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COME BE MY NEIGHBOR here in Springs (East Hampton), Long Island, NY, where what I think of as the Hamptons’ best-kept secret — Maidstone Beach on Gardiner’s Bay, above — is located. Have you ever been to the Greek Islands? This long crescent beach, with its clean, swimmable waters, gives Skiathos a run for its money. It’s never crowded — ever, even in summer, since most visitors to the Hamptons prefer the pounding Atlantic, five miles to the south. Good. Let them go.
An interesting property has just popped onto the market, an easy-peasy two-minute walk to that beach. It’s a pair of ten-year-old cottages — a two-bedroom, above, with a one-bedroom behind, each with its own deck and outdoor shower — that would make a fine rental property and/or weekend getaway. They’re a bit small for full-time living, but they are winterized, so it’s not an impossibility. The listing doesn’t disclose the size of the property. It’s long and narrow; a quarter-acre or less.
Back of front cottage
Back of rear cottage
Layout provides decent privacy between the two
Lovely backyard behind the rear cottage
You’ll find a few interiors shots here. The place appears in great shape, move-in or rental ready.
As for that beach, you can see a sliver of it from the front of the property, above (yes, you can, on a clearer day than the one on which this photo was taken). As for the 550K ask, which probably seems outrageous to those living in other localities, I’m afraid it’s reasonable for these parts. I know I’m sounding a lot like a realtor in this post (I’m not one, by the way — see the disclaimer on my ‘About’ page), but this property really will not last!!!
AS READERS OF THIS BLOG KNOW, I have a great fondness for diminutive antique row houses, whether part of a mews (a row of converted stables or carriage houses) or just working- class homes along a narrow alley. They’re often coveted for their cuteness, and there’s none cuter than Elfreth’s Alley in Old City, Philadelphia, an intact, double-sided row of two dozen 18th century brick houses with multi-paned windows, dormers, wood shutters, and other Colonial details, including a few still-extant mirrors attached to the shutters on the upper floor, projecting a few inches over the street.
Elfreth’s Alley is a National Historic Landmark and the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in the United States, as you will hear many a group-herding tour guide say. There’s a museum in two adjoining houses – the only two open to the public – where for a $5 donation you can poke into several evocative rooms and hear stories of how families with seven or eight children managed to live in such tight quarters and maybe run a dressmaking business out of the front room besides.
One of the most frequently asked questions on Elfreth’s Alley is “Do people really live here?” Yes, they do. Right now, #130, top, is on the market for 450K, and has been for a few months. The whole well-documented story of the 7-room, 1,196-square-foot house, built in the 1740s, and its inhabitants, is here. The listing agent is Edward Gay, (215) 563-6724.
A similar house two doors down at #134 sold just last month for 420K. Check this link for its sales price history. For a little house of the 18th century, it hasn’t done badly for itself in the 21st.
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.
MEASURING OUT PROGRESS in coffee spoons here at my low-budget Hamptons reno. Can’t even call it a reno, really; it’s more a matter of making sure I don’t get electrocuted, burgled, or die for lack of water. That’s all I ask at this point: safety, not ultimate convenience, and certainly not luxury. That can wait, for years if need be.
Last week’s biggest mood boost, above: the garden seen from inside the house, without filthy old screens obscuring the view.
The builder who’s re-hanging the awning windows, above, so that they close properly, and doing the bathroom tile work, gave me two days last week. I’m holding out hope for another day this week. He also put Durock (cement board) down on the bathroom floor and started building the shower enclosure wall, below.
Notwthstanding what I said in my last post about being tired of hexagonal bathroom floor tiles, I got them again. I decided it would be more interesting, since the wall tiles for the shower area are 8″ squares.
Today the electrician, back from his vacation, showed up and gave me some good news on the electrical front: I have the “Cadillac of circuit breaker boxes,” it turns out. Also, the outdoor lights — half a dozen path lights and two in the driveway — actually work. I just need to buy new fixtures to replace old corroded ones. This is fancy; I’ve never had outdoor lighting before.
