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WITH INDIAN SUMMER and its crazy beautiful sunsets stretching well into October, it was hard to tear myself away from the East End of Long Island. But mornings were getting chilly, as were evenings, in my unheated house — though I was more sanguine about it than I was last spring. “52 degrees!” I heard myself say, looking at the thermometer in my living room first thing in the morning. “Not bad!”
I’m back in Brooklyn, more or less, planning occasional forays to check on my two properties in Springs. I’ve given the listing on my original cottage there to Corcoran and wished them good luck.
In the last few weeks of the season, with the help of a friend, I painted the exterior of the house — and there was one other big project I needed to accomplish before letting go of summer ’13. That was repairing the 6′ stockade fence that surrounds my half-acre property and protects it again maurading deer. Or does it? Yes, they can jump six feet. But will they, if they can’t see over or through the opaque fence? My neighbor, who has a deer-control business, thinks not. We shall see. I purposely did not spray my hostas or my hydrangea, so it will be evident if they’ve trespassed.
I had Shane of The Deer Fence (highly recommended) raise the few existing 3′ and 4′ sections to a uniform 6′ all around. At the moment, I can’t afford the 3′ top extension with heavy-gauge wire mesh that would have absolutely assured the sanctity of my vegetation, but that’s OK — I haven’t planted much yet that needs protecting. And then — this is the exciting part — I had him change the configuration of the fencing at the front of the property, where the driveway was lined on both sides with stockade fence, one side of which met the corner of the house in a way that totally bugged me (see the ‘Before,’ below).
Now, below, the driveway is shorter (but still long enough for 2-3 cars), the fence is halfway down it, the house seems to have more architectural integrity, and there is the beginning of an entry courtyard that will eventually be planted and may even get some sort of central (water?) feature.
The view from inside the property toward the driveway, below, is much improved, too.
I will sleep better this winter, knowing I have a painted house with an entry courtyard to go back to in the spring.
Also, in a late-season thrift-shop triumph, I found an 8-foot-long solid oak (?) table on a chrome base, marked made in Finland, at LVIS. Very late ’60s, or perhaps ’70s. Now I’m ready for a banquet, or at least a proper dinner party. All I need are the chairs.
PART OF THE FUN OF BLOGGING is getting the occasional bead on a great subject from a reader. I met Dorothee van Mol and her husband Paul a year ago when they came to look at my East Hampton cottage as a possible year-round rental. We spent a pleasant hour chatting on my deck, but ultimately, they decided to rent in Southampton, closer to their primary home in Brooklyn. Dorothee continued to follow my blog, and when she saw the unconventional modernist house I bought in East Hampton last spring, she knew I’d be interested in seeing the sprawling complex she and Paul have been renting.
The site: now that’s a tale. As is the house itself, which began as a 1920s industrial dairy building. It’s unclear whether cows were actually housed there, but refrigerated compartments, concrete floors, a pass-through marked “Milk and Package Receiver,” and other quirky elements are clues to its origins. The acre-and-a-half spread, on the fringe of Southampton village, was owned at one time by a garden designer, some of whose landscape architecture remains, and then by three partners who began an ambitious expansion of the house with cinderblock construction and casement windows, covering many thousands of square feet, before feuding and parting ways. The property came up for rent, and that’s when Dorothee and Paul, who have two college-age kids, stepped in. They decorated resourcefully, on a shoestring, with furnishings they had in storage, items they found on the property, and a few fill-ins from IKEA. I love its casual Bohemian air.
Let’s circumnavigate the property first, and then we’ll go inside…
Walls around the gravel parking court and elsewhere on the property are made of stacked stone in wire cages called gabions.
Charcoal gray-painted trim against brown vertical clapboard siding, looks chic and ties together disparate windows and doors.
One of two kitchens — yes, that’s right — is in an extension at the front of the house.
Around the side, you sense the building’s utilitarian origins.
Old perennial beds and self-seeding annuals soften the unfinished walls of the never-completed extension.
