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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Serene, Patinaed Fantasy

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Memoir, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's the story? on September 29, 2011 at 11:41 am
Apartment buildings lining the south side of E...

East 57th Street between First and Sutton (via Wikipedia)

Accustomed to living out of a suitcase, I pendulumed back and forth between Manhattan where Susan was wrapping up a degree in interior design following a decade-long career in video production, and Westport, New York, where both of our parents owned homes and where we’d met a couple of years prior.

Susan had recently refinished a one bedroom apartment in The Galleria, and she was itching to sell it and start a new project. I was intrigued by the prospect of collaborating on a project and plugging my recent Paris experience into a tired but dignified New York apartment, but the Adirondacks were pulling me. After almost half a lifetime living in cities, I yearned to return to the rhythms and pleasures of rural life.

My idealized notion of a country house had its roots in a small farm that my parents had bought in Washington County while still living in New York City in the 1970s. Initially a getaway for my recently married parents trying to balance life and careers in New York City and later, albeit briefly, a full time residence, The Farm underpins my love for countryside and provides my earliest childhood memories.

The perfect place, I explained to Bruce, the friend and realtor who shuttled me from property to property, would be a small, simple farmhouse in the middle of fields with a sturdy barn and some acreage, maybe a stream or a pond or access to a river. Barns, in particular, pulled me. Secluded places with good light and views, forgotten places with stories still vaguely audible if you slowed down long enough to hear the voices. No loud traffic. An old overgrown orchard, perhaps. Asparagus and rhubarb gone feral near the barn. Stone walls, lots of stone walls and maybe an old stone foundation from a building long ago abandoned, the cellar hole full to bursting with day lilies. A couple of old chimneys in the farmhouse with fireplaces. A simple but spacious kitchen. A bedroom with plenty of windows. A room to read and write and collage the walls with notes, lists, photos, drawings and scraps. Someplace I could tinker at myself, gradually restoring the walls and plaster and roof. Timeworn wide plank floorboards of varying widths that I would sand by hand to avoid erasing the footpaths and dings and cupping from a burst pipe years before.

Although I’d painted the picture often enough, my budget and unwillingness to abandon the serene, patinaed fantasy resulted in a few false starts but mostly a very clear idea of what I was not interested in buying. On the upside, I came around and helped Susan select and renovate a coop in a 1926 McKim, Mead and White prewar located on 57th Street just off Sutton Place. An elegant apartment in a handsome building. Great bones, view and sunlight enhanced with a top-to-bottom environmentally responsible, non-toxic renovation. A success!

Though there were occasional fireworks when our aesthetics and convictions clashed, we enjoyed working together and decided to look for a North Country property that would suit both of our interests…

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Paris Renovation Bug

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Memoir, Renovation & Rehabilitation on September 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm
Paris Exposition: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France,...

Image by Brooklyn Museum via Flickr

Starting in about 2003 I initiated an unfocused real estate hunt for a “fixer-upper” in the AdirondacksChamplain Valley. I’d returned from four years in Europe with enough savings to justify some idle time, a reprieve I hoped to plough into a long languishing novel while tinkering with the vestiges of a web-based business I’d launched in Paris a few years before.

But I couldn’t shake the renovation bug that had bitten me quite unexpectedly while bringing a luxury vacation rental to market in Paris’ Faubourg St. Germaine.

I’d made it into my early thirties without owning a home due to my intentionally peripatetic lifestyle, and despite an aesthete’s appetite for buildings and furnishing and gardens, I hadn’t the least interest in settling down. No biological clock ticking. No nesting instinct. No yen for taxes and maintenance and burst pipes and snow shoveling. No desire whatsoever for the trappings of a settled, domestic life. I understood why it appealed to others, but for me the commitments and encumbrances far outweighed the pride and financial wisdom of home ownership.

Until recently.

Something had changed, and I couldn’t quite figure out how or why.

I’d spent the better part of a year and a half immersed in the acquisition, renovation and marketing of a grand Haussmannian property that promised tourists an opportunity to enjoy Paris à la Parisienne. My business partner and I joked that it was “Versailles in the heart of Paris”, which was a gross exaggeration, but fifteen foot ceilings, 3,200+ square feet of living space including three master suites, a grande salon, a petite salon and a formal dining room invited exaggeration. Magnificent marble fireplaces, intricate plaster moldings, hardwood floors and meticulous finish details exuded Parisian elegance by the time we started booking the accommodation, but it hadn’t always looked so inviting.

The property underwent a top-to-bottom transformation between the day we received the key and the day we shot the photographs for our brochures and website. Half of the property had been gutted and rebuilt from scratch. One bathroom was remodeled and two new bathrooms were created from scratch. Walls were moved, electrical systems were rewired. Carpets were ripped out and herringbone hardwood floors were hand sanded and resealed. Magnificent crown moldings were painstakingly restored, and sconces, chandeliers, and period hardware were refinished.

No architect. No designer. No engineer. Just outsized self confidence and a hepped up learning curve. I scribbled construction drawings on walls and fumbled through French and Portuguese until contractors seemed to understand what I wanted. With the Lebanese contractors I gesticulated, made funny sound effects and scribbled some more. That we completed the project at all was a miracle. That the results were exquisite, a mystery that still awes me. Though I’d grown up assisting my parents with a couple of renovation projects, I’d never before undertaken anything so ambitious or complex. Or so rewarding.

