I’ve been casually looking around for another property. Casually because my Boston condo has yet to sell – it will though – just a matter of time, and Chatham doesn’t close for a few more weeks. The rate at which properties pass papers these days makes it silly to do anything other than gaze, and gander from a good distance away. The looking is a sort of disease. I’m signed up to so many alert services that some days slogging through the in-box is like moving through quicksand, but when I come across something that shows potential, it stirs the butterflies in my belly.
I got a text this weekend that had my heart stop for dramatic effect before it started to Salsa. It was a tiny little two bed in Chatham, NOT yet on the market, but the owners were ready to say good-bye to it. They called it a tear down – impossible I thought, they know not what they speak of. It’s a non-conforming lot, and the risk you take if you remove a building is that you won’t be able to replace it, let alone put another larger home on the property. Of course their are Zoning Boards of Appeal, where you can plead your case, but it’s a gamble, and I am not willing to put $1.1M on the line for the chance they might be in a good mood the day I ask.
My heart returned to its steady beat when I learned about the size of the lot. It slowed even further when I visited the property to look it in the eye from the outside, assess the neighborhood and such. She knew it, and I knew it, the company that she kept was not stellar, star-studded, or seaside. A problem if you want to cash in that lottery ticket.
I’ve never wanted to force myself into being a numbers person, but when it matters, I seem to be pretty good at doing the math. This little house had numbers that didn’t work. I have never expected to get something for nothing, but renovating a home is hard. The only easy part of the process is spending too much, taking too long, and underestimating what others will give you for it. No, she wasn’t for me, but I’d take one of these little beauties, whether it was falling down or not. I’d move right in, set up my laptop, and tap away, breaking now and again to gaze out at the sea, and think to myself, how very fortunate I am to just be.
See those Galbraith and Paul curtains hanging on the Lux Hold Ups Rods custom made in Brooklyn by female artisans – no normal flipper would ever buy those. The cost a quarter of most flippers total renovation budget. Don’t you just love them?
As I was preparing for a big real estate summit that’s coming to the city I came across some interesting sessions on social media, streaming, video production and branding for business. All things that are important to me. I should say – this is a corporate real estate summit, not a residential one, and it’s for my full time job, not my side hack. Still, by design, these worlds collide, and I learn so much from my personal ventures that contribute meaningfully to my work, and vice versa, that it seems perfectly simpatico. This research led to me googling myself, and to the discovery of a blog post for which I was the subject. Or, as I prefer to think of it… the STAR.
Farrow and Ball Wallcovering costs a fortune. It’s really art that I leave behind. I know not everyone will appreciate it. I did it for me.
Jon Gorey, the author of House and Hammer, took to debunking my junk in his article and making me look like more of a hasbin than a starlet. Hum! Using me as a cautionary tale to all those wannabe flippers out there, he suggested that my efforts (and yours by the way) would have been better spent sitting around on the sofa for the next 10 or 30 years and cashing in at the end, having foregone the hassle, and the hustle associated with my high cost renovations.
TV may make it seem sexy but it’s hard work. Even Chip is sweating there. A lot of sweet goes into it.
I must say that I have an appreciation for his style of writing, his clear understanding of the numbers, the risks associated with real estate ventures, and for his love of homes. Pay close attention to all that because it’s true! He says flipping is sexy – not true and that marble and Parisian chandeliers are not what the South End needs, or buyers necessarily want. That I suppose is simply a matter of opinion.
I spy a chandelier that still makes me smile.
I like saying “for the record” and “setting the record straight” but the truth is, the truth changes. My truth at this moment, and as I have recorded it, has always been this…to date that is, I am flipping homes – for me. Not for anyone else. Yes I want to sell them. Yes I want to make a profit. Yes I hope to use that profit to get ahead before I retire, but imbedded in those truths is something fundamentally more important that is driving me to renovate these properties. It’s my love of design and architecture and travel.
