Cottage Bathroom Underway


THIS IS THE EASIEST RENOVATION I ever lived through. More accurately, the gut job on my cottage bathroom in East Hampton is the first renovation I ever didn’t live through, the first time I’ve had the luxury to be elsewhere while dirt, noise, and inconvenience were taking place.

DSCN1125I’m hours away in Brooklyn, while Miguel, the contractor/carpenter/ tile guy, and Charles, the plumber, both of whom I trust implicitly, do their thing. In another 10 days or so, all will be fresh and new, the very picture of a cliched cottage bathroom.

I chose and ordered the materials, and left them to it. I have no desire to micro-manage this or supervise it in any way (also, there’s no water). No designer was hired, no plans drawn. I had two 20-minute meetings with Miguel in which I waved my hands about and explained how I visualized the project, throwing in a few terms like “clamshell” and “quarter round” and “bullnose” so he’d know I’ve been this way before.

The demolition is done, and the tub installation is happening this week, with tile work to follow. The friend who’s keeping my houseplants alive this winter peeked in to check progress and captured the scene, including the 1940s flowered wallpaper behind the medicine chest.

I’ve never been so relaxed about a renovation either. However it turns out — even if a molding is a couple of inches off, or something is not quite as I envisioned it — it’s going to be just fine.

Lighting My Cottage Bathroom

Z008418TIME WAS, you could turn up a great Art Deco lighting fixture at a flea market for $3, but you’d have to look long and hard, and maybe re-wire. I’m thinking of something like the one at left. We do indeed have that exact fixture in its original incarnation in one of the bathrooms in Cobble Hill. Found it years ago for a few bucks, with a pull chain (that tends to stick).

Well, no more of those hassles. Now you can simply go to Rejuvenation Lighting’s online catalogue and pick and choose from reproduction retro-inspired lighting of all eras. The offerings start in the Victorian age, and move up from there through Arts & Crafts and Art Deco into the 1960s. You get to choose the finish, the shade, the projection from the wall (in inches), and so on. They’ll custom-build it for you, and ship it out in 2-3 weeks.

I’ve just done that. I was in search of a fixture for my East Hampton cottage bathroom, and under a mini-gun, since my contractor said he would throw in the installation if I got it to him at the right time — in about two weeks — and centered it above the sink, exactly where the previous one was.

Here’s the ‘before’…


I’m replacing something ugly but effective, above. I always felt four bulbs was overkill. It’s going, along with the inset medicine cabinet, both remnants of the bathroom’s last re-do in the 1970s. Staying, however, is the white-painted carved mirror at left, which I bought at a yard sale last summer for $20 <yay>.Z006063

Here’s where I initially thought I might go — something like this frilled fixture, right. It reminds me of Paris, somehow, and would have been fun.

But ultimately I chose the good old American-style chrome fixture with an 8″ white satin glass shade, below (boring, I’m afraid), for about $100.


I like that it can also be used facing up, if it’s too busy with the carved mirror, or if I decide I prefer more flattering (i.e. less illuminating) indirect lighting.


Do check out Rejuvenation’s catalogue. It’s fun to browse, and has the potential to solve a whole lot of problems.

Cottage Bathroom ‘Before’


I’VE BEEN OUT AT MY COTTAGE in Springs, Long Island, the past few days, enjoying the serenity, the scenery, and the snow. And moving right along to my next renovation project: the bathroom. When I bought this place in May ’09, the bathroom, above, was like something out of a trailer park, circa 1972. It still is, in fact: rolled vinyl floor, chipped formica vanity, stained beige plastic bathtub, below. But not for much longer.


In an effort to get the place ready for spring and summer, I’ve hired a contractor from several I  interviewed. He was recommended by my plumber, whom I like and trust, so I didn’t even bother checking his references. His portfolio was full of South-of-the-Highway celebrity bathrooms. I’m sure he’s up to the task.

I’ve already made one big change: replacing the small window with a door, below, leading outside to a new shower deck (those are some of my houseplants wintering in front of it). Everything else is being replaced, except the toilet, but staying where it was.


My decorating concept is so simple as to be boring. I don’t want anything fussy. It’ll be a white cottage bathroom, period. Ideally, I would have liked a claw foot tub, but they’re too pricey. I made very quick work this morning of ordering the fixtures and fittings, all American Standard, middle-of-the-road, befitting my modest cottage in the woods. The tub, below, has a “rope twist” design around the rim and is a bit deeper (17″) and wider (32″) than the norm, so I have hopes of actually taking a bath in it. And yeah, it’s acrylic — the only material this style comes in, and I saw no reason to make the guys schlep cast iron. The tiles on the surrounding walls will be your cliche white 3″x6″ subway tiles.


