Latest on Hamptons Reno: My Go-To Great Room

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IT ONLY TOOK FIVE YEARS to get there, but the great room at my place on the East End of Long Island is finally livable. The final phase of its transformation this spring: a bout of quickie decorating in the newly insulated and painted space.

This changes everything. The new, improved great room is warm when it’s raw elsewhere in the house, bright and inviting where it used to be dark and dreary. It’s now everyone’s go-to room, instead of what once felt like wasted space.

I worked like a demon for two weeks, putting things back to rights after a fall of construction and winter of abandonment, restoring the room’s furnishings and hanging art (i.e. framed posters). Local yard sales yielded a few things that weren’t strictly needed, but which I could not resist (pix below).

The new wood stove insert, which fit neatly into the existing fireplace, is what enables me to be here several weeks earlier than in the past. Prior to these recent improvements, the house was basically an unheated summer bungalow. Two-thirds of it is still an unheated summer bungalow, but the 400-square-foot great room, at least, now approximates the comfort of a real house.

Painted white floor to ceiling, it looks more like a Hamptons beach house than a cabin in the Adirondacks. I sent new photos to a couple of local real estate agents and asked them to list the house for rent from July 1 through Labor Day. Next thing I knew, the house was taken for the season by the first person who looked at it.

That was gratifying, and freed up space in my brain that had been taken up with worry about finding a summer tenant.

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Fabulous Mother’s Day present from my son: a new black Corian countertop for the kitchen, above. Major upgrade on previous chipped white Formica.

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A new addition to my coral collection. Can’t buy real coral anymore, so I’ve been buying vintage coral at yard sales, along with flowerpots, rugs, wire items, mobiles…

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Art-directed yard sales are not rare in East Hampton.

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How cute is this? Yes, another yard sale find.

Last Suppers

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THE ROLLER COASTER RIDE IS OVER. I’m officially in contract to sell my East Hampton, N.Y. cottage, after a long winter of offers, negotiations, anticipation and disappointments. Closing will be on or before May 15 — five years to the day since I bought the house in 2009. My real estate agent and my neighbors think I’m crazy, but I’m still gardening just as I would if I were staying — raking leaves off the perennial beds, top dressing with compost and mulch, pruning winter storm and deer damage.

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Sign on David’s Lane, East Hampton

I want to leave the garden in tip-top shape (with no expectations that the new owner will be as OCD as I am). The house and garden have always been primarily a labor of love for me, though I admit to hoping I might be compensated for those labors in dollars someday. That’s not to be the case (no, I didn’t get my twice-reduced asking price), but I’m not changing the sub-title of this blog. I still believe in old-house real estate as an investment. But sellers have to be prepared to wait for the market to cycle round to a favorable position, and I wasn’t able to wait any longer, with House #2, a 1940s modernist ranch in the same community, bought last year, awaiting further renovation.

photoI’m enjoying my last spring at House #1 though not, all things being equal, my last in East Hampton, where they do daffodils really well (not either of my houses, left).

I’m no longer in need of furnishings for two summer rentals (in fact, I now have four sofas), but I’m still attending yard sales on Fridays and Saturdays just for the fun of it. See below for a photo of my latest acquisition, a set of six vintage wrought iron and wood chairs that are surprisingly comfortable. Do I need them? No, not at all. Do they work with the style of my new/old house? No, they don’t. Was I going to pass them up at $40 for the whole set? Of course not.

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I’m also busy sketching ideas for a new deck and new configuration of rooms at House photo_3#2. Its renovation will be incremental and low-budget, once again, and will provide abundant blog fodder in months to come. In late winter, I took a five-session “Design Your Own Garden” class at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taught by Jim Russell, who was terrific — he had us all thinking about our gardens in new ways. The T-squares and HB pencils brought me back to my year at architecture school, and I was very happy drawing and erasing away, though I never got as far as spec-ing actual plants, like some of my classmates. I spent almost the entire course on a general landscape concept: organization around three courtyards; as well as  possible designs for a new deck and a system of paths.

Though I’ll be there another few weeks, things have now taken on a wistful “last time” feeling over at House #1. Easter Sunday, a friend came for a late lunch on the back deck. We opened a bottle of Prosecco, as we have done many times before, and lay on the chaise longues looking into the woods, talking and laughing, as we have done many times before. Though I’ve been known to profess non-attachment to any house or apartment (having moved four times in the past eight years), this one is hitting me hard. At least it’s well-documented.

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Hamptons Reno: One Month In

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A MONTH INTO MY OWNERSHIP of a mid-20th century house needing much TLC on the East End of Long Island, a reader emails to say: “I’m loving your blog posts about your beach house…it is looking much better! You may not realize it, but seeing your posts definitely shows consistent progress.” I’m so glad it looks that way from afar. From anear, things are not moving as fast as I’d like.

Never mind window locks, which is where I left off in my last post. I’m not up to that yet. I ordered a single casement fastener to try before committing myself to two dozen, and it hasn’t arrived yet. Meanwhile, I’ve been doing some online shopping, for a “neo-angle” shower rod and a window screen. Again, just a single sample as a try-out, from screenitagain.com, associated with Lowes. If this works, it could be a very good thing: each custom-made screen (approximately 29″h x 36″w — though you need to send measurements to the 1/16″, and I’ve discovered each window is different), with a basic wood frame and plastic mesh screen, plus two spring tension fasteners and a tab at the bottom, is about $36. An upgrade to the ‘clearer view’ material adds about $20 per, so we’ll see.

