Lighting My Cottage Bathroom

Z008418TIME WAS, you could turn up a great Art Deco lighting fixture at a flea market for $3, but you’d have to look long and hard, and maybe re-wire. I’m thinking of something like the one at left. We do indeed have that exact fixture in its original incarnation in one of the bathrooms in Cobble Hill. Found it years ago for a few bucks, with a pull chain (that tends to stick).

Well, no more of those hassles. Now you can simply go to Rejuvenation Lighting’s online catalogue and pick and choose from reproduction retro-inspired lighting of all eras. The offerings start in the Victorian age, and move up from there through Arts & Crafts and Art Deco into the 1960s. You get to choose the finish, the shade, the projection from the wall (in inches), and so on. They’ll custom-build it for you, and ship it out in 2-3 weeks.

I’ve just done that. I was in search of a fixture for my East Hampton cottage bathroom, and under a mini-gun, since my contractor said he would throw in the installation if I got it to him at the right time — in about two weeks — and centered it above the sink, exactly where the previous one was.

Here’s the ‘before’…


I’m replacing something ugly but effective, above. I always felt four bulbs was overkill. It’s going, along with the inset medicine cabinet, both remnants of the bathroom’s last re-do in the 1970s. Staying, however, is the white-painted carved mirror at left, which I bought at a yard sale last summer for $20 <yay>.Z006063

Here’s where I initially thought I might go — something like this frilled fixture, right. It reminds me of Paris, somehow, and would have been fun.

But ultimately I chose the good old American-style chrome fixture with an 8″ white satin glass shade, below (boring, I’m afraid), for about $100.


I like that it can also be used facing up, if it’s too busy with the carved mirror, or if I decide I prefer more flattering (i.e. less illuminating) indirect lighting.


Do check out Rejuvenation’s catalogue. It’s fun to browse, and has the potential to solve a whole lot of problems.

Bohemian Splendor in Cobble Hill


ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS ABOUT BLOGGING is making new friends. Lula and I met only a few months ago, when she stumbled upon my blog and contacted me. We soon discovered we are neighbors in two places. She has an adorable cottage a few blocks from mine in Springs (East Hampton), N.Y., as well as a parlor floor she’s owned for 16 years in a classic 1850s Italianate brownstone in Brooklyn, top and below, virtually around the corner from where I lived for two decades (though we had never run into each other).


She lives in a state of Bohemian splendor, presently suspended in mid-renovation. Having peeled off old wallpaper, the walls have a Venetian plaster look but await further plaster and paint. The ceiling has been stabilized in parts where it was falling down. There are nearly intact plaster cornice moldings all the way around, with what Lula calls her ‘Shakespearen troupe’ of faces. A new kitchen is in the cards, and there’s a potential terrace at the back which is just tar paper, no railings, at the moment.


Most of the elaborate plaster cornice is in great shape, above. Other parts, below, not so much.


Lula is grappling with the questions endemic to living on the parlor floor of a brownstone.


  • Where to put the kitchen so it’s functional but unobtrusive? Right now it’s in the middle and will probably remain there for plumbing reasons, but in what configuration?
  • How to create a bedroom with privacy? She’s got a small one in the former hall space at the back, and uses the back parlor as a sort of den/guest room, above — but could it be better used as a master bedroom or dining room (currently in the kitchen area)?
  • And what about those magnificent original wood doors and moldings? Were they painted back in the day (she thinks so) and should they be painted again, or refinished and stained? Should perhaps the doors be left wood and just the moldings painted?


All that remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the place has great cozy charm. With all that original detail, antiques acquired piecemeal over the years, an overstuffed sofa, plants on the window sills, and faded Oriental rugs, it feels much like being back in the Victorian era, for real.


After my first-ever visit to Lula’s apartment, we went and checked out the new Fork & Pencil warehouse on Bergen Street, above, a few-months-old, crammed-full, well-vetted consignment store — a spin-off of the smaller storefront on Court Street — whose proceeds go to non-profit conservation, arts, and other organizations. It’s more Lula’s kind of place than mine, filled with traditional antiques, but more to the point, I don’t need anything at the moment. Browsing there is purely a theoretical exercise for me. I admire, appreciate, and move on. Don’t need anything, thanks!


We had a civilized late lunch nearby at Broken English, the sort of self-conscious industrial chic space one used to expect only in Manhattan. I’m glad it’s come to Brooklyn, because my rigatoni with marinara and basil was scrumptious, and the salad, bread, and olive oil were tops. You can tell the quality of a restaurant by its bread and salad, I once read, and I think that’s on the mark. Broken English is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ignore the snarky online reviews from amateur critics and give it a try. It’s a welcome addition to the nabe, in my book.

The Snows of Turkey Hill



And despite our latest impressive 19 inches of snow, we haven’t seen much of this either…


Nor even, I’m glad to say, this:


These pictures were sent to me by my wasband, who is living (cheerfully) through winter’s icy grip in the Northern Dutchess cottage, below.


Go here to see how the same place looks in milder weather.

