Visiting with Oz Mondejar and John Verlinden
I consider a home to be where the heart of a family can be nourished and prosper. The home of Oz Mondejar and John Verlinden is filled with a welcoming abundance of art and artifacts. This invites one and all in for a party of sharing cultures from all around the world with a focus on Cuba, the ancestral homeland of Oz. Here they have created a fantastic place that offers comfort and delight for all who enter.I see this as a reflection of the deep love shared between two men who together form an expansive bond of abundant joy.
IA: How long have you both been in a primary relationship of love and respect?
O&J: We met in Baltimore in 1985 and have been in a relationship since then. It has always been a whole lot of fun – humor is the glue that keeps us attached, respect & love are always present, we just care for each other.
IA: Did you always consider yourselves a married couple in an affectionate and spiritual manner?
O&J: Yes, we did and do. We’re creative, kindred spirits, we share an appreciation for family, friends, animals, community, nature, the cosmos, a good meal with vino and the arts. We have a few interests in common, and our own passions. One commonality is that it’s hard for us to sit still. We’ve been told we have ants in our pants. We’re just never done … there’s always a looming project or adventure under foot.
IA: Are you married legally in the State of Massachusetts?
IA: If married in a legal sense do you consider that status to have contributed to the well-being of yourselves and your extended family?
O&J: Yes! By the time marriage became legal in Massachusetts, we’d already been together for 19 years, so we really questioned whether or not we should even bother, but we did consider it a historic event, so we decided to go ahead and do it. We were both surprised at how meaningful and important being able to officially marry would be for us. The process and the government’s endorsement of it affirmed us and has made us stronger as a couple. It was validating.
IA: Briefly, what are your individual professions?
O: Hospital Administration, Executive with Partners Healthcare, Spaulding Rehabilitation network.
J: — Chef, Food Writer “To Cook Is To Love,” published 2010 and Small Business Consultant
IA: What is a highlight of each of your professional careers that has been particularly fulfilling?
O&J: We are both community guys, and our professions have facilitated our efforts. We have been able to do many things to support and enhance and advocate for our communities — People with Disabilities, Hispanic, LGBTQ, Woman’s Rights & Children’s issues.
IA: When and how did you find your house?
R to L, John and Oz greeting us at their front door Photo by Iory Allison
O&J: It was 1987 — we were looking for a condo, and had just put an offer in on an apartment (650 square feet) in the South End, when Oz’s sister who was also looking for a condo, suggested we pool our money and look for a two-family home. We started looking in Brookline because our niece was in school and Brookline has great schools.
IA: What condition was the building when you found it?
O&J: In a word — it was ‘rough — a hot mess’. The headline of the classified ad for the house said “Developer or Would Be Developer?’ At the time, we purchased it (in reality it purchased us), the house was being utilized as a rooming house. We purchased it from the estate of a woman who’d lived in it for 60 years. After raising her family and losing her husband, she rented out rooms on a short-term basis.
IA: What were you attracted to about this house in particular?
O&J: It is a great old house with lots of character, the woodwork on the first floor was installed by skilled craftsmen and is intact. It has survived the allure of paint for nearly a century. The house has a welcoming aura. Also, when we first moved in, the presence of Pauline, the previous owner was palpable. She was loved by the neighbors…we felt welcomed by her.
The house is a grand ol’ dame, she requires regular touch-ups and grooming. We truly are the caretakers much more than the owners.
First floor parlor with original paneling, diptych painting by Magda Campos – Pon, Cuba Artist, Professor at Mass College of Art. Photo by Iory Allison
IA: Did you have to do extensive renovation to create the third-floor guest suite?
O&J: Yes, we did a gut-renovation. We took everything back to the studs; we took out almost all of the walls and took the ceiling out to create a space that is open to the rafters.
Third floor guest suite with original roof beams exposed Photo by Iory Allison
IA: Do each of you have specific and singular interests concerning your home?
O&J: It’s warm, eclectic, with many quirks. Although it’s a never-ending fixer upper, we both love everything about the place. And, we feel like it’s happy having us live here.
IA: Do these individual interests complement each other?
O&J: We collaborate on almost every project. Oz has a great eye for design, so he is the creative visionary, John is handy and crafty, so our skills are very compatible.
IA: Is there something that you do together concerning your home that you both love and adore?
O&J: We both enjoy hospitality and entertaining — opening doors for gatherings. This stems from our upbringing. Both our families hosted, loved cooking, and breaking bread…it was rare not to have guests at the table. Sharing the house keeps that tradition, it feels right and we’re also recovering restaurateurs. We both grew up in the service biz, working our way through every food & beverage station. It’s in our DNA…we’re seasoned party planners.
