Upstate Escape

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A few weeks ago, Charlie and I escaped to one of our favorite spots in upstate New York. If you follow the Hudson River north (bonus points if you take Amtrak!) you’ll eventually run into the sleepy, quaint town of Saugerties, just south of Albany. There’s a beautiful old lighthouse right on the river that’s been turned into the most tranquil, hospitable bed & breakfast. If you’re planning to be in the area, I highly recommend it. Reservations book up fast, but you can also visit the lighthouse during the daytime to learn about the history and take in the spectacular views of the river.

The lighthouse was first built in 1869 and, after falling into disrepair during the second half of the last century, local residents undertook a major restoration in the 1980’s to preserve the historic landmark. To reach the lighthouse, you have to hike a short trail along the marshy coastline. We learned the hard way that it’s best to arrive before high tide hits. The last part of the trail becomes submerged in about 6 inches of water once the tide rolls back in. Luckily for us, the inn keepers met us with knee-high galoshes to trudge through the water. I’m sure they were silently shaking their heads at our Brooklyn naivety.

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We visited on a blustery, overcast weekend and, while I normally wouldn’t be thrilled by the typical upstate NY dreariness, it gave the river a mysterious, ethereal quality that I’ll always remember.

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Here are views of the front of the house, with inviting yellow doors, and a view of the back, below, where you can see the old lighthouse. The innkeepers actually live in the house year-round and I’ve spent way too much time pondering their amazing good fortune. While I can imagine that living here presents plenty of challenges (planning your grocery store runs around the tidal schedule, being exposed to all kinds of unfavorable weather) I also think about how incredible it must be to care for such a unique piece of history. Next time, I plan on taking better pictures of the interior which has been beautifully decorated with simple, antique furnishings to honor the building’s history. Each room has a coal-burning stove as a secondary heat source and the kitchen is outfitted with antique appliances.

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The view from our bedroom window was surreal. When you wake up in the morning, the first thing you see is the water and you feel like you’re suspended in the middle of the Hudson. For city dwellers like us, it’s the most relaxing way to start the day. Now that I’m back in Brooklyn, I’m trying to imagine that there’s a river right outside my bedroom instead of the incessantly noisy Atlantic Avenue.

An Overdue Update…Featuring Woodwork!

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It’s been quite a while since I last updated this space and a lot has happened with our brownstone restoration and renovation.We’ve accomplished quite a bit (and learned quite a bit, too!) in the past year and a half and I’m excited to finally have some time to share a few bits and pieces of our progress.

I shared a few photos (way back when!) of our progress early on in the restoration, so now I’d love to get you up to speed and share a few posts on how our home looks currently. Room by room, I’ll show how things looked before we started and how it’s looking today. We’re still miles from the finish line with an ever growing to-do list, but I’m excited to show our progress so far! These beautiful old buildings sure know how to keep their owners busy!

First up on the docket is not a finished room, just yet, but a look at how far our woodwork has come. This home’s incredible woodwork was one of the first things that caught our eye but, admittedly, we needed a bit of imagination to see its potential.

Here’s how it looked before, during, and after!

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The first floor, also known as the parlor floor, was painted from floor to ceiling in complimentary shades of pink. But once Charlie and his team painstakingly stripped each door, window casing, baseboard, etc., we realized the parlor was covered in either a beautiful mahogany or walnut wood. The jury’s still out on what wood it actually is and we’ve asked everyone who’s walked through the door for their opinion. We’re leaning more towards walnut, but if anyone knows definitively, we’d love to hear!

And in the photos below, you’ll see how the woodwork looks now.

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On the second and third floors, the woodwork is both a different design and a different type of wood. The molding is a very light pine and we spent hours debating the right stain to use, in hope of matching it to the parlor. While it isn’t an exact match, we’re happy with the outcome.

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On a side note, not every room had its original doors, so we had to find a few replacements. Because we wanted to keep with the original design of the building and maintain historical accuracy, this meant tracking down doors with the same number of panels in relatively the same shape, like you see above. No small feat, it turns out. We struck gold at Zaborski’s Emporium in Kingston, NY, where they have an entire basement devoted to salvaged doors.

