A whole lot, it turns out.
Not only is he still into antiques, art collecting, music (piano, voice, opera buff), tennis, river rafting, skiing, bridge, a busy social life, and – oh, did I say real estate – but he make it all work, right here. We talked about all this recently, in Walter’s new refurbished office in Two Candles, that once-big dreary warehouse structure at Norwood’s east entry. You’ll have to stop by to understand how totally transformed it is.
Walter and multi-gifted artist and builder Sigismund “Sigi” Malinowski have put their talents together to create a dazzling, slightly funky new complex they’ve dubbed Two Candles. This expansive structure is now part sweeping art gallery, part antiques display, with a street café-like setting with specialty food service, in the center of the main room. Then, off to one side, add inviting lounge chairs and clubroom-like comforts arranged around a fireplace. Huge paintings from faux Rembrandts to faux Pollocks engage the eye and give an amazingly intimate feel in this great big room.
Leaning back from his desk – his office is located down a long, art-filled hallway in one of the many sub-rooms – Walter allows that this grand transformation “has been a lot of fun.” In 1979, he came to Telluride to ski – and, well, you know the rest of the story: Successful Chicago-area marketing and advertising guy is smitten with the place and begins to invest. With partners, he created Silver Bell Antiques, and began selling real estate in Telluride under the watchful eye of famed local Louise Gerdts. A decade or so later Walter started buying property here and there on Wright’s Mesa, including what’s now Two Candles. The local bank had taken over the building, originally the home of Hearthside Stoves, after the specialty cast iron stove manufacturer went bust.
From then on, the big metal building became something of a works-in-progress. Eagle Properties, Walter’s real estate business, occupied the highway side corner, while he used the rest of what was essentially an enormous, dark, empty space to store his ever-growing collection of vintage cars, motorcycles, furniture, art – stuff like a colorful hot air balloon he knew would be useful some day. A second floor, built across the north end of the building, once served as the home of Sage Hill School (rent free), a local parent-run private school headed by veteran teacher Lory Herndon. (And yes, we’re related – she’s my terrific daughter-in-law.)
Walter’s Telluride connections are still intact. When we talked, he had just returned from sailing in the West Indies with longtime Telluride friend Heather Bachman and her husband. He has sung with the gifted choral director John Yankee’s Summer Sing programs, as well as with Telluride’s production of the musical Guys and Dolls. When his suburban high school – the much-touted New Trier, in Winnetka – celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer, as part of the show, Walter Farnham, looking fit and content at 70, will sing barbershop harmony with four old school buddies.
But it was Walter’s friend from his North Shore Chicago days, John Sadler, who introduced Walter to painter-designer-builder Sigi in Norwood. Sigi designed Sadler’s handsome, 4,300 sq. ft. arched-beam home, which sits at the top of Norwood Hill. Sigi, a European who has spent time in Central America, among other places, came to the U.S. about 25 years ago. He spent some years in the Northwest, developing and building Terra Homes, using his impressive wooden arch system.
After some financial setbacks, Sigi, now 62, moved to the Wright’s Mesa area from Kalispell, Mt., along with his wife, Karen. For several years Terra Homes’ distinctive wooden arches were a distinctive landmark at the top of Naturita Canyon on Highway 45 west of Norwood. Now, Karen, who often welcomes guests at Two Candles, masterminds the café’s kitchen, serving specialty soups, baked treats and unique sandwiches that are drawing people, often in groups, who enjoy its gentle, gracious, relaxing old world ambiance.
Today, the partnership between Walter and Sigi dominates Norwood’s east entry on the very same highway. Drivers can’t miss this startlingly green structure. Sigi has disguised its long, boxy, awkward shape by shading – from a paler green near the highway to a deeper, almost moss-green tone farther away. A graceful cluster of two story aspen trees – the first hint of Sigi’s painting talents – eases the transition between shades of green.
By now, you’ve been hooked. So you pull into the parking area, past the eight feet tall highly realistic twin candles, the sculpture-like art piece that sets the tone for a landscaped front entry that has nothing to do with Norwood’s usual “boots ’n’ saddle” identity. Inside, new windows light up the once, almost gloomy interior. From the large central room, turn left and you’ll see that Sigi has used Walter’s silky, multicolored hot air balloon fabric to create a luminous, floating ceiling in another enormous room. More of Sigi’s museum-sized paintings – some works-in-progress, paint cans and drop-cloths at the base – decorate the walls. Sigi confides that all these paintings are new.
You sense immediately that Sigi, who is tall and trim with thinning gray hair and just the right sort of beard, is a whirlwind of post-European creative energy. Maybe that’s why this partnership between confident, easygoing WASPy Walter and this high energy artist seems to work. They both claim that the name Two Candles just seemed right – and that it has no particular meaning. But, you have to wonder.