Outdoor string lights have surged in popularity, thanks to their ability to make a simple backyard or patio feel like a romantic outdoor cafe. And that makes them especially appealing during a summer of social distancing.“Everybody loves the way they look,” said Jesse Terzi, the principal of New Eco Landscapes, a Brooklyn-based design firm that frequently uses string lights to cast a warm glow over outdoor spaces. “It makes for a different environment. When you have those lights on, compared to a single-source light, it feels a little more festive.”It doesn’t hurt that most string lights are extremely affordable: Some barely cost more than a six-pack of craft beer. And if there’s an outdoor outlet available, installing them is a do-it-yourself project.“It’s less of a process than installing most other lights,” said Mr. Terzi, who often attaches hooks for string lights to exterior walls or trees, or to steel poles secured to a fence.That’s all it takes, he noted, to make it feel “like a party’s happening.”How do you choose the right style? “The bulb matters a lot,” Mr. Terzi said, as it is usually exposed. “It’s about how vintage or modern you want it” — and whether you prefer incandescent bulbs or energy-saving LEDs.Do string lights need a cable for support? Not necessarily, he said, but a steel cable or rope may give the setup a more polished, professional look.How will you control them? You can simply plug string lights in when you need them, but for more convenience, consider adding a smart plug or timer. “A lot of people have them on timers,” Mr. Terzi said, “so it comes on at dusk and goes off at midnight.”ImageBolleke Hanging LampRechargeable cordless outdoor lamp with silicone loop$119 at Fatboy: 972.304.6020 or shop.fatboyusa.comImageSolar Droplet Lantern Light StringSolar-charging string light with punched metal diffusers$40 at Terrain: 877-583-7724 or shopterrain.comImageBrightown G40 Outdoor Patio String LightString light in 25-foot length with incandescent bulbsAbout $18 on Amazon: amazon.comImageHampton Bay 24-Light Indoor-Outdoor String LightCommercial-style 48-foot LED string lightAbout $50 at Home Depot: 800-466-3337 or homedepot.comImageSimple String LightsLight string with 10 bulbs and brass, bronze or nickel sockets$49 at West Elm: 888-922-4119 or westelm.comFor weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.
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About two weeks ago, I found packets of yeast for sale at a corner market, displayed on a shelf like it was no big deal, like yeast hadn’t become a precious commodity during the coronavirus pandemic as supermarket shelves emptied and Americans took up bread-baking like a national pastime.I don’t even bake bread. But my neighbor Aggie Zelazco does, and I knew she had been looking for yeast for weeks. I grabbed a few packets.Half an hour later, standing six feet from her door, I gushed from behind my mask as she clutched the little yellow packets, turning them over in her hands. “I can’t believe you found it,” she said. I’d never been so excited about a $1.69 gift.I’ve known Ms. Zelazko for seven years. Our sons play together, and we share tips about parenting, yard work and home repairs. And because she has metastatic breast cancer, I’ve been picking up food for her whenever I go shopping, taking her handwritten lists with me to the markets. Until March, when stay-at-home orders were enacted, I had no idea she baked, or that she liked cinnamon rolls, or whipped salted butter.But the pandemic has deeply affected how Americans shop, eat and stock our pantries. In turn, we’ve caught glimpses of the private lives of our friends and neighbors. In the early days of the pandemic, while Americans scrambled for the most basic items, like flour and toilet paper, people had little choice but to ask one another to help fill in the gaps in their shopping lists. If you were lucky enough to score an Instacart time slot, you texted your best friend to find out if she still needed garlic or sugar. If you braved an hourlong line at ShopRite, you picked up an extra package of chicken for your neighbor.Now, even as the grocery store shelves begin to resemble normal again, the dynamics still linger, and our shopping habits are still altered. Some food and household items remain in short supply (good luck finding bread flour), many stores still have lines, and for people like Ms. Zelazko who are immunocompromised, shopping is still off-limits.