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GREETINGS FROM THE LAND of rhododendrons. They’re pink, it turns out, the stand of old rhodies at the eastern Long Island property I bought in March — hot, gaudy pink, immensely cheering on a foggy 57-degree morning.
I’ve been living here four days now. I’ve got all the basics: water hot and cold, electricity, Internet, termites…
At least I think they’re termites [They weren't. They were carpenter ants]. Yesterday’s hot weather brought them swarming out of a rotten ceiling beam in the front room that I knew would need replacing, now sooner rather than later. I conducted my own attack with a can of Raid and a vacuum cleaner; the exterminator comes tomorrow.
I’ve got a space heater and a fan, which I’ve used alternately over the past few days, and a stove and refrigerator as of this morning, though the stove isn’t hooked up — the installers didn’t have the right size connector (I’m not feeling very good about PC Richard right now). The refrigerator looks monstrously huge, though I expect I’ll get used to it.
Meanwhile, I’ve stopped calling this — or thinking of it as — a “low-budget” or “shoestring” renovation. It no longer feels that way; I’ve spent too many G’s already. Nor is it even a renovation — a pre-novation, perhaps. I’m in repair mode, mainly. The on-demand hot water heater I was so excited about turned out to be irrevocably busted and in need of replacement. The windows are done — in the contractor’s words, “a little nightmare.” Twenty-three original single-pane awning windows dating from the 1940s, below, are now planed and re-glazed and re-hung on new galvanized hinges so that they close properly.
For locks, I ended up using the one fancy $24 casement fastener I had bought as a trial sample in the bathroom, below, where there’s a single window, and $4 barrel bolts from the hardware store on all the rest, having realized they do the same thing.
The arborist and his son put in several long days, removing rotting trees in front and back of the house for insurance and safety reasons, but also with the happy effect of making the area around the house feel less oppressive. Right in front of the deck, below, there’s now an open circle, sunny for most of the day.
But what really made the place feel like home was painting the plywood floor in the “front room,” my all-purpose living/sitting/dining room/study — a do-it-myself operation involving two coats of primer and one of white floor paint I had left over from my previous house nearby.
Then I threw down a few area rugs from my extensive collection and moved in whatever furniture I had left after my tenants at that former home took what they could use. I rented that cottage ‘semi-furnished’ last winter, which means they have my sofa, dining table, and other major items, while I have a motley assortment of occasional and leftover pieces. But I’m glad to see them here. “Oh, you Cara-ized the place,” as a friend put it.
The kitchen is coming together. I’m using a Craftsman tool chest bought from the previous owner (for my son, but he hasn’t claimed it yet) as temporary drawers for silverware, linens, etc.
I think I liked the kitchen better, above, before the fridge and stove were delivered, below. I have an IKEA stainless Flytta cart awaiting assembly for the space to the left of the stove. And that’s it; should be a serviceable kitchen.
An architect friend stopped by with some good ideas, especially for the great room. It’s about 400 square feet with high ceilings, French doors on the north side, and two south-facing windows, yet it’s got deep eaves and is quite dark. His idea was to “punch out three lights” [windows] above the French doors (you can see them in photo below), which would not be a structural issue, and “just pop in” fixed planes of glass, like clerestory windows, to bring in light from on high (that’s Phase maybe 4).
The closet in the great room, we agreed, has to go. Demolition: love it. Easy, cheap, and makes a big, sudden difference. But for now, I’ve said goodbye to the carpenter, the plumber, the tree guys. Not the electrician — I still need some light fixtures installed, and outdoor lights as well. But the others have all come to some sort of natural stopping point, and so has my bank account.
What’s next? Well, there’s the garden, about which I’ve done basically nothing. Sometimes I dimly recall a life that was not all about this house. But I’ve got to finish unpacking books and kitchen stuff, measure for window screens, wash the rest of the windows, buy a medicine chest and pot rack, get a proper knob for the front door and another bed or 2 for guests, set up the bathroom, get to work on the floor in the great room… that should keep me busy for a few days.
