Deed Done, Work Begins


THE DEED IS DONE! Signed, rather, along with the mortgage and a whole bunch of other papers. The house in Springs (East Hampton), Long Island, N.Y., that I have coveted for almost two years is mine, and I am filled with happy disbelief.


Side wall and current entry gate, an area that will become a side garden when the main entry and parking area are moved to the center of the property so the house can be approached from the front. The out-of-control English ivy on that wall got a crewcut, revealing Medieval-looking iron trim along the top (one of several decorative quirks) and the whole area a much-needed raking.

This is a house many would consider a teardown — a strange and unique 1940s fishing cabin (or so I was told), later expanded into an L-shaped, one-story structure with a bank of awning windows that don’t close, two non-functioning bathrooms, a kitchen with dated, unsalvageable appliances, below, not an iota of insulation, no central heating system, and a half-acre of neglected landscape. I adore it. I can see being here (in the warmer months, at any rate) for the rest of my life.


I’m planning to keep the hand-made pine upper cabinets.

What it’s all about, essentially, though the unusual architecture of the house itself is an enormous draw for me, is what’s at the end of the road, below: a wide sandy bay beach, one of the East End’s best-kept secrets.


Some might be overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead, the manifold looming decisions. Me, I enjoy this sort of thing. (Actually, I did feel a bit overwhelmed on Day 1, but I got over it.) The past three days of crisp air and blue skies, since a quick and trouble-free closing last Wednesday, have been days of major accomplishment. There’s nothing like those first steps in a new/old house for a tangible sense of achievement. There’s no question of setting priorities, almost, in the very beginning: anything you do is a quantum leap forward, and the satisfaction is immense.


Above: a wood bedroom floor, drip-painted in possible homage to local icon Jackson Pollock. Keeper!


Vintage bathroom sink drain destined to become an object for the mantel or garden ornament.

The following items have already been checked off my list in these first few days, thanks largely to a friend with pick-up truck, chainsaw, and most of all, enthusiasm for the tasks at hand.

  • Cleared out the previous owner’s leftover belongings. The place was left far from ‘broom clean,’ as stipulated in the contract, but I knew that would be the case. The seller had called me several days prior to the closing, wanting to postpone it because he hadn’t yet finished clearing out his stuff. It was my choice to go ahead and deal with what remained. A lot of garbage remained; nothing of value. Trips to the dump so far: at least five.
  • Mended stockade fencing, below, replacing missing or rotted 8’ panels (heavy!) in several places, so that the property is now safe from maurading deer. But it’s more than that; it’s the sense of serenity and enclosure a fence provides. Many of the panels had been compromised by my old nemesis, wisteria. Yes, it’s déjà vu all over again on one side of the property, where six-inch thick wisteria vine cries out for an application of undiluted Round-up.


  • Demolished a plywood hearth wall in the dining room (for lack of a better word; it’s also a sitting room/office/den) to expose a cinderblock wall beneath. There are piles of stones on the property which I may use to create a decorative masonry wall there instead.


  • Raked leaves off paths and into piles to expose as much moss as possible, which I want to encourage and train as a ground cover/lawn, to the complete exclusion of turf grass. I can’t deal with the mowing thing. Uncovering the existing paths, below, worn by use, was revelatory; even though I’ll be shifting them, I can see the beginnings of a landscape plan.


  • My friend (aka wasband) fired up the chainsaw and cut a couple of major fallen trees into firewood for the future fireplaces. Then he climbed up on the roof and hacked back years of invasive English ivy, below, that was towering in mid-air several feet above a side parapet wall.


  • Tore up nasty black carpeting to expose clean plywood subfloor in that dining/family/sitting room, below, which gets wonderful east light and will be my morning-coffee/work space. I’m going carpet-shopping next week. Maybe sisal, maybe… linoleum? Maybe paint the plywood floor for now and use area rugs? In the middle of the night, I even thought: stained concrete! I’m keeping an open mind. Money is an object. Laying a new wood floor is not an option; anyway, there’s already plenty of wood in the house.


