Hamptons Reno: One Month In


A MONTH INTO MY OWNERSHIP of a mid-20th century house needing much TLC on the East End of Long Island, a reader emails to say: “I’m loving your blog posts about your beach house…it is looking much better! You may not realize it, but seeing your posts definitely shows consistent progress.” I’m so glad it looks that way from afar. From anear, things are not moving as fast as I’d like.

Never mind window locks, which is where I left off in my last post. I’m not up to that yet. I ordered a single casement fastener to try before committing myself to two dozen, and it hasn’t arrived yet. Meanwhile, I’ve been doing some online shopping, for a “neo-angle” shower rod and a window screen. Again, just a single sample as a try-out, from screenitagain.com, associated with Lowes. If this works, it could be a very good thing: each custom-made screen (approximately 29″h x 36″w — though you need to send measurements to the 1/16″, and I’ve discovered each window is different), with a basic wood frame and plastic mesh screen, plus two spring tension fasteners and a tab at the bottom, is about $36. An upgrade to the ‘clearer view’ material adds about $20 per, so we’ll see.


Did some yard-saling over the weekend, and wouldn’t ya know… A few days after my Tanger Mall sojourn, where I bought new retro fixtures at the Restoration Hardware and West Elm outlets for the dining room and kitchen, I found the genuine articles right here in East Hampton for a pittance. Above, a green metal shade of the type I originally had in mind, an  unusual rounded variation on the typical shape: $10. Naturally I grabbed it, though I’m not sure for where.


At the same sale, I picked up a pair of vintage white glass globes, above, very Sixties, very Pop, perfect for the great room, below, though perhaps a bit too small in scale for the height of the ceiling (the globes are about 12″ across). They were $20 apiece. A friend suggested hanging them together at different heights, which would be fun. These finds only fueled my determination to hunt bargains, of which more in my next post.


What else? I have a whole new room, a whole new building, to think about. On Friday, the previous owner came, as agreed, and cleared out the shed, below — a onetime pool house, now to be… well, I’m not sure what. Garden shed, guest cottage, writing studio, workshop? My goal is to keep it from becoming a storage unit, though that is an ongoing temptation in the absence of a garage or basement.


And thanks to a visit from Eric the arborist, I can now see the forest for the trees. There are more than just oaks here — there are hickories, red maples, and sassafrass, as well as dogwood, wild cherry, and barberry. We’re starting nearest the house on trees that are in imminent danger of losing limbs. Eric is conservative; there are only a few he slated for outright removal. On most, he’ll just “lighten the load,” cleaning them up and pruning out deadwood. I trust him implicitly. At my former home, he eventually removed about eight huge oaks, and the more he took away, the better I liked it.

The saplings are still going to be my problem. It makes sense to pay Eric to climb 100 feet up, but not to take down 5-foot trees with 2″ trunks, of which there are hundreds. That’s something I can handle with a lopper, if only I could decide what to lop. I’ll enjoy watching them leaf out, and figure it out later.

Do you have the patience to wait 
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving 
till the right action arises by itself? asked Lao Tzu in the fifth century B.C.

It’s a tall order for one of my temperament, but I’m trying.

Hamptons Reno: Shoestring Lighting Buys


LET THERE BE MORE LIGHT, said the new owner of the meagerly electrified beach house, and so Tom the electrician came and upgraded the situation over a period of two days — installing dedicated circuits for the fridge, stove, and space heater; running wires for new overhead fixtures in the dining/sitting room, above; removing lamp cords that snaked along floors and walls with no regard for that thing called code; and capping and burying wires that ran willy-nilly through the half-acre property, illumination for the pool that no longer exists and trees that may be coming down.

IMG_1767Staying one step ahead of the tradesmen, as is my habit, I hopped into my car yesterday morning, a rainy Tuesday, determined to produce by day’s end a hanging fixture for over the kitchen counter and another for over the dining table I don’t yet have (and don’t know the size or shape of). This is a challenge on the far East End of Long Island, where shopping ops are few.

