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THE ROLLER COASTER RIDE IS OVER. I’m officially in contract to sell my East Hampton, N.Y. cottage, after a long winter of offers, negotiations, anticipation and disappointments. Closing will be on or before May 15 — five years to the day since I bought the house in 2009. My real estate agent and my neighbors think I’m crazy, but I’m still gardening just as I would if I were staying — raking leaves off the perennial beds, top dressing with compost and mulch, pruning winter storm and deer damage.
Sign on David’s Lane, East Hampton
I want to leave the garden in tip-top shape (with no expectations that the new owner will be as OCD as I am). The house and garden have always been primarily a labor of love for me, though I admit to hoping I might be compensated for those labors in dollars someday. That’s not to be the case (no, I didn’t get my twice-reduced asking price), but I’m not changing the sub-title of this blog. I still believe in old-house real estate as an investment. But sellers have to be prepared to wait for the market to cycle round to a favorable position, and I wasn’t able to wait any longer, with House #2, a 1940s modernist ranch in the same community, bought last year, awaiting further renovation.
I’m no longer in need of furnishings for two summer rentals (in fact, I now have four sofas), but I’m still attending yard sales on Fridays and Saturdays just for the fun of it. See below for a photo of my latest acquisition, a set of six vintage wrought iron and wood chairs that are surprisingly comfortable. Do I need them? No, not at all. Do they work with the style of my new/old house? No, they don’t. Was I going to pass them up at $40 for the whole set? Of course not.
I’m also busy sketching ideas for a new deck and new configuration of rooms at House #2. Its renovation will be incremental and low-budget, once again, and will provide abundant blog fodder in months to come. In late winter, I took a five-session “Design Your Own Garden” class at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taught by Jim Russell, who was terrific — he had us all thinking about our gardens in new ways. The T-squares and HB pencils brought me back to my year at architecture school, and I was very happy drawing and erasing away, though I never got as far as spec-ing actual plants, like some of my classmates. I spent almost the entire course on a general landscape concept: organization around three courtyards; as well as possible designs for a new deck and a system of paths.
Though I’ll be there another few weeks, things have now taken on a wistful “last time” feeling over at House #1. Easter Sunday, a friend came for a late lunch on the back deck. We opened a bottle of Prosecco, as we have done many times before, and lay on the chaise longues looking into the woods, talking and laughing, as we have done many times before. Though I’ve been known to profess non-attachment to any house or apartment (having moved four times in the past eight years), this one is hitting me hard. At least it’s well-documented.
FIRST THERE WAS AEGEAN OLIVE, a green-brown (center top), as well as a brown-brown and a purple-brown. I stared at those three patches all summer. Then it became September, and a friend suggested we get on with it, and paint the exterior of my mid-century house in East Hampton, N.Y. Ourselves.
A date was chosen, texts exchanged, trips to the paint store made. I wanted the house to remain low-profile and blend in with its surroundings, in keeping with the brown tones of the houses in Japanese gardening books. The house already was brown, and I liked it in concept, but the paint job was ancient and I wanted a prettier brown. I sampled two lighter shades: Country Life (left top), immediately adjacent to Aegean Olive on Ben Moore’s color strip, but disconcertingly much lighter when actually applied, and Tate Olive (bottom right), from Ben Moore’s Historic Colors line. That was lighter still.
Longtime readers of this blog know I can sample up to dozen colors for a single room, really make a fetish out of it. But the time was now and short (getting colder, busy schedules) and a decision needed to be made. So Aegean Olive it was, and the job began.
My friend is meticulous, enjoys painting, doesn’t mind ladders. I am more of the “let’s get it done” school, happier down low than up high. Together, with her guidance, we finished the job, neatly, in a marathon Saturday. Everyone should have such a friend.
In the morning light…
It needs touch-up, and the rafters still need painting. I’m planning to do the door and window trim with colors from those leftover sample quarts before too long. But heading into winter, it feels great to have the bulk of it done.
Belatedly — two weeks after our big painting push — I came upon this image, which I’d photocopied from a book called The Garden in its Setting by Noel Kingsbury. It reminded me of my own place, with the vertical siding and awning windows. Note the color! I guess I did, subliminally. And there’s the Japanese-style landscaping I so admire. Amazing how our minds file things away, even as they forget they filed them.