What Jon doesn’t know is that were it not for the sweat, and hives, and the sawdust, I would not have traveled to Paris every other year, a place that is so sublime to me it fills my heart with happiness. I would not have been to Croatia, Bosnia, Switzerland, Italy, Nantucket, Mexico, and on and on to so many amazing places where people of different cultures open ones mind to both how big, and small, our world is, and art and beauty sit side by side the dirt and grit of our realities.
Croatia. Look at that limestone.
Jon doesn’t know that I carefully plan each property based on a design vision that is like none I have done before. While I certainly learn things along the way, a trick here or there to make the process a bit more easy, or visually more appealing, this is not PS101. That Parisian chandelier was purchased for me, and boy does it have a good story. If I were only in this for the money, I would use granite, not marble. I would paint everything beige, not one of the dozens of refined and/or wild hues that my boyfriend Benjamin Moore has to offer. I would use Home Depot fixtures, make only cosmetic changes not improvements to the infrastructure (many flippers – though not all – like to keep there money right where they can see it – and that’s not behind the walls). There are so many things I would do differently if the only thing I was in this for was the bottom line. Bottom lines are boring. I never wanted to be a suit.
Thanks to No. 3 Venice is now part of me.
I’m as pleased as punch that someone wrote about me. As I said, I think Jon offers some very sound advice. Being covered in sawdust isn’t for everyone. You have to love it. If you are considering making a foray into the adventures of flipping, it’s important to go in with eyes wide open. Me, I grew up thinking everyone lived like this – you have a choice. Choose wisely.
One Kings Lane – a favorite on-line decor store of mine, as much for the photos that top their “shop the look” stories and designer profiles, as for their furnishings and the carefully curated bric a brac. This morning, as I sit surrounded by bountiful Hydrangea bushes, their branches staggering under the weight of late summer blooms, a soft breeze and a quiet hum in the air, I feel the need to contest their assertion that you can “capture the spirit of Nantucket” by clicking add to cart.
OKL – Could be Nantucket
I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, but some things simply can’t be bottled up and sold. The cloud formations that float by in skies that feel vast, and unending. Honey Suckle and cobblestones, fog horns and ship’s bells, vine ripe tomatoes and Pocomo oysters – salty and sweet all in one. It’s old money and new, it’s battered, bright and briny, it’s quiet contemplation and sing-along yoo-hooing. It’s the feelings you feel when you slow to a stroll instead of panicked run. Those feelings you feel that speak truths about you, that can’t be captured in a painting or postcard.
Wharf Cottages . In town.
The writer suggests that you can recreate this feeling in your home, wherever it may be. Perhaps that’s true, if the truth is that you’ve never been to Nantucket before, and your basis for recreation is the photograph they provide. Still I discourage you not. This place is special enough to give it a shot.
Me, I like my walks on the wharf, my voyeuristic tendencies kick into high gear as I peer, not so subtly into the home lives of the well-to-do, and connected. I recently saw one of the cottages go up for sale. A two bed for over $8M! These are exposed stud, uninsulated, summer hide-aways. Split swing front doors to let the breeze pass through, a hook here and there for a straw hat. A bed, a book, a cooking nook. Everything you need and nothing that you don’t.
Island living. Oh I’ll take a piece of it here and there to sustain me through the long winter, but the charm of Nantucket for me, will always exists right here, 30 miles south of Cape Cod.
I made the boat with 4 minutes to spare. Not exactly a relaxed entry into vacation mode, my sister’s Mercedes tailgating every unlucky tourist on 28 she happened to be behind. She asked “Are you worried you wouldn’t make it?” She’s a speed demon, a hot dog, a lead footed roadster. I wasn’t really afraid. If you are going to be late, be late with Jo-Jo. She’ll get you there.
I love and look forward to my annual visit to the island – this being suitable in its timeframe, not a fly-by. Arriving by water allows for that relaxed dismissal of the world you are leaving behind. The mainland retreats in the distance, a wake forms in your path, and it’s not too long at all before you spy Brandt Point Light in the distance. I take deep gulps of air, a luscious mix of salt and oxygen filling my lungs, awakening my senses, anticipating what’s to come.
