Bohemian Splendor in Cobble Hill


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).


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.


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


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


  • 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?


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.


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!


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.

Emery & Cie

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ONE E-MAIL LIST I’LL NEVER UNSUBSCRIBE FROM is Emery & Cie, a European textile and wallpaper company whose elegant designs and sophisticated color palettes always send me into a reverie of an alternate life in which I a) could afford these stunning, hand-crafted materials, and b) have a place to put them.

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The stuff is too formal for a beach cottage — mine, at least — but I do see it, gorgeously, in a brownstone parlor, dining room, or bedroom.

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The founder of the company is Belgian-born Agnes Emery. They have showrooms in Brussels, Antwerp, Paris, and London — all of which I feel very far away from as it sit here gazing at two deer munching away in my Long Island backyard. But finding the Emery & Cie summer 2010 collection in my e-mail inbox magically transports me to Europe for just a little while.

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More of Olana Open to Public


HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE EXTRAORDINARY Olana? It’s well worth a field trip (and a picnic), especially as they’ve just opened two upstairs rooms restored to the late-Victorian era of Olana’s original occupant, the Hudson River School painter Frederic Church.

In the 1870s, there was a fashion for Middle Eastern exotica, and Church and his wife Isabel embraced it to the max. They visited Beirut, Jerusalem, and Damascus, returning with visions of arches, loggias, fancy brickwork, and other dazzling design elements. With their architect, Calvert Vaux, they incorporated all these into the hilltop house they were building in Columbia County, and they decorated accordingly, with imported Persian rugs and furnishings imported from that part of the world.


To today’s eyes, Olana appears more bohemian than Victorian, tasteful and arty as opposed to excessive and overwrought.

In 1964, when the widow of the Churches’ youngest son died there, Olana was still intact, decorated as it had been when Frederic and Isabel lived there. The next Church heirs, however, sought to auction the furnishings and sell the house. They were stopped by the timely formation of an Olana preservation society. With help from New York State, the house and its contents were saved, restored, and the main floor opened to the public in 1967.

This weekend, for the first time ever, the Churches’ second-floor bedroom and dressing room will be added to the tour, finally allowing us to see what’s above the fantastic staircase in the main hall. Another upstairs bedroom is a gallery containing art and photographs that had long been in storage.


The amazing wallpapers in these rooms have been painstakingly reproduced from scraps found beneath mantels and moldings.

To read more about Olana’s history and see more pictures, go here.

Olana State Historic Site
Route 9G, just south of Route 23
Greenport, NY, between Hudson & Germantown

Guided house tours: Tuesday-Sunday + holiday Mondays, 10AM-5PM

Reservations recommended: 518/828-0135