• Kari Capone

The Woodsy Cape, Inspired by a Superheroine

I've wanted to make a sweater for interior designer Gail Davis since the day I met her!

Gail and I met at The Able Baker (where many of my dearest friendships have begun.) Right away her style arrested me. (I mean, those glasses! Swoon...)

It's been at least a few years that we've known each other, usually saying hi at the Able Baker, with life just being busy.

Once COVID-19 struck, we found ourselves with a bit more time to pursue a shared passion project: restoration of the Old Stone House in South Orange, NJ.

South Orange is where Gail resides, and a neighboring town to Maplewood, where I live. South Orange and Maplewood share a high school and a municipal court. People refer to the two towns as "SOMa" or "MapSO," depending on which side of the fence they hang their hats.

Anyway, I was reading about the Old Stone House, a 17th-century building and the oldest standing house in New Jersey, in Preservation NJ's 10 Most Endangered Historic Properties, 2020 edition. The Old Stone House is located right in South Orange, behind the police station. I'd never even heard of it.

The first person I contacted was Gail. "Wouldn't it be cool..." I texted. "If we could restore the Old Stone House and it could be a jaw-dropping design project?"

For several months, we explored the challenge from every angle, collaborating with the local historical society, researching grants and funding opportunities, all the while wearing masks and meeting on Zoom. In addition to a showcase for Gail's design greatness, we wanted the Stone House to serve as an educational and cultural resource, focusing specifically on women's history and Black history.

When it came down to brass tacks, and I asked the board of the historical society to make a financial commitment - all hell broke loose. The board is composed of all white men, and they didn't take kindly to favoring certain "classes" of people - their term. ("How married are you to this whole 'Black and women' thing?" the president of the board asked me.)

Ahead of our final board meeting, I was so stressed. Gail called me and said, "You be the honey, I'll be the vinegar." She had her Black Girl Magic tumbler at the ready for the video call. Well, once the call got started, I lost my temper. I went off on those men in a most un-honeylike way! Gail, meanwhile, was cool as a cucumber. She gently cut us off after a half hour of unproductive conversation and said "Gentlemen, thank you for your time. Kari and I will discuss this offline."

We spoke on the phone afterward and she was laughing so hard at me. "I was the vinegar!" I cried.

Restoring the Old Stone House will require $1M in initial funding, I expect, in order to attract matching foundation and other grants. Although we have pressed pause on the project, we haven't given up. Working with Gail has taught me to think bigger, to think long term. And it gave me a taste of old-white-man-prejudice that I thought had gone the way of the dodo bird (at least, in our liberal community.)

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