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These built-in pocket shutters are one of my favorite features. You can fold them up to let in all the natural light or close them for privacy. And it eliminates the need for drapes or blinds, which is genius! Those late 19th century architects and builders were really ahead of their time with these space-saving ideas!

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For the stairs leading up to the third floor, the wood itself was not in the best shape and we weren’t sure a stain would work well, so we decided to use a complimentary shade of green which, I think, adds a nice pop of color against all the dark woodwork.

We’re really fortunate to have found a brownstone with such great bones. We were so thrilled to find none of the shutters missing and almost all of the wood floors and molding intact. Even a majority of the old hardware was still here! The revitalized and restored woodwork is something that Charlie and I both really admire and value. I still get a jolt of excitement and awe every time I walk through the doors. I’m so glad we didn’t paint over all of the molding and, instead, took the time to bring back the original beauty. There’s nothing quite like it!

Autumnal Remnants

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The last of the leaves are dropping from the trees and the days are getting progressively shorter. Yesterday the first flakes of snow fell and though they were fleeting and melted instantly, it has me wishing that autumn could hang on for just a few moments longer. I didn’t get my fill of foliage yet. And I haven’t had a single sip of cider yet.

On a lighter note, I have come to the conclusion that vineyards are infinitely more enjoyable during the autumnal months than during the dead of summer. I’m vividly recalling a particular trip that Charlie and I took over the summer to a certain vineyard overlooking a bluff on Long Island’s North Fork. The view was incredible and the wine was pretty good, too, but it was preceded by the longest, sweatiest bicycle ride during the summer’s most unbearable heat wave. By the time our wine was poured, I was ready for a dip in the ocean. Our intentions were good, but it was not the most enjoyable way to spend a summer afternoon.

But in the fall, the air is crisp and cool. You can enjoy a glass of white and not be preoccupied with mopping sweat from your brow. A few weeks ago, we took a trip north to Rhinebeck, NY and then detoured out to Millbrook Winery to spend the afternoon with friends. I’d recommend you take similar course of action if you still have a few lingering, sunny days of fall left wherever you are.

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Don’t mind the criss-crossing power lines. Modern technology can screw up even the most scenic vistas.

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Tempting bunches of grapes still ripe for the picking.

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Ghostly Renovations

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Halloween may be over, but Park Slope stoops are still sporting plenty of synthetic cobwebs and collapsing jack-o’-lanterns, so I feel a post on the subject isn’t too far off base. One night last week, Charlie and I were taking one last walk through the brownstone before heading home for the evening and I noticed the light casting a ghoulish glow over the garden floor. I snapped a few photos and then failed to post them in a timely fashion, of course. But, if you’re looking for the setting of your next horror film, I think I may have found it.

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And Then There Was Light (And Plumbing)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with quick trips to New Orleans, Tulsa, and Houston. Much progress and many visits to Home Depot were made in between, but I’ve been significantly remiss in chronicling any of our brownstone renovation adventures. In an attempt to make up for lost time, I’m offering a two-for-one deal in this post: electricity and plumbing! Now I have you hooked, right? If further enticement is needed to keep reading, let me preface this by explaining how challenging it is to adequately outfit a home more than 120 years old with modern amenities while still respecting the building’s original layout and structural integrity. But trust me, we’re trying! Or rather, Charlie is trying and I am learning. Every day, I learn new terms and techniques and somehow the pieces are all slowly coming together in my head. So, without further ado, I give you a random assortment of photos and descriptive words that I hope will give you a sense of how we are progressing.

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Let’s suffice it to say that I’ve never given much thought to the pipes that carry our “waste” out of the house. To me, such necessary functions were attributed to magic and were dependent upon gravity and deep, deep, underground holes. Now you have a better understanding of my extensive knowledge of plumbing.

Well, there’s a bit more to it than that I’ve quickly learned. But, the very symmetrical nature of this brownstone beauty has offered a very brilliant bathroom solution. Since the building will eventually morph into either two or three separate apartments, it was crucial to have a bathroom on at least three of the four floors. Charlie is the best problem solver I know and has managed to run one waste line (read: giant black pipe. Not magic, as originally assumed) down the length of the building and all the bathrooms will be aligned down the center of the house. How is that for waste management?