The electrician is giving me dedicated circuits in the kitchen, GFI outlets in the bathroom and kitchen, getting rid of Rube Goldberg wiring throughout, and hanging new light fixtures I now have to provide.
And in an effort to get out there and DO something while waiting for workmen to show up, I set up four raised beds in the area where once was a swimming pool. I’m making my own soil by filling them with dead oak leaves, manure, and kitchen scraps. Composting in place, as it were. It’ll take time to become a decent planting medium, but I won’t be planting my vegetable garden this year, anyway. First, a number of tall, sun-blocking trees have to come down — but meanwhile, it’s another place to put some of the leaves I’ve been raking up.
THE WINTER WAS LONG, filled with urban activity and a whole lot of waiting. Soon I’ll be purchasing — finally — that house I’ve been yammering about lo these many months. The house people have been inquiring after, as in “How’s your new house?” To which I’ve been replying, “Well, it isn’t exactly mine yet.”
The rhododendrons have suffered some deer damage this winter, but not too bad. Along with a few raggedy cedars, they’re the only evergreens on the property.
Next Wednesday, March 27, after a closing at the seller’s attorney’s office in Bridgehampton, N.Y., it will be. And then I’ll be embarking on another round of tree work, planting, painting, repairs. Joyfully.
View from the newly filled-in swimming pool toward the house. A path from the planned parking court to the house will traverse this area.
Just to bring things full circle for a moment, when I embarked on this blog in December 2008, my first post laid out the concept: to take readers along on my quest for the “perfect beach house.” As it happened, I found a house in only three months, but wanted to keep on blogging — and because it wasn’t the perfect house, I kept on looking.
This new property, a few hundred yards from Gardiner’s Bay on Eastern Long Island, is much closer, quite perfect in its quirky imperfection. It’s a one-of-a-kind modernist house – no architect’s name attached that I’ve been able to find — begun in the 1940s and added onto in the 1960s, on half an acre of wooded land. It’s unheated and uninsulated, though with two fireplaces, I’ll use it 6 or 7 months of the year.
It’s a unique house, and I should know. In the past four years, I haven’t ever stopped perusing the listings, just to make sure there isn’t anything more interesting out there (in my price range). There isn’t. This is it. In its undefinable style, its rough state, its Bohemian ambiance, it feels altogether like me.
This house will lend itself well to visits by friends and family. Twelve hundred square feet in an L-shaped configuration, it feels huge to me, with a separate outbuilding — now a workshop, above, soon a guest cottage (think new windows, door, deck). The Japanese garden theme I gave some study is now just a loose notion. It seems limiting. What do you mean I can’t have river birches?
Side door to kitchen area
I met with my friend Jifat Windmiller, an architect, who was so helpful in conceiving a plan for my previous deck and outdoor shower. We talked decks, and paths, and parking. We’re moving the parking to the present boatyard (the seller has two motorboats parked in a fenced area) so that one enters the property in the middle and walks toward, as Jifat put it, “the embracing arms of the house,” instead of parking in a narrow drive and approaching a short side of the house made of cinderblock. I’m mulling over ideas for entry gardens. Another of her brilliant thoughts: to work an existing brick platform, top, into the design of the new wood deck.
This will not be a renovation — not now, anyway, and not for the foreseeable future. I’m doing everything small and natural and inexpensive. Treading lightly on the land, making no major changes until I’m there a while (except for felling trees…TIMBER!!) When I talk path materials, for example, it’s either moss or wood chips for starters, with gravel and possibly dry-laid flagstone pieces to follow. Such interior renovation as there will be this year will consist of getting a working shower and replacing 30-year-old kitchen appliances, fixing broken windows, and a paint job.
I was out there this past week, staying at a friend’s nearby. I spent an hour at the property, walking into all its corners, assessing the topography, and trying to identify trees. Anyone recognize the bark below?
The property hasn’t been used or lived in much for probably 10 or 15 years, and hasn’t been raked in as long. It’s going to be practically archaeological in the beginning. I cannot wait to get out there with my tools and see what lies beneath.