How Fathers Should Talk With Their Sons About Sex in the #MeToo Era

How Fathers Should Talk With Their Sons About Sex in the #MeToo Era
Photo: James Steinberg

When Michael Kawula was 14 years old and dating his first girlfriend, his dad brought up the topic of sex for the first—and last—time: He rolled up a copy of a Playboy magazine and stuffed it in his son’s Christmas stocking.

“That was the end of my sexual education from my dad,” says Mr. Kawula, a 45-year-old entrepreneur from Trinity, Fla. With his own son, now 16, Mr. Kawula says he tries to be much more open. Talking about sex with our boys “is a conversation that needs to be had,” he says, “even more so today than in the past.”

The #MeToo era is a complex moment to come of age sexually. A necessary dialogue has opened up about sexual misconduct. Yet the conversation has been divisive, confusing and sometimes ill-informed. And research shows parents are not giving their children adequate guidance about sex and relationships.

A May 2017 report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, called “The Talk,” surveyed more than 3,000 18- to 25-year-olds and found that misogyny and sexual harassment are pervasive among young people. Eighty-seven percent of female respondents reported experiencing at least one of the following: being catcalled, touched without permission by a stranger, insulted with sexualized words by a man, insulted with sexualized words by a woman, having a stranger say something sexual to them, and having a stranger tell them they were “hot.” Yet 76% of respondents said they had never had a conversation with their parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others.

The report also stated that a majority of respondents said their parents had never spoken to them about consent, including “being sure your partner wants to have sex and is comfortable doing so before having sex,” the “importance of not pressuring someone to have sex with you,” and the “importance of not having sex with someone who is too intoxicated or impaired to make a decision about sex.” Almost 60% of respondents had never talked with their parents about the importance of “being a caring and respectful sexual partner.” Yet a large majority of respondents who said they did have these types of conversations with their parents described them as influential.

Psychologists say that both mothers and fathers should talk to their children about sex. But boys may be harder to reach—they’re less communicative and responsive, and may not understand #MeToo issues or think they apply to them. Fathers, in particular, bring something unique to the discussion with their sons. “Most boys look to their fathers for what it means to be a man and how men should treat women,” says Mark T. Morman, a professor of communication at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who has spent 20 years studying male relationships.

“Most fathers father the way they got fathered,” Dr. Morman says. When it comes to talking about sex with their sons now, this can be a problem. Today’s dads went to high school and college in a very different era. AIDS was the big danger everyone talked about. People thought the biggest risk of assaults came from strangers who jumped out from a dark place. And few talked about consent or healthy sexual intimacy. If sex was discussed at all, it was likely just a talk about “the birds and the bees” or the importance of using condoms.

No wonder today’s dads feel like they’re winging it. A few years ago when Jeff Roach realized his teenage son, who is now 17, was likely becoming intimate with his long-term girlfriend, his first thought was: “Crap, do I really have to have this conversation? I am woefully ill-prepared.” But he took a deep breath and asked his son if they should go to the drugstore and buy condoms. His son’s reply: “Dad, don’t go there.”

Mr. Roach, 50, a director of a technology-consulting team in Bothell, Wash., persisted. He told his son that it was his job as a parent to make sure they talked about sex. And he has since had a number of conversations with his son—and sometimes also the boy’s girlfriend—that he deems awkward but vital. He’s discussed his own sexual history—explaining why he waited until he got engaged to have sex. He’s talked about the emotional ramifications of being sexually active. And he’s explained consent, telling his son that he needs to respect his girlfriend’s boundaries and also that he can say no, too.

“I felt like I was dying inside,” Mr. Roach says. “But this is part of the responsibility of being a dad, and if you don’t talk about it someone else will, and they won’t have the values and moral insight you have.”

What can a father do? Experts say dads should start talking about sex as soon as their sons become curious and keep the dialogue going. If your son resists talking—and he probably will—explain that this is a necessary conversation and your job as a parent is to have it with him. And ask him when in the next few days he would like to talk. “This will help him understand that you want this to be mutual,” says Mike Domitrz, founder of the Date Safe Project, a Milwaukee-area company that works to reduce sexual violence.

You need to discuss consent. If you don’t understand the nuances or how to talk about it—it can be verbal or nonverbal, and silence does not mean yes—read about it first. “Learn that it means mutually wanted, enthusiastically given consent to have sex, between partners of legal age and sound mind,” Mr. Domitrz says.

Focus on the emotional content of sex, not the mechanics. You want your son to understand that the real purpose of sex is intimacy and connection. “Keep the focus on your son and self-respect,” says Dr. Morman. “Ask your son who he wants to be—the man who treats women well? Or the drunk fraternity guy who mistreats girls?”

Talk about the pressure girls feel to be attractive and liked and more sexually available than they might really want to be. “You can explain that just because a girl is acting seductive or dressed a certain way does not mean she wants to have sex with you,” says Joshua Coleman, a psychologist in Oakland, Calif., and senior fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families.

Mr. Kawula has spent a lot of time thinking about what he wishes his father had told him about sex. When his son had his first girlfriend, at age 13, he initiated a long conversation while on vacation. He told him about how he’d dated a senior girl when he was just a freshman in high school, how she encouraged him to have sex on prom night, and how he’d felt unprepared and confused and had refused.

“I also made it clear that you are getting to that age where you will be wanting to do things, and I understand that, but I want you to know you can come and talk to me about this stuff,” Mr. Kawula says.

Since that chat, Mr. Kawula says he’s talked to his son about mutual consent, as well as the need to stick up for anyone who might be in danger. And he says he works hard to be a good role model: He makes sure to speak to his wife and daughters with respect and give them his full attention when they speak.

“I try to lead by example,” he says.

How to navigate ‘the talk’

Talk early and often. This discussion should be an ongoing dialogue that starts as soon as your son is curious about sex and continues for years.

Look for teaching moments. It could be something in the news or a film or TV show. Analyzing the choices made by familiar characters, such as the Avengers, can be a good way to discuss values without getting personal, says Andrew P. Smiler, a therapist in Winston-Salem, N.C., and author of “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy.” You might ask: “What do you think about how Tony Stark treats women?”

Listen. Don’t lecture, judge or get angry. And don’t discourage your son from sharing his emotions. “The minute you fire back, he is not going to talk to you about this again,” says Mark Morman, a professor of communication at Baylor University, in Waco, Texas, who studies male relationships.

Focus on values and self-respect. Discuss what it means to treat a partner with respect and honesty.

Explain consent. Make sure your son understands that it can change from day to day or even moment to moment. It’s not always verbal. Silence is not a yes. Teach your son to respect the answer.