A corner of John’s office – hanging paintings by Pat Peter from Gateway Arts. Abstract animal hanging plaque, ‘S/T’ by Roberto Baranda. The freestanding sculpture and the basket are created by South African Zulu Tribe Artists Photo by Iory Allison
IA: Did you have an idea of the look or style of your completed home?
O&J: Curious and eclectic are good descriptors. We’re collectors, so we have filled the house with furniture, art and collectibles from many different eras, made of many different materials and from many different places around the world. It’s always evolving, we like change — so we change it up.
IA: I see your home as a museum of whimsy and uninhibited delight. I see a relationship between the art and artifacts as you have chosen and arranged them that animates an audible conversation. That conversation seems to be to be expressing an appreciation of the beauty and richness of many cultural references and indeed speaks of a universal joyous aesthetic. Is there a theme to your collecting or a kind of story that you are telling with your incredibly rich world?
The Big Boy Hamburger kid in red checks, Jackie all boxed in, and Bart Simpson – just to mention a few of the denizens of the high shelves in John’s office Photo by Iory Allison
O&J: (Iory this is a lovely description and spot on). Although a specific theme is not always at the top of our minds at times. it’s a bit reminiscent of vintage 30’s, 40’s & 50’s.
we’re attracted to items that are playful and tell a story…most are vintage. We see relationships between some items that we already have and a new item we see that we’d like to acquire, if they belong together, they have come home.
IA: Have you always collected art? What is art in your home and what is merely utilitarian? I ask this because there are vignettes composed of, for instance what looks like old garden tools, but arranged as a sculptural composition with purpose and I am amazed by the myriad of details that fill every corner with a twinkling smile.
Old garden tools as sculpture Photo by Iory Allison
O&J: We do see art and style in utilitarian things. And, we do have a rule about our collecting — No piece just gets to sit around and look pretty and collect dust; everybody has to work.
IA: John what items of your personal collections are most important to you? What items of your personal collections allows you a private giggle?
J: I do have favorites, of course, but I would never let the other pieces know. We love all of our little collectible children equally.
IA: what items of your personal collections are most important to you? What items of your personal collections allows you a private giggle?
O: A relic from Cuba of yesteryear… our patron saint – La Caridad del Cobre (Lady of Charity) from my family’s home in Cuba. The Giggle part is my Jane Mansfield hot water bottle
La Caridad del Cobre, the trials of life leave marks on the blessed Madonna and her companions
IA: John what of Oz’s collection strikes you as profound and enriching to your life?
Paramount Theatre on Washington Street, Boston by street artist, Sykel Photo by Iory Allison
J: Ozzie has great taste, so I love just about everything he brings home. If not, I hide them. And, anything that I’m not crazy about in the beginning seems to grow on me as time goes by. I would say that Ozzie has brought a level of sophistication and refinement to our collection that I would never have been able to achieve on my own.
IA: Oz what of John’s collection strikes you as profound and enriching to your life?
O: John has the best rubber toy collection really (IA, see Email photo)
… and since he’s the Chef and creative ruler of the kitchen, I’ll say his Russell Wright dinnerware, they complement his every dish. As a writer, the book he authored, “To Cook is to Love,” is the best example and collection of his passion, creativity and knowledge of food and all these ingredients come together to please the palate. Everything he makes has Mucho Gusto.
(IA, Cook = Love, is first a conversation then an invitation to dinner with Sra. Mondejar where she relates her stories of growing up in pre-Castro Cuba – Oz is a first-generation USA citizen born in New Jersey.)
John’s biographical cook book about Oz’s Mom, “Mami Aida” and her Cuban recipes.
IA: Did you always want a garden component to your home? Did you look for a home with a garden?
O&J: Yes, gardens are really special places. There is something about being outside with nature that inspires and enriches us. When looking for a home, we definitely wanted some kind of outdoor space. Our garden is urban, it’s on the smaller side and the perfect size for us.
IA: How have those gardens, decks, porches and outdoor spaces evolved?
Garden pavilion off the back deck of the rear garden photo by Iory Allison
O&J: Our outdoor spaces have really evolved over the years, and they will continue to gain more character and create more interest in the future. Just like our indoor rooms, the look and feel of these outdoor rooms has grown and become more layered over time. They are extensions of the house, a bit country, vintage furniture and honky-tonk warmth. This was the first season that the garden felt pretty settled; it has been a work in progress since the beginning.
IA: I see, inside and out, your home is created with numerous places for socializing. Do you entertain a lot? Do you like sharing your space with family and friends?
O&J: Yes, as indicated above, we do a lot of entertaining. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t have at least a friend or two over, and we also like to throw larger gatherings for benefits.
The gentlemen of the house