Beach plums in bloom
STEAMING TOWARD A MOVE-IN DATE of this Friday at my new/old house in East Hampton, N.Y. Yes, I know it doesn’t look move-in ready, and the fact is, I still don’t have water. But that’s my goal. The phantom plumber was supposed to come yesterday to hook up a couple of fairly important items, including a toilet, but he was sick. Fingers crossed for today.
I had two satisfyingly productive days recently. On Sunday afternoon, I put a coat of primer on the plywood floor in the dining/sitting room, above and below, soon to be covered by floor paint, probably white. Quick way to make the place feel cleaner and brighter.
This first required the painstaking removal of hundreds of carpet staples, most with tufts of carpet stuck to them, a prospect that had been hanging me up for weeks. My daughter got to it last week with a pair of pliers, enabling the operation to proceed, and for that I am very grateful.
I spent almost all day Monday cleaning the house as best I could without H2O. That was a rather non-green operation involving broom and dustpan, the vac, Swiffers both dry and wet, spray cleaner, and lots and lots of paper towels. I won’t be happy until I get my rubber gloves into a bucket of hot soapy water, but it helped.
While I worked inside, Eric the tree man buzzed and chipped outside, removing tree limbs and a couple of whole trees near the house that posed a danger of falling. It’s not a dramatic change, but to me, the space in front of the house feels more open and airy. (Don’t go by these iPhone shots. I keep saying the place looks brighter, while the photos look terribly dim.)
The kitchen floor, below – 18″x18″ charcoal gray tiles — has been laid and will be grouted today.
This was the inspiration photo for the floor tiles:
The stove and fridge are being delivered later this week.
The contractor built a wooden base for a deep two-basin kitchen sink top that was left behind in the shed, below, following a magazine picture I showed him. I think it came out better than the picture.
Then I’ll have to say goodbye to all my helpers for a while and forge on alone for the next couple of months. The coffers have run dry, and all incoming funds will be going toward fix-ups at our mews house in Brooklyn. <–That link is to a four-year-old post; the rent has gone up. If interested, contact me at caramia447@gmail. The longtime renters are leaving, and the place requires attention and an infusion of cash.
By the way, anyone need a 9-1/2 foot long liquid propane tank, bottom? Once used to heat a now-disappeared swimming pool, it sits in the parking area like a beached submarine. I got a $4,000 estimate to take it away, so it won’t be leaving any time soon. It’s not in my way, but neither do I anticipate any future use for it. Do I have any takers?
UPDATE: Something went kerflooey after I published this post last night, and it disappeared from my WordPress site. I’ve fleshed it out with a few more photos and am publishing it again. Apologies to subscribers who get a second email, and those whose prior comments may have been lost.
I’VE BEEN DOING MY BEST to push the river, and it’s slowly starting to flow. Though yesterday I felt practically paralyzed, stumbling around my far-from-livable house without a clue what to do next. Without water, I can’t clean or paint, and without a sink, I can’t get water. Without the plumber, who’s been mostly MIA, I can’t get a sink.
Without tile, I can’t get a kitchen floor, and I haven’t bought tile yet. I stopped at Restore, Habitat for Humanity’s building-supply salvage warehouse in Ronkonkoma, on my last trips to and from the city, and there saw tile I should have bought but didn’t buy — 12″x12″ ceramic squares in either leathery brown or mottled black. Of the first, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough, of the second, I wasn’t sure of the color. Now that tile is hours away, if they still have it.
How low can you go? Ceramic tile at Home Depot for 99 cents/square foot, but unfortunately only in white. I want a dark kitchen floor.
The one big accomplishment of last weekend only added to my sense of overwhelm: moving my stored furniture and possessions from the cellar at my previous house into temporary storage in the great room of my new place. There it now reposes, stacked high, much of it wicker or otherwise cottage-y in style, and all wrong for the modern decor I envision this time around. I feel a yard sale coming on.
But it’s not all frustration: there has been progress in the bathroom, above, though not to the point of a flushing toilet. The tile work is done and looks fine. And I’ve moved on to consideration of the kitchen, an open space about 8′x10′ with plain, hand-made solid wood upper cabinets, separated from the dining/sitting room by a divider made of old louvered shutters, all of it fine for now.