There’s nothing like an enforced drive up-island to make one realize how aptly named Long Island is. I hadn’t intended to go more than a few miles east if I could help it. My hope was that I’d find two marvelous fixtures at either the Ladies Village Improvement Society thrift shop in East Hampton or the ARF (Animal Rescue Fund) shop in Bridge, and then make a 12:00 yoga class. But as good as those shops are, they hew traditional, and my vision here is rustic/retro/industrial. The woman at ARF suggested I try the Restoration Hardware outlet at the Tanger Mall in Riverhead, and I decided to go for it, though it’s an hour’s drive from Springs. I stopped along the way at Revco Lighting and Suffolk Lighting in Southampton, two high-end showrooms whose prices I had no intention of paying, and also at Schwing, an electrical supply store where I picked up a bunch of landscape lighting catalogues and had an illuminating discussion about low versus line voltage — and realized that landscape lighting will have to be a low priority. Decent quality fixtures cost in the neighborhood of $200, and I need 10. And then there’s installation.IMG_1765

Ultimately I succeeded; my long day’s journey yielded what RH calls a vintage barn pendant in slate gray for over the kitchen counter, above; I paid $107 (originally $249) and it seems to be of very decent quality. There’s a West Elm there, too, to which I’ll be returning when it’s time for rugs. There I picked up a big white bell-shaped enamel shade, right, for over the future dining table, for $50.

I had been hoping they’d have the pumpkin-shaped bentwood fixture, below, I’d seen and liked in the West Elm catalogue, but they only had the long cigar-shaped one ($79 without its innards, orig. $169) and I decided the ceiling is too low for such a long fixture.


I capped my lamp-shopping triumphs with a stop at East Hampton Hardware, where I bought a $5.99 ‘jelly jar’ sconce, the kind normally used for outside back doors. I tried it in the long ship-like hall, and I think it’s just right. I’m going back for a second one. Can’t beat the price, right?502195

Some of the existing lighting in the house and yard is very Springs-arty. In the kitchen, the under-cabinet fixture is a long homemade metal panel that takes four tubular bulbs, below. Above the sink: a pair of ’70s white cubes. On a dimmer, with small floodlights, it gives abundant light. I’m keeping both.

IMG_1759  IMG_1760

In the yard, there’s an assortment of landscape fixtures, below, which I now realize are vintage and not cheap. But I dislike them: there’s a pagoda, two carriage lamps, and two flowers, which I’ve promised to my contractor when I find replacements. The only one I can handle, though it’s not beautiful, is a utilitarian-looking thing that’s fallen over on its side. I’ll be looking into path lighting, but it’s not top of my list.

IMG_1772  IMG_1775



There’s also a pair of nautical-style, nicely oxidized sconces on the house’s exterior, below. They’re heavy and old and I like them a lot.


Charles the plumber is due tomorrow to install the shower body, and Miguel, the contractor, will tile the bathroom next week. Hopefully I can persuade the plumber to return to install the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, and toilet, while Miguel moves on to window repair.


I spent two hours this morning researching casement fasteners, left, and I’m still not sure I’ve found the right thing. Coming up: let there be locks.

Hamptons Reno Inching Forward


MEASURING OUT PROGRESS in coffee spoons here at my low-budget Hamptons reno. Can’t even call it a reno, really; it’s more a matter of making sure I don’t get electrocuted, burgled, or die for lack of water. That’s all I ask at this point: safety, not ultimate convenience, and certainly not luxury. That can wait, for years if need be.

Last week’s biggest mood boost, above: the garden seen from inside the house, without filthy old screens obscuring the view.


The builder who’s re-hanging the awning windows, above, so that they close properly, and doing the bathroom tile work, gave me two days last week. I’m holding out hope for another day this week. He also put Durock (cement board) down on the bathroom floor and started building the shower enclosure wall, below.


Notwthstanding what I said in my last post about being tired of hexagonal bathroom floor tiles, I got them again. I decided it would be more interesting, since the wall tiles for the shower area are 8″ squares.


Today the electrician, back from his vacation, showed up and gave me some good news on the electrical front: I have the “Cadillac of circuit breaker boxes,” it turns out. Also, the outdoor lights — half a dozen path lights and two in the driveway — actually work. I just need to buy new fixtures to replace old corroded ones. This is fancy; I’ve never had outdoor lighting before.

The electrician is giving me dedicated circuits in the kitchen, GFI outlets in the bathroom and kitchen, getting rid of Rube Goldberg wiring throughout, and hanging new light fixtures I now have to provide.