Slow it down. Take a peek.
I’ve stayed in lots of different places on this island, but the last few years, we’ve gravitated to places that surround town, or are cozied in and among the cottages of the boat basin. There’s a freedom to being close to town that appeals. Coming and going doesn’t require a taxi ride, a coordination effort, a render-vous point – though don’t get me wrong, I love to render-vous. It’s free and easy.
Willow in a haystack.
Dolphin Court might be little, but this house that I am staying in —- is not! Four bedrooms, all en-suite baths, living, dining, den, kitchen, patio, deck, widows walk. Serene and simple in its detailing, extravagant in its art. No brand loyalty, but not a no-name brand in sight, it even has a mud room, and I’ve always wanted a place I could get dirty in, or arrive that way.
Live like a child.
I spend a lot of time looking at places and asking myself why one pleases me or it doesn’t. I’ve decided I can be won over – that’s right – I have a secret weak spot for perfect details, for beautiful craftsmanship. It doesn’t even have to be my style or color palette. If I feel that it’s been executed flawlessly – I’m in.
Gone Fishin’ . See you in the fall.
Beyond that – what’s not to love about the magic number, on whatever old street she’s on in Nantucket. She’s lucky and I am lucky to call this my vacation spot for a week.
My fascination with small spaces comes in part from my desire to make a cozy nest. A home should be a sanctuary from the frenetic pace of the outside world. It should offer comfort, and security. Some of my fondest memories of childhood were of being tucked in like sardines in the cabin of our Cat Boat named the Councilor – in reference to my Father’s profession. We’d anchor in the outer harbor at Wychmere for the night, and play crazy eights to the light of a swinging lantern. Cozy.
Walking Paths and front facing homes are trademarks of Pocket Neighborhood communities.
A second contributing factor I have talked more about – small equals achievable perfection. Or so I thought when I began this quest. While I realized that I couldn’t exactly get everything I wanted in my 523sf home, I could turn it into a little jewel box, and I did. I like beautiful things – a lot, and beautiful things are really expensive. Believe me, I can get worked up about the beauty of a Lacanche stove but it was not going to suddenly appear in all its $10K glory in my little Charlestown apartment. Still, it was then, and is now, an aspiration.
From shared space to a plan of graduated privacy, it begins with the porch.
So, combine cozy, with beautiful craftsmanship, and I lean toward the small. While the homes in Pocket Neighborhoods are not exactly tiny, they are also not McMansions. In the urban and suburban jungle, where buildings tower overhead, and homes have not one kitchen, but two or three – yes you heard me right, I have been to Beacon Hill, where there was a kitchen on the first floor, the fifth floor and outdoors – obvi a dumbwaiter would take too long to deliver the cold drinks and the hot burgers to the game room – 13 modestly sized homes, beautifully designed, face forward to the community, where everyone really does know your name, is appealing.
Some are dedicated to over 50 communities, but most embrace the benefits of all ages.
It’s hard not to think of Mr. Rogers singing “Who are the people in your neighborhood”. These people you should meet every day, but with whom eye contact is rarely made. I almost called the police the other day on some guy who claimed to live in my building. I flat out didn’t believe him. He does in fact live here, I’m still not sure how that came to be, and I missed him moving in entirely. It’s not like I live in a building of 500 – there were only four of us until Patrick showed up. This never would have happened in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and by design, it wouldn’t happen in a Pocket Neighborhood either.
Beautifully designed, thoughtfully planned, walkable, welcoming places to be.
Ross Chapin, a Washington State Architect is most commonly credited with the design and creation of these neighborhoods. The key characteristics of which are a cluster – “community” of homes, carefully sited around a common green, in which the community takes part in caring. This shared stewardship is an essential element within the Pocket Neighborhood, as it contributes to the interaction of the inhabitants, enhances the sense of belonging, and security. Children can run free and play as they have many watching over them, and a stranger would be detected immediately.
