BROWNSTONER.COM, the behemoth Brooklyn-based real estate website for which I write a weekly interior design/renovation column, The Insider, has a new look.

The redesign brings larger images and easier-to-read typography, along with real-time discussions and other improvements, detailed here.

So I thought this would be a good time to catch up with a few of my favorite Insiders from weeks past. Click on any of the titles below to see the full posts in their new, wowie-kazowie incarnation.

The Insider: Narrow South Slope House Gets New Staircase, Extension and Lots of Light


The Insider: This Light, Bright Williamsburg Row House Was Rebuilt From the Ground Up


The Insider: Park Slope Brownstone Has Room for Bold Accents and Quirky Detail


The Insider: Modest Fort Greene Reno Becomes a Total Gut, With Happy Results


The Insider: Spare Modern Décor Enhances This Park Slope Limestone Beauty


The Insider: Revamping a Sunset Park Row House for a Clean, Modern Look







THIS LISTING COMES DIRECT TO YOU from a longtime blog reader of mine, Lillian DeMauro, who is selling her late 18th century house outside Andes, New York, in Delaware County’s Catskill Mountains, under three hours from NYC.andes_ny

Looks and sounds good to me. For more specifics, read on:

Built c.1790 as a tavern along the Esopus Turnpike, the house has served as a community meeting house, a link on the Underground Railroad and, more recently, a farmhouse.

The house was featured in the 2013 book A Simpler Way Of Life, Old Farmhouses of New York & New England.

There are five fireplaces, two with bake ovens, several pine-sheathed rooms, original chestnut / pine flooring throughout, plaster walls throughout. The house retains “original surfacing at a rare level,” writes Lillian, including sheathing, plaster, flooring, staircases, paneling and paint.

Rooms include 4-5 bedrooms, 1 bath, library, dining room, living room. “Rooms can be used flexibly; you decide,” Lillian writes.

Much work has been done since 2000, including new cedar shingle siding, new hot air heating system, new hot water heater, plumbing, wiring and new basement.

The house sits on two-thirds of an acre, surrounded by state-owned or leased land, planted gardens, lawn and trees.

In Lillian words, it’s “near 21st century cultural and social amenities, with the natural world at your back door.”Among the nearby diversions: hiking, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, tennis, golf, world-class trout fishing, theatre and opera.

For more info: Paul or Lillian, 607-746-7199 or



AS IF TO MAKE SURE I would leave San Miguel de Allende thoroughly in love with the place — as if to hammer home the point that it is spectacularly deserving of its perennial spot among the top few on Conde Nast Traveler‘s annual Best Cities award (#1 in 2013) — the sunset on my final night was a breath-taker.

As my friend and I rounded the corner where Calle Relox opens up to the Jardín on our way to my last SMA dinner, we both suddenly gasped and groped for our cameras.

The day had been balmy, and the cloud patterns produced the most dramatic sunset of my two-week stay. And they do know how to light those monuments.


I had spent my last full day, finally restored to gastro-intestinal health, wandering the streets with no essential purpose but to absorb the atmosphere, have a last cup of coffee at Zenteno, a pleasant café where American boomers while away many an hour, grab a few final photos (such as that of David Kestenbaum’s brass bull in front of the cultural center known as Bellas Artes, below, which had become as much a symbol to me of SMA as the Parroquia) and pick up a few more gifts and souvenirs.


A woman in Zenteno’s happened to mention an exhibition of antique Mexican blankets at Bellas Artes, below, so off we trotted to see it. It was illuminating to compare the geometric designs of the locally woven blankets one sees in the markets with their more intricate antecedents.


Adios, San Miguel, but not forever.


MY TWO-WEEK VISIT TO THE MEXICAN FANTASY-VILLAGE of San Miguel de Allende is coming to an end. I have only good things to say, except in one regard: the drinking water.

It’s true what they say: don’t drink it. And I didn’t mean to, but there it was on the table in a restaurant frequented by American tourists, where we’d been before. Without thinking, I picked it up and drained the glass. At least, I think it was that glass of water that caused me to spend more than 30 precious vacation hours in bed, a plastic wastebasket by my side. BOTTLED WATER ONLY.

Fortunately, the bed is comfortable, the internet only went down for an hour, and today I’m feeling human again.

My release from stomach misery, today’s perfect weather and my impending departure have made me appreciate this place all the more.

The Spanish-style historic architecture, long vistas to the western mountains from the tops of hilly, stone-paved streets, rooftop gardens filled with thriving plants, the sophisticated Mexican modern aesthetic in certain galleries and restaurants — all that I was bound to like.

Other things have been more of a surprise. At first I was put off by there being so many North Americans present, and thought maybe there was something exploitative about it. Now I think it’s probably the best thing that could happen to a Mexican town, and I’m guessing most locals would agree.