Although our business plan involved duplicating the process in Italy and in Spain, the woman I’d been dating for two years lived in New York City, and after two years of cycling through Paris, Rome and Manhattan on a roughly two week cycle, I opted to trade the business for the woman I loved. I dissolved my interest in the business, packed up my apartments in Paris and Rome, and moved back to the United States.

[To be continued…]

The Farm

In Champlain Valley, Memoir, What's the story? on May 31, 2011 at 5:29 pm
Rock Harbor Rhubarb

Rock Harbor Rhubarb

We walked down the road from the tennis court and stopped off at my parents’ house, still closed up for the winter. It would be several weeks before my parents arrived in Rock Harbor for the summer, and by then the asparagus would have gone to seed, so we picked enough for dinner and enough extra to bring back to the city for another meal.

I also picked a fistful of rhubarb to sauté with maple syrup for dessert. Susan disliked rhubarb, but I loved the lip puckering tartness. The taste transports me instantly to The Farm.

My parents, living and working in New York City, had purchased an 1840s farmhouse on 85 acres in Greenwich, New York five months after getting married. I was born less than two years later.

Although The Farm served primarily as a weekend getaway for the next five years, it dominates the geography of my earliest childhood. A stream of nostalgia gilded memories flow from this pastoral source: exploring the time-worn barns, absent livestock except for those conjured up by my energetic imagination and the swallows which darted in and out, building nests in the rafters, gliding like darts through dusty sunbeams; vegetable gardening with my mother; tending apple, pear and quince trees with my father; eating fresh rhubarb, strawberries and blackberries; discovering deer and raccoons and snakes and even a snapping turtle.

Hickory Hill and Rosslyn

In Artifacts, Daily Munge, Historic Essex, History & Heritage, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 19, 2011 at 7:00 am
The Ross Mansion, Essex, NY

The Ross Mansion, Essex, NY

I recently happened on this antique postcard of the Ross Mansion (aka Hickory Hill) which was built by the parents of W.D. Ross, the original owner of Rosslyn in the early 1820s. It still presides handsomely at the intersection of Elm Street and Church Street. I’m still sorting out the Ross family tree, intricately woven into the history of Essex, New York, and I’ll do my best to paint a clear picture as it emerges. For now, a couple of interesting references include:

History of the Town of Essex

Henry H. Ross (Wikipedia)

Honorable Henry H. Ross (Lancet Portrait Gallery)

Ross, Henry Howard (Biographical Directory of the Unites States Congress)

The interesting connection between Rosslyn and Hickory Hill is illuminated in Living Places: Essex Village Historic District.

“Hickory Hill” on Elm Street, and “Rosslyn” on the Lake Shore Road represent the residences of the wealthy merchants and lawyers who dominated Essex in the early days of its prosperity. Two-and-a-half-story brick structures whose design combines Georgian and Federal elements, both “Hickory Hill” and “Rosslyn” were built before 1830. The building of “Hickory Hill” (1822) built by Henry Harmon Ross for his bride, was taken from a five-bay design in Salem, New York. It displays great grace and lightness in its Palladian window, Neo-classic portico, and elegant cornices. Its setting in its own spacious grounds on the ridge which overlooks the village and the lake adds much to its beauty. “Rosslyn”, the William D. Ross house, originally constructed as a three-bay side hall dwelling, was expanded (1835-40) into five bays. Presently restored to its appearance in 1840, it commands a superb view of the lake and the Green Mountains in Vermont.

Another genealogical reference appears in Ancestry.com:

DANIEL ROSS: born February 23, 1764, Duchess County, NY; son of Daniel Ross (c 1740- c July 22, 1795) and Jerusa Howard; married Elizabeth Gilliland June 1784; one of the original settlers of Essex, NY on lands given to his wife by her father William Gilliland; had five children- Elizabeth, William Daniel, Henry Howard, Edward D., and Sara Jane; divorced Elizabeth c July 1815; Captain of Militia, Justice of the Peace, merchant, first Essex County Judge, and most prominent citizen; died at the home of his son Henry, Hickory Hill, Essex, NY March 10, 1831 at 67.

ELIZABETH GILLILAND ROSS EVERTSON: born 1764 in New York City; first child of William Gilliland (c1734-1796) and Elizabeth Phagan (c1740-1772); married Daniel Ross June 1785; had five children noted above; divorced c July 1815; married John J. Evertson by April 1, 1823; Evertson died by 1829; after Daniel’s death in 1831, she returned to her son Henry’s home, Hickory Hill, Essex, NY and died there August 3, 1847 at 83.

I will be adding Ross family references that I only have in print over the coming months. For now, here is an interesting if somewhat garbled snapshot of William Daniel Ross from Caroline Halstead Barton Royce as recorded in Bessboro: a history of Westport, Essex Co., N.Y. (Note: corrections are mine and possibly erroneous.)

William Daniel Ross dealt in lumber, iron and ship-building in Essex ; his wife was a sister of John Gould, Aid on Gen. Wright’s stafi; and his brother, Henry H. Boss, (afterward Gen. Ross,) was adjutant of the 87th at the battle of Plattsburgh.

If you can point me toward accurate history, genealogy, etc. for the Ross family of Essex, New York, please contact me. I would be much indebted to you. Thank you in advance.

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