The sink is from a Brooklyn salvage yard, below. It served me last summer as a planter on the front deck. There will be white painted beadboard on the wall behind it, naturally. The faucets will be chrome with white porcelain handles, as if you couldn’t guess.


And the floor, below, will be white hexagonal tiles — no surprise there. But I did go wild on the grout; I special-ordered a color called Ocean Blue.


The reno starts next week.

HAMPTONS VOYEUR: Post-Mod in Amagansett


IF YOU’RE NOT IN THE HAMPTONS and can’t pick up a copy of the latest Hamptons Cottages & Gardens magazine in front of Citarella, go here to read my latest article about a fabulously fashionable couple’s marvelous mid-century modern home in the Amagansett woods.


The house itself, by architects Julian and Barbara Neski, was built in the early ’80s, but classic ’50s furnishings work spectacularly well in it.


Moroccan rugs warm things up on one of the indoor-outdoor terraces.


The river-pebble floor in the bathroom, above, is among the very few changes the current owners made to the original structure.

Photos by Anastasios Mentis

READER’S HOUSE: Virginia Colonial 272K

UPDATE: This house has been sold, and Winnie has moved on. “I’m tackling a renovation in NC right now,” she writes. “I would never trade the experience I got from doing a restoration.  Believe me, it makes everything else seem easy.”

dining room 6

A hand-painted mural of Shenandoah County by Virginia McLaughlin wraps around the dining room

I LOVE IT WHEN READERS SEND E-MAILS and pictures of their old houses. First, it’s material I don’t have to think up. Second, we all get to ‘visit’ a part of the country (or world) outside my usual Hamptons-Brooklyn-Philadelphia-Hudson Valley circuit.

Woodstock front

So I was delighted to hear from Winnie Boothe of Woodstock, Virginia, the county seat of Shenandoah County, whose lovingly restored 15+-room Colonial townhouse, above, is now on the market for 272K.

liv room 4

Period-appropriate chinoiserie in the front parlor

The house was built in 1796, or maybe 1794. “I’ll leave it to others to squabble about that,” Winnie wrote. When she first saw the place in 2000, she had been “hoping to find a tiny house in the woods” — not a Main Street mansion, zoned commercial/residential, with a separate “little house” on the same lot. “My husband walked out, thinking it was nuts. My best friend told me the house needed me. You can imagine which voice I heard.”

liv room foyer din room

View from front parlor through hall to dining room

The old place has astonishing history. The original plat was laid out by a young surveyor named George Washington (the very same) of Winchester, VA, and Jacob Mullerberg, in 1752. “That gave me shivers,” Winnie recalled.

dining room 5

Very old Windsor chairs in dining room

The house’s most spectacular feature are the wraparound painted murals in the front parlor and dining room, done recently in authentic Colonial style by Virginia McLaughlin, now in her late 80’s. McLaughlin has also painted murals for The Inn at Mount Vernon (the restaurant at George Washington’s home) and several B&Bs.

dining room

Corner of dining room mural showing 7 bends of the Shenandoah River

The Shenandoah Room, aka the dining room, is a “conglomeration of all that is beautiful in the Valley. There is my house, the church next door, the seven bends of the Shenandoah, Robert E. Lee’s office, and the county courthouse.  The natural bridges and caverns are woven throughout in such a delicate way that they seem seamless.”

toile bath

Toile-papered bath with claw-foot tub

The black Windsor chairs in the dining room have been part of the house for a long time. While researching previous owners’ wills, Winnie found several bequeathing “my beloved black Windsor chairs.”  She encourages anyone finding themselves in possession of a 200+-year-old house to go to the local courthouse and read the wills, obituaries, birth, and death  announcements. “They came so alive for me.”

bedroom 2

A restored bedroom

McLaughlin convinced Winnie that chinoiserie would be the right choice for a mural in a front parlor of that period, above. “I waffled, but she prevailed.”


The same bedroom, ‘before’

Besides the extraordinary murals, the ‘guts’ of the house were replaced and upgraded, the kitchen ceiling opened up to expose the rafters, and all the fireplaces restored.