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Did some yard-saling over the weekend, and wouldn’t ya know… A few days after my Tanger Mall sojourn, where I bought new retro fixtures at the Restoration Hardware and West Elm outlets for the dining room and kitchen, I found the genuine articles right here in East Hampton for a pittance. Above, a green metal shade of the type I originally had in mind, an  unusual rounded variation on the typical shape: $10. Naturally I grabbed it, though I’m not sure for where.

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At the same sale, I picked up a pair of vintage white glass globes, above, very Sixties, very Pop, perfect for the great room, below, though perhaps a bit too small in scale for the height of the ceiling (the globes are about 12″ across). They were $20 apiece. A friend suggested hanging them together at different heights, which would be fun. These finds only fueled my determination to hunt bargains, of which more in my next post.

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What else? I have a whole new room, a whole new building, to think about. On Friday, the previous owner came, as agreed, and cleared out the shed, below — a onetime pool house, now to be… well, I’m not sure what. Garden shed, guest cottage, writing studio, workshop? My goal is to keep it from becoming a storage unit, though that is an ongoing temptation in the absence of a garage or basement.

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And thanks to a visit from Eric the arborist, I can now see the forest for the trees. There are more than just oaks here — there are hickories, red maples, and sassafrass, as well as dogwood, wild cherry, and barberry. We’re starting nearest the house on trees that are in imminent danger of losing limbs. Eric is conservative; there are only a few he slated for outright removal. On most, he’ll just “lighten the load,” cleaning them up and pruning out deadwood. I trust him implicitly. At my former home, he eventually removed about eight huge oaks, and the more he took away, the better I liked it.

The saplings are still going to be my problem. It makes sense to pay Eric to climb 100 feet up, but not to take down 5-foot trees with 2″ trunks, of which there are hundreds. That’s something I can handle with a lopper, if only I could decide what to lop. I’ll enjoy watching them leaf out, and figure it out later.

Do you have the patience to wait 
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving 
till the right action arises by itself? asked Lao Tzu in the fifth century B.C.

It’s a tall order for one of my temperament, but I’m trying.

Happy Yard Sale Days Are Here Again

I’M CONVINCED EAST HAMPTON IS THE BEST, bar none, in at least one important department: yard sales. In these arty precincts, it’s not unusual for yard sales to be art directed like something out of Mad Men. Sometimes that also means prices are unreasonably high, and you might as well shop on Madison Avenue. But sometimes not.

Yesterday there was such a plethora of flea markets and yard sales I didn’t even try to get to all of them.

I planned out a strategy that included being early to the East Hampton Trustees’ Flea Market in the backyard of the 18th century Osborne-Little House on Main Street, above, as well as to a new weekly flea market starting up for the season on Three Mile Harbor Road, below.

Both were selling genuine antiques more than pure junk, and I bought nothing at either of them. I’ve gotten quite good at sticking to just what I need, and I don’t need any more blue-and-white china or brass candlesticks. But there’s plenty of entertainment value in the looking.

What I did need, desperately, were some vintage (as vintage as styrofoam can get) buoys for my outdoor shower, top. I found these at a sale in Amagansett for $5 apiece and snapped up four. What is summer in East Hampton without boating ornaments for the outdoor shower?

I also got a window box and large clay pot for my son’s deck in Philadelphia. And that was the total bounty of yesterday morning. However, I’ve scored a couple of other things recently that fall into my “I need” category, and so are allowable. One, a bamboo-base table lamp, left, replaces another on my desk that shorted out one day for no good reason. That was $25 at LVIS, and I was pleased.

And in another problem-solving stroke, I found a rattan plant stand, above, a couple of weeks back that not only holds the houseplants that have been released from indoor captivity and now reside on my front deck, but also serves to hide the ugly electric meter. Styling is everything!

To read about my previous forays in the yard-sale capital of the world, look here and here (or search “yard sales East Hampton” in the Search box at upper left; I’ve done about a dozen of them).

Yard Sale Swan Song

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THE 2011 YARD SALE SEASON is gasping its last. I went to a dozen sales this morning and, unlike the fruitful pickings of spring and summer, November sales are less than the sum of their parts.

The season has been over for some time, though I refuse to believe it. The ads still appear in the East Hampton Star every Thursday — “entire contents,” “funky collectibles,” “Art Deco glassware” –luring me out of the house at an early hour in hopes of re-creating sweeps from earlier in the season. Something for everyone? Not so much for me.

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It’s Saturday noon, and I’ve returned from two-and-a-half hours of yard saling with three galvanized tin light fixtures, above, that I have absolutely no use for at the moment. But I like their design, and was I going to pass up all three for $20? No, I was not. Especially since I didn’t find anything else all morning.

I must congratulate myself on all I did NOT buy today. Today’s houses — mostly from the ’80s Hamptons building boom and many now being sold, or trying to be sold — were overflowing with glassware and dishes and linens and furniture, but nothing older than the houses themselves. I much prefer the Bonac fisherman’s basement, or the artsy couple who were around in Jackson Pollock’s day. But you can’t always get what you want.

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Last weekend was better, and by way of illustration, I am decorating this post with images of those finds: a fish-shaped wine bottle, above, with an ‘Orvieto 1967′ label, meaning the crackly glass is Italian, and that’s good; and a 4’ wide piece of driftwood, below — black pine, I was told, that was submerged in the bay at Lazy Point since the hurricane of 1938 until being salvaged by the guy who sold it to me for $40. It now reposes in my front yard, a sculpture in lieu of a  shrub.

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So the fall harvest has not been a total loss. And as long as they keep running those yard sale ads, I’ll keep spinning my wheels.