TWO WEEKS AFTER SANDY, my friend M., who has invested huge sums of money and energy fixing up a 1930s bungalow, above, in the far reaches of Queens, New York, has just had her first experience with FEMA. A few blocks of vintage bungalows in the beachside community of Far Rockaway, survivors among a onetime colony of thousands, took a beating in the recent storm.
Most of the time, the beachfront location is a plus. M. thoroughly enjoyed her first summer in her bright, colorfully renovated bungalow, whose interior is shown here. She had even been considering living there full-time, as many of her neighbors do. After Sandy’s havoc, she’s probably not so sure.
Power has not yet been restored. The water went as high as 3’3″ in M’s basement (fortunately she has one), ruining her brand new boiler and hot water heater. FEMA came last Friday to assess the damage. M. says the assessor seemed generous on his visit, noting damage she had missed and putting it all in his report. Twenty four hours later, with efficiency I never imagined the Federal government capable of, she had an email from FEMA. The decision: M was to be given a grant of $499.99 (why not a round $500?) and offered a Federal loan of 50K. “So much for that!” she says.
M.’s report from the front today: “The situation out there is getting desperate, not so much in the bungalow colony, especially with the weather warming up a bit, but elsewhere. Utter devastation and too many poor people, too much public housing. Lines for food and supplies everywhere. Nothing much open business-wise and I wonder how many of them will reopen. Looks like a Third World country.” Transportation is still disrupted; the commute to Manhattan, normally under an hour, can take four.
Rockaway’s unique bungalow community will survive and who knows? In years to come, the whole area may see a turnaround. But it could take decades. Right now, focus is all on clean-up. “It’s exhausting,” M. says. “And I was one of the least hard hit.”
To read the back story of M’s search for a Rockaway bungalow and see photos before and during renovation, go here.
Among the perennially popular posts on this blog are two that constitute a bungalow-by-bungalow tour of the colony as it looked in February 2012. Rainy Day Rockaway, Part I is here For Rainy Day Rockaway, Part II, go here.
THESE WHIMSICAL — OK, kitschy — mailboxes were photographed by my wasband (wubby?) in upstate New York.
I like to express my individuality indoors, but when it comes to something right out on the road for all passersby to see, I keep a low profile. My own mailbox is brown, to match the house, and that’s that. Though I suppose it would be convenient to say, “It’s the driveway with the rooster.”
If I were to do something creative, mailbox-wise, I think it would be funny to have one in the shape of a snail.
Photos: Jeff Greenberg
SOMETIMES WHEN ONE IS IN A STUCK PLACE (definition of my life at the moment), the best one can do is try to get a different view from the same spot. I’m still waiting for a signed contract on the house I’ve been on the trail of for two years, and I don’t blame you if you think I’m chasing rainbows here, to quote Adele. Trust me, it’s happening. I’m 99% sure.
The white-flowering stuff is ‘chocolate eupatorium,’ bought at a stoop sale in Brooklyn. Love it for its very late-season bloom. Don’t love it so much for its invasive character (but that’s why it does so well)
Meanwhile, I’m out in the country at my current home with newfound enthusiasm for yard work, which comes with the cooler weather. It matters not that I may not be at this house much, or at all, in years to come. I’m still moving happily forward on my no-to-low-cost vision for this landscape. I’ve planted a couple of new boxwoods, mulched everything, Hollytone-d the acid lovers. The leaves have not yet begun to fall — they’ve barely begun to change color around here — but my rake is at the ready.
Recently I heard Dr. Esther Sternberg on NPR (Krista Tippet’s On Being) talking about ‘healing places’ and how just being in nature and seeing trees, water, sunsets is enough to release endorphins and make people happier. I knew it! I’m definitely happier in the country than in the city. It’s just that way. And now I find out there’s a scientific explanation.
A dead corner of the living room improved with an inexpensive screen from Chinatown
After a morning of tidying things up, I took some new photos of my present cottage — partly for myself and partly for Craigslist purposes. I’m still trying to rent, and that, too, hasn’t happened yet, though I wholeheartedly subscribe to what a wise friend said: that perhaps I’m not meant to have a renter yet and that’s why I haven’t found one.
Here, from the State of Limbo, are some new angles on a much-photographed subject.