There’s a lap pool around the back, of which I’m terribly envious, surrounded by ornamental grasses and an allee of trees.
Long gravel walks punctuated by cypress trees and lined with flagstone packed in wire cages have a classical Mediterranean feel.
A wall of glass windows and doors opens to a gravel courtyard. The parking court and entry gate are in the stone wall at left.
The long west-facing entry hall gets afternoon light. Kitchen #1, below, is down the end.
There’s a small dining area in that same kitchen, above…
and a rustic bar.
The main living space has one spectacular window and a wood ceiling.
Wire grids found around the property were pressed into service as bulletin boards.
There’s a sophisticated contemporary bathroom with a marble vanity and the world’s smallest sink, below.
Kitchen #2, below, looks out into the heart of the abandoned construction project, which, as greenery overtakes it, seems a bit like an ancient archaeological site.
Below, the enormous master bedroom.
Two additional bedrooms, one with the curious cubby-hole.
The future of the site and the couple’s tenancy is uncertain, so — though they put in a fair amount of work painting and decorating — the whole project has a casual, spur-of-the-moment feeling about it. Thanks, Dorothee, for letting us have a look.
JULY WAS HOT. Too hot for blogging, and too hot to do anything worth blogging about. I had back-to-back-to-back-to-back visits from friends and family, which were uniformly wonderful, even if a lot of the conversation was me explaining why I can’t put in air conditioning (no glass in some of the windows, no insulation in the walls or ceiling, no clear time frame for accomplishing any of that).
I’m getting to know my house, and it’s a 1,200-square-foot summer-camp cabin. I’ve discovered that a house that is not insulated is not just cold in the winter, it’s hotter in summer than the temperature outside. When I realized that the house would be comfortable only within a 20-degree range (when outside temps are between 60 and 80), I wasn’t happy. While I reveled in the company of my friends, and swimming in the bay on a daily basis, I wasn’t able to enjoy the house itself.
Somewhere mid-month, one of those friends asked, what could you do to be happier here? What could you do to enjoy the house more? And I thought, Fix up the great room! That’s the large room, top, that was added on 20 or so years after the house was originally built in the 1940s, and which I hadn’t used at all since moving in last May. Making the great room livable would be like settling the frontier (I know, nothing to do with moderating temperature extremes — though perhaps it will, since that high-ceilinged room seems a bit cooler than the others).
I actually drew a bubble diagram, with a big bubble in the center reading ‘Usable great room by Aug. 1,’ and satellite bubbles all around: move extraneous stuff to shed, remove carpet tacks from plywood floor, prime and paint floor, lay rug. I achieved all that by my deadline. A few bubbles — hang curtains, install ceiling fan, find furniture at yard sales — remain.
Painting the very dirty plywood floor, as I’d already done in my all-purpose den/studio/dining/sitting room/library at the other end of the house, was the biggie. It made a world of difference. I did the job between guests, pulling out old carpet tacks and tufts of padding with a pliers, on my knees, all around the 400 square foot room. And it was hot. But like many things, the dreading was worse than the doing. I vacuumed well, then put down two coats of primer, first with a brush around the edges, then a roller. Each was supposed to dry in an hour, according to the can, but it was so humid, the floor was still tacky two days later.
When it finally dried, I put down a coat of white floor paint. It went fast and seemed to cover, so I left it at that. The rug is a 15-year-old kilim bought at a yard sale last spring.
To celebrate, my sister and I brought in two plastic IKEA outdoor chairs (left behind by tenants years ago) and a straw pouf. I set up my favorite driftwood lamp and plugged in the radio. We lit a couple of candles, and made it official: the great room is open for business.
