By Brenda Marchand

Source is unknown. Date of publication extrapolated from the number of years RBP and Joan are married in the article.

CAMBRIDGE - On a narrow, tree-lined Cambridge street, an 1867 Victorian "painted lady" stands out among its conservative neighbors. Perched high on a balcony railing, a verdi griffin gargoyle surveying the passing scene lends a zany note. Painted a soft grayish teal and elaborately trimmed in cream and burgundy, the house is Penelope Cruz in a room full of Gwyneth Paltrows. The homeowners chose these colors following a trip to San Francisco made solely to research that city's famed painted houses.

"This is Joan's house and I live in it," jokes Robert Parker, author of the "Spenser" mysteries, referring to his wife of 44 years.

Possessed of charm and ready wit, the couple, who met at Colby College, both love the house they bought in 1986, Joan has had the most influence, putting herself in the hands of longtime friend and decorator Eileen Patterson of the Eileen Patterson Group. Robert has proven to be an easy sell in design projects.

The house has what interior designers refer to as "great bones," meaning plenty of architectural detailing typical of the period: ornate moldings, stained glass, sky-high ceiling, and a spiral staircase leading from the second to the third floor.

"People often come here to talk to us and end up writing about the house," Joan says, while seated on a floral chintz slipper chair in the living room. Done dramatically in a strong palette of deep yellow, wine, and dark green, the room is accented with chinoiserie, including a pair of red lacquered cabinets and black and gold oriental screens.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the house, though, is its configuration. Under its roof the couple live unconventionally on separate floors. The first floor is Robert's, where five days a week he can be found writing in his handsome, wine-colored office. Here is where he keeps personal mementos, such as his old baseball glove and bat from his years on the Lynnfield twilight team.

The second floor belongs to Joan. On this level, the rooms are more feminine with lots of hand-painted work by artist Denise Lindquist and a dressing room any woman would envy.

Before moving to Cambridge, the couple lived more conventionally in suburban Lynnfield while raising their two sons. After a two-year separation, which almost ended in divorce, they lived apart on the North Shore. Eventually, they moved to Cambridge, yet still apart.

"Bob got tired of all the rules at the condo he had," Joan says.

"I like living in a building where the only rules are yours," counters Robert with a smile. "Even when they are numerous."

This arrangement was Robert's idea. (:I was wondering if I was going to get any credit," he says.)

According to Joan, visiting wives admire the arrangement. Their husbands never comment.

The airy, sun-filled third floor, Joan's former living space, is open to "guests, children, and people running away from home," she says. It awaits furniture from their soon-to-be-sold, 300-year-old Concord farmhouse.

The Parkers each have a bedroom, bathroom, spacious dining rooms that run the width of the house and overlook a garden, and small but well-appointed kitchen, even though Joan says she cooks "only enough to stay alive."

"At Thanksgiving, my sons used to come home and say, "You're not going to cook are you?"

While the fictional Spenser is a gourmet cook, the author rarely uses his own kitchen.

"We have a great caterer," says Joan.

In almost every room there are images of the beloved family pets. Fans of the Spenser books will know Pearl, a German shorthaired pointer who is "deaf as a turnip," according to his master. Not to be outdone, Rose, Joan's frisky miniature English bull terrier, appears as the pet of female Sunny Randall.

A former teacher at Tufts University and Endicott College, Joan retired early from the state Department of Education, where she was director of curriculum and instruction for 88 communities in the northeast part of the state. Now, she collaborates with Robert on ideas in the books and adapting screenplays: "One day, I looked at my check from the Department of Education and my check from Warner Brothers and it was a big, 'Duh!'" She never looked back.

On Boston's charity circuit Joan is known as a tireless worker for Community Servings, which delivers meals to families with AIDS. Her choices of Community Servings, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, and Theater offensive, Boston's only gay theater, are not surprising given the couple have two gay sons. Daniel, an actor in Los Angeles and a member of actor Tim Robbins's repertory company is about to make an independent film with Hollywood star John Cusack. David is a dancer and choreographer with his own company, The Bang Group, in New York.

Joan is now working on Shared Hearts, a traveling exhibit of black-and-white photographic portraits of gay teenagers. Each is accompanied by a narrative written by the teenagers themselves. The project visits high schools, where peers can learn what it is like to come out.

"It resonates with me," she says, "because my kids have been there."

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