The Outsider: Rooftop Farm in Bed-Stuy

A 500-SQUARE-FOOT VEGETABLE GARDEN six stories above Brooklyn is a whole lot of work, but Pamela Reed and Matthew Rader love all of it — even lugging jugs of water up stairs and waking at 6AM to pollinate pumpkin blossoms with Q-tips when necessary — and it provides all the produce they can possibly eat.

Read the whole tale and see lots more photos in The Outsider, my Sunday garden column for You’ll find it right here.

The Insider: All the Details in Bed-Stuy


I REALLY LOVE the house featured today on my latest “Insider” post for Brownstoner. Of course, everything I write up has something to recommend it, but some I respond to more than others — the colorful, more ‘bohemian’ ones, I suppose you could say.

The house itself is an 1893 detail-laden, sandstone-colored house on a pretty block in rapidly gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant. The carved woodwork and mantels are over-the-top in grand High Victorian fashion, but the furnishings — mostly inherited antiques, with a smattering of 20th century modern classics — are deployed in such a spare, uncluttered way, the whole thing has a modern feel.

I went way overboard on this one, using two dozen photos. To see them all, click right here, right now.

The Insider: Well-Crafted Rehab in Bed-Stuy


ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS of last Saturday’s Bedford-Stuyvesant House Tour (the 33rd annual!) was the impressive level of craft in the bay-windowed 1890s limestone where Christiaan Bunce and his wife Jules Gim recently completed a gut rehab. No surprise, as Christiaan is a principal of Khouri Guzman Bunce Limited (KGB), a multi-disciplinary firm whose work ranges from 20,000-square-foot from-the-ground-up Hamptons homes to urban interior renovations and modern furniture design.

Dig those stunning zig-zag patterned floors, above, made of alternating strips of white oak and walnut and requiring visitors to put on those silly historic-house booties. Christiaan and Jules bought the building 3-1/2 years ago and recently completed something between a renovation and restoration on all four floors, the lower duplex that is their home and two rental apartments above. “The house was really rough, with bad water damage, and lots of detail had been stripped,” Christian says. So he re-created it, even making silicone molds of existing cornices and other architectural details, and casting them in plaster.

To read more, and see lots more photos, head right on over here.

Diary of a Suddenly Busy Lady

imagesLATELY, I’VE BEEN RUNNING hither and yon and back again. In the five days since my last post, I put 450 miles on my car — from East Hampton, L.I., to Brooklyn (108 miles), down to Philly and back (150 total), and out to Long Island again today (another 108), plus side trips. And if you count subway miles — well, I’ve been on the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan and in Brooklyn neighborhoods from Carroll Gardens to Bedford-Stuyvesant.

<- Colored Rhythm, Sonia Delaunay, 1946, Cooper-Hewitt

A few months ago, I could be heard telling people my life was “quiet with a capital Q.” It was, and even with my highly-developed tolerance for solitude and quietude, I was a little unnerved by it at times. When I began my dual-home lifestyle in earnest this spring, I found myself gardening to exhaustion here on Long Island, then going back to Brooklyn to relax. That program has now been discontinued.

Suddenly, there aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week no matter where I am (and I haven’t even been doing any work work — I polished off the last of five magazine deadlines a week ago). I was reminded of one of my English friend Diana’s visits to New York, when she drew a grid, divided each day into boxes for morning, afternoon, and evening, and wrote an activity into each time slot.

Much of my recent busy-ness has revolved around the life-defining events that June will bring (graduations, baby showers, weddings). I’ve been to a Broadway show (Jerusalem: the hype about Mark Rylance is true), a museum (the Cooper-Hewitt, to catch the wonderful Sonia Delaunay show before it closed), a public garden (the Conservatory Garden in Central Park), and three new-to-me restaurants.


Tin City, a coffee shop/cafe on Lewis Avenue in Bed-Stuy

My new camera, a Canon S95, stayed in my bag most of the time. Taking pictures seemed too much like work. But occasionally, something compelled me to take it out for an airing, like the morning I met my cousin for a spot of house-shopping in Bedford-Stuyvesant.


