Melanie's Rustic 'Rag House' A Cozy Home Sweet Home



Press Staff Writer



There is a gingerbread house hidden by pines at the end of a long driveway in Lincroft. But there is no wicked witch for miles.

Only a young couple lives there —with their six cats, two dogs, and a goat. It's called Rag House and a sign hanging right outside on a fieldstone well tells you that. The house is trimmed in red, and its sprawling, log-cabin appearance and the quiet of the sheltered landscape inspire thoughts of somewhere high in the Swiss Alps.

There are calico and lace curtains in the windows, and an old butter churn and a stone angel stand in greeting at the front entrance. It's an unlikely place to find a 26-year-old superstar, but it's what singer and composer Melanie calls home.

Melanie and her husband, Peter Schekeryk, who is also her manager, promoter, and record producer bought the place three years ago. The 60-year-old house was owned by a priest who lived there himself and also used it for a religious retreat. The pines that surround the house were brought from around the world and grown from seedlings. A particularly eye-catching grove visible from the kitchen window used to be a meditating garden. "That's why we bought the place, " said Peter recently on a rare day off at home with his wife. "It was so peaceful, we just fell in love with it. We really weren't in the market for a house. " The original house was only a small, one-floor cottage, now housing the kitchen and several small rooms so the Schekeryks had to build on. They did so with care.

"We got wood from an old barn and old shingles and logs, and tried to match the rustic look," explained Melanie, "We never had an architect or a decorator, so the carpenter thought I was crazy when I told him what wanted."

Melanie enjoys taking a couple of days to unwind at her new home in Lincroft. The original house, which is about 60 years old, formerly belonged to a priest. Keeping her company is her goat, one of several pets.

The singer loves old things and has had a mania for collecting unusual items from around the world since she was a child. The results of her shopping sprees fill every nook and cranny of her home, giving it unconventional warmth and charm. And there is no conventional living room furniture. There is a couch, but it is draped in imported materials; an art nouveau love seat that is really an art object, and a material chair without legs.

"I NEVER really waited a big house," She said "and sometimes I think we should have just left the original cottage because this has turned out to be rather wieldy." The house has 10 rooms, including several guest rooms often filled, and an indoor swimming pool that opens onto a deck overlooking woods and a small creek.

"I don't like to play up the pool," insisted Melanie. "I Just have it because I love to, swim. I do everyday." Among the decorations in the pool area is a large wall hanging from India, a gift from her father Fred Safka of Keyport.

"Once I thought I wanted to live in a Victorian house, but every time I went into one, I sensed that other people had lived there before. Those rich people must have been really troubled because they seem to leave something of their uneasiness behind. I could never stay alone in one of those mansions." She admitted candidly, "I'm too susceptible to spirits and things." But she does have something reminiscent of those old mansions in her cozy home — a carved double door that leads into the living-dining area

"The carpenter thought I was nuts because he had to make the top of the doorway oval in order to fit the doors in," she said with an impish grin. "I also made him cut holes in perfectly good walls because I had to find places for stained glass, which I love."

The light shines through a piece of very old, pastel-colored glass in the dining area. It was a gift from Melanie's mother, Mrs. Polly Safka of Long Branch. But Melanie's pride and joy is the ceiling-to-floor glass piece that covers one wall of her living room. It shows a woman, some leaves that look like they belong on grape vines, and what seems to be an oblong box.

"IT CAME from a beer garden, I think, and I've never really been able to figure out what it depicts. I spent a lot of time deciding if that box was a coffin or not, before I bought it, though," she remarked.

The stained glass wall, however, is only one of what Melanie fondly calls her "fiascos." Another one in the same room is her open fireplace—which doesn't work. "First of all, no one told me the glass had to be insulated so the cold wouldn't come through she said, shaking her head in disbelief that these things have gone wrong so when a cold wind blows through these little holes in the glass, we freeze."

What do you give to the girl who has everything? Well, Peter came up with the unique art piece, upon which he's sitting. Melanie admired it in a gallery in New York and she received the gift for their fourth anniversary.


 As for the fireplace Melanie loved the open hearths she saw in Switzerland. When she returned to this country she drew what she could remember for the masons. The finished product is quite striking. It goes the entire length of the room and is flanked by tiles Melanie has collected on one side and fieldstone on the other. But when the big moment came to sit by the warm fire, the room filled up with smoke.

"No one told us it wouldn't go up the chimney," she said, laughing. "One man came in recently and said he could fix it for $5,000. We got rid of him. Now we're supposed to be getting some kind of fan to improve the draft."