When the weather cooled toward the end of the month, I felt less overwhelmed and everything seemed better. I started to enjoy spending time at the house, even had trouble tearing myself away. While I still miss many aspects of my previous place — the deck with its endless view into the woods, the best outdoor shower ever, the screened porch, the satisfying results of my landscaping efforts, the washer/dryer, the air conditioner, the furnace — I’m appreciating things about this house too:
the morning light coming into the den/whatever room…
the general pleasantness of the room itself…
sitting on the brick patio contemplating improvements to the existing deck and shed…
my first ‘test bed’ of perennials that remain uneaten by either deer or slugs…
the surprising efficiency of my new small kitchen…
the simple bathroom that, like all the rooms in the house, has a summer-bungalow quality I would hate to ever Sheetrock over…
…having found a place for my battered Cassandre 1930s travel posters…
room for guests and beds for them to sleep in.
SURELY I’M ONE OF THE LAST DESIGN BLOGGERS to catch on to the work of this husband-and-wife team, a pair of former Hollywood set designers, below, who call themselves Roman and Williams even though their names are Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch (the firm is named after their grandfathers). They’ve designed public spaces and guest rooms for some of New York’s most aggressively trendy hotels — the Ace, the Standard, the Royalton — and their work has been published and re-published in World of Interiors, The New York Times, Metropolis, Remodelista, and scores of other publications, online and off. But it was only when I realized they have a house in Montauk, L.I., that I really took notice.
Their 2,000-square-foot pad on 3/4 acre has that raw, unheated look shared by my own beach house-to-be, so I lit upon all the photos of it I could find. Into the inspiration file — the one in my brain — they go. I like Roman and Williams’ vintage industrial sensibility, classic modern furniture, and ethnic touches, and the way it all seems put together with whatever flea market finds came to hand. I love that some of the interior is whitewashed, some is not, and the ceiling is largely unfinished. It’s a house that makes your typical decorating-magazine fodder look pretty soulless. I could do without the taxidermy, though.
HIGH ON MY LIST of things to accomplish this winter, somewhere between “Buy house” and “Update password list” (now 8 typewritten pages long), was “New clothing storage for bedroom.” I had already winnowed as much as I dared, but my four-drawer dresser and single not-so-big closet were not cutting it. If I bought so much as one new sweater, I’d be in wardrobe overflow.
The bedroom in my ground-floor brownstone apartment has a big ol’ hunk of orange wall 75″ across, where once a fireplace stood. Quite a few inches on either side of my midsize dresser were going to waste. There was also the possibility of going up the wall, with some kind of highboy or armoire.
I began my shopping online, considering mid-century ‘bachelor’s chests’ of the type included in bedroom suites of the 1950s and ’60s. They run $600-800, which is about what I planned to spend, but they were dark, stolid, and masculine-looking. I wanted something lighter. With my limited budget, I was looking for a piece of secondhand furniture, so I had no idea what, exactly, I was going to find (that’s the whole fun of it, actually).
My Internet explorations led me to a company I hadn’t heard of, Furnish Green, whose website shows a wide-ranging mix of styles from rustic and cottage-y to industrial and Danish modern. Its site is well-organized and easy to search, but even better was visiting their midtown Manhattan showroom to view their offerings in three dimensions, which I did today. Furnish Green is a find, yet another of those hidden treasures New York offers up when you least expect it.
And where you least expect it. Its showrooms are a few unconnected office spaces on the fifth floor of a garment-center building near Herald Square. One is shared with a ballroom dance studio; another is used for furniture refinishing and for the photography crucial to their online sales (Furnish Green has a big Craigslist presence). That’s Jeffrey, below, one of three employees, in the workroom. The owner, Nathan, is also the owner of the ballroom dance studio.
The main showroom is a bright corner space tightly packed with moderately-priced pieces that are neither precious nor pedigreed, yet most have something quirky or interesting about them.
Furnish Green gets 10-12 new pieces every day. “We do something to almost every one of them,” I was told — not necessarily full-on refinishing or re-upholstering, but steam-cleaning, oiling and polishing, and often, painting, to turn a dull brown piece of American borax (an old term for furnishings mass-manufactured in Grand Rapids, Mich.) into something more closely resembling Shabby Chic.
I came, I saw, I bought (see below). And yes, they deliver.