The Cool House

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Landscaping or revealing the Cool House

Yard after landscaping
Those Cool House readers who follow me on instagram, Facebook or the twitters will be aware that the past month has involved a lot of heavy work around the yard. Six months after the big tree came down we lost a couple of large branches of the plum tree in the front. This was a sad and a shock but it did open up the view to the south west. We saw dogwoods beginning to bloom, pretty specimens that we hadn't appreciated before. We also noticed how forlorn and frankly tatty the border in front of the kitchen patio had become.  The Guy spoke to the landscaper and before I knew what was happening they had decided to demolish half the front yard.

Front yard after landscaping

I had my own issues with the landscaping but they were round the back. I'd never felt the bridge fitted in with the architecture of the house, and although we'd had it mended three times it was again in serious need of repair and I was ready to see it gone. I also hated the mess of a pool and collection of debris that ran along the dry bed that was supposed to be a gentle bubbling waterfall and stream. If the front yard was getting a facelift I was determined the back would have a boost, too.

Backyard after landscaping
The process was not without out its challenges. You cannot imagine my face when I realized that I'd be without a privacy screen of plants for at least two weeks. Staring at soil is not at all therapeutic, plus most of the work was done in sweltering temperatures. The removal of the old barbecue base involved some serious power tools and moving the stones atop the waterfall drew blood from at least one landscaper. But at last it was done, the new lawn grew, the plants-mostly hollies, azaleas and rhododendrons-went in and the sprinkler guys added new zones so everything would be happily watered and ready to grow.

Yard before
Let's look at where we were a month or so ago . Above is a collection of photos taken in the yard over the past 12 years. Below is the front yard on demolition day. The house was hidden and lots of  trees had passed their best. At least one was completely fried. Although I lost some of the layers of privacy in the short term, in the long term we gained so much more.

Yard awaiting demolition
Of course the greatest benefit of all this yard renovation is that we can now appreciate the
unique Andrew Geller architecture of the house.  Remembering what it was like when we first viewed the house in 2003, when there were so many trees enclosing the house that we thought we had been misled by the realtor's flyer, it's a completely different reality.  Now the house can shine in all its glory, for us and every passer-by to enjoy.  This little video below encompasses how I feel now I can relax and kick back, reveling in this glorious Indian summer in the yard. Total and absolute bliss.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Andrew Geller, Architect and Artist

Andrew Geller, the "architect of happiness" is celebrated for his iconic beach house but he is less well known as a painter. Yet it was his artistic talents that earned him a mention in the New York Times at age fourteen after he won a competition for adults with his painting "Self Portrait on the Brooklyn Bridge".  His painting was displayed at the Brooklyn Museum and he attended art classes there before winning a scholarship to the New York High School of Art and Music.  After graduating he took the entrance exam for Cooper Union, claiming that that although he passed all parts it was his skill in free-hand drawing that merited him the place.

Andrew Geller continued to draw and paint after college, filling drawing pads with self-portraits and sketches of his artist wife Shirley.  During his army service in World War II he was often asked to draw his commanding officers.  As his architectural career took off he produced concept sketches brimming with character and gaiety as well as watercolor renderings of prospective projects but there was less time to paint for pleasure. After his retirement from Raymond Loewy International in 1975 he continued to design houses for private clients and it was not until the late 1980s that he was able to devote time to regular painting expeditions around the north shore of Long Island with friends and Shirley.

From these excursions he produced a series of watercolor abstract landscapes. I am very fortunate to have two hanging in the great room of the Cool House. One is a small, predominately bright blue work from 1994, reminiscent of a pond reflecting the clear sky on a sunny day. The other, which hangs on the chimney breast, is larger and dated July 11 1993.  It reminds me of the waters at Caumsett Park in Lloyd Neck or Crab Meadow in Northport, I have to thank Jake and Tracy Gorst for this wonderful painting and Cherie Via Rexer and her team at Ripe Art Gallery for enhancing its character and beauty with this striking frame.

Throughout the nineties Andrew Geller experimented with other forms of painting. He embraced pointillism both as pen and ink drawings and in large format acrylics and his work was often exhibited in local galleries.  He continued to paint until a few months before his death in December 2011. One of my favorite Geller paintings is also one of his last: an abstracted dancing figure among swirls go red, purple and green, whimsical yet powerful.

More of Andrew Geller's paintings and drawings can be seen in Jake Gorst's comprehensive study of his grandfather's work,  Andrew Geller Artist and Architect: Deconstructed 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The upside

Last week I was in mourning for the magnificent spruce tree that has been the focal point of the property since the lots were divided in the sixties. I couldn't imagine what the house would look like without the tree it was designed around. Being a glass half-full person so I knew there would be more light both inside the kitchen and the bedroom above as well as in the yard. What I hadn't understood was how the removal of the tree would allow us to see for the first time the design of the house from the north-west dining room to the southern garage side.