San Miguel still feels thoroughly Mexican, at least to me. But there is a sort of comfort factor in there being so many Americans here. This entire hotel is made up of us, mostly 60’s and older. We meet in the lovely circular garden, and they’re Democrats, I can tell. How? The hotel’s community room hosts meetings of the Occupy SMA group and shows films about climate change. (The Texans who build mega-mansions up in the hills? Probably not Democrats.)

I haven’t seen so much hippie-style clothing on women since 1969 — oversized earrings, fringed shawls and scarves, floppy hats, long skirts.

How to spend the days hasn’t been a problem. After the photo workshop, there was an event billed as a “Beat” cantina crawl, and I feared hokum. It took us into places I’d have been afraid to go on my own: Gato Negro, the second-oldest bar in San Miguel, from 1929; El Cu Cu, the most attractive of them, from 1955; and La Cucaracha, a fluorescently-lit, scary-looking place where some seedy characters were already hanging around the bar when our group entered.

It is to their credit that I didn’t realize they were actors, about to impersonate and read the poetry of Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady and Diane di Prima with great bawdy spirit (not all of them actually spent time in San Miguel, but… poetic license). At each stop, we drank mezcal, which I now think of as smoother tequila. Need I say it turned out to be loads of fun, and more authentic than hokey.

A word about the shopping here. It’s varied and abundant. Not just the high-end galleries under the arches of old haciendas, which are reasonably priced for the quality of their textiles, furnishings, pottery, metalware, etc. But also (my bailiwick) the street markets. They are sprawling — they just go on and on — and open every day under corrugated tin roofs. Even what may look at first like schlock bears scrutiny. Many of the vendors, like Patricia, below, who sells silver jewelry, design and make their own wares.

Market-shopping here is stress-free. The vendors are not pushy; in fact, it’s sometimes hard to get their attention. I’d buy more — rugs, blankets, pottery — but don’t want to acquire more than I can take on the plane.

The food, it seems, can be excellent or mediocre. My favorite so far: La Mezcaleria, a chic little place, for both food and design. But you’d have to be in San Miguel a lot longer than I am to run out of places to try. And with those American dollars, we can try the most upscale places in town.

Bottom line in San Miguel: you need do nothing but walk the streets. There’s aesthetic pleasure at every turn.


La Mezcaleria on Correo, with their cucumber and cilantro margarita


El Gato Negro


El Cu Cu


La Cucaracha, left to right: “Neal Cassady,” “William Burroughs” (in hat), bored bartender, the director, “Jack Kerouac”






MY TIME IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE IS FLEETING BY and I have nothing to complain about. Certainly not the weather, balmy compared to New York’s (though my white pants and tank tops remain in the closet).

After ten days here, with just four to go, my attitude has shifted. Instead of ‘I’ve walked past this corner a dozen times,’ the complexities of the town keep opening inward — like little hole-in-the-wall shops I at first passed by, not realizing there were hand-wrought iron drawer pulls and hinges for sale beyond the religious artifacts and the woman shaving the spines off cactus leaves in front.

Instead of, ‘We’ve already tried that restaurant,’ it’s ‘Let’s go back again and get the [name of different dish] this time.’

Of four people whose names I was given by friends back home, I’ve only managed to meet up with one, and see the dream hacienda she built, with a courtyard garden, an art studio and two or three roof decks, and have a local lunch of chilaquiles (something like nachos but softer and creamier) at a corner cafe that would probably have escaped my notice.

There’s plenty to do here, after all, and I’m not going to get to do it all. The once-a-month architecture tour I finally found out about happens the day I leave; I’ll be on my way to the airport.

It was fortuitous that our stay coincided with the San Miguel Literary Sala, a conference that attracts writers, would-be writers and high-profile instructors from all over the English-speaking world. I did not sign up for the five-day event (what they call the “whole enchilada”), as I did not come to San Miguel to sit in hotel conference rooms, no matter how inspiring the speakers.

But I signed up for a few 2-hour workshops anybody can take, and they have proved terrific. The results of one — billed as ‘Mindful Photography’ — illustrate this post.

We didn’t get the lessons I really needed, like how to take a photo of San Miguel’s magnificent churches and bell towers without their looking like picture postcards, and how to photograph the ice cream man or the lady selling calla lilies without offending them or causing them to go all self-conscious.

Instead, a group of 20 or so simply walked out of the Hotel Real de Minas, where the conference is being held, led by Dinty Moore, a seasoned Ohio-based writer and photographer, and strolled slowly and mindfully down a typical local street, taking time to absorb colors and textures and frame our photos carefully.

Some people had fancy cameras and long lenses. I had my iPhone, and that was just fine.




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