It’s OK for him to say no. Make sure he knows he shouldn’t be pressured into having sex he doesn’t want, either.

Teach your son to discuss expectations with a partner. Explain that being clear up front about the emotional context of the sex is responsible and will help prevent hurt feelings later.

Focus on your son. It’s not about you. Concentrate on the pressures your son faces. And be careful discussing your regrets or mistakes. Your son may think that because you turned out fine, the mistakes didn’t matter.

Don’t assume. Your son may have not had sex or done things you think he has. And he may not be attracted to the gender you think he is.

Don’t scare him. Instead of focusing on what can go wrong, focus on what to do right. Studies show there is no rash of false reports, where boys are wrongly accused of sexual assault.

Be a role model. Sons learn from their fathers how to treat women and how to behave in a relationship.

Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at or follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at EBernsteinWSJ.

‘Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future’ Review: Modernism’s Missing Link?

Installation view of ‘Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Installation view of ‘Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Photo: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

New York

An aura of the occult, an air of whimsy and a sense of unbridled experimentation permeate the exhibition “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future,” which occupies most of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s rotunda. This first comprehensive Af Klint solo exhibition in the U.S. displays her prolific variety and has an agenda: It demands that we rethink, re-evaluate and revise the lineage of art history.

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Through April 23, 2019

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Curated by the Guggenheim’s Tracey Bashkoff, with the assistance of David Horowitz, the show comprises more than 170 paintings, drawings and copiously illustrated notebooks by the Swedish artist and mystic who, though still relatively unknown today, was among the first European modernists to work abstractly. But here the term “work abstractly” needs an asterisk: Grand claims for Af Klint (1862-1944) as visionary and revolutionary surround this exhibition. The show intends to place her in the company of pioneering abstractionists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich and Robert and Sonia Delaunay, from which, the argument goes, she has been wrongly excluded. Yet part of Af Klint’s obscurity has to do with the artist herself. Believing that the public was not yet ready for her spiritually informed art, Af Klint exhibited only a few of her abstractions during her lifetime. She also stipulated, in 1932, that her work not be shown for 20 years following her death. The first major show of her abstract art was in 1986.

Hilma af Klint in the 1910s
Hilma af Klint in the 1910s Photo: The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Stockholm

Born in Stockholm, Af Klint studied painting at the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts and established herself as a respected portraitist and professional illustrator for publications on science and design. A diviner as much as an artist, she sought transcendence and cosmic knowledge. Channeling spirits while she painted, Af Klint used art as both her mystical portal and as a visual journal of her journey, which imbues even her mural-sized paintings with the quality of schematics, charts and diary entries. Through séances, Af Klint claimed to have encountered guides who gave her a “great commission” that led her away from representation into abstraction.

This commission included the 193 abstract pictures in her monumental cycle “The Paintings for the Temple” (1906-15), which culminated in three large “Altarpieces,” all of which were to be housed in a multilevel “temple” made of stacked rings connected by a spiraling path. And as you ascend the ramp of the Guggenheim—which Frank Lloyd Wright conceived as “a temple of spirit” to showcase works by Kandinsky, among others—Af Klint’s spare, hard-edged, geometric and biomorphic abstractions at first seem to be right at home.

Hilma af Klint’s ‘Summer Landscape’ (1888)
Hilma af Klint’s ‘Summer Landscape’ (1888) Photo: Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, Stockholm

“Paintings for the Future” includes a handful of Af Klint’s early representational works made prior to 1903, when she began, through spiritual interpretations of natural forms, to work abstractly. Among the few early realist pieces included here are botanical studies; some brooding, monochromatic portrait drawings; and the somber oil painting “Summer Landscape” (1888). In these stiff, tight pictures, as in most of her later work, forms lack weight, presence and movement; colors lack luminosity and spatial tension. The dynamic watercolor study of a mushroom, “Morel” (1890s), with its writhing fleshy cap and gills, is a notable exception.

Hilma af Klint’s ‘Group X, No. 1, Altarpiece’ (1915)
Hilma af Klint’s ‘Group X, No. 1, Altarpiece’ (1915) Photo: The Hilma af Klint Foundation/Moderna Museet, Stockholm

The show focuses instead on the artist’s breakthrough period, 1906-20, when Af Klint arrived at pure abstraction. This curatorial angle, emphasizing Af Klint’s innovation rather than her evolution, feels unnatural and impatient. Although the show backtracks briefly to Af Klint’s early figuration, it opens immediately with a series of 10 roughly 10-by-8-foot abstract tempera paintings, from 1907, that explore the ages of man.

These large paintings, each a single-colored, scumbled, airy field—often of light blue, or orange, or lavender—are crowded with jovial circles, spirals, mandalas, egg shapes, flowers, symbols, letters and squiggles. Suggesting amoebas or balloons, their forms float and meander like enormous 1960s flower-power doodles, and would fit in among the work of the contemporary Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami. The strongest of the bunch is “Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 10, Old Age,” a pinkish-tinted white field in which a white cross, at the center of an otherwise primary-colored grid, presses forward in the plane. Conversely, most of Af Klint’s abstract shapes—without discernible formal purpose—feel merely placed and inert.

Further up the ramp, and unusual here, is the modest, primary-colored “Group IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 17” (1915). A target of concentric circles in a flat red field, with a tiny triangle at its center, it achieves purity and equilibrium.

Hilma af Klint’s ‘Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 10, Old Age’ (1907)
Hilma af Klint’s ‘Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 10, Old Age’ (1907) Photo: The Hilma af Klint Foundation/Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Generally, though, Af Klint’s abstractions, at once esoteric and provincial, are a personal means, not a universal end. Viewers are put in the position of voyeurs—not fellow travelers on her spiritual quest. Her cryptic abstractions—fueled by a host of private, occult and religious sources—are intriguing, sometimes fascinating. Af Klint was the first modernist abstract painter. But, unlike her revolutionary contemporaries, such as Sonia Delaunay—the second modernist abstract painter—Af Klint remained an illustrator who decoratively applied (rather than formally explored) her newfound vocabulary. Af Klint definitely deserves our attention, but her curious life and oeuvre remain a footnote to the history of modernist abstraction.

Hilma af Klint’s ‘Group IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 17’ (1915)
Hilma af Klint’s ‘Group IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 17’ (1915) Photo: The Hilma af Klint Foundation/Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Mr. Esplund writes about art for the Journal. His book “The Art of Looking: How to Read Modern and Contemporary Art” (Basic) will be published in November.

