“LITTLE BLUE” is what Tina Fallon calls the sweet cottage on a quiet street in the North Fork, L.I.  village of Greenport. She recently finished renovating it and has just put it on the market (in order to buy another house around the corner). “Architecturally, it’s a mixed bag,” says Fallon, a Brooklyn-based real estate agent, “like a gingerbread house assembled by unruly toddlers.” Still, she was charmed by it, despite the fact that the bay window was peeling off the facade and wasn’t original to the house to begin with, nor were the arched windows that were another visual drawing card.

The house, of indeterminate age, was “a dump,” Fallon recalls. It may have been a kit house, and moved from another location. The ‘before’ photo, above, belies the herculean renovation she and her husband did on the place after buying it a few years ago. “There was all-weather carpet throughout, weird angled walls to hide plumbing pipes, a toilet that vented into the bathroom, a fireplace protruding halfway into a very small room. The cold air return vent was in the floor, right when you walked into the house. The roof needed work, the siding was coming off in places, there was a huge tree stump in the middle of the yard. And at 850 square feet, the house was tiny. But the ceiling height downstairs was good, the lot was oversized, there was a large shed with a skylight, and the mechanicals were fairly recent. My mother hated the shabby interior,” she continues. “My husband hadn’t even seen it. But I proceeded with a full price offer and bought the place.”

The renovation that followed was extensive. You’ll get a sense of that from the ‘during’ photos, below.

The result is nothing short of fantastic, as seen the ‘afters,’ below. Tina’s company is listing the house for 325K (which seems highly reasonable to me, knowing the North Fork market as I do). I’ll let Tina tell you the whole story and backstory of their purchase and reno in her own words at the bottom of this post. She took the trouble to write it all out, and it’s full of fascinating and useful info for those with an appetite for the minutiae of renovation.

ASKING $325,000

Please contact owner/agent Tina Fallon at greenportcottage@gmail.com.

Lot size: 50’x150’

Approx sf: 850

Taxes: $1749

Says Tina Fallon:

You wouldn’t know from the outside how much we changed. It’s still a little blue cottage, with a cute bay window and a single bath. But nearly everything is new. Eileen Wingate in the Greenport buildings department came up with a photo of the house from the 70’s showing the front windows to be simple one-over-ones with no bay – a later owner added these old arched multi-light windows and tacked the bay window onto the front. We could have replaced them all, but we tried to remind ourselves that we had fallen for this house for a reason, and it had nothing to do with historical correctness or architectural integrity. The house is adorable, and the windows are a big part of that. So we restored them. We removed the terrible storm windows, created a new support base for the bay, and redesigned the trim profile to unite the windows.

When we stripped off the old siding we found the long trim piece that separated the top section from the lower one. Even though the bay window’s roof interrupts it, we decided to keep it to break up the clapboard. No one knows how old the house is – it may have been built from a kit – but the consensus is it was moved to this lot from anther location. Initially I was thinking we would paint her gray for a more dignified look, but my mom really wanted to keep her blue.

My husband and I bought our first home together in Greenport before we were married. It was autumn 1999, and I had become convinced that if we didn’t buy at that moment we would miss our window of affordability. So I held up my parents for the money we were supposed to use for our wedding, and we put 10% down on an 1840’s house on Main Street. My husband got a book deal to pay for the wedding, which took place at the American Legion Hall in Greenport – a space more frequently used for roller skating and Molly Hatchet concerts. We spent every weekend in Greenport, filling the house with our friends and, eventually, two kids. We restored the front porch, renovated the rear addition, and got the flues lined and fireplace working again. After our second daughter was born it became too difficult for me to drive back and forth every weekend, and we sold the house and our condo in Greenpoint to finance a move to Rowayton, Connecticut. We lasted a year before moving straight back to Brooklyn. By then it was 2005, and we could no longer afford Greenport. Mayor Dave Kapell had transformed the village through the creation of Mitchell Park, a waterfront esplanade with vintage carousel, transient dockage and winter ice skating rink (as well as a camera obscura to keep it weird). Fancy restaurants lined Front Street. We had been priced out.

The 2008 crash hit the East End pretty hard. As homes became more affordable on the South Fork and Shelter Island, sales slowed in Greenport. My father’s family was selling the ancestral farm in the Finger Lakes region, and I knew my dad would need a little patch of grass to mow when he and my mom came to spend the summer with us. (Plus our place in Red Hook was a little small for six.) I kept an eye on new listings, but the houses were still out of reach. After we were outbid on a gorgeous 1880’s Victorian on First Street in 2009, I gave up on Greenport and started looking in Columbia County, despite the fact that my saltwater-loving husband swore he would never go there.