  • Mused upon how to make the great room/living room, below, as inviting as that dining/family/sitting room, above (yes, need better nomenclature). It has a high beamed ceiling and gets afternoon light, but not enough. The previous owner left a double French door, exterior thickness, he never got around to installing. I’m thinking of cutting open an east-facing windowless wall in that room (that’s the short wall straight ahead in the photo below) and using the French door there. It would look out on a side yard that could become a sort of Japanese-inspired viewing garden with pretty plantings. I’m envisioning this room, with its large tiled fireplace, as the cocktail hour/evening entertaining area.


All this is just the beginning. My goal is to get the house livable by May 1, which means a functioning kitchen and bathroom (later there will be a second bathroom and outdoor shower); windows that close properly, lock, and have screens (there are some 24 windows in the house and right now I’m repairing, not replacing); some kind of new flooring in the two major rooms — oh, and an electrical upgrade. The electrical service coming into the house seems fairly modern, with a circuit breaker panel, but once inside, there are few outlets and most of them don’t work. Meanwhile, I have the use of a friend’s lovely cottage nearby.


Eight or ten windows along a hallway at the back of the house are lacking glass and/or screens. They’re covered with what I’ve been calling wood ‘hurricane battens’ that lift and could be secured under the eaves of the house, to be lowered when closing up the house for the season. Of course I have to install some kind of windows in all those probably-odd-size openings.

Call me crazy, but there is nothing this blogger would rather be doing right now.


Maidstone Park Bungalow 356K


THIS LISTING FOR A 1950s BUNGALOW in the Maidstone Park section of Springs (East Hampton), N.Y., surprised me. I thought I knew every house in the area, not just because of my real estate interests, but from my frequent walks down to the bay.

This one had completely escaped my notice. And yet it’s a house that, were I now in the market for a starter home in the area, I might give serious consideration. It’s the kind of fixer upper that gets my juices flowing. It’s small and manageable, it’s got an interesting shape, it’s one of a kind, and it’s set back on a bit of a rise, off a quiet street.

Couple of red flags: possible mold and/or mildew issues. I walked in (the back door was open) and it had the dank feel of a house that had been closed up for a while. Also, while the neighbors on either side and across the street seemed OK, the house on the other side of the back fence seemed to have a bit of a hillbilly vibe, with junk in the yard. But that’s how it goes in the “real” Hamptons.

As an asking price in this neighborhood, a short walk to Gardiner’s Bay and to a lovely marina, 356K is not a terrible place to start. The listing, with a dozen photos, is here.

Am I nuts, or does anyone else see potential here?





North Fork Farmhouse Follow-Up 293K

SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO SEE FOR YOURSELF. That was the case with the Southold Victorian on the North Fork of Long Island whose listing I blogged about a few days ago. Even though it is more than an hour’s drive and a $30 round trip ferry fare through Shelter Island from my house in Springs, I made the trek on Sunday morning to see just what was wrong with the place for it to be priced so low. I knew there had to be something.

Ah, yes… it is an intriguing situation, and an object lesson in how listing photos can lie. Head on in the photos, the place looks normal: a gabled farmhouse of the late 1800s, with a wide front porch. But there were no photos of the sides or back of the house.

Here’s why: for reasons known only to previous owners, the house had metastasized over the years, with a series of completely and utterly wrong-headed, senseless, absurdly un-designed additions and extensions. What we have here is a demolition project. The whole house doesn’t need to be taken down — just 2/3 of the existing 3,600-square-foot structure (if it can be called a structure), to bring it back to approximately its original size and shape.

There’s very little in the way of old detail, even in the original part of the house, and the rooms have been mostly chopped up with extraneous walls. There are little jigs and jogs that lead to nowhere, closets with windows, room after tiny room so confusing you can’t even tell what’s meant to be the dining room, the living room, or the master bedroom. The whole house is covered with vinyl siding, over 1950s asbestos shingle. Maybe there’s clapboard underneath, or perhaps that’s long gone.

Any bad decision that could be made has been made. There are a couple of roof decks that have no logical access (you have to climb through windows to get to them). They would provide a view of Long Island Sound, which is tantalizingly nearby — a matter of a few hundred yards — but inaccessible, because of fenced neighboring properties, except by roundabout road.

