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EMBRACE CHANGE, DON’T BATTLE IT. A fortune cookie said it, so it must be good advice. I like that action verb “embrace.” Not “welcome” change, receptively — no, no, go out and give it a big hug. Reach for it, move toward it, make it happen. That’s what I read this morning, on a little slip of paper I stashed in my wallet long ago, and that’s what I’m doing. With some trepidation.
I’m starting my search for a pied-a-terre — a 1BR rental apartment — in Brooklyn. The Wikipedia definition pleases me: A pied-à-terre (French, “foot on the ground”) is a small living unit usually located in a large city some distance away from an individual’s primary residence. The term pied-à-terre implies usage as a temporary second residence, either for part of the year or part of the work week, by a person of some means.
It’s not that I don’t love living in the woods way the hell out on the tip of Long Island. I do. But I have unfinished business back in Brooklyn. A storage space full of furniture, art, photos, rugs, clothes, mirrors, books, collections. City-dwelling friends and relatives I haven’t been seeing enough of. And I want a base there, a place where I can meet up with my grown children when they visit, from which I can take plane trips without having to drive 3 hours to and from JFK. Friends’ spare rooms have been fine for the short-term, but the vagabonding thing gets old.
Brooklyn was my home town for over 30 years. True, I haven’t missed city life in the year-and-a-half I’ve been away. Haven’t yearned for it in the least. And yet, something compels me to take this step. See how it feels to go back and forth, “split my time,” have a country place and a city place. I need more on my plate. A new challenge, project, change of scenery.
My city stuff, above, presently in deep storage
I never intended to live here in Springs full-time. It happened by accident. It’s almost fall, and the Hamptons have never been so beautiful. Leaving, even for a day, seems crazy. I’ve never been skilled at anticipating how I’ll feel months or weeks hence (I’m not sure that’s something a person can really know, anyway.) I’m trying to project, with difficulty, how I’ll feel on a gray day in January, when it’s quiet here with a capital Q; I think I’ll be happy to have the Brooklyn alternative.
Prospect Heights is my neighborhood of choice. I’ve never lived within easy striking distance of the Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and I’d like to.
My search begins tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Basic: my new outdoor shower
OUTDOOR SHOWERS are practically synonymous with summer life in the Hamptons. That you can wash the sand off after returning from the beach and before entering the house is peripheral. The real point is that showering outdoors just feels so good, with the sun warming your body as you do it.
Unusual: semi-circular shower enclosure
When I first saw my cottage in the winter of 2009, I remember the real estate broker waving her hand at the rear of the house and saying, “…and there’s an outdoor shower!” It was in a dank, unappealing corner, with a dangling plastic shower head, and furthermore, the pipes had burst, rendering it unusable.
Sleek and minimalist
Last week, I finally got my outdoor shower. I had a plumber repair and move two outdoor spigots to more convenient spots for watering my expanding perennial beds, and I also asked him to move (re-build, actually) the outdoor shower. I like the way he crafted it out of copper pipe, with utilitarian handles for an unpretentious industrial look. I provided a new ‘rainshower’ head, left — a lot of luxury for under $50.
I had him place the shower head at the proper height for my yet-to-be-built deck. In the meantime, I’m standing on a platform rigged up from a slab of stone and two cinderblocks. There’s no enclosure yet either, so I strung a shower curtain on a rope. It all reminds me of the “I’m Gonna Wash that Main Right Outta My Hair” scene from South Pacific, or The Beverly Hillbillies. Still pretty hedonistic.
A la Robinson Crusoe: attached to a tree
NO ONE COULD ACCUSE THESE HOUSES of being cookie-cutter. While cruising the East Hampton listings in the $600-800,000 range, these two, er, unusual houses came up. They’re not entirely out of context. The Hamptons have long been known for outrageous beach-house architecture, some of it brilliant.
But I’m not sure what to make of these two. I like their spirit, but they seem to be trying way too hard. Architect-designed during a ’60s-’70s Hamptons building boom, they’re remnants of an age whose architecture is taking an awfully long time to become fashionable again, if ever it will be.