I was in London one night idly scanning the real estate sites when I found the listing for 427 Second Street. Remarkably, it was listed for only $24,000 more than we had paid for our first house in Greenport, over ten years prior. There was an accepted offer on the house, but I begged the listing agent to wait until I returned from London to see it, and that if it was structurally sound we would pay full asking price. I schlepped my parents and the kids out the day before we began our vacation. Not surprisingly, he house was a dump: all-weather carpet throughout, weird angled walls to hide plumbing pipes, a toilet that vented into the bathroom, a fireplace protruding halfway into a very small room. The cold air return vent was in the floor, right when you walked into the house. The roof needed work, the siding was coming off in places, there was a huge tree stump in the middle of the yard. And at 850 square feet, the house was tiny. But the ceiling height downstairs was good, the lot was oversized, there was a large shed with a skylight, and the mechanicals were fairly recent. My mother hated the shabby interior. My husband hadn’t even seen it. But I proceeded with the full price offer and we signed contracts via Fed Ex during our vacation.

After closing, we had a local contractor handle the demo – nearly everything was ripped out, including the fireplace, which we had to sacrifice in the interest of adding living space and opening up the kitchen to the dining room. All of the trim was salvaged and reused. We removed the ceiling upstairs and exposed the beams in the gambrel roof. The kitchen and bath fixtures were removed, the central brick chimney exposed, and layers of carpet and vinyl flooring peeled back. The floors downstairs were unusable, sadly, but the upstairs wood floor had been painted and was deemed okay for country bedrooms. Multiple dumpsters hauled away the trash, along with the giant stump and dead limbs from the overgrown trees.

For budgetary and I spent weeks drawing and redrawing the space. In such a small house, math determines design. The existing kitchen sink was one of the only charming interior features – a cast iron classic with a drainboard. It was 5’ long, dwarfing the 20” range and 24” fridge. Sadly, it had to go. The house seemed to have been built originally with no indoor plumbing, and the one bathroom, tucked under a shed dormer on the second floor, was another math problem. The plumbing was run through the living space below, and a diagonal sheetrock wall added to conceal it. A shower bumped into the bedroom, making that room even more awkward. There was a cute pedestal sink and a working toilet, which we reused. But the shower had to go.  To open the space, we figured we could put a tub in the dormer and shift the toilet and sink a bit without having to completely re-run the plumbing. But the space was so narrow that most commercial tubs, as well as clawfoot tubs, would not fit.  Most are 30” to 34” wide, and with allowances for drain and fixtures we could not accommodate them without moving an interior structural wall. Custom designing a tub was too costly, and the ceiling height did not allow for a standing shower.

Enter Craigslist. I found a listing for a Waterworks “Candide” pedestal tub – a long, narrow, “French boat” style that would fit, just barely, in our dormer. A contractor had bought all the fixtures for a controversial condo conversion of the old Claremont Riding Academy on the Upper West Side. When that development went bust, this tub came available – at a fraction of the original price. We dragged it up the steep slope of the partially excavated basement and it took four of us (the contractor, his assistant, and an architect who was buying faucets whom we dragooned into helping, poor man) to hoist it into the back of our ancient Expedition. I drove around with that thing in the back of the truck for a week before getting it out to Greenport. We had to reinforce the joists and add a new beam to support it, but the tub is a marvel. The contractor was selling the faucets, too, but not inexpensively enough for my budget. Plus they were a brushed nickel, which I find does not age well in salt air. I found the polished nickel Rohl faucet and handshower in Connecticut (again, Craigslist), which is beautiful and has a great heft to it.

Green building principles have been employed throughout the renovation, including low-maintenance Hardie-plank siding, reclaimed wood floors and low v.o.c. paints. Wherever possible, the original trim has been repurposed or reused. Spray foam insulation and ceiling fans keep the cool in summer and warm in winter. All new electric includes a combination of nautical fixtures and recessed lighting, as well as hard-wired fire and carbon monoxide sensors.

To create a new knee wall in the bedroom, we installed heavy mahogany paneling sourced from Craigslist. It came out of a Long Island mansion, and had been stored in a garage for years. Troy Poteet, genius carpenter, pieced it together on site. We painted it a gloss white. The reclaimed oak flooring came from upstate New York. We opted for a rustic floor as it masks dirt and offers a welcome contrast to all the white. Walls are Benjamin Moore China White, and trim is Super White.

The farm sink and 18” Bosch dishwasher, both “open box” items, came from Craigslist as well. The Con-serv fridge is just 24” wide and deep, but extra tall. The range and hood are from Ikea, as are the cabinets. Light fixtures are from Shiplights, and the pulley lamp over the dining table is from Pottery Barn. Porch light is from Barn Light Electric. The simple white ceiling fans are from Hampton Bay.

The new siding is James Hardie clapboard in Boothbay Blue – just as my mother wanted.

Here’s where you go for more information.

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