Late-Season Discovery: The Springs Library

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SO I’M STILL HERE in Springs, a woodsy hamlet five miles north of East Hampton, Long Island, N.Y., thanks to the installation of a wood-burning stove that staves off the day when I have to turn off the water supply and return to the city.

In between honing my fire-tending skills and raking, raking, raking, I finally made it to The Springs Library in the 1851 Ambrose Parsons House, below. In nine years of owning a house just a mile down the road, I’d never managed to check it out.

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It was closed the two or three times I tried to gain entry, and I imagined it full of dated, dusty volumes on sagging shelves.

Wrong! The library, which is not part of the Suffolk County library system but operated by the Springs Historical Society, was recently discovered to have a structural issue that required all books removed from the second floor. Then, questions of staffing and the need for a new state charter threatened the library’s existence. Alarmed, more than 100 people turned out for a community meeting a few weeks ago. Alarmed, I decided to make an overdue visit with a check for membership ($25).

Meanwhile, actor Alec Baldwin gave the Springs Library $5,000 to buy new books. So when I turned up there the other morning and finally found it open — it keeps regular but short hours, 10AM-noon most days — I was delighted to come away with the new Susan Orleans book (about libraries, coincidentally) and the new David Sedaris, and to discover that they had all six volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s monumental memoir, and all four of his subsequent ‘Seasons’ series (I’ve read a few, and can now easily fill in the gaps).

Inside the building, which is on the National and State Registers of Historic Places, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, with wood floors, resident dogs, geraniums on the window sills and an elderly woman who hand-wrote my name on an index card for each book I borrowed.

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The library is part of the Springs Historic District, which consists of ten 19th century farmhouses, four barns, and several other vintage buildings. The historic district is notable for its complete lack of commercialism, tourist appeal or chic, which is what I love about it.

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I’ve been in all the other buildings around its central green: the Springs Community Presbyterian Church (1882) for yoga classes and rummage sales, Ashawagh Hall (1884) for art shows and memorial services, and, once, the 1886 Charles Parsons Blacksmith Shop, above, normally locked up, for an avant-garde theatre production.

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But most of the time, when I’ve gone to the Springs Historic District, it’s to get coffee and a bagel at the 1844 Springs General Store, above, where aging hippies can be found hanging out on the porch on weekend mornings.

From now on, this aging hippie can be found hanging out at the library. ##

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Posted in HAMPTONS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION, LONG ISLAND | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Philly’s Mid-Century Modern Mecca

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IT’S LIKE eBAY NEVER HAPPENED at the vast Mid-Century Furniture Warehouse in Philadelphia, where larger-than-life opera props jostle with well-made 1960s American case goods by such companies as Lane and Drexel, and new, retro-style upholstered furniture and dining sets made in China and Vietnam.

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Twelve thousand square feet and the place is still layered to the rafters. In a back room, countless chrome lamps and wood pieces await rewiring and refinishing.

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Owner Brian Lawlor, who has been in the vintage furniture business for a long time and in the moving and storage business before that, is not fazed by the possibility of having to move further north as runaway development approaches his present location on N. 2nd St. and Cecil B. Moore in Olde Kensington. (That’s Brian, below, displaying his “Best Scavenger” trophy from Philadelphia magazine.)

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He has been in this enormous garage for seven years, and has done the auction route as well, but now prefers to sell from his website, by appointment and to the public — for a mere three hours every other Sunday (the next sale is November 18 from 12-3).

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Customers line up before noon on alternate Sundays to get a sheet of “Sold” stickers. When the doors open, they dash around and place them on the pieces they want to purchase.

To this jaded New Yorker, Philadelphia’s vintage-modern scene feels practically undiscovered, refreshingly un-picked-through.

