The great American writer Flannery O’Connor has said that to create great work, we must get our hands dirty.
The renowned ceramicist Christopher Spitzmiller elevates this concept. The highly regarded designer creates his inimitable ceramic lamps by hand at his eponymous NYC design studio; he spends weekends knee-deep in his garden on Clove Brook Farm, his pastoral farmhouse in New York’s Hudson Valley.
He finds that chasing dirt cleanses the soul. “When I’m outside working in my garden, I don’t think about people who haven’t called me back,” he says. “Yes, there are problems that crop up, but I look at it as a challenge.”
Those challenges become opportunities.
“I’ve noticed that I reach out to friends to help me work through them, and gardening has become an incredible uniter for me. Ryan McCallister, Martha Stewart’s head gardener, helps me with everything. He’ll tell me when is the right time to move my citrus trees, where to buy heat mats to help with germination of seeds, and why the Japanese willow that I replaced last year, died again. I call Ryan ‘Coach.’ Arthur Parkinson in England is also one of my gardening heroes. His color sense and knowledge of grading is endless.”
Growing flowers seems to free Spitzmiller’s heart and mind in the way his ceramic lamps spring from molds. He is quick to compare the two. “To make ceramic lamps, we take clay, which is compressed wet dust and minerals, and we make something out of nothing,” he shares. “The growth element interests me.”
Producing life from seeds intrigued Spitzmiller early on. As a toddler, he collaborated on a large vegetable plot with his dad. “He’d take the handle off a bucket for me,” he says. “I’d go up and down the aisle of sweet peas and pick them, filling the bucket.”
The experience took him to a deeper place. “Getting the sweet pea and soaking it in milk, and two to three months later, you have a flower,” he remembers.
Clove Brook Farm speaks to that timeless place where personal remembrances meet traditional elegance. Spitzmiller painstakingly renovated his 1830s-era farmhouse into a tasteful masterpiece, choosing striking pieces, textures, patterns and shapes that hold symbolic meaning for him.
With the Clove Brook Farm house completed, he turned his attention to the large pastoral property grounds. Ever the collaborator, he called in landscape designer and friend P. Allen Smith to help transform the garden into an astonishing paradise, in 2014.
Initially Spitzmiller tried growing vegetables at Clove Brook Farm. He quickly realized a trip to the local farmer’s market would more than provide. “I switched over to growing flowers—sweet peas in the spring, then roses and peonies, then in the fall I shift to dahlias—and that enriched my life so much.
"I grow for beauty and how things juxtapose against each other.”
He shares photos of those gorgeous, vibrant flowers, along with real-world gardening tips, on his soul-satisfying Instagram page. Of recently planting 100 dahlia tubers, he offers: “I store mine in wood chips in a cool area that doesn’t freeze.”
Don’t miss his diabolical plan, in early stages, to “preserve, promote and prolong” peonies season.
Spitzmiller is blossoming into a lifestyle impresario a la Martha Stewart. Watch for floral tableware designs such as dahlia and sweet pea sets of pressed plates, and more. “I’m working on a peonies set of plates now,” he says with excitement.
Much has been made of Spitzmiller’s superstar client list, although he downplays its glittering roster. He has created lamps for the last three White House administrations. When I press for other names, he finally mentions a nobody named “Beyoncé.”
Perhaps Beyoncé could raise her profile by wearing gardening gloves in Prussian blue.
What is truly important? Spitzmiller seems to know: The universal force that manifests a sprout into a flower makes a heart, upon viewing this miracle, double in size.
Look at his photo. Knees firmly planted in the garden dirt, he digs in, throws an easy smile to the camera and looks as if the age of one more day will never reach him.