Hamptons-Bashing in the New York Times


South Fork splendor

I HAVEN’T ALLOWED MYSELF A PROPER TIRADE in a long while, but last Sunday’s New York Times Real Estate section drives me to it. Did you see the top story, “The Fork Less Taken”? I read it six days late, yesterday afternoon, while lolling on the nothing-short-of-spectacular, nearly-deserted Gardiner’s Bay beach a seashell’s throw from the house I bought in March on Long Island’s “more taken” fork. While extolling the virtues of the North Fork, the article manages to bash the South Fork in every paragraph, either in reporter Robin Finn’s own words or the hackneyed quotes (“we’re the un-Hamptons,” “…the anti-Hamptons”) she has chosen.

I love the North Fork myself for its farmland and vineyards, which are in short supply here on the more developed South Fork, where I’ve lived part-time for 4+ years and now own two properties. Hey, the photo of the farmhouse in my blog header, top, that I’ve been using for ages now is quintessential North Fork. And I admit to choking on the words “the Hamptons” when I first moved out here, aware of the pretentious privilege they implied.

But really. Let’s not overstate the case, as this piece does. It starts out mildly enough, saying that the South Fork is “starting to flirt with being overbuilt, overhyped and overcrowded” — to which my immediate reaction was, “starting to flirt with”?! It’s been overbuilt since the 1980s; the region is littered with bad houses from that era. But then the cliches and misinformation begin.

“…from the perspective of the average homeowner’s portfolio, owning a home there is an inarguably lovely wish-list item.” Has Robin Finn checked sales prices for the whole South Fork lately, or just the tonier precincts? Here in Springs, where real people live, there are listings galore under 400K, and certainly under 500K.

“..the star wattage of its denizens” “a celebrity magnet” “a mash-up of movers and shakers..”

I move in different circles. I did see Alec Baldwin once at the Amagansett Farmer’s Market, wearing white socks under orthopedic sandals, and I know where Steven Spielberg lives (he probably comes once every two years), and I heard Paul McCartney has a place in Amagansett. But what about the rest of us? The piece makes it sound like every last person on the South Fork “bask(s) in conspicuous consumption.” All the artists and teachers and landscapers and builders and plumbers who send their kids to local schools and shop at the IGA go unmentioned in the piece, which seems to regard “multi-million dollar ocean frontage” as the sum and substance of the South Fork.

The North Fork is a place where “the locals are concerned and sensitive that it not turn into the next Hamptons,” says one recent home buyer. This follows the same woman’s saying that “it makes you feel good that when you buy property, there’s a 2 percent tax that goes to land preservation.” That’s the same Peconic Land Trust tax we pay on the South Fork, for the same purpose, but neither the home buyer nor the reporter seem to know that.

You can get a bay view on the North Fork for less money than here on the South Fork, which is a good thing, but the bay beaches themselves — at least the ones I’ve been to on the North Fork — don’t compare. The Town beaches in Jamesport and Greenport are lousy; the ones around Laurel/Mattituck, on the Peconic Bay, are nicer, but not nearly as nice as Maidstone, Gerard Drive, and Louse Point here in Springs. The Sound is gorgeous but rocky and not swimmer-friendly. The ocean at Orient State Park is a long drive from anywhere but Orient. (Someone please enlighten me about good North Fork beaches — I’d like to know.)

Who are the new “low-profile” citizens of the bucolic North Fork? Those interviewed for the article include a couple from Tribeca, another from DUMBO, and a Wall Street retiree. Where they go, artisanal microgreens and Icelandic sheep are sure to follow — no, they’re already there.

Of course, some of the commenters set things straight. GC of Brooklyn said it best, IMO:

I think this story came out of the archives… Back in the early 1980s, we used to rent several vacation houses for a few days each summer in the Jamesport/Laurel area so all of our cousins and extended family could get out of our sweaty Brooklyn neighborhood. At that time, I recall the area was simple, inexpensive, and as “unspoiled” as something could be on Long Island. Going out to that same spot a few years ago, I saw the exact opposite: what in 1982 were open fields and farms were now housing developments, what were gravel roads were now paved, and what were simple vacation bungalows and cottages were now outfitted as year-round homes. It was completely cluttered, expensive, and ultimately rather depressing. And, calling it the “un-Hamptons” speaks volumes to the Real Estate/NY Times need to place everything in a little box loaded up with definitions. If it’s not thoroughly ruined (read: overpriced and exclusive) by now, it will be soon.