The white cube with giant fisheye, above, was designed by Henri Gueron. It was featured in Architectural Record, and in a book called The Great Houses (McGraw Hill), below. New to market, asking 799K, it’s tiny by today’s inflated standards: 2 beds, 2 baths, 950 square feet on half an acre, with a new pool, below, a fancy Italian kitchen, and a roof deck.
While the white box makes me cringe a little, the winged wood one, below, makes me laugh. Is it a nod in plywood to Saarinen’s TWA terminal or a Palm Springs gas station?
Known as the “Butterfly House,” it dates from 1964. The architect was Henry T. Howard (Google comes up short). Three bedrooms, 2 baths, 1,200 square feet, felicitously located on a wooded corner lot in Springs, not far from Accabonac Harbor and magnificent bay beaches. The interior, below, looks promising, and it was just reduced to 725K.
While I would prefer my next house to be a late 19th century shingled farmhouse with a front porch, as soothing and unchallenging as my beloved Impressionists, I would also kind of enjoy furnishing that crazy cube with classic modern furniture, rya rugs, and a nice, big Jackson Pollock.
The more I look at these two oddities, the better I like them. They’re interesting, and that’s more than can be said for most houses. They’re economically small. They’re secluded. But they’re strange. It will take a very special buyer, now and forever after, which makes these houses a pretty hard sell and a chancy investment. Maybe they’ll be highly prized in 30 years, if they don’t get torn down by then.
A YEAR AGO TODAY, on the parlor floor of a Brooklyn brownstone, I started this blog. Sitting next to me was web designer Ken Smith, whom I’d hired to show me the ropes. I had a vague notion I ought to start a blog as a way to use the photos of apartments and gardens I’d scouted for magazines, and the notes for stories that never came to be. I didn’t want all that effort to go to waste.
Also, I had just published an article in the New York Times Escapes section about my weekend pastime, looking at old houses for sale. I wanted to keep writing about old-house real estate, and other things, without the hassle of pitching and selling the stories to an editor.
Ken steered me to WordPress.com, then to the Tarski ‘theme’ (design template), and then he opened a blank window called New Post and said, “Type something.” I could have written dfghjklytriuytrdcvbnm,lkjhgfrtyuiopl. Instead, without thinking too much about it, I typed what was top of mind at the time, “ISO The Perfect Beach House,” and casaCARA was on its way.
I invited readers to come along on my beach-house quest. Many have. Down the left-hand column of this page, there’s a number approaching 200,000. That’s cumulative hits, or clicks, over the course of the year, not individuals — but it’s still a lot of people, and I’m grateful to all of you for your readership and support (whoever you are).
My house search ended in May with the purchase of the East Hampton cottage where I now reside in happy exile, but my blog kept going. I’ve learned a lot in the past year, about blogging and about myself. I don’t need to live in New York City, for one thing. I’ve met a lot of creative, interesting, thoughtful people “out here,” and anyway, I like the quiet life. At 3:30PM today, determined to wrest all I could out of the fading afternoon, I spent an hour filling up a giant trash bag with twigs and rotting lengths of wisteria vine. I had so much fun, I vowed to do it every day, weather permitting, from now until springtime.
I realize that pleasures that simple do not a very exciting blog make. Not to worry. I’m going to Spain in January (it was 63 degrees in Seville today), blogging all the way. I pledge to start a Hamptons Voyeur series ASAP, snooping inside people’s homes to see how they’re decorated — continuing what began back in Brooklyn as Brownstone Voyeur. And I’m still forever looking at old houses on the market, because I can’t stop.
I’ve learned not to obsess over stats. My biggest day was back in March, when Brownstoner linked to casaCARA for the first time and I got 1,700 hits. Now I average 600-800/day. Granted, a lot of them are people looking for something on raccoons (my all-time top post is “Midnight Intruder,” about a raccoon break-in.)
Frequently, my motivation flags. At least once a day, I wonder, “Why am I doing this? There’s no money in it.” Then I tell myself, “Just keep going; it’s not yours to wonder why.” Some people enjoy my blog, and that makes me feel good. But it’s not as if I have voices in my head screaming to be heard. It’s more that having a blog keeps me on my toes (literally, trying to peek over gates and fences). It keeps my eyes open, gives me a reason to carry a camera. It’s a platform, structure, communication, fun.
I recommend it.