Sunday, August 27, 2017
5 WHITE HOUSES
As I make the transition to my new home, I realize that I have lived in 5 white houses on Long Island in my lifetime and thinking of all the memories associated with them. Each house has a story, and I have emotional attachments to the rooms, the setting and the roles they've played in my life.
1. White Cape Cod House
My parents bought their first house when they married, a small white Cape Cod style house on a leafy street with neat rows of new post-war houses, and I was born and brought home there a year later. It was the shape of the classic American house, the shape of the houses on a Monopoly board or that of a child's drawing to symbolize home. They planned to have a big family and after several years, we had a few more children, and it was time to move to a bigger house with more property.
2. White International Style House
They bought a larger house outside of town when I was 14, an International Style house, 3 white cubes re-assembled in the countryside on 5 acres, surrounded by parkland. It was built 30+ years before and introduced as a modern "machine for living" at the Building Exhibition at Grand Central Terminal in the 1930's. It had blown cork ceilings and a big hook in the ceiling for a hanging seat, graphic black casement windows and lots of architectural details and futuristic building materials. The NY building consultant who designed it transported it to this idyllic place near Sunken Meadow Beach where a group of like-minded architects like Albert Frey were building summer houses made of canvas and new lightweight modular materials. They were called the Fort Salonga Colony. The downstairs of our house was an open plan space with a fireplace in the dining/living room, a white wall with a firebox cut into it, no mantels or trim, a minimal look that I was influenced by for many years to come. The kitchen in my farmhouse has a version, and the new house has a tall white column with this same style fireplace, so it feels very familiar. My parents bought this house for more space and the grounds -for a basketball court, a 2 car garage for my father to work on his cars, a place for a pool- a house for 7 kids to spread out in, but little did they know that my sister and I would become designers, influenced from an early age by the design of this special house we grew up in.
3. White Shingled Cottage
I lived in the city working for many years as a magazine editor and author of design books, traveling around the country and the world, but always missed Long Island and came home on weekends bringing friends and coworkers out for relief from the steamy summer city, until I found a house of my own. In a small village, an hour from the city, a half hour from my family home, and a half hour from the Hamptons, I found a wreck of a cottage, a "Long Island Half House" in need of saving. As a young editor at House Beautiful, I spent time working on house projects, always looking for locations with a charming fireplace, interesting windows and paneling and this fit the bill. My father helped me buy it, the whole family pitched in and we spent weekends painting and cleaning, putting up shelves, fixing the porch, and going to yard sales and junk shops to find the furnishings to set up my first home. For many years it was where we all spent Christmas holidays and summer weekends.
4. White Farmhouse Compound
Then I received a call from a friend in the historical society, who told me about a bigger house down the road which was now for sale. I was outgrowing my first house, and wanted a new project. I had passed this one for years, and wondered what the old-fashioned white house looked like inside, with its sweet-pea covered fence, stone chimneys and big wooden garage. I was ready for more than my tiny 2 bedroom cottage. I drove out from the city, and went over early in the morning, and walked around. It was a damp morning and down an overgrown, wooded path to the lake, the leaves were falling gently, and it was like stepping back in time. At the end of the path, was a dock with a magical boathouse and a pair of swans glided over to greet me. That was it. Love at first sight. I wandered around the property taking pictures of the chicken coop, the tiny outhouse, the garden shed filled with pots and a garage/barn structure filled with old cars and tools and I could see myself living here. It took 6 months to work out the sale with the estate selling it, but it happened. It has been 15 years of clearing things out, restoring the main house and all the outbuildings and adding the house next door to the compound as a guest house. The story of the restoration of this property is the theme of my latest book, Life|Style: Elegant Simplicity at Home.
5. White Modern Beach House
And now, the next chapter in my Five White Houses story. Time for a new project, one with less property to take care of, something with a big open space for living and the opportunity to streamline my life. I had been driving around for a year or so in nearby neighborhoods to look for somewhere to move to, somewhere I could find another house to save and restore and call home. But it had to be special to leave this house. There was nothing available here on the lake, but I loved the neighboring community where a lot of friends live, and they were on the lookout for me. I got a call that a house I had been driving past and loved, had actually been to years before, was "for sale by owner." I called and and we went over on a cold snowy day in March, and as soon as I saw the view of the sea from the upstairs great room, I felt at home. It is a 1990's architect designed house near the beach, a house with a view. The closing was in July and it's been under renovation since that day. It hadn't been taken care of for the past 25 years, there was some water damage from Hurricane Sandy, but the house is solid. I can't wait to be in it, in about 6 weeks from now.
Will be writing about the new house here weekly as it progresses- the renovation scope; scheduling; what goes, what stays; how to create a comfortable modern home; the yard sale; the white paint palette, etc. Stay tuned!
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