Whenever Roger and Paula Weatherburn-Baker wish to recall the sights and sounds of their first year of marriage, they need only to look at what hangs on the walls of their home.
And what hangs in their home is lovely.
The couple has spent a lifetime collecting, including during that first year of marriage, when they lived in Paris around the corner from a historic square called the Place de Voges. A painting of the square was the first work they bought together, as an engagement gift to each other; it took them six months to pay for it, and it now hangs with other works by the same artist, Andre Renoux. Through the years, they have added two more versions of the Place de Voges to their collection, too.
Not only do these paintings provide a peek into a charming and atmospheric part of the City of Lights, it’s also a window into how the Weatherburn-Bakers have chosen to collect.
Roger founded and owned Naples’ Weatherburn Gallery for 13 years and serves as president of the Naples Fine Art Dealers Association; Paula’s professional life took her around the world as the vice-president of global community initiatives with IBM, working with museums in Cairo, Beijing and St. Petersburg.
“Some of the travel we did was related to our jobs, and some of the travel we did was during our vacations,” Paula says.
But they collected art always, whatever the reason for their journey and wherever it led them. Throughout their home, there are pieces from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, objects that reveal volumes about not only the couple’s tastes, but also their shared passions.
“Most pieces have a story,” Roger says. “They have a value to us in terms of our married history.”
In 2009, the couple turned to Naples architect Andrea Clark Brown to help them renovate their Moorings residence. In doing so, they not only created a showplace for their art, but also indulged a bit of whimsy in their interior décor: Many of their rooms have themes, such as the Russian guest bedroom.
At the center of the Russian bedroom is a crown canopy bed fit for a czarina, while paintings of well-known Russian city vistas grace the walls. Among these scenes are the famous and ornate Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood and the Hermitage Museum.
There is also an impressive collection of signed black lacquer boxes illustrated with Russian folk tales. Drawn by the incredible artistry of the pieces, Paula acquired the elaborate black boxes over a six-year period when she frequently traveled to Russia for work with the Hermitage. The boxes all hail from the “Ring Cities,” towns so named because when sleighs were the preferred method of transport, the cities were all within a day’s ride from the capital.
“Watching them being made was very interesting,” Roger said of the boxes. “It gets pretty primitive. The artists there can’t go around the corner and buy a paintbrush.”
Nesting dolls and Russian icons add to the room’s authentic appeal. Here, too, is the first painting Roger ever bought — an oil portrait of an elderly gentleman. The figure in the canvas reminded him of his late grandfather, and the 16-year-old Roger worked for an entire summer to pay for the piece.
Across the hall is another themed room, the French bedroom. Here again, the ambience enhances the art, and scenes of elegant French chateaus help create a feeling of chic countryside sophistication. Nearby, in what Roger and Paula coyly call the “Turkish bathroom” are colorful pots collected on a vacation. To the couple’s surprise, they found complementary Izmir tiles here in Naples, and decided to go all-out in decorating the bathroom.
The couple’s love of pottery is best seen in the kitchen, though. For years, they have collected majolica from Deruta, a mountaintop village in Tuscany celebrated for its ceramics since the time of St. Francis of Assisi. In the Weatherburn-Baker kitchen are an array of Deruta majolica pieces, including lamps, bowls, pots and plates — the latter of which always bears male and female figures.
“It’s the style we like, the Renaissance flavor of it,” Paula says of the ceramics. “The colors, the clothing.”
“They’re very rich,” Roger adds. “This, I think, to us is very symbolic of that period.”
Outside, on the front courtyard, are more majolica pieces, while in the back are lamp and clay pots from Morocco. In the home’s study are complex and compelling pieces from Asia and Egypt, some of which were owned by Paula’s family and some that the couple collected during their travels.
It’s an eclectic assortment, and one that is quickly filling up even their recently renovated home. But don’t expect them to stop collecting, the couple agrees.
“It’s kind of impulsive for us — or compulsive,” Roger says. “We can’t resist sometimes.”