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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.
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.
HERE’S A NEW YEAR’S GOODIE. Yep, with the turn of the calendar, it’s time to start thinking about…summer houses! The listing says this sweet and unpretentious 3BR, 2 bath (bigger than it looks at from the outside) dates from 1847, and that seems about right. The symmetry, porch columns, pilasters on either side of the front door and six-over-six windows, all say Greek Revival to me. At the same time, the front porch and picket fence say farmhouse (they’re not mutually exclusive). It’s in the village of Greenport,on Long Island’s North Fork, where nearly all the houses are of similar vintage (see more of Greenport’s architectural charms here).
The price has just been reduced by 30K. The still-upwards-of-400K ask reflects the tip-top condition of the house, the optimism of the sellers, and the market being pretty strong.
Except for the dated kitchen, the house appears immaculate — renovated perhaps to a fault (recessed lights in old houses are a particular peeve of mine).
Check out the listing, with lots more photos, here.
Anyone local have insight to share about the Main Street location?
THIS LISTING FOR A 1950s BUNGALOW in the Maidstone Park section of Springs (East Hampton), N.Y., surprised me. I thought I knew every house in the area, not just because of my real estate interests, but from my frequent walks down to the bay.
This one had completely escaped my notice. And yet it’s a house that, were I now in the market for a starter home in the area, I might give serious consideration. It’s the kind of fixer upper that gets my juices flowing. It’s small and manageable, it’s got an interesting shape, it’s one of a kind, and it’s set back on a bit of a rise, off a quiet street.
Couple of red flags: possible mold and/or mildew issues. I walked in (the back door was open) and it had the dank feel of a house that had been closed up for a while. Also, while the neighbors on either side and across the street seemed OK, the house on the other side of the back fence seemed to have a bit of a hillbilly vibe, with junk in the yard. But that’s how it goes in the “real” Hamptons.
As an asking price in this neighborhood, a short walk to Gardiner’s Bay and to a lovely marina, 356K is not a terrible place to start. The listing, with a dozen photos, is here.
Am I nuts, or does anyone else see potential here?
SOMETIMES WHEN ONE IS IN A STUCK PLACE (definition of my life at the moment), the best one can do is try to get a different view from the same spot. I’m still waiting for a signed contract on the house I’ve been on the trail of for two years, and I don’t blame you if you think I’m chasing rainbows here, to quote Adele. Trust me, it’s happening. I’m 99% sure.
The white-flowering stuff is ‘chocolate eupatorium,’ bought at a stoop sale in Brooklyn. Love it for its very late-season bloom. Don’t love it so much for its invasive character (but that’s why it does so well)
Meanwhile, I’m out in the country at my current home with newfound enthusiasm for yard work, which comes with the cooler weather. It matters not that I may not be at this house much, or at all, in years to come. I’m still moving happily forward on my no-to-low-cost vision for this landscape. I’ve planted a couple of new boxwoods, mulched everything, Hollytone-d the acid lovers. The leaves have not yet begun to fall — they’ve barely begun to change color around here — but my rake is at the ready.
Recently I heard Dr. Esther Sternberg on NPR (Krista Tippet’s On Being) talking about ‘healing places’ and how just being in nature and seeing trees, water, sunsets is enough to release endorphins and make people happier. I knew it! I’m definitely happier in the country than in the city. It’s just that way. And now I find out there’s a scientific explanation.
A dead corner of the living room improved with an inexpensive screen from Chinatown
After a morning of tidying things up, I took some new photos of my present cottage — partly for myself and partly for Craigslist purposes. I’m still trying to rent, and that, too, hasn’t happened yet, though I wholeheartedly subscribe to what a wise friend said: that perhaps I’m not meant to have a renter yet and that’s why I haven’t found one.
Here, from the State of Limbo, are some new angles on a much-photographed subject.