Magnus Nilsson’s ‘The Nordic Baking Book’ Is a Bible for Bakers

BAKE-OFF A variety of cookies and shortbreads.
BAKE-OFF A variety of cookies and shortbreads. Photo: magnus Nilsson

FROM THE KITCHEN of his two-Michelin-star restaurant, Fäviken Magasinet, set in a farmhouse on a 22,000-acre plot of land in the Northern Swedish countryside, chef Magnus Nilsson presents a tasting menu of nearly 30 courses, inspired by Nordic rusticity, to 24 diners on a nightly basis. He exerts full control over his dishes and the experience surrounding them. One night in September, Nilsson, 34, who cooked in Paris at the three-Michelin-star Astrance before taking over at Fäviken in 2008, explains why the restaurant’s butter is intensely yellow: The local cows have been grazing on the summer’s flowers, and the ingested blossoms have brightened their milk. Nilsson lectures his cooks as they move around the tight quarters in his kitchen, adamantly reminding them to consider the angles at which they carry trays and turn corners. “It’s all about the gestures,” he says.

Nilsson shot all of The Nordic Baking Book’s imagery.
Nilsson shot all of The Nordic Baking Book’s imagery. Photo: erik olsson

For course number 10, Nilsson serves a steamed fillet of perch, a freshwater fish not typically celebrated in fillet form in the context of fine dining. Amid the buzz of the kitchen, if Nilsson sees that a candle goes out on a special one-top table set a few feet from the grill, he’ll relight the candle over and over again. “I want it to burn all the time,” he says, smiling.

Over the past decade, Nilsson hasn’t limited his focus to cooking at Fäviken, despite its considerable demands. In addition to working on an encyclopedic writing project on the cuisine of his region, he published the Fäviken cookbook in 2012, four years into his run at the restaurant. In it, he revealed some of the distinct ways in which he combines contemporary culinary thinking with an older way of life. There’s a method in Fäviken for aging vinegar in the burnt-out trunk of a spruce tree and a treatise on why Nilsson prefers using “a loudly creaking, hundred-year-old, hand-turned ice cream maker” tableside in his dining room to serve a dessert of milk sorbet with whisked duck eggs and raspberry jam. Nilsson knew Fäviken was the kind of monograph that a singular, fine-dining restaurant like his must produce as part of its raison d’être, but he was also keenly aware that a book like that exists mainly to look at and not to use.

Nilsson calls the act of writing “very enjoyable,” and he wanted his follow-up book to be more practical and populist. He suggested a chronicle of the history of Swedish cuisine to Phaidon, his publisher. The recipes would not come from any restaurants of international acclaim. Rather, Nilsson would source them from families, villages and mom-and-pop operations from throughout Sweden. Nilsson would drive across the country collecting recipes and photographing landscapes and portraits. But Phaidon proposed something more ambitious: a volume that would cover traditional cuisine from the entire Nordic region, from Greenland to Finland and everywhere in between.

KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL Interior of a traditional north Sweden mountain farmhouse, summer 2014.
KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL Interior of a traditional north Sweden mountain farmhouse, summer 2014. Photo: magnus Nilsson

At first Nilsson resisted, bitter that his own proposal wasn’t given an automatic green light. As he thought about it further, however, the opportunity to explain how an entire region eats—how his region eats—was one that he couldn’t turn down. In 2015, after years of travel, research and writing, Nilsson published The Nordic Cookbook, 767 pages of dishes such as mutton and herring casserole from Finland, boiled pilot whale from the Faeroe Islands and Swedish Christmas ham. Nilsson shot dozens of the images in the book himself (some of them became a stand-alone book of photos published by Phaidon in 2016 called Nordic: A Photographic Essay of Landscapes, Food and People).

“Before The Nordic Cookbook, if you looked up Nordic food online, you would get 1,000 articles about Noma, 700 about Fäviken and 500 about Frantzén,” says Nilsson, “and then you would find a handful of articles about gravlax, meatballs and herring.” He’s proud to have sold more than 100,000 copies of a book that he believes has expanded the global understanding of Nordic cuisine beyond the dishes and the current crop of fine-dining establishments that merely draw the most attention. “I think it’s very important to document regional variations,” Nilsson says, “because otherwise social media will make the information far too streamlined.”

While The Nordic Cookbook may seem like a complete work, Nilsson felt something was missing. “We couldn’t fit all the baking that should have been in there,” Nilsson says, “but, at that trim size, the book could not have possibly been any bigger.”

Crisp waffles.
Crisp waffles. Photo: magnus Nilsson

Nilsson immediately started the three-year process of putting together the 450-recipe, 575-page Nordic Baking Book, published in October. It’s the first of his cookbooks for which he’s done all the food photography himself. His wife, Tove—a graduate student in clinical psychology, who recently gave birth to their fourth child—did much of the recipe development in their home kitchen near the restaurant.

Pulling up to a friend’s farm in Mörsil, about 30 minutes from Fäviken and a few minutes from his home, Nilsson explains the significance of baking culture in the region and how it rivals any in the world. When he grew up nearby in Östersund, he says, it was expected that seven kinds of sweets would be put out during one of the day’s several coffee breaks. In Sweden such a break is called fika. (“It’s like a nap, with eating,” Nilsson says.) The elaborate regional culture of desserts includes cookies (there are 15 shortbread recipes alone in the book) as well as spiced cakes and buns, which draw from Scandinavia’s centuries-long history of bringing cardamom and cinnamon home from trade routes in warmer territories.

Like its predecessor, The Nordic Baking Book— which also ventures into breads, sandwiches, porridges and pancakes—aims to document traditions that may be phased out by modern convenience. “It’s mind-blowing to write books like this and to run that incredible restaurant,” says Olia Hercules, a London-based cookbook author whose own books chronicle the foodways of Ukraine and the Caucasus and who has stated that she hopes to write a sprawling Nilsson-style book about the cuisine of Eastern Europe. “People get excited about these recipes,” she says. “They suddenly remember what’s been, and they start trying their traditions again.”

Norway’s Vega Archipelago, May 2014.
Norway’s Vega Archipelago, May 2014. Photo: magnus Nilsson

One recipe in The Nordic Baking Book shows how a community in Iceland bakes rye bread in the ground using geothermal energy. “Each family gets their own hole,” Nilsson says. Another recipe documents the age-old method for making wood-fired flatbreads, which Nilsson’s own family follows twice a year as they have in previous generations. “I’ve never done this before by myself,” Nilsson says, getting ready to make a batch. “Usually it’s collaborative, a production line. I do the rolling.”

