Eyebrows in the Snow


A FREAK PRE-HALLOWEEN SNOWSTORM befell the mid-Hudson Valley last night, dropping more than a foot on top of trees in full autumnal leaf. Very odd. Today was more seasonal — mild, with a blue sky, and snow rapidly melting. I went out to take some pictures of a couple of my favorite local buildings against the snow.


The 18th century eyebrow colonial, top and above (so called because of the two fixed windows in the upper story, just below the eaves), is on the market. Again. Or perhaps still. I remember it listed at 519K a couple of years back; today’s new, improved price is 439K. What that says about the market is nothing good.


The house itself is wonderful, updated but with original details like wide plank floors and a big fireplace. It’s on five acres in Milan, northern Dutchess County, with a pond right across the (quiet) road. Downside? High taxes, ten grand a year. That could be a deal-breaker for many.


Not two houses away is a modernist statement, above, that went up a few years ago. Even though I’m an old-house person at heart, this place could change my mind. It’s beautifully sited, with a view toward that same pond, and sits unobtrusively in the landscape. It must be sun-drenched inside. I like it a lot.


Another fave, above, is a mustard yellow eyebrow, impeccably restored.



Wonder what it means to have two front doors right next to each other? A two-family house, most likely.


Down the road apiece: rolling hills and a herd of Black Angus cows, below, as well as two fine red barns.



The Insider: Clinton Hill Classic in Modern Dress


Hard as it may be to believe, ten years ago this immaculate 1873 brownstone on one of Clinton Hill’s most elegant blocks was chopped into six SRO [single room occupancy] units, sharing four kitchens between them. Its wood floors were so grimy no one knew they were parquet. Its imposing arched entry door had cardboard panes instead of glass. The sky was visible through holes in the top-floor ceiling.

When the current owners — a couple with two teenagers, who live on three of the four floors and rent out the garden level — bought the building in 2001 and embarked on a renovation, the house more than met them halfway…

To read all about it and see lots more pictures, click here.

How to Clean a Wood Deck


MY FRIEND LULA is extremely capable and extremely determined. Unlike myself, she’s not afraid of power tools, and no home-improvement project seems to daunt her (she’s been shingling her house herself, below, over a period of two years).


So when she offered to clean my front deck in exchange for a few days lodging at my cottage in Springs, N.Y. (hers is rented out), I said, “Hell, yeah.” This little deck has been black and grimy since I moved in two years ago, and gets slick when it rains. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had never been cleaned at all, or at least not in decades.


I had made one fairly ineffective pass over it a few weeks ago, as seen in the foreground, above; so the photo doesn’t even show it at its worst. Lula got down on hands and knees with a stiff scrub brush and a mixture of TSP heavy-duty cleaner and Clorox in hot water; let it sit for a good few minutes to kill mildew, and then rinsed with hot water. You can see the difference between her job and mine.

The cedar shingles on the house, too, could benefit by the same treatment, but that’s trickier, as they’re vertical and grooved. I’ve been resisting power-washing for fear that forceful treatment could have unintended consequences: lifting the shingles off, causing leaks, damaging the plantings around the house.

Meanwhile, the front deck is getting clean. One small step for woman…

Around the Block in 50 Photos

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SO OUT I WENT yesterday morning, camera in hand, to do my homework: the “20 paces” assignment from Stephen Sherman, who teaches a digital photography class at the 92Y in Tribeca. Though I felt a bit silly, stopping to take a picture every 20 steps and drawing curious stares, I rather enjoyed the process.

Call it a portrait of one square block in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, on a Friday in October. I started at my front door (the dangling keys) and soon lost count of how many photos I’d taken — the stipulated number was 36 — so I decided to just proceed around the block. When I got back to home base and counted them, I had about 50.

These are un-edited, by the way. The idea of the exercise was continuity, not to pick and choose.

Though it’s a picturesque neighborhood generally, there were spots where I couldn’t see anything of interest and was forced to focus, say, on cracks in the sidewalk. Here and there I tried to include people, but I think it’s pretty evident from the results that I’m more comfortable photographing inanimate objects.

The assignment was an eye-opener, just as the instructor intended. Later that day, I found myself noticing a tangle of overhead wires strung between two buildings, against a blue sky, and feeling the urge to take a picture.

BOOK REVIEW: Design*Sponge at Home


SOMETIMES I THINK I have a case of arrested decorating development. At my age — a couple of generations past 30, which is the age of Grace Bonney, hugely successful design blogger and now author of a hefty new decorating and DIY book, Design*Sponge at Home (Artisan Books, $35) — shouldn’t I be more of a House Beautiful type? Shouldn’t I be gravitating toward wing chairs and Chinese ginger jar lamps and floor-to-ceiling drapes with valences?

Instead, I’m drawn to the very sorts of freewheeling, colorful, creative places featured in the first half of Bonney’s comprehensive, textbook-weighty book, many inhabited by designers, artists, and stylists.


These are places I can see myself actually living in, with cheerfully mismatched furniture and imperfect walls, full of thrift-shop discoveries and pieces that just happened to come to hand, almost always with (low) budget in mind.


The common thread here is that these homes don’t take themselves too seriously. Always a sucker for interior design and decorating books, I sucked up this one, which is particularly idea-full for renters and cottage dwellers such as myself — people who live comfortably with a sense of impermanence, who are willing to get down on their hands and knees rip up old linoleum, and who use the oldest, cheapest decorating trick in the book — paint  — to transform space with diamond-pattern wood floors, mustard yellow kitchen counters, walls of ash gray or black, or maybe Outrageous Orange.


At first I thought I would have no use for the second half of the book, a compendium of crafty DIY projects, some from readers, some from D*S editors — not having the skills required to sew my own slipcovers or the patience for creating starburst patterns on a dresser with small wooden dowels. But I was impressed with the overhaul of those easy-to-find Salvation Army staples — the boring brown wood dresser or armoire — into bright and appealing new pieces, merely by painting them with vivid flower or wave patterns. Now I’m itching to go out and find some on which to try my hand.


Design*Sponge at Home was published in early September. This review is a bit late because I lent the book out immediately upon receiving it to the 26-year-old daughter of a friend who’d just moved into a bare Brooklyn apartment. She called it “inspiring,” and that’s exactly what it  is: 400 pages of get-out-and-do-it design inspiration.