Lonelyville Charmer 649K


OF ALL FIRE ISLAND COMMUNITIES, each with its own beachy character, my favorite has to be Lonelyville. First of all, there’s that great name, which it seems is also the title of a bluesy number sung by Della Reese in 1958 (as well as an episode of Law & Order, seventh season).


Lonelyville is bohemian, a little off the beaten boardwalk. It doesn’t have its own ferry landing; Dunewood is the closest. There’s no grocery store or lifeguard stand.


I  have fond memories of spending a month in Lonelyville in the early ’80s, when my parents rented a cottage there. Vegetation was much sparser then. There were long stretches of sand between houses, some of which are old cedar-shingled cottages floated over on barges from the mainland.


Today, Kitty King, a real estate agent, showed my sister and me this hidden, 3BR oldie a short way from the ocean, with a spectacular pergola-covered roof deck. It’s just the kind of place I like — quirky, comfortable, oozing with charm.


The sellers have owned the house for 40 years. It’s been on the market for quite a while, apparently, and has already been reduced once. While 649K may seem a lot to ask for a house that can only be used part of the year, it is reasonable for Fire Island, where quite ordinary houses are priced in the 700’s and 800’s.


No house with birds and vines painted on the porch ceiling could possibly be ordinary.

For more info, go here.

GARDEN VOYEUR: Backyard Architecture in East Hampton


“BACKYARD” IS HARDLY ENOUGH WORD for the gorgeous green acre my friend Stephanie Reit been lovingly tending and tweaking for the past 13 years. It’s more like a private park.

This is an artist’s garden. Stephanie is an accomplished painter and maker of collages — go here to see her work — and a very able landscape designer as well. There’s much to admire here: the seamless flow of the long, curving borders; the creative mix of trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennials, all in tip-top shape (she used to do everything herself, now she hires help); the painterly arrangement of colors; the horticultural variety; the charming collection of birdhouses; and how good it all looks this late in the season. (Yes, it’s fenced against marauding deer.)


One of my favorite aspects is the architectural approach Stephanie has taken to carving out special areas. At the far end of the long lawn, abovve, there’s a gravel square with four Bradford pear trees in each corner. She calls it the “chuppah” (Jewish wedding canopy) because it would be a perfect place to get married — but, failing that, it’s a serene spot to sit and contemplate the plantings.

There’s a rustic wood bench tucked into a euonymous hedge, below; a shed with its own shade garden; and three ornamental flowering cherry trees, below, anchoring one end of the pool. A striking deep mauve color, Stephanie planted them in memory of her late parents and sister.



The stately cedars that stud the lawn are among the few things that were there when Stephanie bought the property in the mid-’90. They cast giant, dramatic shadows on the sweep of green.


Go here to see Stephanie’s wonderful collection of birdhouses — some that she collects, and some that she creates.

GARDEN VOYEUR: Lushness on 1/8 Acre

1-frontMARY-LIZ CAMPBELL’S cottage-style house in Rye, N.Y., sits on a challenging site: wedge-shaped, steeply sloping, and not quite one-eighth of an acre.

A professional landscape designer, she has surrounded the house with exuberant perennial beds, shade gardens, a peaceful dining patio, attractive storage sheds, and garden ornaments reflecting time spent in the Far East.

When she bought the house 12 years ago, there was nothing but a few sad foundation plantings. Her first order of business was to screen views of the neighbors’ houses with fencing, trees and shrubs. From the first, she knew she didn’t want a lot of grass. “I wanted privacy all around — that drove the design.”

The pictures below illustrate a walk around the perimeter of the house, starting with the sunny beds next to the front door, descending to a stepping-stone path that runs along one side of the house, then onto the swath of lawn in the shady backyard, overlooked by the dining patio, and finally up through terraced planting beds to the gravel path and stone steps that lead back up to the front of the property.

The photos of the shady areas were taken in June, the rest in August, when there’s lots of floral color. Mary-Liz likes hot colors. Her favorite combination is chartreuse and burgundy: smoke tree with  flowering plum, or limelight hydrangea next to mellow yellow spirea.

At the bottom of the post, more notes on how Mary-Liz achieved her colorful, creative results.

We start at the sunny area next to the front door, where a square boxwood hedge, a concrete urn and ornament, and architectonic plants like big-leafed hostas and ornamental grasses provide structure…



Looking down into the property from the street…


Below, Mary-Liz on the stepping-stone path along one side of the house…24-side-path


Here’s the lawn and the shady backyard as it looks in June…


The lattice-fenced dining patio at the rear of the house overlooks the backyard…


Abundant container plantings on the patio, and a custom garden shed whose roof shingles match those on the house…


The concrete ball is a water feature…


Left and below, color from perennials in August…491


A serene Buddha, and an arbor, below, as we start to ascend on the other side of the lawn…24


A gravel path and more shade plantings lead back up to the front of the property.



In the very first season she owned the house, Mary-Liz did the following:

  • Took down eight existing trees, including three dead hemlocks; retained a locust and a spruce, as well as a dual-stem mulberry for screening, which she prunes back once a year to control its size
  • Moved inconvenient original parking from top of property near street to a gravel court in front of the house
  • Fenced and planted property for screening from the street and privacy around the perimeter, using broad-leaved evergreens, spring-flowering shrubs, tall rhodies, hollies, willow wood viburnums and double file viburnums
  • Built a garden shed on the back patio with a cupola and stained glass window (both found at tag sales)
  • Built lattice around existing concrete slab terrace at rear of house, and added a pergola on top for privacy from neighbors above

The following season, she recalls, “I started fooling around in the garden and nothing would grow. The soil was shallow and plants couldn’t anchor themselves” – so she brought in 18 yards of top soil.

