Bohemian Splendor in Cobble Hill

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ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS ABOUT BLOGGING is making new friends. Lula and I met only a few months ago, when she stumbled upon my blog and contacted me. We soon discovered we are neighbors in two places. She has an adorable cottage a few blocks from mine in Springs (East Hampton), N.Y., as well as a parlor floor she’s owned for 16 years in a classic 1850s Italianate brownstone in Brooklyn, top and below, virtually around the corner from where I lived for two decades (though we had never run into each other).

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She lives in a state of Bohemian splendor, presently suspended in mid-renovation. Having peeled off old wallpaper, the walls have a Venetian plaster look but await further plaster and paint. The ceiling has been stabilized in parts where it was falling down. There are nearly intact plaster cornice moldings all the way around, with what Lula calls her ‘Shakespearen troupe’ of faces. A new kitchen is in the cards, and there’s a potential terrace at the back which is just tar paper, no railings, at the moment.

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Most of the elaborate plaster cornice is in great shape, above. Other parts, below, not so much.

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Lula is grappling with the questions endemic to living on the parlor floor of a brownstone.

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  • Where to put the kitchen so it’s functional but unobtrusive? Right now it’s in the middle and will probably remain there for plumbing reasons, but in what configuration?
  • How to create a bedroom with privacy? She’s got a small one in the former hall space at the back, and uses the back parlor as a sort of den/guest room, above — but could it be better used as a master bedroom or dining room (currently in the kitchen area)?
  • And what about those magnificent original wood doors and moldings? Were they painted back in the day (she thinks so) and should they be painted again, or refinished and stained? Should perhaps the doors be left wood and just the moldings painted?

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All that remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the place has great cozy charm. With all that original detail, antiques acquired piecemeal over the years, an overstuffed sofa, plants on the window sills, and faded Oriental rugs, it feels much like being back in the Victorian era, for real.

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After my first-ever visit to Lula’s apartment, we went and checked out the new Fork & Pencil warehouse on Bergen Street, above, a few-months-old, crammed-full, well-vetted consignment store — a spin-off of the smaller storefront on Court Street — whose proceeds go to non-profit conservation, arts, and other organizations. It’s more Lula’s kind of place than mine, filled with traditional antiques, but more to the point, I don’t need anything at the moment. Browsing there is purely a theoretical exercise for me. I admire, appreciate, and move on. Don’t need anything, thanks!

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We had a civilized late lunch nearby at Broken English, the sort of self-conscious industrial chic space one used to expect only in Manhattan. I’m glad it’s come to Brooklyn, because my rigatoni with marinara and basil was scrumptious, and the salad, bread, and olive oil were tops. You can tell the quality of a restaurant by its bread and salad, I once read, and I think that’s on the mark. Broken English is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ignore the snarky online reviews from amateur critics and give it a try. It’s a welcome addition to the nabe, in my book.

Flower$, Flower$$, Flower$$$

p10303141LAST WEEKEND of winter (YAY!)  The stores that survived the dismal season were full of people, including even the 17 new yogurt shops on Court Street. Bruno’s Hardware was schizoid, half snow shovels and rock salt, the other half barbeque grills, camp trunks, and tomato cages. Above, the scene at GRDN on Hoyt Street in Boerum Hill.

p1030319Purple and yellow crocuses have suddenly exploded in front yards, and the Korean delis are abloom with hyacinths and daffodils in pots, cheap.

From low to high, here’s what I saw today in the way of local floral offerings:

Want a single hyacinth in a tiny ceramic pot for $3.29?  You can get it at Trader Joe’s.

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Below, outside and inside GRDN, a lovely off-avenue shop, florist, and nursery dedicated to the urban gardener, where prices have always seemed reasonable to me.p1030311

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p1030330Then there’s Atlantic Avenue’s posh and precious Opalia, in a new, larger location on the north side of the avenue between Hoyt and Bond. More power to them!p1030332

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The Unprotected

p1020229Brooklyn, land of funny neighborhood acronyms — the best is DUMBO (“Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”) — has yet another one.

You heard it here first: it’s BECOSMI, and it stands for “Between Court and Smith.”

What’s not so amusing is the fact that a dozen or more blocks between Court Street and Smith Street, south of State — encompassing parts of Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens, but not included in the official Historic District designation of either neighborhood — are vulnerable to demolition, development, or historically inappropriate renovation.p1020224

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Between State and Bergen, there are scattered buildings of historic value. Those blocks are a “gerrymandered creature,” says Sophia Truslow, a real estate attorney who is active in efforts to gain some form of landmark status for these areas, but with a fair number of “sweet buildings that deserve protection.” Between Bergen and Butler, however, it’s “wall to wall historic,” Truslow says.

She and other local activists are working on several fronts to get Federal designation for these and other unprotected areas in Brownstone Brooklyn: through the non-profit Historic Districts Council, the New York State Office of Historic Preservation, and the city’s over-worked Landmarks Preservation Commission.p1020231

The pictures in this post represent the merest glimpse of what they’re trying to save.  Worth the trouble, don’t you think?