The signature porch is intentionally large – an extension of the home, an outdoor gathering place.
One of the most attractive elements, to my mind, of these neighborhoods is there walkability. Pathways wrap around, and along homes, which spoon one another. Artfully designed to enhance community while preserving privacy. Public space is central with homes facing the green, porches, wide and inviting overlook this focal point of activity. Low railings and flower boxes begin to express the semi-private nature of this space. Large windows, and active gathering spaces – living rooms and kitchen, can be viewed by passer’s by. The floor plan takes you back further into the home for the most private spaces – not visible from the walking paths lining the green. High windows and skylights ensure that neighbors sited behind the home cannot peer into the sanctuary of ones sleeping place.
Nature and sustainability are other important aspects of a Pocket Neighborhood Community.
To me – this is attractive. I get asked often, which of the homes I owned to date is my favorite. Which do I miss the most? For me this is a tough question, not because I have so many to choose from, but because I fear that other’s will think of me as cold, or disconnected. My answer is none of them. When I began this quest I didn’t even know it had begun, but it had. To steal a phrase from a friend of my – these places were not my forever place – and that makes letting them go …. easy for me. Still, I am immensely proud of what they become.
It’s in the details.
The homes in a Pocket Neighborhood harken back to a simpler time. They remind me of my very favorite island – Nantucket, where the homes are tucked in close to one another in town, and walking and biking are preferred over the motor vehicle. How lovely it would be to get out of your car – which is carefully hidden away to the side or back, not obstructing the sense of community that is prized here – and leave your troubles astern, just like you would when you hop on the boat and watch the mainland disappear from view.
This weekend I visited NYC to take in Hamilton, listen to some Jazz at the Blue Note, eat some good food, and generally enjoy Manhattan in the not so springy springtime. My suitcase did not join me for the trip. Somewhere between the vestibule and the trunk it went its own way – ending our association.
I said it was fine, that its just a material thing, not my good health, or the loss of someone you love, or something truly tragic like living in the middle of the country and not being able to smell the salt in the air, and take a dip in the ocean, where truly all your ailments seem to vanish away. Nothing that catastrophic, and still it’s left me a little melancholy.
My Kate Spade for Steamline Carry-on had been a lot of places with me. I bought it just after I sold my first home – that was three homes ago, and at least a half dozen rentals. It had been to Paris three times, to the South of France, to Venice, Croatia, Bosnia, Switzerland, and Costa Rica. It had been to Florida, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, New York, DC, Illinois, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and probably a few states in between.
Perhaps it grew tired of never be fully unpacked – not being allowed to breath. Maybe it had some bad jeu-jeu like this rash that won’t seem to leave me alone. Maybe I should consider it a ritualistic cleansing? Do you suppose the same could be true of my adorable little Chanel booties – the ones that could carry me at a fast pace trot through the city with nary a complaint from me or the boot. And what of my leather pants, and my beloved faux fir Gucci knock off slippers from Target? What about them?
That’s enough now – it’s enough.
Water Taxi to SplendidHotel . Venice . Italy – my Steamline was right beside me.
I had a beautiful weekend – even if I did have to wear the same clothes the whole time. Sometimes you’ve just got to call a Spade a Spade – I’ll carry on….wink, wink. See, I still have my sense of humor. I never pack it, it should always be readily available.
A Nantucket Institution, The Club Car has undergone a transformation that has created a stir in more than the kitchen. Generally speaking, people don’t like change. Me, I am so habitually acclimated to disruption that while I might not always embrace it, but I accept it. I was sad to learn that not everyone has warmed this latest iteration of The Car.
It’s storied history began in 1881 when Nantucket developed its first rail service in support of its burgeoning tourist industry. Modest in size, just two open air passenger cars, named Dionis after the wife of island’s settler, Tristram Coffin. The train first went out to Surfside and later Sconset. The service ran for 36 years until it was supplanted by the automobile.