“There still is sharing of those special items. For example flour — I bake bread every week and I’ve borrowed flour from several different friends and lent it to other friends,” said Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” whose June essay in the New York Review of Books laid out how the pandemic exposed dysfunction in the American food supply chain. “There has been that kind of communication, which I imagine was going on in the Soviet bloc quite a bit once upon a time when there was no certainty that you could find the item that you needed, and the sense of really scoring when you found something.”Americans are still wary of shopping. Roughly a third of respondents to a survey conducted in mid-May by Acosta, a sales and marketing agency, reported that they were concerned about food shortages, were stocking up when they did shop to limit trips to the store, and were cooking more at home. C.S.A. memberships are up as people look for alternatives for getting fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheese and meat. And victory gardens are making a comeback, leading to plant swaps among people who may never have gardened before but now have more pepper plants than they have containers to grow them in.A few weeks after California enacted stay-at-home orders, Ave Lambert, who lives in San Francisco, was in need of a can opener and a bicycle pump, but didn’t want to venture to a store. So, Mx. Lambert, who identifies as nonbinary, set up a private Facebook group, calling it Barter Babes, and invited local friends to join. Members could invite friends, too, but they had to personally know the invitees. The group is local and small, with around 100 members.“People were looking for yeast and flour, all these things that I had,” said Mx. Lambert, who, at one point traded olive oil for salmon and halibut. Members set up trades at a social distance, leaving packages of goods on one another’s stoops and doorsteps. The swap filled in a gap in food and supplies, but it also gave members an excuse to see each other, even if the visits were fleeting and from a distance. Getting some eggs would give you a reason to text your friend with a picture of the frittata you’d made with them.By the middle of spring, members were trading young tomato plants, too. Mx. Lambert, 36, who works in food education, hopes that by the time the tomatoes ripen, social distancing rules will be relaxed enough for the group to arrange an in-person meetup to sample the harvest. The little tomato plants are “a promise that I will see you this summer and we will see each other later,” Mx. Lambert said.Eating is a social activity — who wants to break bread alone? Now, even as the country reopens, sharing a meal remains one of the biggest hurdles, with restaurants considering fixes like plexiglass to separate tables, and experts recommending that guests bring their own food and utensils to dinner parties. No wonder some of us get excited when we find yeast for a friend at the grocery store — if you can’t share the bread, at least you can share the ingredients.“We’re rediscovering something really important about food which is, it’s a deeply social act,” said the British food writer Bee Wilson, author of “The Way We Eat Now.” “You feel wonderful when you’ve given someone something. It’s so basic and frugal and it’s the opposite of the Uber Eats delivery culture.”There’s another discovery that happens when a friend hands you her shopping list. You get to peek inside her pantry and see a side of the person that you might not otherwise have known — not just what they buy, but how they shop and what they consider staples.“It’s sort of like finding out how somebody washes their underwear,” Ms. Wilson said. “It’s peering into somebody’s life in a quite intimate way that we never would have done in the past.”What we find there just might surprise us.For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.