The whole thing is just so annoying Times-ish, but even more specious than usual, like comparing the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side and finding it wanting. OK. Tirade over. What do you think? North vs. South? Game on!

Why Build New at All?

Thinking about how homes work together  is key to the future of suburban communities. How can these neighborhoods become denser, more walkable and less resource-intensive?

Proposed community of ‘shotgun’ houses by San Antonio-based design firm Lake Flato

ALLISON ARIEFF’S AGENDA is showing. In her recent New York Times column,“Shifting the Suburban Paradigm,” Arieff took on the dismal prospects for the single-family home, longtime standard-bearer of the American dream.

With Lake Flato's partially prefabricated Porch House, traditional vernacular architecture is more about functionality, less about decoration.

Pre-fab shotgun-style Porch House by Lake Flato

New home sales are in the toilet and have been for years. (Existing home sales are generally a bit better.) Arieff pulls no punches in calling these new homes — the same sheetrock con- struction from coast to coast, whether in the Arizona desert or the pine barrens of New Jersey — flimsy, ugly, and wasteful, “the same dumb box with a stage set of a façade tacked onto the front.” What’s more, no one can afford them. And all the developers can do is come up with wrong-headed marketing gimmicks to try and move their product, rather than considering any approach involving a different kind of planning or design.

Perhaps they are giving consumers what they want, to judge by the 150+ comments I read,  many defending the right to a house with front lawn and back patio. Arieff thinks what will be needed going forward is multi-family housing and smaller, greener, more energy-efficient homes in walkable suburban communities. That makes sense to me.

Dedicating millions to creating a better consumer experience for purchasing high-end single-family homes (like this one by Blu Homes) doesn't help address the real crisis in housing the U.S. is facing.

High-end new construction by Blu Homes is only a sliver of a sliver of the market

But I gritted my teeth as I read, because Arieff mentions only solutions involving new construc- tion (one a strange-looking brick number, below, and a vernacular-style shotgun house in the South that many Times commenters swore they’d never live in). The word renovation — the whole subject of fixing up older housing — never came up. Fix-ups are not Arieff’s bailiwick. She was the founding editor of Dwell magazine and a promoter of modern architecture, which can’t move forward artistically if people don’t build new.

But why did only one comment mention fixing up older houses as the greenest solution? Arieff throws out a shocking figure; she says 50% of ALL waste comes from the home-building industry. Can that be!? If so, we’d really better re-think this whole situation. Maybe the answer is not building more NEW-but-smaller, more energy-efficient homes. Maybe the answer is to STOP building new homes altogether for a while, and put all labor and resources into improving and inhabiting the ones that are already there. Of course, I don’t for a minute think that’s going to happen.

KB Homes' new ZeroHouse 2.0 is a step in the right direction on sustainability. But energy efficiency should be standard, not part of a home-design options package. Image courtesy KB Homes.

KB Houses model: energy-efficient but ugly

What to do with all the monster houses from the ’80s and ’90s sitting unsold on the market? Do they even have any intrinsic value, let alone market value? I don’t have any answers, only questions.

I do agree heartily with Arieff’s bottom line: “We’re beyond the point of a fresh coat of paint and a new sales pitch. If we’re going to continue to hold on to the single-family home, we need to transform it.”

Prospect Heights in Today’s Times

THE NEWSPAPER OF RECORD has become the newspaper of the obvious. Today’s “Living in…” column on my recently adopted Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights, in the Sunday New York Times Real Estate section, tells me nothing useful or surprising, and almost nothing I didn’t know (except about the public schools, whose performance is sadly more abysmal than I thought). One wonders if the Times’ hard news stories are equally self-evident to those in the know. One hopes not.