The wheat dough Nilsson is working with includes golden syrup, aniseed, fennel seeds and coriander seeds. He divides it and then rolls out a portion on a wooden peel until it’s flat and around 18 inches in diameter. Nilsson finishes off the rolling with a special studded pin that prevents the dough from pocketing like a pita when it bakes.

FAMILY MATTERS Nilsson’s mother, Anki Lundstedt Nilsson, cutting cardamom cake, winter 2015.
FAMILY MATTERS Nilsson’s mother, Anki Lundstedt Nilsson, cutting cardamom cake, winter 2015. Photo: magnus Nilsson

Before putting the dough into the oven, Nilsson uses a soft brush to sweep any remaining flour off its surface, explaining that excess flour will burn and result in a bread that’s the wrong shade of brown. After baking for 20 seconds at around 800 degrees, the flatbread is done, but Nilsson is critical of his first attempt. “This is not big enough, not thin enough and not round enough, but it is acceptable for the first of the day,” he says, putting it off to the side. “When I manage to make one that’s perfect, we’ll taste it with a shameful amount of butter.”

Nilsson’s next try draws a satisfied smile. At Fäviken, his own vision dominates. But here, history sets the tone. “A flawed bread tastes the same as a perfectly round one, but it’s not the same,” he says, buttering the flatbread. “There’s a feeling of importance to know it’s done how it’s always been done. There’s a feeling of importance to know it’s done right.” •

How to Warm Up a Home Without Cluttering It Up

The home’s owners, Pattie Weinberg and Scott Frances, later replaced the living room rug with a mostly white Moroccan Berber (see photo below) and were surprised that its thick wool makes the room cozier than the colorful flat-weave carpet in this photo does.
Scott Frances/Otto

I WAS A DIDACTIC modernist, and my art collection is vintage black-and-white photography,” said architectural lensmanScott Frances. He and his wife, Patti Weinberg, who married each other at age 50, built this contemporary, 3,000-square-foot home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., in which they thoughtfully merged their possessions. “Patti came with the gentle and the classical,” he said, “and the American antiques.” Their travels together, to Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, yielded a third subset of furnishings that needed factoring into the equation.

The couple agreed early that the site, on a 12-foot rise with views of a nearby cove, demanded a modern house with copious windows, but Ms. Weinberg, an insurance broker, imposed a condition: “I said I didn’t want a cold, one-dimensional house.” The pair turned to architect Hal Goldstein, of New York firm Janson Goldstein, whom Mr. Frances admires for his way with materials.

Throughout the house, unpolished woods retain their inherent warmth. Unfinished walnut beams canopy the open-plan great room, and knotty white-oak floors, though sealed, are left naturalistically matte. Though the couple added color with their worldly acquisitions, the coziness comes largely from earthy textures as well as pieces bearing bumps and bruises. “We don’t mind patina,” said Mr. Scott. “It shows age and authenticity.” Here, a room-by-room guide to the home’s soulful modernity.

How to Warm Up a Home Without Cluttering It Up
Photo: Scott Frances
Warm and Fuzzy

In the seating area of an open-plan, single-story house in Sag Harbor, N.Y., the curves of Bertoia diamond chairs, an Edward Wormley sofa and a Warren Platner chair and ottoman offset the cool rectilinearity of architect Hal Goldstein’s structure. “Color isn’t the only way to add warmth,” noted Mr. Goldstein. Indeed, the homeowners noticed an uptick in homeyness when they replaced a vibrant Caucasus flatweave rug with this thick-pile Moroccan Berber. The unusual placement of a bucolic oil painting and New Guinea mask around the fireplace also counteracts rigidity. “What we’re looking for is not symmetry but balance,” said Mr. Goldstein. “Symmetry is formulaic.”

How to Warm Up a Home Without Cluttering It Up
Photo: Scott Frances
Layers of Meaning

In the master bedroom, homeowners Patti Weinberg and Scott Frances turned to organic materials—the bamboo and paper of the vintage Noguchi floor lamp, woolen throws, the heavily figured mahogany of the credenza—for character. The blended styles of a midcentury recliner, a traditional cotton matelassé coverlet and the tribal rugs also soften the room. Said Ms. Weinberg, “I like eclecticism, and I love this moment.” The Philip Pearlstein painting used to hang over her parents’ bed. “It’s cool and comforting to have their stuff around.” Mr. Goldstein noted the unconventional earth tones of furnishings. “Earth has a lot of colors to it,” he said.

How to Warm Up a Home Without Cluttering It Up
Photo: Scott Frances
An Anti-Lawn

For the same reasons the couple didn’t want the interior to appear “decorated,” they eschewed a manicured lawn. Landscape designer Joseph Tyree talked the couple out of a mixed meadow. “He said it wouldn’t last, that it would grow full of weeds.” Instead, the pair chose fescue, a grass requiring little water, which crowded out weeds and, left to grow, “is like a recording of the wind,” said Mr. Frances. Alaskan cedar siding will gray with time.

How to Warm Up a Home Without Cluttering It Up
Photo: Scott Frances
Age and Beauty, Simultaneously

Pieces in the dining area of the great room—namely a jute rug and chairs framed with metal like bendy pasta—also mellow the house’s hard lines with natural materials and shapes. Mr. Frances scored the German Bauhaus chairs on eBay, and appreciates the chips and dents in their off-white paint. “We don’t like heavily restored furniture,” he said. “The signs of age on these things carries the soul through.”

How to Warm Up a Home Without Cluttering It Up
Photo: Scott Frances
Reflection Objection

Though Ms. Weinberg feared the slickness of this backsplash in her country kitchen, the charcoal glass reflects the verdant view through the opposite windows. “When you’re standing at the stove, you see the water and the green,” she said. Overhead architectural lighting is minimal but sufficient. The couple prefers the intimacy of pools of light created by fixtures such as these vintage pendants. Light “should be a little puddle you want to be in,” said Mr. Frances.

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Touring America in an RV That’s Basically a Five-Star Hotel

Desert Shores Resort, a motorcoach community in Indio, Calif., that’s exclusively for owners of Class A RVs.
Desert Shores Resort, a motorcoach community in Indio, Calif., that’s exclusively for owners of Class A RVs. Photo: Desert Shores Resort

Diehard Auburn football fans Rick and Susan Turner hold season tickets on the 35-yard line at the university’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. But when the Tigers are on the field, the Turners are in the parking lot.

