The Insider: All the Details in Bed-Stuy

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I REALLY LOVE the house featured today on my latest “Insider” post for Brownstoner. Of course, everything I write up has something to recommend it, but some I respond to more than others — the colorful, more ‘bohemian’ ones, I suppose you could say.

The house itself is an 1893 detail-laden, sandstone-colored house on a pretty block in rapidly gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant. The carved woodwork and mantels are over-the-top in grand High Victorian fashion, but the furnishings — mostly inherited antiques, with a smattering of 20th century modern classics — are deployed in such a spare, uncluttered way, the whole thing has a modern feel.

I went way overboard on this one, using two dozen photos. To see them all, click right here, right now.

Diary of a Suddenly Busy Lady

imagesLATELY, I’VE BEEN RUNNING hither and yon and back again. In the five days since my last post, I put 450 miles on my car — from East Hampton, L.I., to Brooklyn (108 miles), down to Philly and back (150 total), and out to Long Island again today (another 108), plus side trips. And if you count subway miles — well, I’ve been on the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan and in Brooklyn neighborhoods from Carroll Gardens to Bedford-Stuyvesant.

<- Colored Rhythm, Sonia Delaunay, 1946, Cooper-Hewitt

A few months ago, I could be heard telling people my life was “quiet with a capital Q.” It was, and even with my highly-developed tolerance for solitude and quietude, I was a little unnerved by it at times. When I began my dual-home lifestyle in earnest this spring, I found myself gardening to exhaustion here on Long Island, then going back to Brooklyn to relax. That program has now been discontinued.

Suddenly, there aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week no matter where I am (and I haven’t even been doing any work work — I polished off the last of five magazine deadlines a week ago). I was reminded of one of my English friend Diana’s visits to New York, when she drew a grid, divided each day into boxes for morning, afternoon, and evening, and wrote an activity into each time slot.

Much of my recent busy-ness has revolved around the life-defining events that June will bring (graduations, baby showers, weddings). I’ve been to a Broadway show (Jerusalem: the hype about Mark Rylance is true), a museum (the Cooper-Hewitt, to catch the wonderful Sonia Delaunay show before it closed), a public garden (the Conservatory Garden in Central Park), and three new-to-me restaurants.

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Tin City, a coffee shop/cafe on Lewis Avenue in Bed-Stuy

My new camera, a Canon S95, stayed in my bag most of the time. Taking pictures seemed too much like work. But occasionally, something compelled me to take it out for an airing, like the morning I met my cousin for a spot of house-shopping in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

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Love the awning — you don’t see many like that

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A freestanding mansion on MacDonough Street in Bed-Stuy

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Saraghina, a farmhouse-style place with a lovely garden on Lewis Avenue, Bed-Stuy

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Front-yard greenery on MacDonough Street, Stuyvesant Heights Historic District

On Sunday, I zipped down to Philadelphia to consult with my son and his girlfriend about what to do with the somewhat bizarre 800-square-foot space that has just become vacant on the ground floor of their 1870s townhouse. At one time, there was an ice cream parlor/candy store there, but now the interior is as charmless as the outside is charming. There may be wainscotting and other details hidden by wall paneling, acoustical tile ceiling, and industrial carpeting, but we’re not going to find that out right now. The priority is to rent it as quickly as possible to someone who can use the space as-is: a CPA? Massage therapist? Art gallery? The location is prime Fishtown and the rent is cheap: $795/month. Spread the word!

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There’s a vast disconnect between the vintage exterior, above, and the clean but commercial-looking interior, below (it’s still zoned as a store, by the way, and is also legal for living).

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We had dinner at prolific Philly restauranteur Steve Starr’s newest, Frankford Hall, below, a beer garden set in an atrium constructed within the shell of an old brick industrial building. I think German food is the wurst, but who cares — it’s mostly about the beer.

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Dig the funky two-tone paint job on the woodwork of the Fishtown building, below

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Today I traversed the Isle of Long in the opposite direction, arriving back in Springs around 8PM. That’s Accabonac Harbor, below, as it looked last week. Not a bad place to be at all. Think I’ll stay awhile.

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Hudson River Victorian 399K

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Get your turret and wraparound porch right here!

I IDENTIFIED IMMEDIATELY with Phyllis of Reclaimed Home when I first read her blog (subtitle: Low Impact Housing and Renovation Options for Thrifty New Yorkers). She and her husband are serial renovators; they’ve bounced back and forth between Brooklyn (first Park Slope, now Bed-Stuy) and the Hudson Valley (Kingston first, more recently Beacon) for years. She’s also a real estate broker and funny as hell.

