Wood Among the Brownstones


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT, yesterday’s New York Times had an article in the Real Estate section about rare wood-frame houses in New York City. Living in one of these often-freestanding relics can feel very much like living in the country, the article points out, with a porch, perhaps; a backyard; and often a garage or other outbuilding.

Of course, I relish the few wood-frame houses remaining in Manhattan and Brooklyn whenever I see them, but I was interested to read a lot of things I didn’t know:

  • In Brooklyn, where groups of wood-frame houses were built by developers in the mid-19th century, they’re somewhat less rare than in Manhattan, where they are serendipitous one-off survivors of a semirural past.
  • Wood frame houses were banned for fire-safety reasons as the 19th century progressed.
    • There’s one on the market now, on East 53rd Street in Manhattan, for $3.54 million (it’s the yellow one, top – tiny!)
    • The one below, on Adelphi Street and Lafayette Avenue in Clinton Hill, sold recently after its asking price was knocked down to $795K (it needs a lot of work; so what else is new?)


Happy Thanksgiving!


Richard Sparrow House, Plymouth, Mass. 1640

I’M GRATEFUL for your readership and support.

Little Boxes


AFTER HALF A CENTURY, LITTLE BOXES made of ticky-tacky do not look all the same.


I remember noting how the Long Island development I grew up in evolved over the years, as homeowners made changes that gave their once-identical split levels individual personalities.


Some people added second garages, others built up, one family notably added a scrolled cast iron portico, and what was once a cookie-cutter development became considerably more varied and interesting.


Julia Baum, a young Brooklyn-based photographer, documented a group of 1950s suburban tract houses in Santa Clara, California, in all their unique glory. The project demonstrates, she writes, that “human individuality cannot be contained. Inevitably it shines through even the most average facade.”


The landscaping is as much fun as the houses.

Go here to see the whole set.

Birth of a Path

IMG_0317NOT LONG AGO, my driveway was a straight dirt run from road to house.

For the past couple of weeks, an hour here, an hour there, I’ve been literally laying the groundwork for a walking path from my future parking court — a gravel square approximately 25′ x 25′, yet to be built — to the front door.

My plan is to replace the straight-ahead dirt driveway with a gradual, curving, S-shaped path of cut flagstone. And since the path will be only 4′ wide, and the existing driveway is roughly 10′ wide, that leaves lots of room on either side for generous planting beds.

Because there was nothing but compacted, sandy dirt where I hope to grow a variety of cottage garden perennials next spring, I’ve been moving leaf mold — chopped leaves piled in the woods behind my house by the tree man who recently took down several large oaks — wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow (and then, when the wheelbarrow’s axle broke, by garbage can on hand truck) from the pile in the woods to the front of the property, where I’m using the partially decomposed leaf mold to sculpt curvaceous new beds. Essentially, I’m composing on the spot.

I was inspired by an article in an organic gardening magazine that said if you pile chopped leaves and other organic matter in fall and let it break down over the winter, come spring — voila! Lovely planting medium.

I’ve run out of chopped leaves, and am now using whole fallen leaves, less desirable because they take longer to decompose. While my neighbors rake their leaves to the roadside for the town to pick up, I’m hoarding mine (and coveting theirs) to add to my newly sculpted beds-to-be.

No Place Like Home

ANY WEEKEND GUEST OF MINE has to be prepared to walk on the beach, go to yard sales, and visit a historic house or two. So on Saturday, when I said to my friend Marilyn Fish, “Oh, let’s just pop in to the Home Sweet Home Museum,” she was game. A few years back, Marilyn and I were editors-in-chief of sister publications, Style 1900 and Modernism. She now works at the Jason Jacques gallery of European art pottery, so she knows a thing or two about the decorative arts.

The house is a cedar-shingled saltbox built around 1720. Disconcertingly, it turns out that many of the furnishings within are High Victorian, and there’s an extensive collection of Lustreware.

Hugh King, above, East Hampton’s village historian, dispelled some of the myths about the house. Chief among them is that actor/playwright John Howard Payne, who wrote the treacly song “Home Sweet Home” in 1823 for his play “Clari, Maid of Milan,” which was produced first in London and then in Philadelphia, was born there. Although Payne’s parents lived in East Hampton for a time, it wasn’t in that house, and Payne was born in lower Manhattan in 1791.

The house came to be decorated in mid-19th century mode because the last private owners, Gustav and Hannah Buek, who were there from 1907-1927, collected the material as an homage to Payne, intending the house to look as it might have when he lived there (though he didn’t).

In 1928, the Village of East Hampton raised $60,000 to buy the place from the Bueks; it has been a museum since.

I was a bit disappointed to find the architecture (which I love) and the furnishings (which I don’t) so out of sync. My favorite aspect of the house is the high-gloss white painted paneling, above, which was added, King told us, around 1750. It made me wonder if some of the dark woodwork in, say, Park Slope, which people often feel duty-bound to keep, couldn’t benefit from a treatment like this.