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IMG_1847GREETINGS 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

photo_3I 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.

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This was the inspiration photo for the floor tiles:

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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.

IMG_1790Then 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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

THE WAITING GAME continues. I’ve officially “gone to contract” on the Long Island beach house deal I’ve been patiently coddling for almost two years now. The seller has signed the contract of sale, my down payment has been delivered, the survey is completed; so is the title search. What remains before we can set a closing date: an amended Certificate of Occupancy for a 14’x18′ outbuilding — a future pool house, studio, guest cottage, workshop — with a good wood floor, skylights, a plumbed sink, and electricity. I want that building to be legal, and it’s the seller’s responsibility to make it so — a matter of closing out some paperwork, as the structure itself was built to code, with proper permits. So I wait to be informed when that is done, and have no idea how long that may take. Meanwhile, I linger in limbo while the weather here in downstate New York turns cold. The house is neither heated nor insulated, and there won’t be much I can do there through the winter months.

What I can do now is dream. I have been poring over back issues of Elle Decor, House Beautiful, and Country Home, seeking inspiration but not really finding it. That’s because the house — a long, narrow cracker-box built in the 1940s, then appended in the 1960s with a shorter wing set perpendicular to the first — has a modernist air in its simplicity, but a set of French doors added later confuses the issue. It’s not a cottage. It’s not a cabin. It’s not a ranch. It’s neither traditional nor modern. It doesn’t appear to have been designed by an architect; it just kind of happened. Soon it’s going to happen to me, and I finally feel confident enough of that to publish a few photos of the interior taken during a recent inspection with a trusted contractor. It’s still chock full of the seller’s belongings, but you’ll get the idea.

Let me clear up one misconception friends seem to have about me and this house: yes, it needs a load of work, but no, I’m not planning to “renovate.” Not right away, anyhow. I’m planning to live in it — camp in it, even — in a state of Bohemian funkiness for at least the first year [I just checked the definition of 'funky' to make sure it means what I want it to mean: modern and stylish in an unconventional or striking way, according to Merriam Webster. Exactly!] Primarily because I won’t have the money to do much else, but also because I just want to relax into being there before making any big plans. I’m looking forward to cleaning and painting immediately, and replacing appliances if need be, but things like a heating system and all new windows (the house will eventually need more than 20 of them) and a new deck and outdoor shower will have to wait. As for a new pool (the original vinyl one is merely a hole in the ground), that will have to wait a long time — five years, perhaps. Meanwhile, Gardiner’s Bay is a few hundred yards down the road.

Assuming the water runs and the lights go on, which they should, the first call I’m going to make is to an arborist. The half-acre has an excessive number of tall oak trees, and I want to open up the property and let in light — maybe even enough for a vegetable garden. Hopefully, much of that clearing can be accomplished this winter while the trees are bare.

In my low-budget decorating dreams I’m seeing a whitewash, sisal carpets, and a few pieces of mid-century furniture. What are you seeing? Dwell-magazine minimalism, or kilims and color? Thanks for your thoughts, however stray or unformed; they’ll go right into my mental files.

Above: The 14’x30′ living room in the short section of the L-shaped house has a working fireplace.

The larger of two bedrooms, above

One of two bathrooms, both needing work

The kitchen is open to…

A second living room, essentially — or dining/family room, with another working fireplace at the end of the long leg of the L (covered at present with plywood)

The outbuilding that’s causing the current delay

BACK IN DECEMBER, I started this blog with a post about my search for the ‘perfect’ beach (or country) cottage, and took you along on some of my house-hunting forays to the North Fork and Hudson Valley.

In January, I saw a 1950s cedar-shingled cottage on half an acre in Springs, a hamlet a few miles north of East Hampton on Long Island’s South Fork. I went to contract on it in early March, applied for a mortgage, and while I was waiting, shared my doubts and what-ifs in another blog post.  (There are a few pics of the interior on that one, and also a couple here.) I finally got mortgage approval Friday  — it took more than a month — and I expect to close soon, perhaps within the week.

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Now I’m told that someone is waiting in the wings to pay more if I back out for any reason, and it’s been implied (by my lawyer, no less) that the seller would like me to.

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Over the winter, while the house was unoccupied, the plumbing pipes, which had not been properly drained by the owner (who is elderly and lives upstate), froze and burst. The plumber, whom the seller’s broker hired to repair them, stole the only furnishings of value from the house — an antique gate-leg table, a filigreed metal mirror, and a Victorian etched glass lighting fixture. The contract of sale stipulated that all furnishings be left in the house.

The broker called the police. The plumber confessed to having taken the items; he said he thought “everything was going in a dumpster.” The items have been returned, but the antique table is now broken.

Below: My new garage, oy

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Anyway, I’m going through with it. I still love the place. When I was there on Friday with the boiler inspector and then an arborist (there are several huge dead trees that need to come down), it felt good to be there. It felt right. It felt me.

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I can see myself painting there (walls, not art), decorating, gardening, listening to music. I met my next door neighbor, and he’s nice. I seem to be surrounded by middle-aged couples from Manhattan, weekenders, who bought their places 30 years ago (and are still there, a good sign). I’ll feel safe.

It was quiet. Quieter than it has been on my previous visits, maybe because it was Good Friday. Very little traffic on the road.

Best of all, the arborist pointed out all the trees and flowering shrubs on the property. It’s very early spring there; the forsythia are not even blooming, and it’s hard to tell what’s what. I have five enormous rhododendrons that my neighbor says bloom magnificently; a rose of sharon hedge; a ginormous burning bush (I always wanted a burning bush!), stands of ferns and juniper; several specimen conifers with twisty trunks and droopy needles.

Everything is heavily browsed by deer, so many trees and shrubs are bare below the four-foot mark. On the plus side, that’s because the property backs up to town land; it’s very woodsy.

I wanted a project, and now I have one.

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