Main Dining Room
The rail car, first stood alone at its new location on One Main Street, and served as a diner. Later the restaurant expanded, connecting to larger building, becoming the restaurant and piano bar that serves as the current day memory most hold dear. Keys banging, drinks splashing, the sound of Piano Man carried out the door and down the street on the hot breeze of a summer night. Add in a hangover, and you’ve got powerful memories of place.
Additional bar seating adjacent main dining.
Under new ownership, its the design that drew me in and had me crushing hard. Tharon Anderson, of Tharon Anderson Design, a native Nantucketer, is responsible in part, for the transformation. The co-mingling of her coastal roots, with the historic tones of the original cars interior are a far cry from the blood red enclave that preceded it. I love the high gloss paint that glints and sparkles like stars in the night sky on the car’s dome. The brass scones that line the interior in the form of a hand grasping a torch, the brass pipe fittings that hold the shelves of old fashioned glasses, and the industrial light fixtures that are a major feature of the main dining room’s design. Garden elements pop up in art work, and hanging planters. Pale blue leather seating – some of the most comfortable I have seen a restaurant dare to install, least their patrons refuse to leave, create an airiness to the overall space that is powerfully hypnotic.
The piano remains a fixture of the restaurant and patrons can lend their voice to performances twice daily – certain songs will cost you dearly, so select carefully. The food however diverges from the well worn track its predecessor laid. The Chef chose a largely gluten free menu, and a serious farm and fish to table commitment that drives the dishes.
Luscious leather seating invites patrons to relax.
Like a train chugging down the tracks, mindful consumption has a momentum that is changing the way we eat. I like Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska as much as the next guy or gal, but I really like the vitality and energy I get from eating clean. The new Club Car is a breath of fresh air. Given the chance, I bet your fall in love all over again.
Nantucket has such depth – I fear that many that visit today have little idea of the magic of its beginnings – and of its staying power. Known by the settlers as “Nantocket” meaning “At the Land far out at Sea”, Nantucket was thought of as little more than a sandbar. Founded in 1676, Sconset – short for Siasconset is the last original settlement on the island. The Indians came before the “New Englanders”, and lived in Wigwams – Archeologists unearthed evidence that these tiny homesteads existed.
A Tiny Dome . The Wigwam
Once on island, the New Englanders discovered the profitability of the Whaling trade. Early construction of Whaling Stations, a barracks for 6 men housed the crew when ashore (a tiny house). Year round residents lived in abodes fashioned by the influence of Georgian Style homes, which became the quintessential cottages of Sconset, and housed many a retired Whaling Captain. Coveted for their simple shingle exteriors, the gardens, accented by wild roses, and ocean views. The artist community thrives there today, which is no surprise as the seaside location, the abundance of natural light, and the gardens that are adjacent to most of the cottages offer an ideal setting for a Painter.
Tiny – the island certainly contains much more than tiny today. Mansions dot every beachfront patch of sand….but tiny attracts a certain type. Those that don’t demand distraction, those that can sit in a moment, capture a sunset for future reflection, read a book in a nook, lay their head down on a pillow in a hanging bed, and feel grateful for the roof over their head. There’s community in tiny living. There’s connectedness – to nature, to one’s space. It’s special and comforting, and I am fascinated by it.
I love the apartment I live in now. I am wowed by the number of pathways I find to circulate from bedroom to kitchen, kitchen to bath, bath to living room, living room to bedroom and I can’t forget the deck. At just 800 square feet this space feels enormous to me. An acquaintance visited and said – “so it’s a studio”. I chocked on my words, and thought oh…you aren’t my kind of person. The vastness of this space is too much for me, and YOU find it limiting. Me I can find and define myself by a small space, and make no mistake…..I am going to built one.
A version in the works.
The world is a very small place – build tiny and be nice.