with a pearly gray decor, another with quilted leather. “Obviously, an unlimited budget,” Lipman says, smiling.
Lipman’s husband, a diagnostic radiologist at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, served as medical consultant for “The Pursuit of Alice Thrift,” just out in paperback (Vintage, April 2004). The couple has one son, Benjamin, 22, who graduated from Columbia last May and is living in Los Angeles.
Both Lipman and Austin have an affinity for works by Provincetown and Northampton artist Bruce Ackerson, who paints unique, textured oil-on-panel images. The couple owns five, including the well-known pair of swimming pools called “Empty” and “Full,” and their newest, “Contraband,” which will soon hang in the two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan they purchased this summer. “It’s been a dream of mine to get a New York apartment for part-time use,” she says. “Someday, when Bob’s retired” — she’s 53, he’s 55 — “it can be our `southern residence,’ ” she says, jokingly.
The two eat in the dining room every night and call it their nightly dinner party. They began this romantic routine 15 years ago after purchasing a stunning “ebonized wood octagonal table and chairs with black feathered-leather seats.”
“I drop everything and start cooking dinner at 4,” she says. Among their gourmet favorites are Indian, Italian, Thai, and Vietnamese meals. She plucks herbs from her garden, including thyme, tarragon, basil, and three kinds of mint.
Instead of describing her culinary delights with precise words, she uses a grading system stolen from Kathleen, a character in her 1999 novel, “The Ladies’ Man.” If a dish rates an A-plus, she repeats it for company; anything lower than an A is usually retired.
Tom Hanks recently optioned movie rights for “The Ladies’ Man.” The movie may take years to appear, Lipman says, and each novel is about two years in the making. “But when I cook,” she says, “I get to finish a project that day, get feedback, have a good audience, and enjoy the actual cooking.”