Emery & Cie

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ONE E-MAIL LIST I’LL NEVER UNSUBSCRIBE FROM is Emery & Cie, a European textile and wallpaper company whose elegant designs and sophisticated color palettes always send me into a reverie of an alternate life in which I a) could afford these stunning, hand-crafted materials, and b) have a place to put them.

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The stuff is too formal for a beach cottage — mine, at least — but I do see it, gorgeously, in a brownstone parlor, dining room, or bedroom.

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The founder of the company is Belgian-born Agnes Emery. They have showrooms in Brussels, Antwerp, Paris, and London — all of which I feel very far away from as it sit here gazing at two deer munching away in my Long Island backyard. But finding the Emery & Cie summer 2010 collection in my e-mail inbox magically transports me to Europe for just a little while.

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My Neighbors’ Gardens


THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBORS’ GARDENS, but that’s so very hard to do (or not to do)  during the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days. One of the great things about the Open Days program — besides catering to the garden voyeur in all of us — is that you gain access to the yards of people who live nearby and deal with the same climate and soil conditions you do, which can be instructive as well as envy-inducing.


Yesterday I visited two mature, artfully designed gardens here in Springs (East Hampton), N.Y., and came away with an inspiring glimpse of what can be created with time, effort, knowledge, a bit of money, a whole lot of work, and — this is crucial — a deer fence.


The first, around a contemporary house set way back along a dirt road off Old Stone Highway, was the Previti/Gumpel garden, owned by a pair of architects and 18 years in the making.


Conceived as a series of outdoor rooms, with a formal ‘games lawn’ and many different seating and activity areas, there are both shade- and sun-loving plantings, and a woodland walk.


Right now, tall plume poppies, which I’d never heard of, and gooseneck loosestrife are in bloom, along with multi-colored day lilies and the Hamptons’ favorite floral deer candy, hydrangea.



Then I moved on to the half-acre, 30-year-old Friend/Hellerman garden, designed and owned by Susan Friend, a professional landscape designer, and her husband Hal.


There is not a square inch of grass. Instead, gravel and carefully placed boulders convey the feeling of a Japanese dry garden, with conifers, rhododendron, ferns, bamboo, and a stone lantern and bridge.


The garden is predominantly evergreen, filled with life even in winter. Flowers progress from Korean azaleas in spring through various varieties of andromeda, rhodies, peonies, and Siberian and Japanese iris. The vine-enclosed outdoor shower, below, is a highlight.


Neither property is more than an acre — which, the more I garden, the more I realize is plenty to be getting on with.


100 Abandoned Houses


THE CITY OF DETROIT has approximately 12,000 abandoned houses, mostly from the late Victorian era and early 20th century. Photographer Kevin Bauman had been casually taking pictures of some of them, starting in the neighborhood of Brush Park, where something of a ‘rebirth’ was going on.


Then he moved on to other areas, encountering “concerned citizens, packs of wild dogs, 20 foot high piles of toilets, and houses with the facades torn off, filled with garbage.”


As the number of images grew, a documentary style emerged, and he switched from black-and-white to color.


To see more of these once-magnificent, now-regrettable houses in a variety of architectural styles, and the vegetation that covers them, click on over to Kevin’s blog, 100 Abandoned Houses.

Rather a tragic waste, don’t you think?

1880s Farmhouse in Springs 695K


I WENT TO LOOK AT THIS 1880s farmhouse on Old Stone Highway to satisfy myself I didn’t want it.

It’s just the kind of place I originally thought I wanted when I was house-hunting in the winter of 2008-9. So, even though I bought a house in May of ’09, I needed to check it out. And doing that served a very important purpose: it reinforced my fondness for my own 1940s cottage with 1980s windows.

The cedar-shingled farmhouse with front porch (in this case, an unfinished front porch) is classic Hamptons vernacular. This one is on a fairly quiet road, Old Stone Highway, between Springs and Amagansett, near good bay beaches and with Judith Leiber, the well-known handbag designer, for a near neighbor.

It’s got two bedrooms, two baths in dire need of renovation, a large country kitchen at the back that is the only appealing room, and a squished, low-ceilinged living room. That’s it. There is a separate studio, once a chicken coop, on the 1.5 acre property, also crying out for TLC, that could be made into a legal rental unit — with the addition of a kitchen and bath.

The house comes with a story, which the real estate agent handed me on a sheet of paper. It was built on two acres in 1884 for Nathaniel Hayes Petty and his bride, Emma Jane Bond. They raised four children in this house, and installed a gas pump in front. “Old Nat” sold gasoline until his death in 1939. The house changed hands in 1942, selling for $2,000.

In 1948 it sold again, to a pair of journalists as a second home, for $4,100 (this was the height of the artist influx, spearheaded by Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, who had bought a similar house just up the road). The only water was a hand pump in the kitchen sink; there was an outhouse and a wood-burning stove for heat. Gradually, improvements were made, and a strip of land was sold off on one side, reducing the property to 1.5 flat acres of no particular distinction.

I found the house claustrophobic, much smaller feeling inside than it appears from outside, with little evident charm. Though I daresay it could be given some, and expanded, given enough money and the right architect.

The listing is here.

Flower Fetish


LAST WEDNESDAY, the Garden Club of East Hampton held its spring flower show at the Maidstone Club, an oceanfront golf club founded in 1891. It was open to the public for all of two hours in the afternoon, and I was curious to see it, never having been to a competitive flower event before.

There were elaborate flower arrangements created around themes such as “Fisherman’s Catch,” “Farmstand,” and “Sunrise,” most of them way too stiff and fussy for me.




What I enjoyed most were the just-picked cut specimens — a single stem, spike, or spray exhibited in a green glass bottle — and the homegrown perennials, a single bloom in a humble milk bottle. These were judged on the basis of perfection, variety, and distinction.


I didn’t entirely get it – all flowers look pretty much perfect to me — but I loved the way they were arranged according to color, and the simplicity of the milk-bottle display bore out yet again that overworked phrase “Less is more.” I was also reminded of Sir Terence Conran saying he always preferred the kitchens and servants’ quarters of the great English manor houses to the drawing rooms and ballrooms.


When I got home, don’t ya know, I cut a few sprigs of ladies mantle, astilbe, and catmint, and popped them into a glass bottle, where they now repose on my coffee table. Easy, lovely, satisfying.

How do you give a prize ribbon to one flower over another, though? As my friend Debre whispered to me, “It’s all politics.”