While walking my dog on a recent Sunday afternoon, I spotted my neighbor knitting on her front porch. I waved and approached, stopping just short of her shade garden. We chatted for a long time — from a safe distance — about working from home, our dogs, baking, knitting and how our families are doing, not just small talk these days.The porch has become the buffer in my neighborhood to negotiate new social-distancing rituals, an old-fashioned way to socialize that has been rekindled by the coronavirus.In these strange times, I have engaged more regularly with our neighbors and passers-by than I have in years, often from the safe vantage point of a corner rocking chair on my own front porch. Our family has met new puppies and babies, chatted with good friends and even learned the names of neighbors we knew only by sight. Strangers have stopped to admire our magnolias.We deemed a front porch a prerequisite when shopping for houses in upstate New York more than 20 years ago. We luckily landed here in Delmar, in the middle of a block filled with old homes with inviting porches. Ours has held parties, happy hours, meals and solitary moments over the years. But I never thought it would take on the roles of both a barrier and a connection during a pandemic.The porch, an architectural element that fell victim to air-conditioning in the mid-20th century, used to be the place where people gathered and cooled off. Old fliers for houses like mine advertised the porch as “a summer parlor” and “a pleasant shelter.”Now we’re becoming champion porch sitters, after being cooped up for two dreary months of working and binge-watching, in the company of only our immediate family. Warm weather has sprung us loose, but only so far.Beaches and parks don’t beckon when you have the luxury — and we are fortunate — of a porch for socialization and relaxing. My oldest daughter, Zoe, up from Brooklyn since March, has had many of her meals on the porch, and has found it a good place to read, write and draw. She is an artist and a gallery partnerships manager at the online art-collection platform Artsy, and she left the city to shelter in place and work from here, her childhood home.While many of us have decks as well, the privacy of the back of the house is not what I crave right now. Even just seeing other people from afar has given us a boost. We want to see our friends and neighbors. We miss them.And this isn’t limited to my block. Across the country, there are accounts of people using porches to engage from a distance for happy hours and concerts, to help combat social isolation.Another couple at the end of the street have been sitting on the porch of their bungalow while their teens and friends space themselves six feet apart on the front lawn. A month ago, around the corner, I heard a tiny “hi” from an enclosed porch — only to see a miniature Darth Vader looking out, barely reaching the window. It was May the Fourth.Our porch runs the width of our house, about 25 feet. We have found there’s ample space for social distancing, so we designated a chair to be sanitized before and after each guest. My husband and I realized this while a repairman finalized the sale of a boiler from 20 feet away. The next guest, Christine, a friend, brought over an extra pulse oximeter (I have asthma) and sad news about a 95-year-old World War II veteran in town who was dying. We toasted him with glasses of wine.I didn’t know how starved I had become for connection until I took my spot on the porch and enthusiastic waves from passers-by — and from me in return — ensued. I’ve had limited outings since March, my only excursions being hikes, neighborhood walks and doctors’ appointments — mostly solo.The first time we recognized the porch as a social vehicle to get through this time came in mid-March, after my 16-year-old daughter, Nia, returned from a trip to Spain and had to be quarantined for 14 days. Nia sat inside while her friend Lily sat on the porch, a closed window between them, and they spoke on their phones.From the porch, I have watched a convoy of cars and minivans cruise along the street, honking at a retiring elementary schoolteacher who came down off her porch to tell her students how much she loved them.I congratulated my neighbor Ed on turning 79 earlier this spring. His family held a party in his honor on his front lawn, while he sat on the porch with his wife, Shirley.On Memorial Day, we usually hold a brunch during the local parade that streams past our house. It’s the time when we typically spruce up the porch for our guests. Even though the parade was postponed, I’ve put in fresh geraniums in the cement urns at the base of the stairs.There is always more work to be done, because upstate winters aren’t kind to wooden porches, and they need constant upkeep. We replaced ours in 2004, finding a white tulip blooming underneath, transplanted by a squirrel, no doubt.So during this long summer, I’ll be burning off my nervous energy with sandpaper and paint brushes, pausing for random and treasured conversations with my neighbors.For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.
