Paint Ho!


FIRST THERE WAS AEGEAN OLIVE, a green-brown (center top), as well as a brown-brown and a purple-brown. I stared at those three patches all summer. Then it became September, and a friend suggested we get on with it, and paint the exterior of my mid-century house in East Hampton, N.Y. Ourselves.

A date was chosen, texts exchanged, trips to the paint store made. I wanted the house to remain low-profile and blend in with its surroundings, in keeping with the brown tones of the houses in Japanese gardening books. The house already was brown, and I liked it in concept, but the paint job was ancient and I  wanted a prettier brown. I sampled two lighter shades: Country Life (left top), immediately adjacent to Aegean Olive on Ben Moore’s color strip, but disconcertingly much lighter when actually applied, and Tate Olive (bottom right), from Ben Moore’s Historic Colors line. That was lighter still.

Longtime readers of this blog know I can sample up to dozen colors for a single room, really make a fetish out of it. But the time was now and short (getting colder, busy schedules) and a decision needed to be made. So Aegean Olive it was, and the job began.

My friend is meticulous, enjoys painting, doesn’t mind ladders. I am more of the “let’s get it done” school, happier down low than up high. Together, with her guidance, we finished the job, neatly, in a marathon Saturday. Everyone should have such a friend.


In progress…



Next day…




In the morning light…


It needs touch-up, and the rafters still need painting. I’m planning to do the door and window trim with colors from those leftover sample quarts before too long. But heading into winter, it feels great to have the bulk of it done.

Belatedly — two weeks after our big painting push — I came upon this image, which I’d photocopied from a book called The Garden in its Setting by Noel Kingsbury. It reminded me of my own place, with the vertical siding and awning windows. Note the color! I guess I did, subliminally. And there’s the Japanese-style landscaping I so admire. Amazing how our minds file things away, even as they forget they filed them.


Springtime Fix-ups in Boerum Hill

1 extCHOOSING EXTERIOR PAINT COLORS is even more nerve-wracking than choosing interior paint colors. After all, everyone will see them. And you have to consider context. You don’t (I don’t anyway) want it to clash with the house next door.

I’m doing some spiffing up at my 3-family rental property in Boerum Hill this month. It’s an 1830s Greek Revival with, remarkably — considering all the trials the building has been through in terms of ownership, receivership, and changing neighborhood over almost two centuries — a nice original doorway, left, with fluted pilasters and egg-and-dart molding.

In addition to a new wood vestibule door, below, which replaced a salvaged French door that never closed properly and had cracked panes of glass (and therefore did nothing to exclude noise and dirt), I’m debating colors for a partial re-painting of the building’s facade.


The block is not landmarked, so I could do chartreuse and hot pink if I wanted, but I’ve decided to stick with the same general scheme as before. When we bought the house in 1979, it was dark red. We changed it to the present gray with white trim — probably a bad idea in any urban environment. I’d love to repaint the entire facade, but that will have to wait. Right now I’m just doing the ground level, from the cornice down, and I’ve chosen a medium gray (Benjamin Moore Platinum Gray) for the concrete section, pale gray (Ben Moore Cliffside Gray) for the wood door surround, and dark gray-blue (Ben Moore Hamilton Blue) for the door itself. Classic, conservative, safe. Very safe, as the paint company pairs the three colors on one of their “Color Preview” chips. Why mess?

As long as we’re discussing the ground floor of this building, I have to admit to making a pretty dreadful design mistake there when I was young and ignorant. The building, when we bought it, had a bodega in the ground floor with an ugly aluminum storefront. The c. 1940 NYC tax photo shows a store with an old wood storefront, but that was long gone. Wanting to convert the ground floor store to an apartment, we decided against restoring the old wood storefront (probably for money reasons, but also practical ones — it seemed less secure than concrete). We built a new solid wall with these odd windows, which look much better from inside than out.

1.1 ext

If I had it to do all over again, I would restore the storefront, as I’ve occasionally seen done. It can still be used as an apartment. There’s one I know of in Carroll Gardens, on Hicks Street and Union, and another that springs to mind on Court between Kane and DeGraw.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t mind doing some planting in large tubs or containers below those awkward windows. The building next door (to the right in the photo), which has an unusual-for-Brooklyn cast-iron decorative front, has an old clawfoot tub in front with evergreens  that persist year after year, despite passersby chucking trash in there and spotty watering.

Color Quandary


OK, IT’S NOT A LIFE-ALTERING DECISION, but I’m surprisingly perplexed about what to do re the paint color for my bedroom walls. Me, the expert who successfully chose colors sight unseen for the living room and bathroom, below, when my landlords offered to paint any color I wanted before I moved into my new pied-a-terre, a brownstone garden floor-through in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, last month (that’s right, it’s not an apartment, it’s a pied-a-terre, and I’m gonna keep saying it.)


Benjamin Moore’s Dalila in the living room, above, and Ben Moore’s Tropicana Cabana in the bathroom, below


For the bedroom, I had been thinking red/orange, and I’ve now spent about $100 trying 9 samples from 4 different paint companies:

  • Benjamin Moore. I started out with 3 wimpy pale pinks that are definitely not me; moved on to Coral Gables, more assertive but still too pink; then tried Poppy, an overly aggressive red I couldn’t possibly live with on a daily basis.
  • Ralph Lauren. Hot Orange, way too dark; Mesa Sunrise, a maybe.
  • Farrow & Ball. Orangery, which is more like yellow ochre. No.
  • Pratt & Lambert. Pale Carnelian — love it for a chair, not a room.

