WHAT A SATURDAY I had. Just about perfect in every way.
- Color is peaking in my own backyard, above.
- Eric the Tree Man is almost done taking down the big dying oak in front, below. That, plus some huge limbs that overhung the house, and one that protruded unkemptly into the street, are gone. That’ll be it for major tree removal.
- I went to 4 yard sales; the number has shrunk since Labor Day. I got nothing at the first three. At the last, I scored a load of gardening books for 25 cents apiece, terracotta saucers for under flowerpots 3 for $1.00, a clear glass urn perfect for a pillar candle $3, and an unused mint green rag rug, about 4’x6′, for $2. Whoopee do. Nothing is going to touch my yard sale triumph of two weeks ago, but I can still get a thrill from a Le Creuset pot for $2 or wicker chairs for $5, below.
- I took a drive down exquisite Further Lane, below. There are parts of this area I haven’t yet discovered, and that’s intentional. I don’t want the sense of wonder to end, so I’m taking it slow. Further Lane is quintessential Hamptons. You can buy a lot of landscaping and, well, land — acres of meadow stretching down to the dunes — given enough millions. The houses are plenty big, but you wouldn’t call them McMansions; they’re too good. They’re mostly hidden behind magnificently sculpted hedges.
- I went stone-shopping at Southampton Masonry on Springs Fireplace Road, below, looking at cut bluestone for a walk around the house. My thinking: buy the stuff, have a palette or two delivered, and then, one by one, whenever I’m feeling strong or help is around, move the stones into place, laying them directly on the compacted, sandy soil. My hope/fantasy is that they’ll settle in perfectly from people walking on them, and I’ll never have to go through that monstrous excavation/crushed rock/gravel/edging process that probably wouldn’t yield the kind of informal look I want anyway.
- No trick or treaters came to my door. I laid in a stash of lollipops but, admittedly, did nothing to encourage them.
MY NEIGHBOR ACROSS THE ROAD came for tea yesterday, bearing a copy of a 1946 decorating book as a housewarming gift. Couldn’t be more apropos, considering my house was likely built in the 1940s.
The book, Inside the Home by Dan Cooper, with chic line drawings by Teresa Kilham, is an illuminating view into the mind of the postwar homeowner. Cooper (1901-1965), best known as a textile designer and creator of a ready-to-assemble furniture line called PAKTO, exhorts his readers to ignore fads and get back to basics. Here’s his list of what a home needs:
“A place to sit
for games or such relaxations as you prefer
A place to sleep
A place to eat
A number of places to put things in or onto”
Inside the Home is an opinionated, tongue-in-cheek handbook on how to live the modern life. “There have been too many calls to lead the good life by using this period or that period, by combining blue with fuchsia, by pickling wood or padding headboards…Like sheep, we have followed one another from Gothic to Colonial to Mission to Regency. It is time to cut through all this claptrap and free the mind.”
Not, in other words, this:
Integrity, simplicity, usefulness are Cooper’s watchwords. Avoid reproductions. Never buy sets of furniture (“oppressive monotony”). Save by doing without rather than buy poor quality. What timely advice.
“Spend your money on a few lovely things and cobble up any other necessities out of inexpensive materials. Your extravagances will warm your heart every time you look at them.” Yeah!
Discard, discard, discard! “Empty spaces are delightful. Clutter is your worst enemy. Do not buy as much as a spoon for which you do not see an immediate need.” (Yard sale aficionados, take note.)
A home should suit the people who live in it, be “mentally and physically cheerful,” “clean and fresh and easy to keep that way.”
Something more along these lines:
I like his message, which Cooper drives home with some crazy anecdotes. Here’s how he illustrates the point that a home should please all its occupants:
“Not long ago in one of our large cities. there was a strange epidemic among school children. In first one home and then another, the offspring piled the furniture in the middle of the kitchen floor and set fire to it. Naturally this practice was frowned upon….In the subsequent investigation, it was found that in each case, the child felt ashamed of his home and did not like to bring his friends back to it.”
