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THE MONTH OF LONGEST DAYS is drawing to a close, and I feel compelled to celebrate it with a blog post before it fleets by. The alliums, lush purple just two weeks ago, are already browned on their stalks. Those are not my alliums, above, though I have a few, or my lily pool; they are attached to an East Hampton oceanfront estate I toured as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program on June 21.
Young men in straw hats were stationed to direct mortals like myself through this sensational south-of-the-highway estate, pointing the way to wildflower meadow, cottage garden, woodland walk, vegetable garden, parterre and croquet green (pool and tennis court go without saying). Have a small look:
It was a month of yoga on the beach, lobster in Montauk, sunsets from the jetty, and the humble satisfactions of my own half-acre compound shaping up (as I type, two men are working by night to finish the transformation of shed to guest cottage; photos to follow).
I introduced two friends to one of the oddest and most photogenic places I know of on the East End: Multi Aquaculture Systems, an Amagansett fish farm, below, the last on Long Island. Besides tanks of striped bass and other fish, it has ducks and dogs and a cafe selling Provencal pottery and picturesque decaying buildings and wildflowers in abundance by the bay.
I swam a couple of times at my local beach, below. It was exhilarating, and that’s how I know it’s really summer.
LAST MONTH’S ‘OLD STONE STROLL’ in Springs (East Hampton), Long Island, to benefit the renovation of tiny, unassuming 1881 St. Peter’s Church, below, was a revelation to me, even though I’ve had a home here for six years now. The self-guided tour of eight gardens, all located along what was once an unpaved road called the Springs-Amagansett Turnpike and is now Old Stone Highway, reminded me of the hamlet’s artistry and celebrity — not least because Springs’ best-known resident was abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, who inspired a wave of artists moving to the area in the 1950s and ’60s.
One of the properties on the tour (the most modest of them) was musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson’s; she was outside planting vegetables and chatting with visitors. Another was the 18th century farmhouse of the late sculptor Constantino Nivola, one of whose house guests painted a mural on the dining room wall (the guest happened to be the monumentally important architect Le Corbusier, and it’s the only Corbu mural in the U.S.). A couple were places I’d already been wowed by on Garden Conservancy Open Days; you can see one of them here.
Everywhere, it seemed, there were vignettes of great charm, even (perhaps especially) where gardens were not manicured to a fault.
Below, the home of Charles Savage, who has put together three properties over a couple of acres with garden room after garden room, including arbors, statues, urns, a stone courtyard, etc. But I liked the backwoods “hills and dales” areas the best, and the driveway/breezeway. Why don’t more people do that? It’s like a picture frame for your backyard.
Below and top, a glimpse of the 7-acre estate of handbag designer Judith Leiber and her husband Gus , a painter.
Below, the onetime home of Constantino and Ruth Nivola. He was a sculptor known for his sand-casting technique; she made Etruscan-style jewelry in a little wisteria-covered cottage on the grounds. We peeked in the windows of the house (which was not open to the public) for a view of the Corbu mural. Wouldn’t I like one of those in my place…
Finally (for purposes of this blog post), the most evocative spot at “The Landing,” below, a 12-acre property on Accabonac Harbor owned by a member of the Bacardi rum family.
UPDATE 6/11/15: July is spoken for.
Looking for a Bohemian idyll à la Jackson Pollock and friends, mere meters from the water? Located in Springs (East Hampton), a five-minute walk from uncrowded, miles-long Maidstone Beach and a short distance from the Springs Historic District, on a secluded, wooded half-acre. Sleeps 6. 10 minutes East Hampton village, 10 minutes Amagansett, 20 minutes Sag Harbor, 25 minutes Montauk. Email email@example.com for more pics and info, including great room, home office, guest room, studio and gardens not pictured here. Available for July and/or August, minimum 1 month.
DEMOLITION has begun — and it ended, four hours later — at my East Hampton beach house, above. That’s how long it took to disappear two closets and a storage area in a corner of what’s eventually to become a ‘winter studio,’ and in summer, a great room with an open kitchen. Those four hours revealed a skylight and a large southwest-facing window, long blocked by the warren of unneeded storage spaces.
Below, top: ‘Before’ view showing a corner of the great room occupied by a group of closets. Below, bottom: ‘Now’ view showing that area of the rooms sans closets.
I love demolition. Tearing down walls is about the cheapest, most cathartic thing you can do in a home renovation, and it always makes a space lighter and airier. Sometimes you have to build walls, too, but removing them is the fun part.
I’ll be moving the kitchen into that newly opened-up corner. Yes, the kitchen I built just a year-and-a-half ago, below, has proved to be temporary; it served well for two seasons. But I’ve come to realize that if the great-room end of the long, narrow house is ever to be utilized — if people are ever to be induced to go down there — there needs to be FOOD. That’s really the only thing that gets people into a little-used part of a house, more so even than TV. Also, when I insulate that part of the house for my own use in the off-season, I’ll be needing a place to cook.
My plan is to simply move the appliances and the sink and possibly even some of the cabinets into the new area (the old kitchen area will become a small bedroom/study). I love the old kitchen, and it functions very well, so I intend to more or less replicate it in the new spot.
Meanwhile, I’m having fun on Pinterest, coming up with some of the photos below. They all have beamed ceilings, and most have a window in the center of the appliance wall. Their simplicity inspires me. And of course, a whitewash changes everything.
Next up: new windows!
I’M FOREVER LOOKING for clues to the origins of my Long Island beach house. The town records, which go back only to 1957, when zoning was adopted, are useless, since the house was built before then. But when? And by whom? And was it designed, or did it just sort of happen?
I Googled the name of a long-dead previous owner, and came to this lovely blog post, written by a visitor to the house, recalling hammock-swinging and gazpacho-making in the summer of 1975.
I’ve asked the last owner to dig out any photos he might have, and I have hopes he may get around to it one day. I’ve been to the Long Island Collection at the East Hampton Public Library, and read Alastair Gordon’s Modern Long Island: The First Generation of Modernist Architecture 1925-1960, which accompanied an exhibition at East Hampton’s Guild Hall in the 1980s.
But I still know very little about the architecture and design of my own house. Occasionally I come across something that strongly reminds me of it. One of these recent discoveries was on the website The Selvedge Yard, which reproduced an article published in Architectural Digest in 1976, about Truman Capote’s house in Sagaponack, a boxy wooden structure he built in 1962. It had, the magazine said, an “intentionally untended” look. (The house still stands but has lost its untended look, and with it, its charm.)
For Capote, this was one of three homes (the others in Manhattan, California and Switzerland), but it seems he spent as much time out there as he could, especially in autumn and winter. He was, of course, well-heeled enough to winterize the house, but quirky enough to do it in such a way as to make it look unfinished by choice. (My as-yet-unwinterized house also looks unfinished, because it is.)
I love the dark glossy floors, the walls of books, the exposed-beam ceilings — and the typically pithy Capote-isms in the article, such as this: “For me, it’s a bore to use a decorator. I know exactly what I want. I don’t care to have someone come in and tell me what I need to live with. I know.”