It's possible to stand on the far side of the front lawn and truly appreciate how the house nestles into its surroundings, a testament to Andrew Geller's unique architecture. At last we can fully compare this side with the backyard facing east side. Definitely the upside of losing the tree.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Andrew Geller: Deconstructed at Nassau County Museum of Art

Author and documentary film maker Jake Gorst, grandson of iconic architect Andrew Geller, will be talking about his grandfather and signing copies of his book Andrew Geller: Deconstructed, at the Nassau County Museum of Art on Saturday, September 26th at 3pm.  The event is being held in conjunction with the Museum's current exhibition The Moderns, Chagall, Degas, Léger, Miró, Picasso and more...

Do not miss Jake Gorst's unique presentation which is full of stories about his grandfather, the "architect of happiness", and his influence on architecture and design from the 1950s onwards. Tickets available here

Andrew Geller Beach House Sagaponak Long Island 1966 (Elkin House)

Friday, September 18, 2015


We are in mourning today for a part of the landscape, for what the tree surgeon described in April as the best tree in the Incorporated Village and for the core of our view every day for the past eleven years. When we moved in to the Cool House the previous owner explained the house's unusual design was conceived in part around this enormous mountain spruce tree in the front yard. Its beautiful fringed, dark green arms seemed to offer our home an enveloping hug, protecting it from the harsh Long Island winters, providing shade from the relentless summer sun. Each morning we have stood in front of the kitchen windows, sipping coffee, watching the birds and squirrels among the branches, marveling at its magnificence.

We took every opportunity of good weather in Spring, Summer and Fall to enjoy lunch al fresco on the patio beneath its branches until, sometime after the Fourth of July celebrations, we noticed the needles on the bottom branches were falling off, even though they were still green. Over the course of the next couple of weeks the phenomenon worsened. We googled, consulted the landscape and the tree experts and came up with a diagnosis of severe needle drop. We crossed our fingers and hoped it would be a temporary problem but the needle drop persisted, leaving only brown fronds; some days it seemed as though it was raining pine needles. 

While we still had tiny, green pinecones on the ends of the branches we could still hope for a recovery but when these too started falling and the branches turned brown and bare farther and farther up the tree we knew we were facing a dying tree. By mid-September it was all over. Even the uppermost tip was dry and the ground beneath covered in a couple of inches or more of desiccated needles.

For the last month we haven't been able to sit outside on the patio, everything has been covered in pine needles. We couldn't bear to drink our coffee looking at the tree, it was too depressing, and most telling, the birds and squirrels abandoned it. Finally, we knew it could no longer be saved and made a called the tree guys to remove it. Today they spent 8 hours taking down its 150' skeletal remains. 

I'm trying to look on the bright side, the west facing rooms will have more light, the front lawn will have less stress, we can replant the dell but all I can see is negative space, a pivotal part of the landscape gone. It's still a shock that it happened so quickly: two months from the first sign to complete failure. All that remains is a stump, a truck load of wood chips and an aching heart. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Andrew Geller: Deconstructed

As most readers of this blog know The Cool house was designed by iconic modernist architect Andrew Geller, best known for his geometric Long Island beach houses and design work for Raymond Loewy.  Sadly Andrew Geller passed away in 2011 but he left behind a treasure trove of blueprints, photographs and documents that his grandson Jake Gorst has collated and preserved to ensure his grandfather's legacy.

From these sources and the interviews that he recorded over many years, Jake Gorst has lovingly produced a tribute to his grandfather.  Andrew Geller: Deconstructed provides readers with a unique insight into the mind of an artist who over a fifty year career impacted the course of design and architecture.  I received my copy yesterday and it is delightful, full of images never before published. 

Jake is currently promoting the book at a series of events including a book signing on April 13 2015 at 7pm at the Book Revue in Huntington.  Andrew Geller worked throughout the twentieth century mcm design revolution, his architecture can be found from Montauk to Texas and his commercial work took him from the restaurants on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center to Israel.  I can't wait to get my copy signed and listen to Jake share personal anecdotes about "the architect of happiness".  See you there?

Images from Andrew Geller: Deconstructed by Jake Gorst copyright © 2015, published by Glitterati Incorporated 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Spucing Up

Hard to believe that it's been almost a year since I last posted anything on this blog. It's not that we haven't been tending to The Cool House rather that social media has changed a lot about the way I document my life and that goes for the house too.  I'm more likely to take a thousand word snap of something we've done and post it right there to Facebook or twitter. One click and I've saved all that tedious typing. You could say instagram killed this blog.

But it would be unfair to ask you to search through all the hundreds of photos of sunsets and kittens to find one that shows the renovated pool, or the color we ended up with in the sitting room after several, expensive redoes.  So, here, in no particular order, are the projects we undertook in the first ten months of 2014.

Pool renovation: all the pipes, skimmers and reruns were replaced. This job entailed digging up and replacing half the brick patio but it mbas meant no more leaks. Also the pool light works again and we have a new, quieter energy saving pump. The pool housing is screened off with a nicer replacement for the termite eaten fence and next Spring a gas heater will be installed.

