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I COULDN’T HAVE SAID IT better myself…and that’s why I’m lifting, wholesale, a sidebar that appeared in the November 5 issue of New York Magazine to counter-balance a real estate story on brand spanking-new condos. Under the headline “Old Rules! A Contrarian’s View,” architectural conservator James Boorstein, a man after my own heart and mind, explains the enduring advantages of vintage construction. If there’s a manifesto that expresses the guiding principle behind this blog, this could be it. Bolding mine.
I’m an architectural conservator, and my firm, Traditional Line, restores interiors for museums and homes. I own most of the building I live in, which I’m guessing is from the 1860s. Tearing it down and putting up a seventeen-story building would be a financial boon, but I don’t want to live in a new building. In most new condos, the spaces are tiny, the ceiling heights are low, the materials are poor, and things are not well made. In the old days, labor was cheap and materials were expensive. Now material is cheap and labor is expensive, so things are fabricated in factories and brought in. But labor is a big part of making something right. My building has the kind of ornate plaster molding in the hall that not even a very wealthy person would typically reproduce today.
New has become synonymous with good, which means we don’t fix things anymore. A lot of old buildings have 100-year-old wooden windows that just need to be repaired. Instead, people replace them with aluminum windows that are more like appliances than part of the architecture: When they get old, you throw them out. Everything used to be built of wood, and when you get a dent in it, you scrape it out and refinish it and it’s literally as good as new. In a lot of cases, you don’t have to do anything at all. An old wood-paneled library doesn’t require any maintenance. That woodwork just sits there and looks good for years. It’s like the food in some very expensive restaurants: The attention to detail shows, and it can be a source of deep pleasure.
As told to Justin Davidson.
THIS IS THE KIND OF HOUSE I THOUGHT I WANTED when I first started looking for a place here on the eastern end of Long Island a few years ago: a classic cedar-shingled farmhouse with a front porch, on a good-sized lot. It’s 1.27 acres — which, as a gardener on 1/2 acre, I now realize is more than enough to be getting on with unless you have visions of commercial farming. The backyard, below, is sunny and open, too.
Like many 19th century farmhouses (the listing says 1865), it’s on what eventually became a busy road — Three Mile Harbor Road, less than a mile north of the chic Village of East Hampton with all its designer boutiques I never go into. But one could do wonders with a fence and landscaping in front and, with all that property in the rear, create plenty of privacy.
I haven’t gone to see it the inside for myself, because I’m remaining faithful to the modernist house I hope to buy very soon, but I do think it’s worth a look, and the asking price seems right. These old farmhouses are fairly rare and don’t come up often. For the official listing with a couple of interior photos and more info, click right here.
MORE OF FAR ROCKAWAY, with its stock of c.1920s beach bungalows. We start with the stylish cedar-sided, tin-roofed surfer shack, above, and visit an enclave tucked behind and a few steps above Beach 24th Street, where the houses have some actual gardening space. Bottom, the reason these onetime, sometime charmers were built here in the first place: the beach and its historic boardwalk.
See also Rainy Day Rockaway, Part I.
VINTAGE BEACH BUNGALOWS in New York City. Yes, they still exist, though in numbers much smaller than they used to, and on only two blocks in any significant concentration: Beach 24th and 25th Streets in Far Rockaway, in the distant reaches of Queens. I was there the other day to visit a friend who’s just finished renovating one of the more dire specimens, to see her dramatic improvements. (Read M.’s ‘before and during’ story here. ‘After’ photos to come.)
She gave me a tour of the district. M. knows the back story on each and every bungalow. Who lives there, for how long, whether they own or rent, what kind of work they do, how many kids they have, the state of their health, and more. It’s a friendly community, and M. has met a lot of people in the 2 or 3 years she’s been working on finding, buying, and fixing up her place.
Each bungalow has its individual character. Some are painted bright Caribbean colors, a couple look like the surf shacks you might have found in the Venice Beach of old. Many retain their original striped awnings. Some have new roofs and smooth stucco; others are sadly peeling and sagging.
Weather-wise, it was a dull day, good for capturing the melancholia of these stalwart 1920s cottages. Enjoy the tour, and be sure to let me know in the comments which you like best.
For more information on Rockaway bungalows, and to see another of my previous posts on the subject, go here.
WordPress is balking at so large a post; to be continued in Rainy Day Rockaway, Part II.
A NICE LITTLE BONUS of my visit to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the week before last, was this collection of vintage dollhouses at the Adelphi Hotel. The top floor of the historic Victorian inn is home to some impressive examples of folk and tramp art, but it’s the antique dollhouses, their details crudely but lovingly rendered, that won my heart.
You can read more about the hotel’s history here.