Every home game, the Birmingham, Ala., couple tailgates from their 45-foot 2016 Tiffin Zephyr, a luxury motorhome. The Zephyr offers an entertainment center and a full kitchen with solid-surface countertops and stainless-steel sink, as well as a range, microwave, dishwasher and refrigerator. And unlike the stadium, there’s no line to use the Zephyr’s bathroom. Most important, electrical hookups and an automatic generator ensure that the motorhome is fully air-conditioned.

“It’s hot in Alabama in September,” says Mr. Turner, 64, senior vice president of Greenbrier Rail Services, a company that makes freight railcars and equipment.

Doug and Dani Stiebeling’s Itasca Ellipse motorhome, on the right, at their lot at Hearthside Grove in Petoskey, Mich.
Tony Demin for The Wall Street Journal

When the Turners hit the road—which is quite often—they travel with all the luxuries of a five-star hotel. In the world of motorhomes, Class A models that measure 40 to 45 feet are among the most lavish. New, fully loaded Class As off the lot start at about $250,000, and customized coaches can reach $3 million. Because of the price, Class A buyers are typically retirees or those nearing the end of their careers.

Mr. Turner, who paid about $525,000 for his Tiffin, retired once, but returned to the Portland, Ore.-based company at the request of the CEO. When he travels for work, he likes to take the RV, and his wife Susan, 63, and Labrador retriever Buddy typically come along for the ride. But they take plenty of personal trips to visit friends and extended family, as well as motoring to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and to the Florida Keys. In all, they put 10,000 to 15,000 miles on their motorhome each year.

Getting there isn’t cheap—most Class As get roughly 8 miles per gallon in good conditions. “If you have to worry about MPGs, don’t get an RV,” Mr. Turner says. “You’re spending $300 to $400 every tank of gas. It’s a small mortgage for some people.”

Rick and Susan Turner tailgate before every Auburn University football game. But with their 45-foot-long Tiffin Zephyr RV, it’s not your average tailgate. Take a tour of the big rig with the Turners.

Mr. Turner plans to retire full time in a few years. The couple—he was 15 and she was 13 when they started dating—hopes to spend six to eight months taking their RV up the West Coast from Southern California, across the country to northern Maine, then down the East Coast back to Birmingham.

Alabamans Susan and Rick Turner inside their 45-foot-long Tiffin Zephyr.
Alabamans Susan and Rick Turner inside their 45-foot-long Tiffin Zephyr. Photo: Caleb Chancey for The Wall Street Journal

Recent retirees Doug and Dani Stiebeling found their happy place in Petoskey, Mich. The couple’s full time home is in Orlando, Fla., but they wanted a summertime destination to escape the Florida heat. In June they paid $250,000 for a 42-foot 2014 Itasca Ellipse, and drove it to Hearthside Grove, a luxury motorhome resort in Petoskey exclusively for Class A models. Their wooded lot, purchased in “the $250,000 range” measures one-fifth of an acre and includes a paved driveway with electrical, water and sewer hookups. Like many of the lots at Hearthside, the Stiebelings also have a 200-square-foot bungalow on their property where guests can stay when they visit.

The Stiebelings, along with their dog Pumpkin and cat Sammi, make Hearthside Grove their home base for much of the season, which runs from mid-May to mid-October. They hitch a car to the back of their motorhome to use for trips to the grocery store and other errands.

“There is so much to do in northern Michigan,” says Mr. Stiebeling, 65, who retired in April after a 35-year career selling medical devices and artificial skin to burn centers. “The water is so clean, and there’s trout fishing, golfing, restaurants galore—and not the typical chain restaurants. They’re ma-and-pa places.”

If they ever decide to take longer trips, they can put their Hearthside lot in the rental pool, allowing other Class A owners to lease their space and bungalow for $100 to $175 a night. Leasing their lot won’t necessarily keep the fuel tank filled, but it could defray the property taxes and insurance on their lot, as well as a rental fees to store their motorhome when not in use.

The Stiebelings put about 6,000 miles on their Itasca each year but plan to take longer trips down the road. They recently stopped at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, where they stayed at a campground. But many national parks limit RVs of this size. (Look for parks and campgrounds that say “big-rig accessible.”) And wherever they go, Mr. Stiebeling does the driving. “She has driven it, but it makes her palms sweat a little bit,” he says of his wife, Dani, who is 58.

Living in such close quarters could lead to domestic squabbles, but the Stiebelings’ RV has three “slides” that can increase the floor space to almost 400 square feet when they’re expanded, giving them their own space.

If anything, the RV life allows couples to spend quality time together and share experiences on the road. “We enjoy going places and seeing things together,” says Mr. Turner. “I’m 64. I want to maximize the time I have with my wife.”

Spending time with his wife, Linda, was one of the main reasons Nicholas Grimaldi purchased his 45-foot 2017 Entegra Anthem.

The Grimaldis live in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., and are retired from the family’s canvas and upholstery business. Mr. Grimaldi, 64, also works for an insurance company in claims, and he had Wi-Fi installed in his RV so he could work while on the road.

But the real driver behind the decision to buy is Linda Grimaldi’s bucket list of destinations—the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and Minnesota to see the aurora borealis. “Because of my wife’s medical condition, she can’t fly. She has a hard time breathing,” he said. In the RV with portable oxygen, “we can go out and not skip a beat.”

Mr. Grimaldi says a “great deal” made a Class A motorhome possible. This summer, he paid $302,000 for an unsold 2017 model with an original sticker price of over $500,000.

“It’s all about timing in life. I always wanted to buy one. I never thought I’d be able to swing it,” he says. “Never give up. If I can do it, anyone can.”

Who’s Buying RVs?

Consumers between 55 and 74 years old are the “sweet spot” for the RV industry, and manufacturers are already seeing a baby-boomer bump in sales.

A record 504,600 recreational vehicles were shipped to dealerships last year, a 17.2% increase from 2016. And shipments this year are expected to reach 539,900, according to the RV Industry Association, a Reston, Va.-based trade group that represents manufacturers of motorhomes, towable trailers, fifth wheels and other recreational vehicles.

Most people buy RVs for the convenience and flexibility. “People can go when they want, where they want,” says Phil Ingrassia, president of the RV Dealers Association, another trade group, based in Fairfax, Va. “They’ve got their stuff with them—whether it’s golf or fishing. When we do surveys, we find that traveling with pets is a big motivation.”

Class As represent a smaller segment of the overall market in terms of volume, with just over 62,000 units shipped last year, Mr. Ingrassia adds.

With six dealerships in the U.S., Lazydays RV is the country’s top seller of Class A diesel motorhomes, says Bill Murnane, chairman and CEO of the Lazydays. Its main location just east of Tampa sits on 126 acres, with 1,500 to 2,000 RVs on the lot at any given time.

