IMG_4968I’VE CLOSED UP SHOP in East Hampton for the winter. Had to. My house has no heat, and the nighttime temperatures have dipped into the 40s and even 30s. Yes, I have a fireplace, a space heater, down comforters and cashmere sweaters and fuzzy slippers. But all that can only take a body so far. So I’m back in my Brooklyn brownstone apartment for the duration, having come to terms with the fact that my Long Island house is a five-month-a-year proposition (though I pay the mortgage twelve).

Below: New late-season planting areas

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The beginnings of a pinetum (conifer collection), above.

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A new experimental bed filled with odds and ends I don’t know what else to do with, above.

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Raised beds now containing about 300 bulbs (allium, Queen of the Night tulips, Pheasant’s Eye daffs), above. A flower farm: something to look forward to come May, for sure.

I tore myself away, as always, with regret. Planting bulbs, walking along the beach, gazing at sunsets (below, from the jetty at Maidstone Park), watching the autumn colors come on day by day — those things sustain me in a way traipsing along city sidewalks does not.

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Moving forward, from afar, on two major projects this winter: the installation of 11 new windows, and the demolition of a storage room and two closets at one end of the great room, below, to create an unimpeded open space, about 400 square feet, that will eventually become a (heated, insulated — though not this year) “winter studio.” Don’t you love the sound of that? I do.

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My last week at the house was spent packing, weeding, winnowing. There’s no end to it. Two IKEA bags full of books off to the LVIS thrift shop. Three more cartons of random items into the shed, marked ‘Yard Sale.’ As hard as I try, as much I pare down, stuff just… accumulates. OK, I confess: I went to a couple of yard sales on my last morning.

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Off to the shed with ye… or the “rubber room,” above, passed along to me by my friend Diana.

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End of season yard-sale find, above. How could I pass those up? 

Close the skylights. Close the fireplace flues. Strip the beds. One last laundry. Clean out the refrigerator. Roll up the rugs. Push the furniture away from the back wall and cover it with drop cloths, for protection during demo and construction. Dump the annuals.

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Wait — scratch that last item: “Dump the annuals.”  I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The coleus and Swedish ivy and other plants in my deck containers continued to thrive. I didn’t have the heart to dump them (though the clay pots they’re in will break over the winter if I don’t). But I’ll wait until the cold does them in, then do the deed on one of my upcoming quick visits ‘just to check on things.’

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A stay of execution for the container plants, above.

So it’s last call. Shutting down the joint. Bartender’s gonna throw me out. Pack the car. Unplug the modem. Look around one more time. Go room to room, say goodbye. Around the garden. A few more iPhone pix. Peer into the shed. Why must the day I leave have to be so beautiful?

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Maidstone Park,  above.

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I’M JUST BACK from Florida’s Gulf Coast, where I attended Sarasota Mod, a conference aimed at educating the public (and hopefully saving) the city’s stock of innovative post-WWII housing and public buildings. But before I delve into all that — and delve I will, on this blog and in a piece for Architectural Record – I couldn’t resist a post about another, earlier love: 1920s Mediterranean Revival-style cottages. Sarasota developers built them to meet the needs of people beginning to discover the charms of what had been wilderness a few decades before.

Top, not a cottage — that’s Ca’ D’Zan, an over-the-top Venetian-style palazzo built for circus impresario John Ringling and his wife Mable in 1926, now restored and re-furnished down to the original china and silver. We were treated to dinner on the terrace there, below, sunset included.

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One lunch hour, I strolled the back streets of Sarasota’s business district and found, in the shadows of condos and parking garages, a few 1920s buildings that have survived the relentless march of commerce. Can you spot one in the photo below?

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What fun it was to come across Burns Court, below, a rare, intact street of stucco cottages, each painted and decorated with Florida flair. Built in 1926 by developer Owen Burns (who also built Ca’ D’Zan), Burns Court is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Just east of Orange Avenue, in the streets around Laurel Park, there’s a whole neighborhood of wood-frame 1920s bungalowsBelow, a small apartment complex in that red-tile-roof, arched-windows ersatz Spanish style so beloved in the Twenties. Most, though not all, of the homes in the Laurel Park area are well-maintained, with landscaping that is beyond lush, sometimes obscuring the houses from the street.

