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IT’S SPRING, and I like my life again. Winter is my time for serious worry. With spring come more lighthearted concerns. Instead of How the hell am I going to pay my bills?, it’s Are you supposed to cut above the leaf node or below?
Yes, the Felco has come out of its sheath and, as long as I still own my cottage on the East End of Long Island, I am working it – transplanting things from here to there, raking leaves off the perennial beds, spreading new grass seed in bare spots, feeding the daffodil foliage that’s beginning to poke up. Only just beginning: after our brutal Northeast winter, the season is very slow to start this year. Mid-April already, and the only forsythia blooming is the forsythia I forced in a vase.
With spring comes optimism that I will sell my cottage soon and be able to turn the full force of my attention to the other house I own in the same bayside community. There’s been a price chop on the cottage, to 435K, which immediately attracted a new offer. A pattern is emerging: people (young people, as it happens) fall in love with the house’s considerable charms — really become infatuated with it. Soon fantasy turns to the reality of all that’s involved in owning and maintaining a house. It’s a big decision, and some become convinced (in one case by a father/financier who was “not feeling the vintage thing”) that some other house, a house built more recently than c.1940, would be easier.
Maybe so, maybe not, but this time I’ll keep my own excitement in check until a contract is signed. Meanwhile, I’m thoroughly enjoying staying in the cottage — recently redecorated with thrift shop furniture and exceedingly bright and pleasant — and country life in general. Sitting on the deck on a warm day. Walking down to the bay at sunset. Morning yoga at the Springs Presbyterian Church, a meadow view behind the window panes. A multigrain fruit and nut muffin from the Springs General Store. It’s the simple things, said a friend, and that’s my motto of the moment.
I moved three miscanthus – tall ornamental grasses – from the backyard up to the front of the property to screen the parking court, since the ilex I chose not to wrap in burlap last fall has been nibbled bare, rendered useless as screening, by the resident deer. As I tucked the grasses into their new spots, I talked to them. Don’t they say plants respond to our conversation, or perhaps just to the carbon dioxide we exhale as we lean over them, blabbing away?
“Now you guys have about 30 days before the maple leafs out, so take advantage of the sun now and do all the growing you can,” I told them. “Okay? Okay. Conditions may not be ideal, but you’re gonna be just fine.” I reassured them and myself at the same time.
BUYING PROPERTY IN WINTER takes a lot of creative visualization. It’s hard to imagine lush greenery and abundant flowers when the ground is covered with snow, or plants are fifty shades of brown.
View at rear of property into Town-owned, undeveloped woods, which seems to extend the backyard forever
That’s why I’m populating this blog post with inspiring springtime images — they inspire me, anyway, and hopefully, prospective buyers will feel the same — showing how things will look as the season progresses at my c.1940, cedar-shingled 2BR Springs (East Hampton, N.Y.) cottage.
The house is still on the market. I rejected a few lowball offers and had two near-deals fall through. I’m tired of riding the roller coaster, and hoping the winter of my real-estate discontent is made glorious summer (apologies to William Shakespeare) by a reasonable offer from mortgage-worthy applicants.
The official Corcoran listing is here. For photos of the interior, the deck, the outdoor shower, and more nitty-gritty info, like taxes (low!), go here. And feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Meanwhile, please scroll down to see what things will look like as the world renews itself in months to come.
Magnolia, spring bulbs, sweet william, golden spirea
Gravel path from front of property to rear, lined with perennial beds (i.e. all this comes back, bigger and better from year to year).
Same path, looking back to front in early morning. Forsythia in bloom in background, boxwoods and Alberta spruce along property line at right.
Another view of main perennial bed, with lamium, perennial geranium, ferns, barberry, hakonechloa, iris, Alberta spruce and more
Found driftwood in a bed of lily-of-the-valley
Fragrant olive and other flowering shrubs at front of property
Euphorbia, above, with Korean box and golden spirea
Doublefile viburnum, 10 feet across
Below, a few photos showing what’s to come a little later on in the season.
Perennial geraniums and irises in flower…
Elephant ears (these are annuals) with Korean box, hakonechloa, Japanese painted fern
Accabonac Harbor in Springs (East Hampton, N.Y.)
HERE, TO MANY, IS WHAT THE HAMPTONS is really about — not the ocean beaches but the native oak woods and the gardening that is possible within them, with the help of a sturdy deer fence.
This green and lovely 1-1/3-acre spread belongs to Paula Diamond, a self-taught gardener who learned much of what she knows working at The Bayberry, a nursery in Amagansett. To my surprise, Paula only started gardening here in earnest in the late ’90s, which goes to show how much can be accomplished in a mere decade-and-a-half.
Paula’s garden, around a classic cedar-shingled cottage, is very much a shade garden, cool and romantic. I can imagine how spectacular it is in spring, when hundreds of rhododendrons and white irises around the pool are in bloom, but even in early September, it is lush and inviting.
The free-form pool was conceived as a water feature as much as a swimming hole. Paula tells how “the plan” presented by the pool company consisted of a workman with a can of spray paint, who outlined the pool’s shape in one big sweep, and that’s how it remained.
Come along and have a look…
All the hardscaping choices are simple and unpretentious, including pea gravel and river stones used for steps near the house, and bluestone in the pool area. Mulch paths, lined with branches and logs, wend through the woods at the rear of the long, narrow property.
One of two gates, below, leading to the backyard. The fragrant flowering shrub behind is clerodendron trichotomum fargesii.
Above, ligularia in several varieties can be counted on for late-season color.
Rear of the house, above…
The gunite pool, designed and installed by Rockwater, is surrounded by boulders and has a gray-toned interior.
Carex Morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ used as a groundcover, above.
Above, an existing six-foot stockade fence was topped with a couple feet of wire as reinforcement against hungry deer. (This is very interesting to me, as my property is surrounded by similar fencing. I especially love how the plantings have come to pretty much obscure it.)
Views back toward the house, above, showing shade perennials (hostas, ferns, hakonechloa) as well as hydrangeas and Japanese maple.
Much of the property remains wooded, with shrubs and perennials profusely planted in semi-cleared areas.
A fiberglass cow in a bed of liriope surveys the back of the property.
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.
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.