I’m glad to see in black and white that the long-opposed and now quickly rising basketball arena has not yet affected property values in the neighborhood, at least according to the brokers quoted. Overall, the article says, the “popularity and relative scarcity” of Prospect Heights’ brownstones “protected their values in the downturn.” They are “consistently in demand because there is a small supply.” Always glad to have my own biases confirmed. That’s kind of the whole point of this blog (see “10 Reasons Old Houses are a Good Investment…” in column at left).

There was one small surprise: to read that one-bedroom apartments in the neighborhood “command as much as $1,800.” I wish. I pay more than that for mine.

Only one lucky shop and two restaurants are mentioned of the dozens and dozens that line Vanderbilt and Washington Avenues, and the “history” of the neighborhood is confined to two sentences about the composer Aaron Copland at the end, as if they ran out of column inches — but there are no column inches in the digital world.

Perhaps I’m just feeling grumpy, though it’s a beautiful April morning and I’m about to head out for a walk in Prospect Park. Probably I feel a certain proprietary interest in the quality of Times reporting, since I used to write a lot for the Home and Styles sections. And — full disclosure — maybe I’m grouchy about this particular column because last year I sent a well-thought-out pitch for a “Living in… Springs” (Long Island, N.Y.) to the editor of the Real Estate section and never got so much as a “No, thanks.”

The author of the Prospect Heights article is a New York Times media reporter, and the column is always formulaic. But still. Come on, Times! Tell us something we don’t know.

Wood Among the Brownstones


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT, yesterday’s New York Times had an article in the Real Estate section about rare wood-frame houses in New York City. Living in one of these often-freestanding relics can feel very much like living in the country, the article points out, with a porch, perhaps; a backyard; and often a garage or other outbuilding.

Of course, I relish the few wood-frame houses remaining in Manhattan and Brooklyn whenever I see them, but I was interested to read a lot of things I didn’t know:

  • In Brooklyn, where groups of wood-frame houses were built by developers in the mid-19th century, they’re somewhat less rare than in Manhattan, where they are serendipitous one-off survivors of a semirural past.
  • Wood frame houses were banned for fire-safety reasons as the 19th century progressed.
    • There’s one on the market now, on East 53rd Street in Manhattan, for $3.54 million (it’s the yellow one, top – tiny!)
    • The one below, on Adelphi Street and Lafayette Avenue in Clinton Hill, sold recently after its asking price was knocked down to $795K (it needs a lot of work; so what else is new?)


Tziporah Salamon, Fashion Artist

tziporah6-small1MAYBE YOU’VE SEEN Tziporah Salamon riding around town on a baby-blue bicycle, a vision in vintage couture, with a funny hat on her head and bike-unfriendly shoes. Somehow she survives, and gets great press.


Tzipi is an artist. Her medium is fashion. If you haven’t run into her on Riverside Drive, where she lives, or at the theater, or on 57th Street, where Bill Cunningham, the New York Times photographer, has frequently captured her for his “On the Street” column, maybe you saw last winter’s profile of her in the Times.





If you are at all interested in clothes, you must catch Tziporah’s one-woman show, “The Fabric of My Life, which she performs periodically at venues around town. In it, she recounts her harrowing and humorous autobiography while twirling through a series of exotic costume changes.

Tziporah dresses; that’s what she does. A rabbi once told her she represents splendor. She brightens the day for anyone lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her colorful, creative ensembles (which, incidentally, do not cost a fortune — her wardrobe consists mostly of vintage and ethnic pieces collected over the years).

Tziporah and I met on the Lower East Side a year ago, en route to a concert at the Eldridge Street Synagogue. She helped me a lot, in my own closet (she can do it for you, too) — weeding out criminally un-stylish L.L. Bean raincoats, re-discovering the good but forgotten, and identifying pieces that, with a little alteration, could be wearable again (or for the first time).

The whole process was fun and uplifting. Oh, did I mention she’s funny as hell?

E-mail Tzipi at stylishlyyours@tziporahsalamon.com

Photos by Carole Cutner, except top and below (by me)