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AS THE OLD YEAR CAME TO A CLOSE, I said goodbye to my beloved East Hampton cottage — at least for a year, perhaps forever. Yet as I drove away on December 15, leaving it to my new renters — a sweet young couple who are over the moon about the place — it was with only a smidgen of regret. My grand plan is unfolding; I’m inching toward closing on another house in the same area. Meanwhile, it’s back to my Brooklyn apartment for the duration (when you have only one residence, I’m afraid it can no longer be called a pied-a-terre).
My East Hampton tenants kept some of my furniture — the sofa, the bed, and a few other major pieces. All my rugs, books, dishes, artwork, etc. had to be packed up and stored in the basement, above, in the space of about five days. My houseplant collection, below, came with me back to Brooklyn, and miraculously I’ve managed to place them all in front of my two windows.
I chafed at the confinement of urban living at first, but I’ve adjusted. There are trade-offs. What you give up in fresh air and bay views and the silence of the woods, you gain in quirky discoveries that can only happen in a great city…like the row of Victorian carriage houses in Prospect Park, below, that I had somehow never noticed before. They’re now used as garages by park maintenance, but wouldn’t they make a charming residential mews?
Or the sight of a vintage subway train pulling into West Fourth Street, bedecked with Christmas ribbons and wreaths…
….a fire escape festooned with lights in Williamsburg…
….or a gingerbread rendering of the new Barclay’s arena, seen at the Joyce Bakeshop in Prospect Heights: all things you wouldn’t see in East Hampton.
Christmas week was a little quiet because, well, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I did some cat-sitting and a whole lot of writing, including an article about Palm Springs’ mid-century architecture for a travel magazine, and two time-consuming pieces for HouseLogic, a website owned by the National Association of Realtors, which led to my one New Year’s resolution for 2013: don’t say yes to any writing assignment that comes down the pike. Life’s too short for hackery.
My sister and I indulged in some year-end furniture and rug shopping, though in my case it was merely speculative. We went to FIND in Gowanus, where I was moved to take a picture of the chairs above. They are crafted out of rubber tires and they are unbelievably comfortable. I’ve never seen anything like them. They were asking $100 for the pair of these oddities. I can’t decide whether I like the look of them or not. Do you?
I am mulling the purchase of a high storage chest like the one above, seen at Re-Pop in Williamsburg, since I’m desperate for additional clothing storage in my bedroom. It’s $850, so I postponed the decision. Whereupon we went next door to the Roebling Tea Room and had cocktails at the bar in an old, high-ceilinged industrial space (I suppose they have tea, too).
Another day, we checked out the kilims at Jacques Carcanagues in SoHo. I can’t get the one above out of my mind. It is 13′ long, 6’6″ wide, and was bought in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion, we were told. The colors are only four — purple, navy, cream, and white — and so unusual. For $900, it seems a great deal. But without a house, I don’t need a rug.
New York being New York, every time I venture out, there’s a new bar, restaurant or bakery. Above, the new Grandaisy Bakery on the corner of West Broadway and Beach Street. It definitely wasn’t there the last time I looked.
So onward to 2013 with fresh eyes, ears, mind. It’s a new year, so let’s make it new: new adventures, new activities, new people, new prospects, new music, new ideas, new knowledge, new dreams.
THIS OLD-HOUSE FIXATION OF MINE is nothing new. I came to Manhattan at 17 to attend NYU and lasted one year in a dorm. Since then, I’ve never lived in a modern building, only 19th century relics — a series of mostly crummy downtown flats which I kept trading for something slightly less small, dark, or noisy.
That’s 17 Downing Street between Sixth Avenue and Bedford Street, above. I paid $157/month for a ground-floor studio in 1969, tiny and dark. There was an old-fashioned pharmacy called Avignon on the corner, and an Italian luncheonette, Pietro’s, where you could get a bowl of minestrone for less than a dollar, both long gone.
399 West Broadway, corner of Spring, above. I remember standing in a real estate broker’s office on a rainy night in the fall of 1970, while she shuffled through a box of index cards. She pulled out a card for a 900-square-foot loft at $175/month. “Where’s West Broadway?” I asked. It was remote in those days, but cacophanous, with the Hoffman boiler factory clanging away across the street. Later, the racket coming up through the floorboards from the new Spring Street Restaurant downstairs made living there impossible.
I even worked in old buildings, including 640 Broadway on the corner of Bleecker, below. The large semi-circular window marks the space occupied by the Law Commune, a firm specializing in draft dodgers and drug busts. (Abbie Hoffman was a client.) I was a legal secretary earning $4 an hour, which I thought was terrific, and I made my own hours. usually 1-9PM.
52 MacDougal Street, between Houston and Prince, below, lasted about three years. A clerk at the Law Commune was leaving his tub-in-kitchen, $100/month apartment, and I took it over. West-facing, on the third floor, it had a decent amount of sun in the living room (the minuscule bedroom looked into an air shaft). Some of the apartments had toilets in the hall. This one had a toilet inside the apartment, which made it a real prize. An elderly Italian lady, dressed all in black, lived on the top floor. She must have been 95, and she probably got to be by climbing five flights every day.
All the buildings are the same as they ever were — in fact, cleaner and with new windows.
I met up with my sister at Souen for a virtuous macrobiotic lunch. Then we wandered up MacDougal for cappuccinos at the atmospheric Cafe Reggio, which I’m very happy to report is still there.
IN A PRE-WAR TENEMENT BUILDING in Harlem, Paul Johnson of SoHo’s Johnson Trading Gallery renovated an apartment from scratch. Take a look here into his private collection of boundary-pushing works.
It started for the 34-year-old Johnson, a Toronto native, on a weekend trip to New York in 1999, when he visited the now-vanished 26th Street flea market. His first big find was a four-piece Raymond Loewy plastic bedroom set, which he scored for $1,000 and sold for $17,000.
Dropping out of grad school, he lived out of his van for two years, traveling the country in search of material. At first he sold privately, then opened Phurniture in NoHo, which he shuttered in 2007 in favor of the new Johnson Trading Gallery on Greenwich Street.
Above: Tobia Scarpa sofa and chairs and Willy Rizzo coffee table, 1970s Italian
In Johnson’s cutting-edge gallery, there are pieces by leading lights like George Nakashima, Wendell Castle, and Paul Evans, which act as akind of historical springboard for limited editions by emerging artists like New York-based architects Benjamin Aranda and Chris Lasch, whose work is informed by crystalline structures found in the natural and digital worlds and Max Lamb, a young British artist who works in pewter, stone, and foam.
Below: Paul Evans cabinet
Right: Rare Isamu Noguchi galvanized chair, 1938
Below, top to bottom: Mario Bellini floor lamp, 1970s
Paul Johnson on Shlomo Harush aluminum chair, 2007
Mario Ceroli plywood chairs, 1970s
Kitchen with custom stainless cabinets, laundry sink