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Must add this guy to my mailbox archive:

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I AM INCREASINGLY FOND of Japanese gardens, and quite unreasonably proud (as if I had something to do with it), of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden‘s Japanese garden, constructed 100 years ago and opened to the public in June 1915. It’s a masterpiece of Japanese garden design — the premier work of its creator, Takeo Shiota (1881-1943), who came to the U.S. in 1907.

The garden is a combination of two Japanese garden traditions: hill-and-pond style (self-explanatory), and the ‘stroll’ garden, in which different vistas are gradually revealed as you meander along winding paths.

Japanese gardens are floriferous when cherry trees, azaleas and irises are in springtime bloom. These photos were taken in high summer, when I found the garden green and shapely, its evergreen structure at the fore, conveying the intended sense of permanence.

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Compare the century-old historical photos, above, with the much greater lushness of the present day. Seventy years after its creator’s death, the garden’s beauty and integrity remain. It’s nothing short of a national treasure, IMO, and I feel fortunate to live nearby, where I can pop over on a weekday morning and have it practically to myself.

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Hiss Studio, Tim Seibert

CERTAIN PLACES ON THE PLANET — often unexpected places, like Columbus, Indiana, and Tel Aviv, Israel — have been blessed with impressive inventories of important 20th century architecture. One such place is Sarasota, Florida, on the Gulf Coast. I was there once many years ago, so many that all I remember is collecting seashells on Sanibel Island (they’re also blessed with an impressive inventory of seashells).

Umbrella House, designed by architect Paul Rudolph, 1953, photo by Bill Miller Photography, New York Umbrella House, designed by architect Paul Rudolph, 1953, photo by Greg Wilson

Umbrella House, Paul Rudolph, 1953 

Now I’m getting another chance. The weekend of October 9-12, I’ll be in Sarasota for Sarasota MOD Weekend, a celebration of the area’s 1940s through ’60s architectural heritage, when architects like Paul Rudolph, Ralph Twitchell, Victor Lundy, Tim Seibert, Gene Leedy, Carl Abbott and others produced a stock of residential and commercial buildings responding to local climate and culture with great modernist style.

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Photos: Ezra Stoller

This group, which became known as the Sarasota School of Architecturefound its initial inspiration in the philosophies of the Bauhaus, but soon incorporated regional Southern features, “using patios, verandas, modular construction and raised floors to open up buildings for greater ventilation in pre-air conditioning days,” as the website of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation puts it. “They added a play of light and shadow, and the color and texture of indigenous low maintenance materials softened the cold machine aesthetic of the Bauhaus. This approach… allowed Sarasota School buildings to respect and blend well into their sites. The result was a regional modernism which blurred the distinction between the indoors and outdoors and accommodated the lifestyle and climate of southern Florida.”

Healy Guest House, aka Cocoon House, designed by architects Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph, 1950, photo by Greg Wilson

Healy Guest House, Ralph Twitchell/Paul Rudolph, 1950

In other words, cool modern beach houses with architectural pedigree. Some are even on the market. What could be better? Perhaps a weekend full of lectures, tours (walking, trolley, boat) and parties celebrating same?

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Jet Blue flies direct from NYC to the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. I’ll be on one of those flights. You in?

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THE LADY IS VERY HAPPY with her new deck. What the contractors didn’t know, as they worked for four days right outside my windows, is that I could hear every word they said, and even understand the ones in English. I’m the Lady, as in “Did the lady see it yet?” and “What did the lady say?”

See the happy lady, below.

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See the new deck in all its fresh-smelling cedar glory.

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See the new storage shed for beach chairs, grill, etc.. I’ll need more, for garden tools and whatnot, but it’s a good start.

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Time now to start planting around the deck, to integrate this large new feature — probably 500-600 square feet — into the landscape.

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Yesterday I drove to my favorite nursery, Fort Pond Native Plants in Montauk — it’s not really all natives, but it’s got an interesting, healthy selection — and bought some ornamental grasses (Panicum ‘Shenandoah’ and a very cool-looking plant called Purple Love Grass, or Eragrostis spectabilis), and interplanted them along the walkway, below, with Amsonia hubrichtii (blue milkweed), Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ and bloody sorrel. Got a purple/chartreuse thing going.

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I’m coveting some new shrubs and trees, including a hinoki cypress and perhaps a magnolia. For that, I await the post-Labor Day sales.

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