Class A buyers are often retired snowbirds who have a house in the North. “They’ll hop in the RV and tow their car and travel south to one or multiple campsites they’ve reserved. Many times they’ll travel in groups,” Mr. Murnane says.

Most buyers select their RV from what’s available on the lot, but Class A purchasers increasingly want custom features on their motorhomes, says Ryan Roske, Class A-diesel product manager for Winnebago Industries, based in Forest City, Iowa. “There’s been a shift in interest in owners wanting to really make the motorcoach their own,” says Mr. Roske, noting that Winnebago has a customization division. Custom touches include specialty shelving in the wardrobe, an office suite instead of a dinette, and storage space converted into kennels to house pets.

With all those upgrades, some Class A owners make their motorhome their primary residence, says Brion Brady, general manager of Entegra Coach, a brand made by Middlebury, Ind.-based Jayco. Roughly 60% of Entegra buyers are on the road traveling six to eight months of the year, Mr. Brady estimates.

“This is for the older buyer that doesn’t want to sit still or just golf every day,” he adds. “They want to experience everything. And they want to take ‘home’ with them. It’s your pillow, your sheets, your refrigerator, your shower.

Resorts for Motorcoaches

When they’re not on the road, many Class A motorhome owners camp at luxury resorts that offer basic hookups, lavish amenities and an active social calendar. Here’s a sampling of three resorts exclusively for Class A owner:

Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort

Las Vegas

Lots: 407 total, with 41 currently on the resale market

Price range: $88,000 for an unimproved lot, to $379,000 for lots with ‘palapas,’ shelters typically with kitchens and entertaining spaces

Amenities: Clubhouse, pool, tennis/pickleball, fitness center, putting green

Social scene: Monthly movie parties as well as scavenger hunts, poker parties, barbecues.

Desert Shores Resort

Indio, Calif.

Lots: 141 total, with on the resale market

Price range: $300,000 to $600,000. Every lot includes a villa, a 1,200- to 1,800-square-foot structure with a great room, kitchenette and bathroom.

Amenities: Dog park, clubhouse, pool, fitness center; financing through Wells Fargo .

Social scene: Dancing, Jeep excursions and an annual ‘Casita Crawl,’ in which some owners serve cocktails to other members.

Hearthside Grove Motorcoach Resort

Petoskey, Mich.

Lots: 165 total with another 17 under construction; 45 lots currently listed

Price Range: $99,000 to $923,000 for lots with bungalows, outdoor entertaining space and water/fire features

Amenities: Clubhouse, pool, theater, tennis/pickleball court, fitness center, business center, laundry facilities.

Social life: Cooking classes, billiards tournaments, movie screenings, and manufacturer-motorcoach parties

Write to Beth DeCarbo at

Appeared in the October 12, 2018, print edition as ‘Home on the Road.’

Pharrell, Bono and 38 Other Artists Compose Songs for Sophie Calle’s Dearly Departed Cat

AS CONCEPTUAL artist Sophie Calle’s cat Souris (Mouse) was being put down in 2014, Calle’s friend, the singer Camille, sang a song she’d composed into his ear. After a funeral service Calle laid Souris to rest in her garden in Paris, his grave surrounded by daffodils, but she later asked another friend, artist Laurie Anderson, to make him a song. “Laurie knew him well,” Calle says. She began to toy with the idea of an album.

The project evolved slowly. “I cannot really tell how it started and when it really ended,” she says….

Laid-Back Topiary for Your Winter Windowsill

LEAFINESS UNBOUND Costa Mesa, Calif., shop owner Molly Wood leaves her ’topes—including Euonymus microphilla (left) and Lemon cypress (center)—a bit loose up top.
LEAFINESS UNBOUND Costa Mesa, Calif., shop owner Molly Wood leaves her ’topes—including Euonymus microphilla (left) and Lemon cypress (center)—a bit loose up top. Photo: Sandra Ruffini

BOXWOODS clipped into spirals resembling soft-serve ice cream. Yews shorn into elephants and peacocks. A verdant Mickey Mouse waving hello in Orlando. Topiary, the unnatural shaping of shrubs through assiduous pruning, is not exactly in step with prevailing horticultural philosophy, which values native species, informality, and minimal human intervention.

But contemporary floral stylists offer a bridge between the rigid ancient technique and today’s less-formal approach to plants, making topiary an ideal bit of green to get you through the winter, no matter how casual your décor.

Tight-leafed evergreens traditionally supply the raw material for scissor-wielding sculptors. But Molly Wood, a landscape designer who also owns a garden shop in Costa Mesa, Calif., experiments with plants such as geraniums, lavenders and rosemary to create a less-dense take on the classic lollipop shape, known as a standard. “I wanted a plant that’s looser, more natural.” She adds yellow reindeer moss or crushed coral around the plant’s base for texture and contrast. Handmade clay containers, like those from Double M Pottery (photo at right), lend warmth and originality. “Sometimes, I go a bit quirky, a little Alice in Wonderland,” she added. “I took an old funky jade succulent, a real grandma houseplant, and pruned off the side shoots to make it into a three-foot-tall, round tomato shape on a fat green stem.”

An example of old-school finickiness. The craft of topiary dates to at least ancient Rome.
An example of old-school finickiness. The craft of topiary dates to at least ancient Rome.

Denise Fasanello, a New York florist, interprets topiary even more loosely, winding button ferns or creeping fig around a round, metal armature to create a leafy, obstreperous ball. “I wanted to break up that standard lollipop shape and make it wilder, more forestlike,” she said, “because isn’t that what you crave in an apartment?” She adds moss or pebbles, and maybe a bit of twine as the underdressing because “it nudges the idea of being in nature a bit further.” To create a dramatic tablescape, Ms. Fasanello plants three topiaries of different heights in a low ceramic bowl and places it atop a wooden slab. “It’s a good option for clients who are tired of standard houseplants.”

Garden designer Desiree Lee learned topiary at the 4,000-acre Oak Spring Farm of Bunny Mellon, the late American heiress and horticulturist credited with popularizing the form in the U.S. in the 1960s. “We had one greenhouse just for ’topes, where I learned to stretch and shape a plant into that tall shape with a ball at the top,” said Ms. Lee, who’s based in Upperville, Va. Anything that will create a woody stem works, she said: scented geranium, thyme, heliotrope, fuchsia. Pick a young plant with a strong main stem, pot it and attach it to a stake with twist-ties so that it grows straight and tall. Then remove bottom stems and start to clip the top part every couple of weeks so it begins to assume a frowzy globed shape. Vining plants like ivies and some ferns, which don’t feature a woody stalk, can be wound up a support and then trained in a round wire plant armature, available at any craft store. When you strip the leaves of the vine around the supporting pole, what’s left resembles a stem.