Have a look at the Mid-Century Furniture Warehouse website, the FAQs and the handy “Insiders Guide” to nearby restaurants and points of interest, for those who want to make a day of it. ##

 

Posted in ANTIQUES & COLLECTING, INTERIOR DESIGN, PHILADELPHIA | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Far Side of Summer in My Long Island Garden

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THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS, I’ve spent the better part of April, May and June, September, October and November at my quirky vintage-modern house on the East End of Long Island, N.Y., and rented it out in high summer.

I love missing the Hamptons’ seasonal frenzy, the crowded beaches and restaurants, the scarce parking. I hate missing my native white rhododendrons in midsummer bloom, and the lilies of July and August.

The summer was hot and dry. I don’t have irrigation, so I had the garden watered by hand once a week. It survived (with a few minor losses), needing just a few days of extra catch-up watering when I returned after Labor Day, before the deluges of September began.

Toward the end of August, I asked my garden helper to put in a few hours of hand weeding before I returned. The result was that I came back to a garden in such good shape, I wandered around with little to do and a strange lack of motivation for new plantings or projects.

That went away, and the month of October has been a busy one here at Dry Shade Half-Acre (still trying to come up with a name for my property; that’s not it).

I made three trips to the dump for wood chips and created a rudimentary meandering path through an unstructured area of tall oaks dotted with a few shrubs I’d stuck in here and there over the years. With this simple, cost-free gesture, I suddenly had planting areas…definition!

I planted 300 bulbs along the path (mostly small ones like muscari and Star of Bethlehem), aiming for an early-spring carpet. Elsewhere, I put in three white azaleas, filled in holes in my perennial beds with colorful heuchera (coral bells) and euphorbia, and moved things that weren’t doing well, like non-blooming Montauk daisies, in hopes of finding happier homes for them.

The most backbreaking task was dividing huge clumps of hakonechloa and epimedium and spreading them around. I ventured into parts of the property that have never been cultivated, where digging turns up roots and rocks, and the soil is just plain dirt. Back to the dump for compost.

The other night, I was in my “winter studio” (i.e. the great room, now with insulation and wood-burning stove), going through a pile of garden notes, clippings and plant labels dating back to 2013, when I bought this property.

I came across a folder from a three-session course I took at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in March 2014, where each student worked on plans for his or her own garden. The instructor, Jim Russell, was big on creative visualization, and he had us write up — in present tense, as if the vision was already realized — descriptions of our gardens five years hence.

It’s only been 4-1/2 years, but here’s what I wrote, and whether it’s been accomplished:

“My garden is serene, organized and thriving.” YES!

“A system of paths, made of loose material, with logs inserted for grade changes, winds through space that still has the feeling of the original oak woods…” YES!

“…with an understory of evergreens and flowering shrubs, and medium-small flowering trees like dogwoods and magnolias.” ON ITS WAY. NEED MORE PLANT MATERIAL. STILL LIKE THE CONCEPT.

“Shade-loving perennials line the paths.” YEP.

“The stockade fence is gone or modified beyond recognition — screened with a tapestry of lush plantings.” UM, NO. IT’S STILL THERE, IN ALL ITS GLORY.

“There is a new deck that provides for both sun and shade…” YES, INDEED!

“…an area for vegetable and cut flower gardening…” I DO HAVE FOUR RAISED BEDS IN THE SUNNY CENTER OF THE PROPERTY, BUT SINCE I’M ABSENT IN SUMMER, THIS REMAINS A NOT-YET.

“…a remodeled shed…” NOW KNOWN AS THE GUEST CABIN, IT’S PRESENTLY IN AN ADVANCED STAGE OF FIX-UP (PHOTO BELOW)

“…and a fabulous outdoor shower.” YESSSSSS!

Perhaps it’s time to write my next five-year plan. This stuff really works!

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Chasmanthium (Northern sea oats) leaning out of their scallop-shell bed along the front walk.

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Mid-autumn view, with morning sun slanting in.

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OK, not the most impressive path you ever saw, but it’s a start.

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Emperor Japanese maple, one of three planted last fall and nicely settled in.

The guest cabin is being painted white, with a new pine floor, below.

