Less is More: My New Arch

First, let’s recall what the front of my property looked like six short months ago, in November ’09…aaaarrrggghhhh!!


I HAD BEEN CALLING IT AN ARBOR. But when people asked what I was going to plant on it — grapes? clematis? roses? — the answer was ‘nothing.’ I realized it wasn’t an arbor at all that I wanted, but a gateway. An arch, even though it’s not rounded at the top.

It was decided that my wasband, who recently discovered a talent for building rustic structures out of salvaged cedar logs, would build me a structure that would sit between my gravel parking court and the path to my house — an entryway, as it were, a statement of arrival. Nothing too grand, of course; you wouldn’t want a major gateway to an 800-square-foot cottage.

He and I designed something together, sending sketches through the mail. My original idea was that it would have a moon gate (I love moon gates) that would hide the view of parked car(s) and give me a sense of privacy and enclosure.


Last Wednesday, Jeff arrived with all the parts and pieces, per specs, cut and pegged and ready to be put into place. We dug holes for the first two vertical poles, seven feet high and six feet apart, and laid the first horizontal cross piece above it, above. I immediately loved the way it defined the space, as well as the look of it — very Japanese, but not too Japanese. Simple, Zen. I would almost have left it just as it was. However, two poles and a cross-piece wouldn’t withstand heavy winds (such as uprooted mature trees in this area two weeks ago). So in went the second set of verticals, three feet from the first, with a second cross piece on top, below. Still good; it still looked right to my eye.


It needed bracing, so we inserted two short rails between the poles on either side, one at a natural arm height, the other a bit lower, below. So far, everything according to plan.


With the four vertical poles in place, the top cross pieces, and railings on either side, it seemed pretty stable (and we hadn’t even cemented it in yet). The original concept called for 4 additional pieces on top, perpendicular to the two horizontals. We tried four, then three, then two, below. But even two looked…busy. We decided they weren’t strictly necessary. So goodbye to them.


And the moon gate, when we placed it temporarily inside the arch, below, made no sense. With open space all around, a gate looks silly. Its smoothness took away from the rustic quality of the arch and blocked the view of the plantings I’ve worked so hard on this past month. So goodbye to the moon gate, too. Maybe I’ll use it somewhere else on the property (I have a couple of thoughts).


I am thrilled with my arch that isn’t really an arch. I love driving up to the house and having it there to greet me. It seems to bestow new status on my humble home. I feel a sense of house-pride just looking at it, from either side. The proportions are perfect.


I’m glad we left off those extra bits. Less is more, as Le Corbusier famously said. The truth of that over-used statement has never been so apparent to me.

HAMPTONS VOYEUR: Quintessential Cottage in Sag Harbor


WHEN I FIRST SAW Phyllis Landi’s cedar-shingled cottage on a curving half-acre waterfront lot not far from the ridiculously charming village of Sag Harbor, I thought I’d found my dream house. Of course, Phyllis, a freelance TV producer, lives there, and has no intention of moving.


But this house has it all, in my book: location cubed, and the warmth that comes only with age (it was built in 1908). And, like all my favorite houses, it’s quirky: the house, now around 750 square feet, was once twice the size. Owned by two sisters, it was cut in half at some point, and the other half moved down the road a piece.


Phyllis, who bought the cottage in the early ’80s, used it for many years as a weekend place, and now lives there full time, did all the right things. She put on an addition for a kitchen and breakfast nook, opened a wall between the two main rooms to create one expansive living/dining area , and put French doors on the back, bringing in light and leading to a deck that must be glorious in warm weather.


Yes, it’s tiny, but perfect for a woman and her 3-month-old golden Lab puppy, Wilson (there’s one bedroom in the attic loft, and a daybed for guests in the sunroom, above).

It helps that Phyllis has a confident hand with decorating. She painted dark paneled walls and woodwork mostly Linen White (she painted right over the panels in the living room, below, and added wainscotting up to chair rail height in the dining room). She stuck to a neutral palette to keep things serene and uncluttered. Most of the furnishings have a 1930s-’50s aesthetic.




The main pieces are a ‘pretzel’ rattan sofa and chairs in the living room, which came from Secondhand Rose in New York; a blond wood Heywood-Wakefield dining table, hutch, and console, below; Eames chairs in the same pale wood; a shag wool rug and George Nelson daybed from Design Within Reach.



The kitchen has a classic cottage look, all white with pieces of collectible art pottery and Fiestaware providing splashes of aqua and green.




In the attic bedroom, Phyllis built a window seat with storage beneath.



After visiting Phyllis for the first time, I decided I’d move a mountain to get a place like hers. Later, when I found out what it was worth (well upwards of a million), I realized I’d have to move an entire mountain range, which is beyond my capabilities. So I went back to my own cottage in the woods, a tad disappointed, but delighted that such a place even exists.


A giant shout-out to Carrie of Brick City Love, who blogs about the ongoing renovation of her Newark, NJ, rowhouse, for her patient tutuorial in uploading pictures to WordPress from Flickr. She has saved me untold hours of time and aggravation. THANK YOU CARRIE!!