Experiment with a sturdily stalked plant first. “Just pot it up and start training the lead stem,” said Ms. Lee. “You can really try making ’topes with almost anything that won’t bend under the weight at the top. Try it. See what will happen. We’ve all done that.”

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Tablets That Let You Handwrite Notes…Digitally

PEN PALS From left: Wacom Bamboo Slate (from $130,, reMarkable ($599,, Sony Digital Paper ($600,
PEN PALS From left: Wacom Bamboo Slate (from $130,, reMarkable ($599,, Sony Digital Paper ($600, Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

THIS MAY BE the age of the paperless office, but that doesn’t mean handwriting has no place. A host of new digitizing tablets let you jot notes or sketch ideas without killing trees or wrangling complex apps. And while they’re equipped to download and transfer documents, they don’t connect to email, chat or social media so you can mark up reports without reacting to notifications. These tablets likely won’t replace all your devices—you’ll still need a way to call mom or type in a spreadsheet—but they can make written work more efficient and more fun.

Wacom Bamboo Slate

Like a 21st-century carbon copy, Bamboo Slate uses its pressure-sensitive technology to create backups of handwritten notes. When you place an ordinary notebook (up to one-inch thick) atop the tablet and use its connected ink pen, marks you make on the pad are sensed by the screenless tablet and duplicated on a linked smartphone or laptop. The push of a button saves your page so you can flip to the next; you can scroll back in time to erase notes since it records your strokes like a video. Its handwriting recognition is impressively accurate, though with my sloppy penmanship I had to make a few corrections. Teachers did always say my nines look like fours. (from $130,


As someone who enjoys writing on paper pads but hates keeping pens and markers handy, or pencils sharpened, this elegant tablet is a relief. With a few taps of the stylus you can customize its thickness and pressure sensitivity, then use it to sketch on a crisp, digitally lined e-ink display. It’s refreshingly easy to link a computer or smartphone so you can add handwritten notes to pictures or PDFs (which can also be uploaded via handy USB port). Some features, including menus and zoom, can lag, and you have to change the stylus tip after a while, but writing appears in real time as fast as you can move your stylus. ($599,

Sony Digital Paper

Consider this the Swiss Army knife of virtual paper tablets. Need to draft memos, highlight reports, toggle quickly between documents synced from multiple devices, take notes in the margins, or fill out PDF forms? You can do it all, though you’ll need to study the built-in tutorial to understand exactly how Sony’s unique stylus, touch screen and physical button interface mesh. This device isn’t as playful as its rivals, and it can’t translate your handwriting into type, but for a hairy job with stacks of digital documents it’d be my first choice ($600,

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Where to Find a Bargain in Burgundy

Where to Find a Bargain in Burgundy
Illustration: BEN WISEMAN

AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK I wander around wine shops and randomly select bottles that I know nothing about. I never pay more than $30 a bottle (my vinous risk ceiling), and more often than not the gamble pays off. Sometimes I even find a great deal, like the 2016 Domaine Lapalus Mâcon Milly-Lamartine that I bought for $15 last month.

The price wasn’t a surprise—Mâcon and Mâcon-Villages wines have long been some of the cheapest in Burgundy—but the quality was. Mâcon wine is often simple, mass-produced stuff. Yet the Domaine Lapalus was a crisp white with lively acidity and a pleasant mineral note, so pleasant I went back, bought several bottles and decided to explore the wines of Mâcon a bit more.

Mâcon and Mâcon-Villages are two of the broadest appellations within the Mâconnais district, a Burgundy subregion named for its principle city, Mâcon. This place is closer to Beaujolais in both climate and spirit than it is to the Côte-d’Or. Vineyards in the Mâconnais have never been ranked in the same way those in the Côte-d’Or are, with premier- or grand-cru status; the better wines tend to come with the name of one of 27 designated villages appended to the name on the label—for example, Mâcon Milly-Lamartine or Mâcon-Verzé. There is even a town named Chardonnay—for which the grape was supposedly named—hence Mâcon-Chardonnay.

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Chardonnay is the key grape of the Mâconnais and the source of the vast majority of its wines, including its most famous ones, Saint-Véran and Pouilly-Fuissé. The latter actually enjoyed some popularity back in the 1970s and ’80s, though most of the Mâconnais wines available stateside at that time weren’t very good.

Back then in Mâcon and Mâcon-Villages, few grape growers made their own wines; instead they sold their fruit to winemaking cooperatives more interested in quantity than quality. The appellations are only just beginning to overcome their low-rent reputation, thanks to the new generation of winemakers who have taken control of their family vineyards, with a focus on making their own quality wines.

The Mâconnais appellations got a further boost from Dominique Lafon, winemaker and scion of Domaine des Comtes Lafon, the famed Meursault estate that produces some of the priciest, most sought-after wines in the world. In 1999, Mr. Lafon went south to Mâcon and the village of Milly-Lamartine, where he bought an estate and renamed it Domaine des Héritiers du Comte Lafon.

Domaine des Héritiers du Comte Lafon and Domaine Olivier Merlin, in La Roche-Vineuse, became talent hubs over the years, nurturing and launching some of Mâcon’s best winemakers. There are many connections between the two domaines. For example, Domaine des Héritiers du Comte Lafon winemaker Caroline Gon was introduced to Mr. Lafon thanks to Olivier Merlin, who also employed her future husband Frantz Chagnoleau…who was working at Domaine Olivier Merlin when they met. The couple started their own winery in 2010 with help and encouragement from Mr. Merlin and Mr. Lafon, as well as local winemakers Nicolas Maillet, Jean-Philippe Bret and Jean-Guillaume Bret. “It’s a little world here in the Maconnais, and everyone knows each other and helps each other,” wrote Ms. Gon in an email.

There are other well known Côte-d’Or names producing wines in Mâcon, including the highly regarded Maison Joseph Drouhin. Under the direction of winemaker Véronique Boss-Drouhin, the winery produces a basic Mâcon-Villages bottling as well as two village-specific wines: Mâcon-Lugny Les Crays and Mâcon-Bussières Les Clos.

I discovered the 2016 vintage of the latter at DB Bistro Moderne in Manhattan and was so impressed by its lithe acidity and floral nose, I wanted to buy a few bottles retail. Alas, that was impossible. Raj Vaidya, head sommelier for Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group, told me the restaurant group had received an exclusive on sales in the U.S.

