The windows of a vacant gatehouse at a former Fair Haven brewery are all boarded up. And yet—a cat peers out at passersby, and houseplants sit on sunny windowsills.
How can that be?
With brushes and paint, she transformed sheets of plain plywood into “windows,” complete with venetian blinds, leafy houseplants, and, in one corner, a gray house cat.
Whiting, who has a studio in Erector Square, was recently commissioned to paint the windows by Bob Leahy, who owns Brewery Square apartments, near the corner of River and Ferry streets.
Much of the old Quinnipiac Brewery, which dates to the late 1800s, has been converted to apartments. But the building that fronts Ferry Street, known as the gatehouse, has long sat vacant.
The building’s windows had been boarded over with green painted plywood. Whiting said Leahy hired her to “make it look less vacant.”
Whiting has been doing decorative painting for over 10 years, mostly interior work. “I do murals and faux finishes,” she said.
For the Brewery Square job, she started by checking out the site, and seeing what the existing, real, windows look like. The answer: “Mostly venetian blinds, and mostly closed.”
Whiting said she wanted to match the other windows, but also to have a little flair. So she raised the blinds just a bit on her painted windows, revealing houseplants, and a furry friend.
It took Whiting and an assistant three weeks to paint the panels. She did eight windows, each comprising two sheets of plywood, custom-cut to fit each opening.
On a recent visit to the site, Whiting pointed out how she had studied the direction of the sunlight hitting the building. Her calculations determined the direction of shadows cast by window frames onto the blinds, the cat, and the plants. The shadows have the best effect in the afternoon, with the sun in the southwest, she said. “In the morning, it doesn’t make as much sense.”
Whiting pointed out a plant she painted from life, in her studio. “The others, I just Googled.”
Whiting said she hopes passersby have an “oh, wait a second,” moment.
“If you’re just driving by, you may not notice,” she said. “Then you realize it’s painted and it’s cool that it’s painted.”
“I didn’t notice it at first,” said Mike Toftness (pictured), who walked by moments later. Then, he said, he thought, “Oh, wait a second. Hold on.” That’s not a real window at all.
Toftness walks by the building every day on his way to work at the post office. He said the new window treatments certainly make the building look less vacant. “It’s a vast improvement. I hope they keep it up.”
Whiting said she hopes other owners of vacant, boarded-up New Haven buildings will follow Brewery Square’s example. “There’s plenty of places that could be spruced up a little.”