Walking and Stalking

UPDATE, April 2011: The photos that originally accompanied this post, which I took while looking over the moon gate of this cottage as described below, were accidentally deleted from my WordPress media library, along with the photos on several months’ worth of other posts from 2009. (Don’t ask.) I have been gradually restoring the bad posts, but in some cases, I can no longer retrieve the original photos to use in my fixes. This post is one example, so I’m using images from the Zillow listing of sold properties, because I want to preserve the post for reference. The cottage sold in September 2010 for $520,000.


THERE’S NOTHING ILLEGAL about taking pictures of other people’s houses, is there, and publishing them on a blog? What about courtyards, if you have to peek over the fence to get the shot? Well, let’s hope not, because today, on a brisk stroll around the neighborhood, I saw the charming, simple courtyard, above, and had a vision for my own front yard.


I found this corner property in the Maidstone Park area awfully inspiring. It’s a bit uber-cottagey for me, but I love the concept and the execution: a moon gate, an arbor, boxwoods, a shed with French doors, and a sunny brick dining patio. There’s no driveway, just a parking pad covered with pea gravel in front of the moon gate, big enough for one SUV.

It’s all going into the mental hopper as I continue my extended decision-making process regarding a place to park the car(s) and whether/what kind of gate and fence to have at the entry (to exclude deer, or simply to provide a sense of enclosure?)

My ultimate solution will be quite different from this one (I have no need for a dining table in front of the house when I have almost half an acre in back), but the symmetry of this scheme really appeals to my orderly side.

It’s a magazine cover if I ever saw one.

The Best Housewarming Gift


SOMETIMES IN MIDDLE AGE, people pick up strange new hobbies — salsa dancing, wine-tasting, or maybe bonsai. My handy wasband has taken it into his head to make rustic garden furnishings from fallen cedar trees he finds in the woods of upstate New York.

First was an arbor inspired by those at Poet’s Walk, a riverside park in Rhinebeck, N.Y., built with the help of our daughter Zoë.

His second project was the beautiful bench, top, of which I am the grateful recipient. He delivered it this weekend and it already looks at home under the cherry tree in my East Hampton backyard.

I asked Jeff how he figured out how to do it [see below for how-to]. He said he found some information online and consulted with our equally handy son, Max, a woodworker. There are no nails or screws involved — it’s all mortise and tenon (pegs and holes). He creates the design as he goes along, based on what the wood suggests. I love the back of my bench, which reminds me of the veins of a leaf.

Cedar mellows beautifully and can be left outdoors in all climates. The wood for this bench came from a building site in Upper Red Hook, N.Y. Jeff noticed some lots that had been partially cleared and were for sale; there were a lot of fallen cedar trees on the property. He tracked down the owner and explained about his new hobby, and asked whether he could remove those trees. She laughed and told him to go right ahead.


For each (male) piece, measure the length of log needed and then add 1-1/2″ to each end. Using a saw, scribe a circle 1-1/2″ from each end, cutting into the log to the depth of the tenon (peg) you are making. With a chisel, carve out the tenon. Then, with a drill, cut a mortise (hole) in the adjoining piece. Fill the hole with glue, then push and hammer the piece with the tenon into the glue-filled joint.

To make the join even more secure, drill a perpendicular hole into the female piece and through the tenon. Then fill the hole with glue and hammer in a dowel.

The decorative pieces on the back and the angled pieces are joined with dowels to the frame.

The seat, which is locust (the farmers up here used locust for fence posts–it’s said to last 150 years without treating) is also joined to the frame with dowels.

The only difficulty is getting a right angle.  Cedar logs are rarely straight, so you may have to  cheat, correct and re-jigger the frame to allow for the funky dimensions of the logs.

Imagining a Landscape

MY FRIEND MARY-LIZ CAMPBELL is here in Springs, with her mighty arm and genius eye (not to mention her marking paint and tape in festive colors of neon orange and pink). Mary-Liz is a professional landscape designer based in Rye, N.Y., and she can see things about my future garden I can’t (take a look at her own gorgeous garden here).

While I have a hard time seeing beyond what’s already there — a straight-ahead driveway, narrow paths, and stingy beds — Mary-Liz sees a gravel parking court, generous planting beds, a circular flagstone patio, even a gate and arbor leading from the side of the house to the backyard.


She also sees more sun, with the removal of several large trees I hadn’t even contemplated, not wanting to mess with the forest (I also tend to see dollar signs as she outlines the grand scheme).

I’m timid where she’s confident. She took a lopper to my giant rhodies and overgrown andromeda, letting in more light and air. I’d be afraid it wasn’t the right time of year to prune, or that I’d take too much and kill them.

As we watched a deer munch its way across my property yesterday, I think we both saw a deer fence.


We’ve been inspired, on this visit, by a couple of fabulous gardens — one, a private estate on Springs Fireplace Road, by Oehme, van Sweden, the avant garde landscape firm known for sweeping drifts of ornamental grasses and flowering perennials. We went back there twice to drive around the perimeter of the property and spy what we could through the fence.

Last night in the Village of East Hampton, we ooh’ed and aah’ed over the Mimi Meehan native plant garden behind the 18th century Clinton Academy, in mid-July bursting with orange and yellow butterfly weed, day lilies, coreopsis, helianthus and more, all indigenous to Long Island.