All this has required several trips to Pintchick, one to deepest Brooklyn (Eastern Paint on Flatbush Avenue is the only Brooklyn store that carries the full line of Ralph Lauren paints), 2 trips into Manhattan (one to Saifee in the East Village which also carries RL, and another to London Paints in Chelsea for the Farrow & Ball).

See what I’m up against in the bedroom, below?


I’ve looked at my sample patches in every kind of natural light from dim to dark (it’s a north-facing bedroom under a deck, above), as well as artificial. Not one of my samples is calling out to me as the right color.

These are among the considerations:

  • I want something to brighten the room and make it less dreary
  • The paint mustn’t be too dark. Not only is the room already dark, it’s unfair to my landlords (as a landlord myself, I’m always pissed when I give people permission to paint whatever color they choose, and they choose deep purple)
  • It has to work with the sunflower yellow living room, as the door between the rooms is almost always open
  • It has to make me happy, lift my spirits, and envelop me with a sense of well-being, constantly

Tall order for a can of paint? Well, yes…hence the quandary.

My friend Debre thinks I should just keep going in this vein, use up all my samples for a kind of crazy quilt effect. No, my dear, I’m not doing that. Meanwhile, time’s a-fleeting. I’m already in the second month of a one-year lease (though I hope to stay much longer).

I’ve got to choose something, and soon. Maybe a nice blue or green?

Monticello Yellow + Orange Options


I’VE NEVER BEEN TO MONTICELLO (note to self: go), but I knew Thomas Jefferson’s dining room was famously aqua (a color, in Colonial times, said to aid digestion). Recent research showed that the iconic blue dining room was later whitewashed for about a decade, and then painted an intense yellow in TJ’s last years.

Last June, the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation stepped forward to sponsor the re-painting of the dining room, above, as part of an ongoing restoration of parts of the house. Now Monticello Yellow is available to all. I smugly observed that it’s close to the Benjamin Moore “Dalila” I picked for the living room in my new Brooklyn apartment — even more vibrant.

With confidence in my color sense boosted, I began searching “orange bedrooms,” as I’ve decided pink is not going to work for my bedroom or me at this time. The ones below are inspiring.

Interior Design Schools


Southern Accents

Below, the master bedroom in a Brooklyn Heights townhouse belonging to interior designer Kathryn Scott. The color is Ralph Lauren’s Hot Orange, and I’m going to give it a try when I can get to a store that sells Ralph Lauren’s complete line (Home Depot no longer does).


Along with Tangerine Dream, Pumpkin Patch, Sunbaked Orange….I’ll get it right yet.

Bouncing Back to Brooklyn


RAINY SIDEWALKS FULL OF SOGGY GARBAGE. Racing to move the car by 8:30AM or risk getting towed away. Crowded buses creeping up Flatbush Avenue. Ah, it’s good to be back.


No, really, it is. The weather was spectacular my first three days back in Brooklyn, and it feels almost like I’m traveling in a new city — London keeps springing to mind — even though I lived here 30+ years before buying my cottage on Long Island a year-and-a-half ago. I’m sure the novelty will wear off, but right now, I’m enjoying exploring my new neighborhood of Prospect Heights, especially the restaurants, cafes, and bars along Vanderbilt Avenue. It’s all new to me: the trendy Australian-owned Milk Bar, where you can get whole grain toast piled with strawberry butter or mashed avocado, and the unpretentious Joyce Bakery, below, very welcoming on a gray morning.


My block is lined with classic, elegant brownstones, and I’m extremely pleased with my garden-level apartment. It’s all a pied-a-terre should be. My main worry, that it would be too dark, has not (like most worries) materialized. The north-facing back bedroom, under the owners’ deck, is indeed cave-like; I wake with no clue what time it is. But the south-facing living room gets lovely warm light that moves from the white marble mantel across my beloved hooked rug, to spatter the opposite wall, painted Benjamin Moore’s Dalila, a strong sunflower yellow, in the late afternoon.


The space feels very familiar. I’ve lived in so many mid-19th century Brooklyn row houses, where the details and proportions are all of a piece. The ceilings are high, even for a garden floor, the parquet is in excellent shape, the window moldings and four-panel doors and wood shutters and iron gates are all original and intact. The kitchen is in the right place (the center of the space) and attractive for a rental apartment; the built-in bookshelves are a godsend. The bedroom, though light-challenged, is huge, and I’ll be painting it too — peachy-pink to warm things up.


My move on Monday was uneventful, except for their having to unscrew the chrome base from the 8-foot-long sofa to get it in the door. Since then, I’ve been unpacking my stuff from storage and filling the car for my maiden voyage back to Springs with items I’ve got no space or use for here. Clothes and shoes (so easy to toss, with the hindsight a year-and-a-half of storage fees will give you) are going to LVIS — the Ladies Village Improvement Society thrift shop in East Hampton. Other things I’ll put in the basement for next spring’s first yard sale.


The book I’m reading in between cartons, and late at night when I’m too wired from unpacking to fall asleep, couldn’t be more appropriate: Life Would Be Perfect if I Lived in That House, Meghan Daum’s amusing memoir of real-estate addiction. I’m relating on many levels to her tales of compulsive house-shopping, frequent moving, and shoestring decorating, feeling smug that my own case is a tad less severe.