So make sure your kid likes the decor, or you might have what Cooper calls an “incendiary moppet” on your hands.
There are other chuckles. “If you have to suppress a scream when a guest lowers his weight” onto one of the “dear old chairs on which the family has been trained not to sit, it is possible you are on the wrong tack.”
My parents got married in 1946. I don’t know if my mother was aware of this book, but she would have loved it.
OLD TOWNHOUSES usually come with big ‘buts,’ points out Ingrid Abramovitch in the intro to her new book, Restoring a House in the City: A Comprehensive Owner’s Guide to Renovating Town Houses, Brownstones and Row Houses With Great Style (Artisan). They may have “charmingly anachronistic grace notes, from imposing classical entrances to parlors straight out of Edith Wharton novels,” she writes. But less charmingly, they also tend to have roof leaks, slanty floors, and ominous cracks in the wall.
Never mind. IMO, as readers of this blog know, those are mere annoyances, no contest at all compared to the many pluses of living in a house built in the 19th century, when houses really were built. This book offers abundant proof that antique houses are worth the effort.
Parlor, Fort Greene
It features 21 exceptional dwellings, from a Boston Brahmin to a double-wide brownstone in Troy, N.Y., a Greek Revival in Charleston, and a San Francisco Edwardian that survived the 1906 earthquake. The projects closest to my heart, of course, are those in Brooklyn, well-represented with six envy-inducing houses.
Fireplace wall, Fort Greene
Some are restored, some extensively remodeled. Some are furnished with antiques, others done up in a modern mix. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about any of them. A couple are a bit over-the-top for my taste: too much clutter, too much color. But most ooze warmth and livability.
It’s no surprise that the book’s interiors are impeccably styled and photographed. The author, a resident of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, is a veteran design journalist and a former editor at House & Garden and Martha Stewart Living.
Parlor, Park Slope
Luscious as it is, Restoring a House is not just a look book. Along with the inspiration, there’s a hearty dose of practical information on such topics as wood floors, brickwork and ornamental plaster. How can an old-house lover resist?
Entry hall, Brooklyn Heights
All photos from RESTORING A HOUSE IN THE CITY by Ingrid Abramovitch (Artisan).
Copyright 2009. Brian Park photographer.
WELL, OCTOBER’S ALMOST OVER, and I owe Long Island an apology. I jumped the gun last week when I called its fall foliage show a “dud.” Last week, there wasn’t much in the way of color. But this week, the woods behind my house are glinting gold in the late afternoon sun, and there’s even a smattering of red from the burning bush that strains toward my neighbors’ sunnier yard. Though not the glorious blaze of the Hudson Valley (why must I keep comparing?), the roads around here are a pleasure to drive these days. So sorry, Long Island, you’re very pretty in fall.
Then there are the Montauk daisies, above. There are stands of them everywhere and they are welcome indeed, to be flowering so abundantly in late October.
Today, feeling rural, I bought the Farmer’s Almanac; I needed something to read in parking court (they reduced my ticket from $60 to $30 just for showing up). Strange little book. Published in Lewiston, ME, since 1818 (there are two competing farmer’s almanacs; I bought the one with a Colonial homestead on the cover), it seems to appeal to old people on both left and right. It’s got ads for everything from organic fertilizers to air guns, plus knee braces, Depends, and various supplements and snake oils.
I’m glad to have the frost dates, gardening tips, and Moon calendar (I always like to know when the moon is in Aries, my sun sign, said to be “green light” days for making things happen), but the weather forecast for this three-day period in the Northeast (“rainy skies”) is already wrong.
I’ve been paint-happy lately. All the trim and moldings in my house, above, are now painted Benjamin Moore’s Sailors Sea Blue — a wonderful, easy-to-live with French blue.
Last seasonal observation for today. The Fall ’09 Hamptons Look (female version):
- skinny jeans (most likely brown)
- high boots (ditto)
- long, loose sweater belted at the hip
- long scarf around neck
- sunglasses on head
I can do that!