We lost a couple of trees and big rhododendrons to last year's severe winter, which Neal the Landscaper said was an opportunity, especially as the pool guys had to rip through the shrubbery to lay new pipes so hey presto one May weekend we got a new awesome shrubbery. well, almost new, The Guy insisted on keeping a dog wood because it looks spectacular from the master window for one week in May. It will probably come crashing down this winter!

The kitchen patio, front path and steps were re-grouted and broken bluestone slabs were replaced. We also installed four Marvin windows in the den, downstairs bath and basement where the rot or weather had damaged them beyond repair.

While all that was going on we started the BIG PAINT JOB, which kept getting bigger as we progressed form room to room. I'd taken three months to narrow down the fifty odd shades of gray and gold to half a dozen. We used Benjamin Moore Aura paint on all the walls and baseboards, which has no off gases and dries to a tough knock resist finish; the painters replaced moldings as needed. Eventually after much trial and error, we chose Collingwood for the kitchen and second and fourth bedrooms, Moonshine for the great room, stairs, hall and balcony and one bath, Camouflage for the third bedroom & the den. My office ended up Golden Tan, the third bedroom Buena Vista Gold, the laundry Metropolitan and we matched the original dusky pink tiles in the downstairs bath to Peau de Soie. The painters took advantage of the cool, dry summer and stained the house Mission Brown, with doors in Marvin Bronze to match the windows.

Last but certainly most significantly, we converted from oil to gas. This was prompted when our oil guy telling us he couldn't keep the monster burner going much longer coincided with an oil bill that cost more than our first new car. I won't bore you with the details of the 6 month saga of no heat or no hot water, repairs, work-arounds and crossing our fingers it took to get us to October 8 when National Grid finally turned the gas on. It's also not the prettiest project, and it took one guy an entire 8AM-4PM day to get the monster out of the basement but it did finally get done. We worried about an ugly gas meter outside our beautiful house but we managed to hide it behind an estate rhododendron. Can you see it in the photo above? No? Neither can anyone else! More importantly we can take showers without screaming and the air coming out of the vents is toasty so it's probably the project that impacts our comfort level the most.

10 years later

Finally, 10 years after we moved in, thirteen years after the last coat of Navajo white, we summoned up the courage to have the space painted. As this room is open to so many spaces, we envisioned chaos, with scaffolding everywhere and paint-splattered animals leaving tacky trails on the furniture and furnishings.

And the color? I had major issues here. The eastern light and huge windows played havoc with the hues. Each wall looked a different hue, a different color even. I'd love a color on one wall at 9 am and hate it by 1. Another would look great on one wall, be subtle on another and disappear on a third. It became a process of elimination and I know I drove the painters crazy, though they were much to polite to say so, even when I changed my mind in the middle of the night and emailed them with the new choice.

What do you know? Turns out the whole process was drama free. Even though some cats love the no-smell BM Aura paint and snuggled up to it at every opportunity, they managed to keep their paws out of the paint trays. Scaffolding? Not necessary. Three men with rollers accomplished the whole job in two days.

The wall color we finally landed upon is Benjamin Moore moonshine. On this wall, and only this wall it looks a watery green, That lasts an hour or so when the north eastern light hits the wall. The same color is on the balcony walls, which look off-white and the double height wall that looks gray. Later in the day all the walls fade to the neutral color in the first photo above, which is a very relaxing shade that showcases the art.

When it was all clean and fresh The Guy decided he had to have this bright and vibrant piece by Long Island artist Stanko, which was framed by rockstar framer Cherie Via Rexer of Ripe Art Gallery. It has a mid-century vibe that really sits well in the space. The only regret I have about this room is that we didn't have it painted four years ago when we renovated the kitchen. On the other had the paint color I had in mind for this room wouldn't have worked nearly as well and i would be repainting right about now...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Classic Miid-century Furniture Reissues

Great news for fans of classic American furniture by designer and manufacturer Harvey Probber. Until now his furniture has been out of production since the 80s, the only way to find his modular sofa has been the occasional sighting on ebay or 1stdibs. This Fall, M2L, a New York distributor of authorized modern furnishings catering to the design trade, has been licensed to produce new editions, including the 1947 Sling Chair above and the iconic 1972 Deep Tuft sectional below. 
Prices for the Deep Tuft Sofa start at $15,000 in plush fabric for a 5 piece or $19,000 in leather. It may seem a lot but this furniture is so well made it will last a lifetime. 

Here at The Cool House we inherited a 1968 12-piece sectional sofa that's still as comfortable and sturdy as ever-although it was reupholstered four years agoAs Probber once said "the true test of great design is time".
Other pieces to be reintroduced include sleek, wood wrapped casegoods and seating from the Architectural Series that were originally produced inFalls River MA in the 1960s.

It's been 10 years since Probber's death when an retrospective of his work was held  at Baruch College in Manhattan. it's certainly time to give these gorgeous designs another, closer look.