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Other home improvements of the past season: a DIY bamboo privacy screen for the outdoor shower deck…

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eye-popping Mexican blankets for the guest room…

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and a pair of irresistible (to me) S-shaped rope lamps.

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Finally, I’d like to take a quick look back to the more floriferous days of late spring, which I neglected to fully document in these pages. (It’s also a look ahead to next spring, which in Nature’s infinite wisdom will be much the same.)

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The rhodie show takes place every Memorial Day weekend.

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The iris show happens around the same time.

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Lychnis (rose campion) are prolific self-seeders, flinging themselves into all the sunniest spots. I’m letting them have their way.

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First-ever prickly pear flower, transplanted from the beach a few years back.

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New this year: window boxes, with coleus and vinca. ##

Posted in GARDENS & GARDENING, HAMPTONS, LANDSCAPING, LONG ISLAND | 10 Comments

This Wondrous Summertime World

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If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere – Vincent van Gogh

Beauty has not been hard to find this summer, despite the heat. Almost everywhere I’ve gone, and I’ve moved around a fair amount, I’ve been hyper-conscious of the natural beauty of this fragile world.

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Even in the heart of the city, the sky, the light, has often been breathtaking.

Above, early evening view of Manhattan from Roosevelt Island. Below, mackerel sky over the Brooklyn Museum.

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“This world is so beautiful that I can hardly believe it exists!” That was Ralph Waldo Emerson. He could have been reflecting on a scene like the one below, in Western Massachusetts:

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Or these, in upstate New York:

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But not to give short shrift to the human-made, either. Because this is an omnibus post after a three-month-long drought, I’m going to stuff it with a few more images that caught the eye of this lazy blogger in my summertime travels, and move on, we hope, to a more prolific fall.

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Fireworks over Shelter Island, N.Y.

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Vintage service station in Chester, Mass.

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Victorian brick pile in Schoharie, N.Y. Cornices, shutters, columns — all outstanding.

Schenectady, N.Y. is a trove of historic architecture and that is not a joke. Below, three views of the Stockade District, a substantial, intact neighborhood of 18th and 19th century houses, about forty of which are over 200 years old.

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Follow me on Instagram, how’s about it? @caramia447

Posted in HISTORIC PRESERVATION, HUDSON VALLEY, LONG ISLAND, ROAD TRIPS | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Latest on Hamptons Reno: My Go-To Great Room

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IT ONLY TOOK FIVE YEARS to get there, but the great room at my place on the East End of Long Island is finally livable. The final phase of its transformation this spring: a bout of quickie decorating in the newly insulated and painted space.

This changes everything. The new, improved great room is warm when it’s raw elsewhere in the house, bright and inviting where it used to be dark and dreary. It’s now everyone’s go-to room, instead of what once felt like wasted space.

I worked like a demon for two weeks, putting things back to rights after a fall of construction and winter of abandonment, restoring the room’s furnishings and hanging art (i.e. framed posters). Local yard sales yielded a few things that weren’t strictly needed, but which I could not resist (pix below).

The new wood stove insert, which fit neatly into the existing fireplace, is what enables me to be here several weeks earlier than in the past. Prior to these recent improvements, the house was basically an unheated summer bungalow. Two-thirds of it is still an unheated summer bungalow, but the 400-square-foot great room, at least, now approximates the comfort of a real house.

Painted white floor to ceiling, it looks more like a Hamptons beach house than a cabin in the Adirondacks. I sent new photos to a couple of local real estate agents and asked them to list the house for rent from July 1 through Labor Day. Next thing I knew, the house was taken for the season by the first person who looked at it.

That was gratifying, and freed up space in my brain that had been taken up with worry about finding a summer tenant.

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Fabulous Mother’s Day present from my son: a new black Corian countertop for the kitchen, above. Major upgrade on previous chipped white Formica.

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A new addition to my coral collection. Can’t buy real coral anymore, so I’ve been buying vintage coral at yard sales, along with flowerpots, rugs, wire items, mobiles…

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Art-directed yard sales are not rare in East Hampton.