The balusters on the original staircase have been replaced with new Victorian-style ones, below. The floors are newish and mismatched.

The windows in the “best” room, below — a coffered (though low) ceilinged space in the middle of the old part of the house — were replaced with an ugly modern ‘picture window.’

One of the rear additions, below, was meant to be a rec room or family room of some sort. It is dark, water damaged, visibly moldy.

A huge disproportionate growth on the second floor, below, is a sun-flooded room with another modern picture window that should perhaps, if it’s to be anything, be a bedroom or office, has been given over to a crummy-looking Jacuzzi — someone’s idea of a good use of that space.

There are two kitchens (both awful) and 3-1/2 baths, done cheaply and horribly. There are approximately 7 bedrooms.

The only original windows are in the attic, below, reached by a ladder that folds down out of the ceiling.

On paper, the place is exactly what I was looking for when I began my search for an old house on Long Island in early 2009: a Victorian farmhouse fixer-upper in a secluded location — it’s at the end of an unpaved road, on a 1/2 acre lot with abundant sunshine — for under 300K. But the amount of money that would probably have to go into demolition and rubbish carting alone, not to mention rebuilding, makes it no bargain. As you look around, incredulous, the house even begins to seem over-priced (though it is a foreclosure, and offers are being accepted).

On the plus side, the basement looks clean, the circuit breaker panel fairly new. There are two furnaces in undetermined condition, forced-air ducts running hither and yon, and the plumbing pipes have been properly drained and winterized.

Anybody know how much demo costs? If only I owned a bulldozer.

What a Little Blue Can Do


TODAY I’M SENDING YOU ELSEWHERE, to an adventures-in-renovating blog called A Brooklyn Limestone in Progress, which I much admire for its creativity, enthusiasm, graphic design, and general professionalism.


As part of an extended guest-blogging series, I’ve contributed a post about my cottage fix-ups that begins:

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST COLOR CLICHÉ IN THE BEACH COTTAGE BOOK? That’s right: blue and white. Sorry, but that’s what I wanted for my first house at the beach, a fixer-upper in Springs, N.Y. (a hamlet five miles north of East Hampton waaaaaay out at the end of Long Island) that I bought in May 2009.


As a longtime city person and Brooklyn resident, I’d never done the beachy blue-and-white thing…

Go here to read the whole thing and see more pictures of my excessive use of Benjamin Moore’s Sailors’ Sea Blue. And check out the rest of Mrs. Limestone’s groovy blog while you’re at it.

Two State Street Townhouses Under 1M

HOW LONG has it been since houses in brownstone Brooklyn went for under a million?

There are two on the market now on State Street in Boerum Hill. Granted they are in miserable shape. (Here I go again, excited by the words “handyman’s special,” “needs TLC.”) But the possibilities are definitely there.

5554844a-2 422 State Street, above, first went on the market last fall with an asking price of $1.2million. That was clearly over-reaching. Then the price dropped to 999K; now they’re asking 850K. See more pics below.

It’s on State between Bond and Nevins, a convenient and reasonably attractive block.

I happen to think that’s a deal with great potential. It’s a one family, so no rental income, but could be very charming. And small (17×35), but the smaller the house, the cheaper the fix-up!

A block east, on State between Nevins and Third (a good family block; my son has friends from grade school and Brooklyn Tech H.S. whose families live there) is l776339_3718113_front_viewanother fixer-upper. 466 State, right, is a legal two-family and larger (19×45).

Go here for more details. They’re asking 999K, and it needs total everything. The price probably has a long way to fall. Someone could drive a hard bargain.

That end of the block (closer to Nevins) used to be very run down; this house was hard by a pentecostal storefront church, which is now gone, and the block has improved.

Yes, they’d each require a large cash infusion, but that’s variable, depending on so many factors, and could be done in stages.

If I were in the market right now for a Brooklyn project, I would consider these. Way better, IMO, than a condo or co-op at half the price, with monthly maintenance fees and less soul.