“Then I went to Italy and decided the only way I could make this lot work was to terrace it” – so she found masons and, over the next couple of years, as finances permitted, built stone terraces for garden beds, then planted shrubs and perennials in the newly terraced areas.

Since then, the garden has evolved with changing conditions. There’s less and less sun, mostly because of the mulberry.

Mary-Liz swears she doesn’t spend a load of time gardening. “It’s not a high-maintenance garden. I have a lot of shrubs. But I’m always thinking what I’m going to do next – I’d like to put in a pond. Gardens are never finished.”

BROWNSTONE VOYEUR: Good Design Endures in Cobble Hill




p1030580Jamie Nesbitt-Weber, an interior designer, and her husband Herb Weber, an architect, renovated and decorated their Clinton Street home in the ‘high tech’ era of the late 1980s.

It has held up well. Good design and quality construction always do.

Classic modern furnishings and ultra-contemporary Italian lighting fixtures have proven their staying power. Ethnic accessories and rugs add textural interest, warmth, and color. It’s a lively, appealing mix.

Below: Icons like Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair and George Nelson’s bubble lamp never go out of style.


p1030526The painting above the piano is by local artist Noel Yauch.

The cabinet below, with quilted aluminum doors, is from Dialogica, as is the curvy four-poster in the master bedroom. The dining table is a post-modern classic by Massimo and Leila Vignelli, with Bottega leather chairs from Design Within Reach.



A wall of glass doors at the rear of the parlor floor, below, creates the illusion of infinite space.




The vintage suzani, a hand-embroidered textile picked up on a recent trip to Istanbul, is graphic in the guest room, below.



Clever design tricks throughout the house, like removing the front entry vestibule, lining the back wall of the parlor floor with glass doors, and creating a concave curve to add extra inches to a narrow upstairs hall, visually and practically expand the house so it feels much bigger than 19’x36′.

Fan by Ron Rezek's Modern Fan Co.

Fan by Ron Rezek's Modern Fan Co.

Ribbed glass transoms over doors let light into the upstairs hall

Ribbed glass transoms over doors let light into the upstairs hall

Bumping out the hall wall gained precious inches

Bumping out the hall wall gained precious inches

Avant garde light fixtures from Italy make a statement

Light fixtures make an avant garde statement

Most of the lighting is from Artemide

Parentesi accent light by Castiglioni


Like the interior, the garden design is clear and confident. Dominated by a classical pergola and two sculpted boxwoods, its structure is apparent even in early spring.


Philly’s Secret Gardens

This is adapted from my article in the April 2009 issue of Garden Design magazine.


THE GREENING of Philadelphia goes back to 1683, when founder William Penn modeled its four park-like squares (still there!) on those of Europe’s “green countrie townes.” The whole Greater Philadelphia region is a temperate-zone Eden, with fabled public gardens like Longwood and Chanticleer. But you don’t have to stray far from the brick and cobblestone streets of Center City, abloom in April with pear and cherry blossoms, to grasp the city’s three-century-old garden obsession and see how it’s playing out in the hip Philly of today.


  • Step into the 18th century on the corner of 4th and Walnut, where a Colonial-style formal garden is artfully re-created next door to Dolley Madison’s former abode. It’s a tidy little gem, with boxwood parterres, a miniature orchard, and a handsome vine-covered pergola.
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  • Drive 15 minutes south of the city to stroll the riverfront grounds of Bartram’s Garden, home of early botanist John Bartram. All elements of an authentic Colonial garden are there, including a kitchen garden near the eccentric 1728 house, below. Heirloom daffs and rare ‘broken’ tulips, scattered among silverbell trees, horse chestnuts, and bottlebrush buckeyes, bloom in profusion this month, along with native flame azaleas.


  • Then check in to the 15-room Revolutionary-era Morris House Hotel, where breakfast is served in a tangerine-colored library and afternoon tea in front of a fireplace (that’s the courtyard, below).
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  • West of the Schuylkill River, hundreds of cherry trees make Fairmount Park a fantasia of pink from mid-March through early April (the painting below is from the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia website, which has a map of the best viewing spots).


  • Take tea among cloud-pruned evergreens, a koi-filled pond, perfectly placed boulders, and concrete pagodas at Shofuso,below, the Japanese house and garden built in 1957 to evoke the late 16th/early 17th century.


    • From March 30-April 18, see organic sculpture take shape at the 92-acre Morris Arboretum, where pdoughertyhutrenowned artist Patrick Dougherty, working with locally gathered sticks and no pre-conceptions, will weave a large-scale, site-specific creation likely to resemble a whimsical fairy-tale dwelling (see an example of his work at right).



    • The city’s rep for vanguard culture is growing. Tour the hydroponic growing houses at Greensgrow, an urban farm and nursery in the up-and-coming Kensington section, and pick up some unusual container plants and hard-to-find heirloom vegetable starters.


    • In the uber-hip Northern Liberties neighborhood, choose from hundreds of gorgeous cement urns and planters made from antique molds, below, arrayed under enormous skylights at City Planter.


    • Indulge in chocolate-chip pancakes at the Morning Glory Diner in Bella Vista, just south of Center City, and be wowed by the eye-popping window boxes( 215 413 3999).