The kitchen, too, turned out to be a bit of a problem in practicality. Aesthetically, however, it is filled with imagination and. warmth. A brick floor and beamed cathedral ceiling encompasses a room where much of activity of the house takes place. A huge picture window over the sink with ruffled tieback calico curtains affords a view of the front drive and the couple's dogs at play— Roady, a springer spaniel (so named because "he was supposed to travel with me on the road"); and Rastus, a longhaired German shepherd.

Melanie chats animatedly in the step-down, rustic living room of her Middletown Township home, where she lives with her husband, Peter Schekeryk.

It's the butcher block that holds the stove in the middle of the kitchen that causes the inconvenience, but it will be replaced with an old-fashioned looking stove in a more accessible location.


"MELANIE loves to cook," said Peter, doing some coffee brewing of his own. "When she's off she's always in the kitchen. She entertained the whole family at Christmas time and did all the cooking herself."

Testimony to that is the remains of a pot of mulled cider sitting on the stove. Melanie sampled it and lifted out an orange stuck with cloves to see if it was worth reheating.

From there she moved to the sink to check a jar of alfalfa sprouts. Then the health food aficionado and a former vegetarian ("I still don't eat beef " ) launched into how good health foods are, what it's like growing your own fresh vegetables, and how tasty they are in salads.

Overlooking the kitchen and one step up is Melanie's favorite room -- a tiny breakfast nook with a round table covered with a calico quilt and antique wooden straight-back chairs made by Peter's father. The chair seats are covered in brightly colored paper Melanie bought in Japan. There are fresh flowers and sumptuous-looking fruits and homemade breads on the table and kitchen counters—seemingly a scene right out of "Hansel and Gretel" or "Heidi. "

DRESSED in her jeans, with her long hair falling in sparkling impish eyes, with Peter at her side, Melanie looks very much at home here, in a world that has little to do with the fast-paced and sometimes cut-throat world of show business.

As at home in the kitchen as on the stage or in a recording studio, Melanie samples some mulled cider she made for guests.

"I thought when I was younger that I would be a potter," Melanie said in a somber moment, "because I always loved doing things with my hands and that way I would be entirely self-sufficient. And that was the way it was, at first, when I started singing. I'd take my guitar and I'd say, 'Wanna hear me sing?' and I'd do it and they'd give me the $20. But it was always on my terms. Now I am so dependent on other people for my success. Sometimes I wish it were like the good ol' days. "

Meanwhile, Melanie continues to be popular around the world. She was recently named No. 1 female vocalist by both Billboard and Cashbox magazines; No. 2 female vocalist by Record World; No. 1 top female foreign vocalist by Musik Markt (Germany); recipient of a Silver Disc from Britain, awarded to the most important singers in the world; an Otto for most popular female singer (Germany); a Schallplatte for top female foreign vocalist (Germany); a Gold Album and Star Festival award from UNICEF; and an award from ASCAP for being a composer to have two songs in the top 10 last year ('Brand New Key" and "Ring the Living Bell"). A new single of hers has just been released called, "Bitter Bad." She said it's a full song, but the texture of Melanie's songs and of her outlook on life have changed in the last year.

"MY MUSIC," she explained, "was always very reflective of what was going on in the world. 'Lay Down' and 'Beautiful People,' those were very movement-oriented songs.

In her favorite niche off the kitchen, Melanie and husband Peter, who is also her manager and promoter, chat over a cup of freshly brewed coffee. (Press Photos by Frank Beardsley)Ñ

 But it's over now, and I doubt I'll ever write a song like that again. Now my songs are more personal, more about things on a one-to-one basis.

"We were fighting some secret battle among ourselves to change us, but we lost. The energy is gone. I can't blame our current political administration, because I travel all over the world and it's happening everywhere. And the performers, like the Beatles, who were part of the movement, have broken up," she continued.

"I just get frightened now and then that the old values and things are going to come back, like who knows the latest dance and who has the latest hairstyle. That would be like the '50s —incredibly dull. " But Melanie still believes that people cannot go through years like the '60s and early '70s and come out; unchanged.

"People must have been raised a notch in their awareness," she concluded.

The singer-composer is writing more poetry than before, and would just as soon do that as write songs. But she will go on tour with a new repertoire beginning Friday, when she'll play Carnegie Hall for two nights Then she's off to Pennsylvania; a one-night concert at the Capitol Theater in Passaic on Feb. 9; up to Canada; to Washington, D.C., and then back to New York at Brooklyn College.

AS SHE SIPPED coffee in her kitchen nook, it seemed as if Melanie would be happy there if she never performed again or wrote another song. But that's not true.

"I'll always be singing for people," she said. "I always have and always will—even if it's only at weddings and birthday parties."


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Ñ Special thanks to Eileen Riordan, (the Embroidery Lady - three of her works are hanging in this picture!) who preserved and sent me this article.