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And, in an effort to make as few holes as possible in those ancient plaster walls, most of the electrical wiring has been neatly coiled next to the plumbing. Which, I suppose, is it’s own kind of modern magic, really.

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Although it’s hard to tell, this will eventually be a third floor bathroom someday soon. Currently, though, you can see through to the second floor. (I promise, no original hard wood was destroyed in the making of this bathroom. It started off as ancient, unattractive tile.)

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Just one of many unavoidable holes that I promise will be patched.

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The top floor ceiling also had to be replaced as some of the beams were beginning to collapse and needed a bit of bolstering. And, if you need one more bonus photo for making it this far, here’s one of all the insulation Charlie managed to cram up there. This baby brown is airtight. I’m hoping we make it to January without turning on the heat.

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Practically Ancient History

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Feast your eyes on this cast iron beauty and tell me how much you’d enjoy cooking a big meal for a large brownstone family. I suggested to Charlie that we keep things simple in the kitchen and, instead of investing in some fancy stainless thing, we just cook on this instead. He was less than amused.

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All kidding aside, this is one of the most impressive stoves I’ve ever seen.

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If you can get a good look at the writing across the top, it says National Stove Works New York. Cursory internet searches have not revealed much of anything about the stove’s origins. But I’m determined to know more. Anyone out there have any insight into enormous cast iron stoves from the late 1800’s? in the photo below, you’ll see that there is date of 1873 listed above the burners.

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My mind is already spinning all kinds of crazy stories and I can practically picture the women who perspired over this stove in layers of crinoline (what else could they be wearing?) cooking hearty suppers for a full house. And I don’t think my daydreams are too far off from reality. Charlie searched through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s online newspaper archives and found an ancient clipping for this very same house in the early 1900’s advertising for a full-time cook. Not just any cook. A Protestant cook. Apparently those owners could only consume food cooked with the same religious views. You are what you eat, as they say.

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Late last week, we had the gas meters installed (one of the less interesting aspects of home renovations so I’ll spare you the details). When the gas guy walked through the garden floor, his jaw dropped when he saw the stove. This thing catches everyone’s attention. It’s even more impressive in person.

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One of the more daunting tasks is to figure out how to incorporate such a stove into our home. Because I’m fairly positive it will take an army to move it. At least we’ll always a conversational piece close at hand.

The Brownstone Boy

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When I moved to this borough about 4 years ago, I’ll admit that I didn’t know very much about it. I knew that most of my family landed here after leaving Ireland about three generations ago. And that some areas were notoriously not that desirable while other areas very much were. I also knew that very good pizza was easy to come by.

But I did not know anything about brownstones. Fortunately, Charlie has turned out to be a wealth of information in that department and has spent the last couple of years patiently imparting his real estate wisdom and knowledge of historical preservation on me. Two weeks ago, he became the very proud owner of one such regal brownstone and, if you’re interested, I’d like to share what one of these baby browns looks like on the inside after many layers of paint and years of carpets (I hear the ’70s calling) and decades of renters. And, if you want to stick around long enough (read: a few months), I’d also like to share what one of these buildings can look like after a painstaking and meticulous renovation.

DSC_0284He’s unlocking the door and ready for the cleanup. This beast of a brownstone has four floors in total. The door Charlie is unlocking here leads to the garden floor and then there are three floors towering above.DSC_0318One of seven marble fireplaces in the building. The one pictured here is on the back parlor floor. Each floor has two large rooms on either end and, if you can imagine, a fireplace in each room. I can’t even fathom a time when a building of this size was heated using fireplaces. If this photo makes your eyes burn, it might be because of the exceptionally pepto bismol pink walls. Also note the salvaged molding on the floor. This will be incorporated back into the building at a later date.DSC_0297I’m still working to figure out what year this sink might be from. But, it should be noted that this room is also currently home to a similarly old and beautiful white stove as well as a hulking, jaw-dropping cast iron stove that reaches almost to the ceiling. This cast iron behemoth is most definitely one of the oldest things in the building (aside from the building itself) and we are determined to find out its origins. Pictures of these will come next time. (Am I building the suspense for Brownstone Part II? Is it working yet?)DSC_0288The original grand staircase just waiting to be restored and returned to its original glory.DSC_0310The pepto pink paint meets its match with a good dousing of paint stripper.DSC_0334

Take a good look at the intact ceiling up there. Perfection.