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Phyllis and her husband are about to bounce again, back to the city full-time, and have just put their outrageous c. 1900 Queen Anne house in Beacon, N.Y. (best known as home of Dia:Beacon, the contemporary art museum) on the market.

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It’s 4BR on 1/4 acre and loaded with period detail: fabulous woodwork and staircase, vintage hardwood floors throughout, wavy glass windows, ornate antique radiators, fireplace mantel, old school bathtubs, original plaster, and lots of colorful Bradbury wallpaper. Not to mention upgraded mechanicals and a pretty backyard.

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Go here and let Phyllis tell you all about it, give you the run-down on living in Beacon, and show you lots more pictures.

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The official listing is here.

HAMPTONS VOYEUR: Quintessential Cottage in Sag Harbor

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WHEN I FIRST SAW Phyllis Landi’s cedar-shingled cottage on a curving half-acre waterfront lot not far from the ridiculously charming village of Sag Harbor, I thought I’d found my dream house. Of course, Phyllis, a freelance TV producer, lives there, and has no intention of moving.

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But this house has it all, in my book: location cubed, and the warmth that comes only with age (it was built in 1908). And, like all my favorite houses, it’s quirky: the house, now around 750 square feet, was once twice the size. Owned by two sisters, it was cut in half at some point, and the other half moved down the road a piece.

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Phyllis, who bought the cottage in the early ’80s, used it for many years as a weekend place, and now lives there full time, did all the right things. She put on an addition for a kitchen and breakfast nook, opened a wall between the two main rooms to create one expansive living/dining area , and put French doors on the back, bringing in light and leading to a deck that must be glorious in warm weather.

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Yes, it’s tiny, but perfect for a woman and her 3-month-old golden Lab puppy, Wilson (there’s one bedroom in the attic loft, and a daybed for guests in the sunroom, above).

It helps that Phyllis has a confident hand with decorating. She painted dark paneled walls and woodwork mostly Linen White (she painted right over the panels in the living room, below, and added wainscotting up to chair rail height in the dining room). She stuck to a neutral palette to keep things serene and uncluttered. Most of the furnishings have a 1930s-’50s aesthetic.

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The main pieces are a ‘pretzel’ rattan sofa and chairs in the living room, which came from Secondhand Rose in New York; a blond wood Heywood-Wakefield dining table, hutch, and console, below; Eames chairs in the same pale wood; a shag wool rug and George Nelson daybed from Design Within Reach.

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The kitchen has a classic cottage look, all white with pieces of collectible art pottery and Fiestaware providing splashes of aqua and green.

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In the attic bedroom, Phyllis built a window seat with storage beneath.

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After visiting Phyllis for the first time, I decided I’d move a mountain to get a place like hers. Later, when I found out what it was worth (well upwards of a million), I realized I’d have to move an entire mountain range, which is beyond my capabilities. So I went back to my own cottage in the woods, a tad disappointed, but delighted that such a place even exists.

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A giant shout-out to Carrie of Brick City Love, who blogs about the ongoing renovation of her Newark, NJ, rowhouse, for her patient tutuorial in uploading pictures to WordPress from Flickr. She has saved me untold hours of time and aggravation. THANK YOU CARRIE!!

Debut of the Albemarle Reno Blog

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EVERY SO OFTEN, a truly splendiferous house comes to market, like this turreted 15-room, 5,200-square-foot mansion in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park South Historic District. The AIA Guide to New York City calls the 1905 building by architect John J. Petit “Shingle Style with a Colonial Revival, Tuscan-colonnaded porch” — altogether fitting for a neighborhood that is itself an eclectic mix of styles popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

First listed in September 2007 for $2,595,000, it sold last month for $1.6M (go here for more about the house’s price history).

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The new owners, Brooklyn residents since 1992, intend not only to bring the house back to its original state, but to blog about the renovation on Brownstoner.com as they go. The first post appeared last Friday.

They have their work cut out for them. The house is a Victorian extravanganza, laden with woodwork, chandeliers, stained glass, a wraparound porch, grand staircase, an extraordinary oval dining room, and nooks and crannies galore.

But the kitchen had been banished to a back hall during the house’s years as a doctor’s home and office (the spectacular dining room was used as a waiting room). There’s vinyl siding, miles of excess wiring, cracked plaster, and lots more to do and un-do.

To get a sense of the project ahead, go to the Albemarle Reno Blog and follow the transformation.