Love the awning — you don’t see many like that


A freestanding mansion on MacDonough Street in Bed-Stuy


Saraghina, a farmhouse-style place with a lovely garden on Lewis Avenue, Bed-Stuy


Front-yard greenery on MacDonough Street, Stuyvesant Heights Historic District

On Sunday, I zipped down to Philadelphia to consult with my son and his girlfriend about what to do with the somewhat bizarre 800-square-foot space that has just become vacant on the ground floor of their 1870s townhouse. At one time, there was an ice cream parlor/candy store there, but now the interior is as charmless as the outside is charming. There may be wainscotting and other details hidden by wall paneling, acoustical tile ceiling, and industrial carpeting, but we’re not going to find that out right now. The priority is to rent it as quickly as possible to someone who can use the space as-is: a CPA? Massage therapist? Art gallery? The location is prime Fishtown and the rent is cheap: $795/month. Spread the word!


There’s a vast disconnect between the vintage exterior, above, and the clean but commercial-looking interior, below (it’s still zoned as a store, by the way, and is also legal for living).


We had dinner at prolific Philly restauranteur Steve Starr’s newest, Frankford Hall, below, a beer garden set in an atrium constructed within the shell of an old brick industrial building. I think German food is the wurst, but who cares — it’s mostly about the beer.


Dig the funky two-tone paint job on the woodwork of the Fishtown building, below


Today I traversed the Isle of Long in the opposite direction, arriving back in Springs around 8PM. That’s Accabonac Harbor, below, as it looked last week. Not a bad place to be at all. Think I’ll stay awhile.


Bottom Fishing in Bed-Stuy

116 macon

TODAY MY COUSIN AND I WENT ON A RECONNAISSANCE MISSION to Bedford-Stuyvesant, often considered the last repository of affordable brownstones in Brooklyn. I hadn’t been that way in years, and it looked good. Less garbage on the streets than in Prospect Heights right now; a number of For Sale signs, but not too many; signs of construction here and there; and, by the looks of things, few houses left in need of total rehab — at least on the blocks we visited — which was not the case a decade ago.

We were pressed for time and made a quick pass through the gorgeous, landmarked filet of the neighborhood, Stuyvesant Heights, with its notable mansions and long, unbroken lines of elegant brownstones. Then we did some drive-bys on Macon Street, in what I think is called Bedford Corners, a proposed landmark district. I guess that’s the next best thing.

A Daily News article a few months back piqued my interest in Bed-Stuy for investment. I was curious, as always, to see what could be had at the bottom of the market (since I doubt I can raise a mortgage on anything but). There was one house for 365K on the Corcoran site with no picture, but an address. This is it:

116 macon

116 Macon (in the middle), right off Marcy Avenue, is narrow and no beauty. Its facade is crumbling, as is the one next door. It’s a legal four-family “in need of complete rehab.” Taxes are an outrage at $5,882/year. And that’s what you can get for 365K (asking) in Bed-Stuy. Not for me. If I were to buy in Bed-Stuy, I would want a pretty house as much as a profitable one.

For more pics and info, go here.

352 macon 625k incontract

It turns out that 352 Macon, above, a couple blocks closer to the historic district, is in contract, as are many Bed-Stuy listings on Flateau Realty’s 1-4 family page.

352 macon

It’s a classic brownstone, in need of a face-lift but with fine interior details, above and below, like many Bed-Stuy houses. It’s of average size (20’x40′), a four-story building with three apartments. It “needs some TLC but has good bones.” The price was apparently right at 625K, or close to it, and that’s why it’s been spoken for.

352 in contract

To see more, click here.

359 macon

Across the street, 359 Macon (red door), is less house — three stories, legal 2-family — and not as attractive on the outside, but with a lot of nice original woodwork, below, inside. The seller is asking 689K because it’s in move-in (rent-in?) condition, with the excessively shiny floors that are the hallmark of many a new renovation.

359 macon red door

For more pics and info, go here.

All in all, an instructive day. I’ll go back when it’s not 15 degrees.

To learn more about Bed-Stuy and keep up with what’s happening there, check out Bed-Stuy Blog. One recent post is about the Historic Districts Council, a citywide advocacy group for historic buildings and neighborhoods, naming Bed-Stuy as one of six NYC neighborhoods that merit preservation priority.

From the HDC press release:

The Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood contains an astonishing number of architecturally, historically and culturally significant structures, including rowhouses, mansions, religious buildings, and schools dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although there are currently two designated historic districts in the area, the vast majority of Bedford Stuyvesant’s architectural splendor is unprotected. The recently-formed Bedford Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation, a coalition of concerned neighborhood block associations, and the landmarks committee of Brooklyn Community Board 3 are working to correct that.