casaCARA’s Top 10 of ’11

WHEN I FIRST BEGAN THIS BLOG in December 2008, I looked at my site stats obsessively. It was exciting to watch them grow in those early, heady days. Now I rarely look, but WordPress still helpfully provides a battery of statistics. Most popular search terms is always amusing. In the past 24 hours, for instance, people have come to casaCARA seeking information on London rowhouse bathroom, nineteenth century tenant farmers cottage, best gardens in Japan, palm beach italian renaissance, plants for windy rooftop, far rockaway vintage hotels, colonial farmsteads, and best places to see in lanzarote. I’m glad to be an archive of such random and varied subject matter. I hope they found what they were looking for, and will maybe even come back some time.

But the most revealing stat, the one that tells me what I should be doing more of (if only I would listen), is top posts of the year. “Evergreens,” they’re called in the magazine biz. They’re some of my favorites posts, too. If you’d like to re-visit them, or check them out for the first time, links to my Top Ten posts of 2011 are below.

Thanks, everyone, for your readership and support over the past year. Onward to 2012!

Covetable Carriage Houses

Garden Voyeur: The Barefoot Contessa’s Garden

Researching a Brooklyn Alley

Look Book: White Wood Floors

Foolproof Plants for Brooklyn Backyards

Monticello Yellow + Orange Options

Bungalows of Rockaway

The East End’s Early English Houses

Why I love Philadelphia, Part 3 : Trinity Houses

Hanging Pictures Salon-Style

The Insider: Kitchen Extension in Brooklyn Heights

MY COLUMN TODAY on is all about a new two-story extension on the back of a c.1820 Dutch Revival row house in Brooklyn Heights.

Robinson + Grisaru Architecture, a local husband-and-wife team, conceived the design using a steel window system, and shepherded it through Landmarks.

For the whole story, go here.

Blue Christmas

HANUKKAH’S WELL AND GOOD, but it was a bit of a blue Christmas in casaCARA-land. As a non-celebrator, Christmas Day is often quiet, but this one was utterly silent and very, very long. I felt empty and flat, kind of like this:

I went out for a walk, my face at the ready to smile and pass on holiday greetings, but there were few people on the streets, and those I saw avoided eye contact. In the course of my perambulations, though, I realized it was a blue Christmas in a more welcome sense: the sky was brilliant, the air clear, the conditions perfect for my iPhone’s camera.

Boxing Day dawned ever bluer:

This last one is from a few days ago when the sky was more threatening. I’m including it, though, because I like it a lot.

Hope you all had a less lonely Christmas Day, and, well, it’s over now and we can all relax.

The NEW New-York Historical Society

New-York Historical Society collection

I LIKE TO USE the last week of the year to catch up with friends I haven’t seen enough of, and museums I’ve been meaning to get to. It was a combination of those two things that took me today to the recently, spectacularly renovated New-York Historical Society on Central Park West and 77th Street, which re-opened in November after a three-year, $65million renovation. The museum, long-known for its collection of Hudson River School and Audobon bird paintings, has just made a giant leap into the 21st century.

A new wall of glass at the entry opens immediately into a lobby gallery with some of the institution’s most impressive holdings. One that struck me immediately was the large-scale painting, above, Francis Guy’s Tontine Coffee House, ca. 1797 (as my friend Barbara said, the Starbucks of its day). It’s a view of Wall Street, where stockbrokers would gather in coffee houses before the establishment of the NYSE. You can also get an up-close look at the pistols – the actual pistols – used by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.

Some of the major works in the lobby gallery are supplemented by pillars supporting oversized touchscreens — the best museum labels ever. You tap live links, and new windows open up with further information.

New-York Historical Society/Jon Wallen

Of the nine exhibitions simultaneously going on now, the blockbuster is Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn, mainly about the late 18th century revolt in Haiti, a struggle against slavery as well as the French. I knew nothing about it, and am now sadder but wiser.

We also took in Making American Taste, painting and sculpture (often kitschy) of the Victorian era that is emphatically not my taste, but was of the founders and early donors to the NYHS, which was established in 1804; Freedom Now, photographs by Platon of now-elderly civil rights leaders; and Beauties of the Gilded Age, miniature portraits of society women from Edith Wharton’s day. We didn’t even get to many of the other exhibitions (Santa Claus, Hanukkah, 9/11), or to the children’s gallery, or to see those Audobon paintings, a few at a time on rotating exhibit.

We peeked into the sumptuous library, above, with its Ionic columns and newly restored stained glass panels from 1908, but couldn’t view the tempting glass cases within. We would have had to go back downstairs and check our bags and coats and we were anxious to catch a screening of ‘New York Story,’ a split-screen extravaganza that tells the story of the city from its beginnings to the present day in 18 stirring minutes.

But honestly? The highlight may have been lunch in Caffe Storico, above, the light, bright, high-ceilinged space encircled with cabinets stocked with china from the museum’s collection, cleverly solving a storage and decorating problem at once. The food, by Stephen Starr of Moromoto and Buddakan fame, is Venice-inspired (salads, pastas, panini) and delicious.

The new N-YHS is not a museum of New York City history (that one’s on the other side of the park). It’s a museum of American history seen through the lens of New York City. And it’s definitely more than a one-visit kind of place.

The Insider: Brand New in Red Hook

TODAY, THE INSIDER (my weekly column for features a pair of newly built townhouses near the Brooklyn waterfront. Designed by CWB Architects, one is a 3,800 square foot home for the property owner’s family (with the lighted garage door, above) — and right next door, a slightly larger building with three rental apartments to pay for it!

I like their straightforward design and how unobtrusively they meld with the context of the street. Not to mention the fabulous roof deck, below.

Click here to see the interior, which is big on Design Within Reach.