Bottom Fishing in Bed-Stuy

116 macon

TODAY MY COUSIN AND I WENT ON A RECONNAISSANCE MISSION to Bedford-Stuyvesant, often considered the last repository of affordable brownstones in Brooklyn. I hadn’t been that way in years, and it looked good. Less garbage on the streets than in Prospect Heights right now; a number of For Sale signs, but not too many; signs of construction here and there; and, by the looks of things, few houses left in need of total rehab — at least on the blocks we visited — which was not the case a decade ago.

We were pressed for time and made a quick pass through the gorgeous, landmarked filet of the neighborhood, Stuyvesant Heights, with its notable mansions and long, unbroken lines of elegant brownstones. Then we did some drive-bys on Macon Street, in what I think is called Bedford Corners, a proposed landmark district. I guess that’s the next best thing.

A Daily News article a few months back piqued my interest in Bed-Stuy for investment. I was curious, as always, to see what could be had at the bottom of the market (since I doubt I can raise a mortgage on anything but). There was one house for 365K on the Corcoran site with no picture, but an address. This is it:

116 macon

116 Macon (in the middle), right off Marcy Avenue, is narrow and no beauty. Its facade is crumbling, as is the one next door. It’s a legal four-family “in need of complete rehab.” Taxes are an outrage at $5,882/year. And that’s what you can get for 365K (asking) in Bed-Stuy. Not for me. If I were to buy in Bed-Stuy, I would want a pretty house as much as a profitable one.

For more pics and info, go here.

352 macon 625k incontract

It turns out that 352 Macon, above, a couple blocks closer to the historic district, is in contract, as are many Bed-Stuy listings on Flateau Realty’s 1-4 family page.

352 macon

It’s a classic brownstone, in need of a face-lift but with fine interior details, above and below, like many Bed-Stuy houses. It’s of average size (20’x40′), a four-story building with three apartments. It “needs some TLC but has good bones.” The price was apparently right at 625K, or close to it, and that’s why it’s been spoken for.

352 in contract

To see more, click here.

359 macon

Across the street, 359 Macon (red door), is less house — three stories, legal 2-family — and not as attractive on the outside, but with a lot of nice original woodwork, below, inside. The seller is asking 689K because it’s in move-in (rent-in?) condition, with the excessively shiny floors that are the hallmark of many a new renovation.

359 macon red door

For more pics and info, go here.

All in all, an instructive day. I’ll go back when it’s not 15 degrees.

To learn more about Bed-Stuy and keep up with what’s happening there, check out Bed-Stuy Blog. One recent post is about the Historic Districts Council, a citywide advocacy group for historic buildings and neighborhoods, naming Bed-Stuy as one of six NYC neighborhoods that merit preservation priority.

From the HDC press release:

The Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood contains an astonishing number of architecturally, historically and culturally significant structures, including rowhouses, mansions, religious buildings, and schools dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although there are currently two designated historic districts in the area, the vast majority of Bedford Stuyvesant’s architectural splendor is unprotected. The recently-formed Bedford Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation, a coalition of concerned neighborhood block associations, and the landmarks committee of Brooklyn Community Board 3 are working to correct that.

Cottage Bathroom ‘Before’


I’VE BEEN OUT AT MY COTTAGE in Springs, Long Island, the past few days, enjoying the serenity, the scenery, and the snow. And moving right along to my next renovation project: the bathroom. When I bought this place in May ’09, the bathroom, above, was like something out of a trailer park, circa 1972. It still is, in fact: rolled vinyl floor, chipped formica vanity, stained beige plastic bathtub, below. But not for much longer.


In an effort to get the place ready for spring and summer, I’ve hired a contractor from several I  interviewed. He was recommended by my plumber, whom I like and trust, so I didn’t even bother checking his references. His portfolio was full of South-of-the-Highway celebrity bathrooms. I’m sure he’s up to the task.

I’ve already made one big change: replacing the small window with a door, below, leading outside to a new shower deck (those are some of my houseplants wintering in front of it). Everything else is being replaced, except the toilet, but staying where it was.


My decorating concept is so simple as to be boring. I don’t want anything fussy. It’ll be a white cottage bathroom, period. Ideally, I would have liked a claw foot tub, but they’re too pricey. I made very quick work this morning of ordering the fixtures and fittings, all American Standard, middle-of-the-road, befitting my modest cottage in the woods. The tub, below, has a “rope twist” design around the rim and is a bit deeper (17″) and wider (32″) than the norm, so I have hopes of actually taking a bath in it. And yeah, it’s acrylic — the only material this style comes in, and I saw no reason to make the guys schlep cast iron. The tiles on the surrounding walls will be your cliche white 3″x6″ subway tiles.


The sink is from a Brooklyn salvage yard, below. It served me last summer as a planter on the front deck. There will be white painted beadboard on the wall behind it, naturally. The faucets will be chrome with white porcelain handles, as if you couldn’t guess.


And the floor, below, will be white hexagonal tiles — no surprise there. But I did go wild on the grout; I special-ordered a color called Ocean Blue.


The reno starts next week.