And in an effort to get out there and DO something while waiting for workmen to show up, I set up four raised beds in the area where once was a swimming pool. I’m making my own soil by filling them with dead oak leaves, manure, and kitchen scraps. Composting in place, as it were. It’ll take time to become a decent planting medium, but I won’t be planting my vegetable garden this year, anyway. First, a number of tall, sun-blocking trees have to come down — but meanwhile, it’s another place to put some of the leaves I’ve been raking up.


Renovation Frustration


IT WASN’T MY MOST productive week. It started in a blaze of sunny optimism and ended in wind and rain, loneliness and discouragement, with an identity theft nightmare that took a precious day at the bank to sort out, and the realization that things are going to take longer and cost more than this impatient, frugal renovator would like. So what else is new? It’s a renovation.




Propped open all the wood battens along the back wall of the house for the first time. They have no glass, only screens. They seem very much a summer-house-at-the-shore kind of thing, and I’m not sure what to make of them or do with them.

I’m undertaking these improvements cautiously — not because I’m not wholly committed to the house, but because it’s a quirky house, the likes of which I’ve never seen or dealt with. I don’t understand it yet, and I’m not willing to impose stylistic choices on it until I do. But I must make some, if I’m to have a functioning kitchen and bath.


Kitchen sans old appliances

In the past, I’ve played with retro fixtures and glass mosaics and expensive European faucets. Now my watchwords have become “plain, basic, cheap”– as well as “available immediately.” I’ve just come from Cancos Tile in Southampton, where I ordered plain white 6″ square ceramic tiles for a new shower surround, and white 2″x2″ squares for the floor. Octagons seemed like going too in a 1930s direction, and I’m tired of them; I’ve done them so many times before. And choosing any kind of color for the bathroom, when I haven’t chosen color for anything else, seemed premature.


Bathroom sans fixtures

On Monday I waited for the plumber to show up, and my mood plummeted when he didn’t. All the tradespeople are suddenly busy now, all their customers deciding to spiff up their homes for the season. I’ve got dibs on them, too. They like me, this feisty silver-haired lady with the interesting house and weird ideas, and I try to be as charming as possible while foisting money upon them.


Existing kitchen sink top to be recycled

I ran out to the local plumbing supply co. and bought a bathroom sink and faucet, a shower body, and a kitchen faucet (all American Standard, chrome, in stock), just to be able to call the plumber and say, “Charles, I’ve got everything! It’s all here for you!” The bathroom sink is a plain pedestal on sale, below — perfectly nice, but more Deco than I would have liked. I would have liked a wall-hung cast-iron utility sink, but this one came to hand (as soon as I finish this blog post, I’m going to Google the sink I would really like).


I do whatever I can do myself — trash-hauling, leaf-raking — but there’s not much more I can do without water (or building skills). I tried lopping some of the excess saplings that litter the property, but got quickly overwhelmed and indecisive. What if some of these trees have good fall color, or would provide welcome screening? I realized anew the wisdom of living in a place for a year before making landscape decisions. Instead, I sank down on a bench in the sun and mused. I decided that all 23 awning windows must open. They are the articulation on the front of the house. I can’t screw them in place just to save a few bucks on labor and hinges. I went around and opened all of them, to air out the house and see how it looks that way, and I like it.


On Tuesday, Charles showed up, tore out the kitchen  and bathroom fixtures single-handedly,  and got the water pump, above, going (though with nothing for the water to flow into). I don’t have to dig a well, which is cause for celebration. And on Wednesday, Keith the Metal Man came, below, and hauled away what Charles tore out, which made me very happy. Miguel, who’s going to restore the windows and do the necessary building and tile work in bathroom and kitchen, promised to give me two days a week, starting next week.


That other part of the house — the 1960s addition which is the living room or great room, has been forgotten for the moment. I don’t have the resources to plunge in full steam ahead, and that’s OK. Because what I also do not have is an iota of buyer’s remorse.

Heart, Soul & Checkbook

A WEEK INTO OWNERSHIP of my new/old home, the closest I’ve come to gardening is broadcasting handfuls of Hollytone under yellow-leaved rhododendrons, the only thing to look forward to in terms of blooms this season.