Perhaps the best way to sell Mâcon wines is to emphasize their excellent price-quality ratio.

Ms. Boss-Drouhin told me she particularly loves the location of the Bussières Les Clos vineyard, a high-altitude site that “gets both sunshine and air,” so the fruit ripens evenly and well. Although the Drouhins make multiple Mâcon bottlings, they don’t own vineyards there—yet. “It is definitely an area we like very much,” said Ms. Boss-Drouhin. “Unlike in the Côte-d’Or, the prices are still reasonable.”

Does the Mâconnais of today—with its fraternal-minded winemakers and affordable prices—resemble the Côte-d’Or of 50 years ago, before the wines became stratospherically priced and the top domaines were purchased by billionaires? I put this question to Becky Wasserman-Hone, an American wine exporter who has lived in Burgundy for five decades and helped bring some of its best wines, including those of Domaine des Comtes Lafon, to the attention of wine drinkers in the U.S.

Ms. Wasserman-Hone didn’t find much similarity between the two places—she noted that the Mâconnais doesn’t have grand-cru vineyards, though she further acknowledged that it has much young talent and promising terroirs. “Mâcon is news these days,” she wrote and further pointed out that her son, Peter Wasserman, is holding tastings of Mâcon wines in the U.S. to help spread the word.

I reached Mr. Wasserman as he was preparing to leave for a wine seminar in Los Angeles. He splits his time between New York and Burgundy, and has seminars scheduled in cities across the U.S. this year and next. In each he presents 8-10 wines from the Mâconnais to wine professionals, usually in groups of 20-30, mostly on behalf of the nonprofit Wine Education Council. He said he hopes to “change people’s minds on the Mâconnais,” as it has “not gotten its due and needs champions.” Audiences, he said, have been “googly eyed” at the quality of the wines.

Of the 14 Mâcon bottles I tasted, only a few were duds. By and large the wines were very good and the prices reasonable. In addition to the five featured below, there were a few others of note: the minerally 2016 Bret Brothers Mâcon-Villages ($28), the lively 2016 Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages ($13) and the light-bodied, charming 2016 Cave de L’Aurore La Fleur de Lys Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay ($15).

Perhaps the best way to sell Mâcon wines is to emphasize their excellent price-quality ratio. Their producers have more than earned a moment of attention and praise.

OENOFILE // Mâcons Making Waves
Where to Find a Bargain in Burgundy
Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

1. 2016 Domaine Lapalus Mâcon Milly-Lamartine, $15 A light, lively and very dry “vin de soif” (thirst-quenching wine) from a small, quality-focused domaine whose wines were only recently imported to the U.S. An excellent wine for the price.

2. 2016 Julien Guillot Mâcon Cruzille Aragonite, $42 Sourced from a biodynamic old-vine Chardonnay vineyard with a limestone and aragonite (calcium carbonate) soil, this is a powerful, structured Mâcon-meets-Puligny-style white with an intensely mineral finish.

3. 2017 Des Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon-Villages, $24 Winemaker Caroline Gon produces a number of Mâcon bottlings. This, her most basic one, is a textbook Mâcon: crisp and bright wine with a bracing acidity and a cool, stony finish.

4. 2017 Domaine Frantz Chagnoleau Mâcon-Villages Clos Saint Pancras, $21 Domaine des Héritiers winemaker Caroline Gon and her husband, Frantz Chagnoleau, produced this fresh, vibrant Mâcon marked by aromas of citrus at their jointly owned domaine.

5. 2016 Domaine Olivier Merlin Mâcon La Roche Vineuse Vieilles Vignes, $32 Olivier Merlin, master of Mâcon, turns out wines of purity and elegance in the village of La Roche-Vineuse. This old-vine bottling has weight, richness and a firm mineral edge.

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The Party Host’s Pro Move of the Season

RACLETTE UP Simply melt, scrape and make everyone at the table very happy.
RACLETTE UP Simply melt, scrape and make everyone at the table very happy. Photo: Noah Fecks

AS THE WEATHER COOLS and the rigorous demands of holiday entertaining loom, I’m pre-emptively declaring raclette the MVP of the season. There are few meals as fun, flexible and impressive that require so little labor.

Raclette is both the name of a delicious melting cheese and a way to serve it. The firm, brine-washed cow’s milk cheese has roots in the Swiss and French Alps. Its dense, golden paste shares flavors with fellow alpine cheeses such as Gruyère and Comté, ranging from mild, grassy and slightly nutty to full-bodied with oniony, meaty and brothy tones. The slightly sticky pink rind is meant to be eaten.

The word derives from the French verb racler, “to scrape”—and there’s not much more to the preparation. Traditionally, wheels of the cheese were halved or quartered and heated fireside, and the melted cheese was simply scraped onto a variety of accompaniments; today, many raclette lovers opt for melting it tabletop, with an appliance designed for the purpose. Consider the format the Kama Sutra of cheese, with limitless possibilities for pleasurable combinations. Boiled or roasted baby potatoes and bread are standard. Cooked sausages or cured meats provide a secondary protein. And a mix of raw, roasted and pickled vegetables helps to cut through all the dairy.

You’ll find a range of raclette machines on the market, from candle-powered pans that run a reasonable $10-$25 to electric melters ranging from $40-$500. Slices of raclette can also be melted in a nonstick pan, but sitting around a table and melting with friends is a big part of the charm of the experience, so a small investment in a basic melter is a good idea. I offer a couple of suggestions below.

Several domestic producers of raclette-style cheese draw inspiration from the European originals. Vermont’s Spring Brook Farm Reading is one of our best: a smooth and dense cheese with a subtle fruitiness and a healthy hit of salinity. Most cheese shops carry either a Swiss or French Raclette, and likely an American version. Why not buy a few different wedges and serve them side by side, for a cheesy international summit?

GOOD TO GOO / A Raclette Starter Pack

THE CHEESE Not only does Spring Brook Farm offer a terrific cow’s milk raclette called Reading ($23 for 1 pound,; through the nonprofit Farms for City Kids program, its dairy operation also serves as an “agricultural classroom” for urban schoolchildren, a cause you can support by eating cheese. For the budget-minded, French raclette ($16 for 1 pound, can’t be beat. At supermarkets across the country, you’ll find the Swiss raclette imported by Emmi Roth (about $16 for 1 pound).

THE GEAR A good entry-level melter, the Boska Partyclette XL ($80, has eight individual pans heated by tea lights. Ready to really commit? Boska recently introduced the electric Raclette Quattro Concrete ($150,, a stylish model that holds a quarter-wheel wedge.

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