Haven: Classic feel with artistic flair

The Bateses' kitchen. The couple kept a black-and-white theme, adding color to the walls and complementary light fixtures.
The Bateses' kitchen. The couple kept a black-and-white theme, adding color to the walls and complementary light fixtures. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)

A close relative motivates the surrealist art in this conventional Colonial in Blue Bell.

Posted: June 30, 2014

The decor of Melinda and Grif Bates' Blue Bell Colonial reflects the couple's traditional tastes.

Then there is the art: twenty colorful, surrealist paintings prominently displayed throughout the two-story residence.

Combining abstract depictions of faces, birds, animals, and geometric shapes with conventional furnishings - china cabinets, an upright piano, and upholstered chairs and couches, for example - has produced a strikingly attractive home.

The art is the work of Grif's father, Grif Bates Jr., a retired physician whose "passion is now painting," says his son, Grif Bates III. Dr. Bates' work has been exhibited at shows in Maryland and Vermont.

"The paintings are probably not the kind we would buy," says the younger Bates, 54. But Grif and Melinda, 52, have grown to appreciate his father's artwork and have made it a focal point of their home, whose pale gold and "ancient marble" walls pick up colors in the paintings.

Melinda, a graphic artist, has added her own creative touches to the home, arranging an assortment of sea-related objects under glass in the coffee table in the living room. There are pink scallops from vacations on the west coast of Florida; stones and shells from trips to Maine, Ireland, France, and the Caribbean, and sea dollars and spiny conches from Maryland's Eastern Shore, where Grif's parents live. Shards of sea glass came from the Choptank River in Maryland.

Melinda uses a round table nearby as a work area. She makes mittens from recycled felted sweaters to sell at craft shows and at shops in Doylestown and Flourtown. And when she takes a break, she can admire her garden from a wall of windows.

Over the years, Melinda has cultivated their acre with beds of perennials, planted weeping cherry and ornamental plum trees around the pergola over the hot tub, and grown annuals in unusual ceramic pots she finds at flea markets. She and her husband tend the grounds together.

"The artistry is Melinda's. I do the heavy lifting," Grif says, including hanging a variety of bird feeders from the tree branches.

In April, the Bates home was a stop on the "Blue Bell in Bloom" tour sponsored by the Norristown Garden Club, of which Melinda is a member.

And recently, after taking a class in beekeeping at Temple University-Ambler, the Bateses installed hives in a fenced area behind the house.

"Next year, we'll have honey, she says.

"Maybe this year," he says.

Melinda is grateful to have had 18 years in Blue Bell to watch her garden, as well as her family, flourish - she and Grif have two grown daughters.

Early in their marriage, they moved every four years, she says, living in Connecticut, Virginia, and Ohio. In 1995, they relocated to Montgomery County when Grif took a position in the marketing department of Merck & Co. in West Point. Now retired from Merck, he works as a consultant.

Over the years, the couple have made several improvements to the four-bedroom Colonial built in 1972, including converting the formal parlor at the front of the house into a study closed off by French doors.

"I wanted to create a quiet place," Melinda says. The small room is anchored by a handsome oak rolltop desk "too big to move anywhere else," she says.

The rest of the first floor was opened up by taking down a wall between the kitchen and tiny dining room and the sunroom and living room.

The couple kept the classic white kitchen cabinets and installed black appliances and black granite countertops. Adding color are yellow walls lined with Mexican tiles and two Tiffany-style light fixtures.

Melinda made the window treatments throughout the house, including the violet and chartreuse curtains in her daughters' rooms upstairs.

The violet room belongs to Caroline, 23, who is pursuing a teaching career. Natalie, 21, who has a turquoise room, attends Lehigh University, where two of her grandfather's paintings hang in her dorm room.

Melinda chose more subtle colors for the master bedroom: sand-colored walls and carpet and a sky-blue ceiling.

"I feel like I'm at the beach," she says.

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