Perhaps recently, on one of your last midafternoon walks of the season, you’ve ambled down past Longfellow Park toward the Charles and happened upon an ash-blue house that somehow catches your eye. It takes a second glance before figuring out what made you skip that step, but there you notice an odd but attractive assortment of knickknacks in each of the first-story window frames.
The first is a small clay figurine of a yellow- and red-clad superhero; the second is a postcard with a Man Ray photo of alluring lips; the third is a small paper house with a crumbling pillar at its side; the fourth a rusty entity composed of nails and wood; and, if you happened to have been brazenly nosey and ventured around the side of the house, the fifth window holds a spectacular wire sculpture of a bicycle.
Matthew Frederick and girlfriend Sorche Fairbank are to thank for entertaining you or piquing your curiosity for those few moments on your way toward the river. Their home at 199 Mount Auburn St. serves as a base for each of their businesses, an architecture design studio and literary agency, respectively. They admit having observed many passers-by stopping to ponder the display.
“I just wasn’t sure if they were looking at the knickknacks or at our flowerboxes,” Fairbank said.
The knickknacks admittedly differ from the usual wreath or stained glass hanging as window décor. They each share a personal story about their owners to an audience of anyone who cares to look.
“They were me, in a way,” said Frederick after pondering a moment.
The clay superhero is an homage to a character the couple made up as an inside joke: “Helpman.” With his handy feather duster and rubber gloves in hand, Helpman is ready for any task at hand. Fairbank made it and gave it to Frederick.
“This postcard is something Sorche sent me years ago, probably with some sentimental love note on the back,” said Frederick, glancing at Fairbank.
The other knickknacks don’t have as much to tell about the couple’s relationship as about each of their lives individually. The paper house was part of a model Frederick made in his design studio, and the rusty entity was identified as a piece of a bridge from a former hometown. The last decoration came from Fairbanks’ travels to Singapore.
“I don’t know,” Fairbank said, “I guess what few knickknacks we had ended up in the windows.”
After another knowing glance between the couple, Frederick remarked, “But these knickknacks were not so much about decorating the house as much as decorating the public space.”
And, instead of keeping the public space impersonal, decorating what public space they can with intriguing anecdotes about their lives.