This week, a carpenter is building a sink base, simple and open, out of 4″x4″s with a single shelf, to support a 48″ wide double-basin sink, below, found in the shed when it was cleared out recently.
I have yet to order a stove and fridge, but I will shortly. My plan for counter space in between appliances involves stainless steel restaurant supply units, above, that can be custom made to size, look cool, and cost ridiculously little. Below, two new IKEA offerings which might work for my purposes, once I’ve figured out more precisely just how many inches I have.
I’ve been doing a little searching on Houzz, Remodelista, and Pinterest, and finding inspiration in images like these:
Common threads are white walls, dark floors, stainless steel, and above all, freestanding or what is sometimes called ‘unfitted’ cabinetry. After looking at enough such kitchens, the monolithic ‘fitted’ kitchen no longer even appeals to me.
Having left my dining table and chairs behind for my renters, I’m keeping my eyes open for replacements. Above, ’60s plastic chairs seen at Build It Green in Brooklyn, for $50 apiece, and left, classic director’s chairs in white canvas, widely available online for well under $100. Used to have them in the ’70s, and might not mind having them again.
A MONTH INTO MY OWNERSHIP of a mid-20th century house needing much TLC on the East End of Long Island, a reader emails to say: “I’m loving your blog posts about your beach house…it is looking much better! You may not realize it, but seeing your posts definitely shows consistent progress.” I’m so glad it looks that way from afar. From anear, things are not moving as fast as I’d like.
Never mind window locks, which is where I left off in my last post. I’m not up to that yet. I ordered a single casement fastener to try before committing myself to two dozen, and it hasn’t arrived yet. Meanwhile, I’ve been doing some online shopping, for a “neo-angle” shower rod and a window screen. Again, just a single sample as a try-out, from screenitagain.com, associated with Lowes. If this works, it could be a very good thing: each custom-made screen (approximately 29″h x 36″w — though you need to send measurements to the 1/16″, and I’ve discovered each window is different), with a basic wood frame and plastic mesh screen, plus two spring tension fasteners and a tab at the bottom, is about $36. An upgrade to the ‘clearer view’ material adds about $20 per, so we’ll see.
Did some yard-saling over the weekend, and wouldn’t ya know… A few days after my Tanger Mall sojourn, where I bought new retro fixtures at the Restoration Hardware and West Elm outlets for the dining room and kitchen, I found the genuine articles right here in East Hampton for a pittance. Above, a green metal shade of the type I originally had in mind, an unusual rounded variation on the typical shape: $10. Naturally I grabbed it, though I’m not sure for where.
At the same sale, I picked up a pair of vintage white glass globes, above, very Sixties, very Pop, perfect for the great room, below, though perhaps a bit too small in scale for the height of the ceiling (the globes are about 12″ across). They were $20 apiece. A friend suggested hanging them together at different heights, which would be fun. These finds only fueled my determination to hunt bargains, of which more in my next post.
What else? I have a whole new room, a whole new building, to think about. On Friday, the previous owner came, as agreed, and cleared out the shed, below — a onetime pool house, now to be… well, I’m not sure what. Garden shed, guest cottage, writing studio, workshop? My goal is to keep it from becoming a storage unit, though that is an ongoing temptation in the absence of a garage or basement.
And thanks to a visit from Eric the arborist, I can now see the forest for the trees. There are more than just oaks here — there are hickories, red maples, and sassafrass, as well as dogwood, wild cherry, and barberry. We’re starting nearest the house on trees that are in imminent danger of losing limbs. Eric is conservative; there are only a few he slated for outright removal. On most, he’ll just “lighten the load,” cleaning them up and pruning out deadwood. I trust him implicitly. At my former home, he eventually removed about eight huge oaks, and the more he took away, the better I liked it.
The saplings are still going to be my problem. It makes sense to pay Eric to climb 100 feet up, but not to take down 5-foot trees with 2″ trunks, of which there are hundreds. That’s something I can handle with a lopper, if only I could decide what to lop. I’ll enjoy watching them leaf out, and figure it out later.
Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself? asked Lao Tzu in the fifth century B.C.
It’s a tall order for one of my temperament, but I’m trying.
LET THERE BE MORE LIGHT, said the new owner of the meagerly electrified beach house, and so Tom the electrician came and upgraded the situation over a period of two days — installing dedicated circuits for the fridge, stove, and space heater; running wires for new overhead fixtures in the dining/sitting room, above; removing lamp cords that snaked along floors and walls with no regard for that thing called code; and capping and burying wires that ran willy-nilly through the half-acre property, illumination for the pool that no longer exists and trees that may be coming down.
Staying one step ahead of the tradesmen, as is my habit, I hopped into my car yesterday morning, a rainy Tuesday, determined to produce by day’s end a hanging fixture for over the kitchen counter and another for over the dining table I don’t yet have (and don’t know the size or shape of). This is a challenge on the far East End of Long Island, where shopping ops are few.
There’s nothing like an enforced drive up-island to make one realize how aptly named Long Island is. I hadn’t intended to go more than a few miles east if I could help it. My hope was that I’d find two marvelous fixtures at either the Ladies Village Improvement Society thrift shop in East Hampton or the ARF (Animal Rescue Fund) shop in Bridge, and then make a 12:00 yoga class. But as good as those shops are, they hew traditional, and my vision here is rustic/retro/industrial. The woman at ARF suggested I try the Restoration Hardware outlet at the Tanger Mall in Riverhead, and I decided to go for it, though it’s an hour’s drive from Springs. I stopped along the way at Revco Lighting and Suffolk Lighting in Southampton, two high-end showrooms whose prices I had no intention of paying, and also at Schwing, an electrical supply store where I picked up a bunch of landscape lighting catalogues and had an illuminating discussion about low versus line voltage — and realized that landscape lighting will have to be a low priority. Decent quality fixtures cost in the neighborhood of $200, and I need 10. And then there’s installation.
Ultimately I succeeded; my long day’s journey yielded what RH calls a vintage barn pendant in slate gray for over the kitchen counter, above; I paid $107 (originally $249) and it seems to be of very decent quality. There’s a West Elm there, too, to which I’ll be returning when it’s time for rugs. There I picked up a big white bell-shaped enamel shade, right, for over the future dining table, for $50.
I had been hoping they’d have the pumpkin-shaped bentwood fixture, below, I’d seen and liked in the West Elm catalogue, but they only had the long cigar-shaped one ($79 without its innards, orig. $169) and I decided the ceiling is too low for such a long fixture.
I capped my lamp-shopping triumphs with a stop at East Hampton Hardware, where I bought a $5.99 ‘jelly jar’ sconce, the kind normally used for outside back doors. I tried it in the long ship-like hall, and I think it’s just right. I’m going back for a second one. Can’t beat the price, right?
Some of the existing lighting in the house and yard is very ‘Springs’ — artistic, to put it kindly. In the kitchen, the under-cabinet fixture is a long homemade metal panel that takes four tubular bulbs, below. Above the sink: a pair of ’70s white cubes. On a dimmer, with small floodlights, it gives abundant light. I’m keeping both.
In the yard, there’s an assortment of landscape fixtures, below, which I now realize are vintage and not cheap. But I hate them: there’s a pagoda, two carriage lamps, and two flowers, which I’ve promised to my contractor when I find replacements. The only one I can handle, though it’s not beautiful, is a utilitarian-looking thing that’s fallen over on its side. I’ll be looking into path lighting, but it’s not top of my list.
There’s also a pair of nautical-style, nicely oxidized sconces on the house’s exterior, below. They’re heavy and old and I like them a lot.
Charles the plumber is due tomorrow to install the shower body, and Miguel, the contractor, will tile the bathroom next week. Hopefully I can persuade the plumber to return to install the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, and toilet, while Miguel moves on to window repair.
I spent two hours this morning researching casement fasteners, left, and I’m still not sure I’ve found the right thing. Coming up: let there be locks.