DSC_0332Now take a look at the ceiling on the other half of the same room. Far from perfect. But Charlie has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Just you wait and see.

if you’ve scrolled this far, I’m going to guess that you most likely are leaving with no true sense of the building’s layout. And, well, let’s be honest here. That’s because I really have not done this building any sort of justice. This is more a hodge podge of photos that I hope to expand upon and, eventually, I plan to give you a better picture of this little corner of Brownstone Brooklyn.

A Beast Far From Extinction

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Considering that I hail from Upstate New York (farther north than most might deem necessary to travel), I love when a worthy trend makes its way south. And rarely do I think that Manhattan or its great, neighboring borough, Brooklyn, lack for very much of anything. Especially restaurants. But when the Syracuse-based Dinosaur Bar-B-Que announced plans to open a new outpost in a long neglected warehouse on Union Street near Fourth Avenue, I began counting down the days.

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**Disclaimer: This post is long overdue and the following photos date back to June 21st, two days after the Dino’s official opening. But I don’t think it’s ever too late to extoll the virtues of this place.

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One of my favorite characteristics of all the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que locations is the way they manage to keep their cool by taking root on the slightly tougher edges of town. In Syracuse, the original location was founded in 1988 in an old brick tavern on a largely uninhabited stretch of town. In Brooklyn, the bar-b-que joint is steps from the Gowanus Canal, whose toxicity has long been debated, and has showcased a bright mural as a tribute to the area’s gritty history. The same sentiment can be found in Harlem’s location, too.

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Although I most certainly am no expert in the intricacies of bar-b-queing, I can assure you that this is the best I’ve ever eaten.

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While patiently waiting for our table with a slew of expectant and hungry Brooklynites, I ruminated on some of the many differences between each location. For instance, Syracuse’s curb is always lined with Harley-Davidson bikes while Brooklyn’s curb is more typically filled with strollers and vintage Schwinn bikes. But the food is another story. The food will consistently amaze you, despite the location you choose.

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Fuel for the fire.

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Unfortunately, piles of meat rarely photograph well. At least, in my experience. And, after a lengthy and well-deserved wait with some frothy brews, very little thought was given to the camera once the food arrived. But hopefully I’ve convinced you that this place is well worth a visit.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve managed to catch delicious whiffs of slowly cooking pork as I’ve biked over the Gowanus canal on neighboring streets. And trust me, pork is quite the upgrade from the foul smells typically emanating out of that canal.

Spring in My Steps

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By all accounts, spring has officially made an appearance in Brooklyn and the surrounding boroughs. And to me, nothing spells spring quite like the dusty tomes on display at the Park Avenue Armory. Every year – the past 53 years, to be exact – the New York Antiquarian Book Fair invites book dealers from near and far to show off their most desirable books, from rare, first editions by Jack Kerouac, Flannery O’Connor, or Charles Bukowski to the well-worn, original texts of Shakespeare. For those of us who still enjoy the weight of book in our hands, the book fair is a time to celebrate the writers we admire most.

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Purchasing one of these literary gems may make a dent in your wallet, but to look for a day is a mere twenty dollars. But after a glass of wine and some perusing, don’t think we weren’t tempted to pull out our check books.

And then of course, there are the usual oddities that you only see in New York. Such as…

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A man reading by the light of an ape. Reading lamps are extremely overrated.

In Honor of the Ladies

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Well, as with most things, I appear to be a little late in the game. Women’s History Month may have ended yesterday, but that’s no reason to stop celebrating. In fact, why should we designate just one month to celebrating the accomplishments of all those wonderful women of yesterday and today? I think I’ll celebrate for the rest of the year, thank you very much. And in honor, I’m taking a cue from this former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief turned full-time writer. If you’re in need of a good female power punch, I suggest you grab a copy for yourself. And if you need more convincing, just look here.

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