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How cute is this? Yes, another yard sale find.

Posted in HAMPTONS, INTERIOR DESIGN, RENOVATION | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Jump Start to the Season: My Long Island Garden

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THE PAST FEW WEEKS at my home on the East End of Long Island, New York, have been a revelation. I hadn’t spent much time here in April or early May before, even though I’ve owned this quirky house for five years, so the seasonal developments on this half-acre of former oak woods are new to me.

There’s more birdsong than I remember, and I’m amazed at how fast the garden has gone from wintry brown to everything-happening-all-at-once to practically jungle-like. Above, as it looked about a month ago.

The trees were bare when I arrived, and I enjoyed the unaccustomed brightness of the property and the parade of flowers I normally miss: bleeding heart, epimedium, Solomon’s seal, ekianthus.

Seeing the tiny white flowers of the local ground cover, lowbush blueberry, gave me a new appreciation of it. It’s all over the place. I had originally thought I’d gradually replace it with other plantings, but it’s more firm in its intention to remain than I am in mine to remove it.

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Above, lowbush blueberry; ekianthus; epimedium 

The  floral procession continues, with allium, broom and irises now having their day, and rhododendrons soon to peak.

The trees are now fully leafed out, with native oaks, sassafras, cedars and maples seeding themselves everywhere. For a moment, instead of pulling them all out and tossing them, as I have been doing, I envisioned a new business called the Paper Cup Nursery, selling tiny tree seedlings by the roadside. For a moment.

I’ve rented the house for July and August. Now it remains for me to enjoy being here until the end of June, which won’t be difficult. I opened the gate the other day and, for a nanosecond, spotting two teak chaises in the sun, didn’t know where I was. What resort is this?! was the thought that ran through my head.

Then I remembered. I’m home. I’m back to yard sales, walks, sunset picnics and my favorite position on the deck, surveying my domain at the end of a day of weeding, glass of wine in hand.

Four to six weeks ago:

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Two to three weeks ago:

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Now:

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Below, practically an instant garden: hostas and ferns planted late last fall where once there was nothing at all

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Posted in GARDENS & GARDENING, HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Who Knew? Greenpoint’s McGolrick Park

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The impressive 9-acre Monsignor McGolrick Park, an urban oasis tucked between Williamsburg and Long Island City, is surrounded on all four sides by vintage row houses from fine to funky.

The park has been there since the 1893, a welcome leftover from the City Beautiful movement the swept the nation in the last decade of the 19th century, but I had never been there until an errand took me to Greenpoint this afternoon.

Established as Winthrop Park and renamed in 1948 for a beloved local priest who was instrumental in the creation of a new church, convent, rectory, hospital, school and playing field for the neighborhood, it’s a classic late Victorian New York City park, with wrought iron fences, wooden benches and towering sycamores.

Though McGolrick Park is new to me, savvy folk have already pushed the prices of even the vinyl-clad buildings past $1.5 million, and the renovated ones much higher (a minuscule house on the north side of the park, bought for 675K three years ago, turned over recently after being tripled in size for well over $2million).

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Russell Street, along the south side of the park, has substantial, well-maintained turn-of-the-century brick and limestone buildings.

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A curved Neoclassical pavilion with wooden columns, built in 1910, was restored in the 1980s and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  

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On the north side of the park, this row of humble two-story buildings looks like it belongs in another city altogether. Baltimore maybe? 

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Monitor Street, along the north side of the park, is unusually colorful for Brooklyn.

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I love the French blue trim against the terra cotta brick on this tiny house.

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This one made me laugh. A bit of Venice in Greenpoint.

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A Renaissance Revival school building elevates the architectural tone in the northeast corner of the park.

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Among the few grocery stores and restaurants ringing this square of green (visualizing it in summer), there are none you could call upscale…yet.

Posted in ARCHITECTURE, BROOKLYN | Tagged , | 4 Comments