I also had a go this afternoon with Roundup and a sponge brush, working my way along the fence on the western edge of my half-acre lot, where my neighbors’ out-of-control wisteria threatens to pull down parts of the fence it hasn’t already destroyed.

The day, like the few days preceding, was so beautiful I didn’t care what I was doing, as long as I was outside. As I worked, I realize what made this Roundup session so different from those of three years ago at my first East Hampton property. Several factors: First, I didn’t feel guilty about using the stuff. Second, I knew it would be effective. When I labored at this task before, I didn’t know whether my surgical operation – snipping the never-ending roots, pulling it out of the ground as far as I could, winding them around my hand into a ball and stuffing them into trash bags, then daubing Roundup on the cut ends of the invasive vine — was going to do the trick or not. Now I know it works, so the tape that had played in my head the whole time — “Why am I doing this? Is it worth the trouble? How much more do I have to go?” — all went away. The act had purpose.

But beyond that, and this is huge, I realized I am so much more committed to this house then I was to the other. With house number one, I didn’t know if it was a flipper, a rental property, or my home, and if the latter, whether year-round or seasonal (it turned out to be three of the four at various times, and it may be the fourth yet). This one, on the other hand, is my home. For the long haul. I am in it, heart, soul, and checkbook.

I worked alone the past three days, no friends or hired labor to assist. I’ve met with the plumber who is going to give me a rudimentary bathroom and kitchen, and the contractor/carpenter/ painter, whose to-do list, upon receiving his price quote, has been reduced from seven items to two.

On Monday, I needed to do some shopping research, and basically spent the day on Montauk Highway, stopping into East Hampton Plumbing, Water Mill Building Supply, Carpetman, PC Richard, looking at sinks, flooring, appliances. I needed to see what was out there and what my options are if this is to be done in a hurry. I am not making a fetish out of choosing finishes or special ordering anything. I have next to no interest in that, for the first time in my life. I know what I like, and I just want the basics.

But getting in and out of the car a million times was not a joyful experience. Henceforth, I vowed to stay put and devote myself to house and landscape. I woke up Tuesday morning knowing what I must do: rip out the filthy sisal carpet in the living room and the foam padding underneath it, whose age I estimate to be approximately 30 years. With a matt knife and sheer determination, I cut, tore, and pulled 400 ft.² of sisal and foam – black with mold or mildew in places – and dragged it out onto the deck (along with several huge piles of brush picked up from around the property and some rotted stockade fencing; it will be picked up and dumped on Friday).

Then I Shop-vac’d the entire house and poured Clorox straight from the bottle onto areas of plywood floor that looked like they might have something primitive growing on them. The water isn’t turned on yet for the season; otherwise I would have washed the floors. The musty smell is on its way to banishment.

Today was Hollytone/Roundup day. As I worked, I pondered my window dilemma. Having gotten the quote for scraping, painting, planing to fit, rehanging on non-rusty hinges, and creating locks and screens for the existing 23 (!) awning windows, each approximately 36 inches wide and 29 high, on the front of the house, I decided at some point in the middle of the night to get new windows rather than spend any money at all on the old. New windows were not in my budget, especially not right out of the gate. I will have to sacrifice flooring for now, among other things. Perhaps I will paint the plywood subfloors myself and put down area rugs.

I was on the phone with Riverhead Building Supply much of the day. Anderson makes an awning window that will fit the existing openings pretty closely, and they don’t all have to open – some of the 23 can be stationary. They come in four colors, they have cranks, locks, and screens, and they are not even horribly expensive. There are just a lot of them, and they have to be installed.

The contractor proposed that I look into getting double-hung windows the same 36 inches wide and 5 feet long – a standard size that would probably be cheaper than each set of two awning windows it would replace. But it would not be the same. All the frames would have to be rebuilt rather than tweaked with molding, and that would inevitably alter the look of the façade. And unlike the awning windows, the upper and lower parts of the window would be in different planes rather than both flush with the façade. My first choice is to try to keep the period idea of awning windows rather than try to save money on the installation and perhaps ruin the look of the house.

Next week the plumber starts. The week after, the electrician. The windows, once ordered, will take four weeks. Meanwhile, one thing I know for sure: I am so not bored. This morning’s email from Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, who has made a very successful cottage industry out of things one would hope would come naturally but don’t seem to for most people, contained this from William Butler Yeats: “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”

I have to agree.