In his latest book, Ken Druse candidly admits to a particular botanical bias. “When I come across a beautiful flower,” he writes, “the first thing I do (after checking for a bumblebee) is lean in to sample its smell.”And if there’s no scent? “I find the blossom somewhat lacking.”Mr. Druse is the author of 20 garden books including, most recently, “The Scentual Garden: Exploring the World of Botanical Fragrance,” which was awarded the American Horticultural Society’s top honor in March. He challenges those with gardens large and small — or even just a collection of houseplants or herbs in pots — to do a fragrance inventory and then punch up the scent quotient in strategic spots, taking into account multiple seasons and various times of day.Scent is what Mr. Druse calls “the invisible garden,” a design layer often overlooked while we’re distracted by shopping for something in a particular color, or searching out a plant with a particular shape, scale or purpose. But factoring in fragrance delivers another sensory dimension.ImageThe species Hosta plantaginea, which has white flowers and great fragrance, has been used to breed many scented offspring, including the variety Stained Glass.Credit…Ken Druse[embedded content]No two noses are exactly alike, so the scents that you favor, from floral-sweet to herbal, fruity or spicy, are highly personal — and open to extremes of interpretation that Mr. Druse calls “the nose of the beholder.”He has a bit of a party trick for visitors to his northwestern New Jersey garden: He asks them to describe a particular plant’s scent. With a minority of fragrant things, there is no dispute. Lemon verbena, chocolate cosmos and pineapple sage all resemble their well-chosen common names. But Calycanthus floridus, a shrub he loves that is native from Virginia to Florida, but hardy much farther north?ImageRoses are probably the most familiar fragrant flower, and the old roses like gallica, centifolia and Damask types are among the richest-scented.Credit…Ellen Hoverkamp, for “The Scentual Garden” “What do you think it smells like?” he asks visitors to his garden between late May and mid-to-late June, as they sample the dark red blooms near his Carolina sweetshrub. Guests have offered a wide range of answers — bubble gum, strawberries, paint thinner. (Mr. Druse thinks it’s more like the inside of a whiskey barrel.) A green-flowered variety called Athens smells like Granny Smith apples or cantaloupe, depending on the age of the blossoms.Party tricks aside, he offered some guidance on creating a more fragrant garden, indoors and out.Focus on the Most-Traveled PathsAdd fragrance to places where you can sample it as you walk by — between your front door and driveway, for example. That should be obvious, but too often we forget.It doesn’t need to be flowers, either, Mr. Druse said, recalling a low-growing “hedge” of hardy, upright rosemary leaning over the edge of a brick path on a university campus on Long Island. “Imagine brushing up against the evergreen herb as you walk by, and filling the air with its bracing scent,” he said.Plan for a succession of smells. Don’t line the whole walk with lilacs, yielding a single scent-filled moment, but instead plant a staggered palette that mixes shrubs, down to perennials, bulbs and annuals.“I have dwarf late-winter viburnums with their clove-scented flowers in March and April,” Mr. Druse said. “Then fragrant peonies and bearded iris. Next come the roses. In summer, the rich aroma of regal lilies intensifies in the evening.”The lilies lean toward the light, he noted, so plant them on the darker side of the path. The same holds for daylilies (Hemerocallis), whose flared flowers Mr. Druse describes as having “a sweet and lightly fruity or citrus scent.”There can also be fragrance underfoot, with creeping thymes in a sunny, well-drained place.“I’ve grown Corsican mint, one of my favorite plants, with varying success,” said Mr. Druse of the half-inch-tall creeper he has managed to keep alive for a couple of years between the paving stones in moisture-retentive soil. “But I haven’t completely cracked the code. When it works and I step on it, the strong smell of peppermint drifts up to my nose.”ImageStrategically placed cottage pinks and carnations, all in the genus Dianthus, emit their clove-like fragrance alongside a seating area in Ken Druse’s New Jersey garden.Credit…Ken DruseUp the Scent Quotient Near Outdoor SeatingThe pathway advice holds true for plantings adjacent to patios, decks and other daytime seating areas: Extend the season. Many of the same plants work there. Other recommendations for sunny areas include spring-blooming mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius and Philadelphus x virginalis) and summer-blooming tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).In shade, he suggested, one possibility is Hosta plantaginea. All hostas were once called plantain lilies with that white-flowered species in mind, and hybrids descended from it are typically scented.Try Night-Scented PlantsIf you sit outside in the evening, night-scented plants offer a way to connect with the garden through a sense of smell after dark.Many of the most fragrant plants bloom at night, leading the early 20th-century garden writer Louise Beebe Wilder to call them “the vesper flowers.” They do it to attract night-flying pollinators like moths or even bats.Admittedly, some — including tender plants like night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), old-fashioned trailing white-and-purple petunias (the heirloom variety Old-Fashioned Climbing is a good choice) and angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia) — do it so overpoweringly well that they may not be good candidates for placement close to a dining area.“Capitalize instead on the gentler fragrances of moonflower, Nicotiana or evening primrose that would be perfect company on summer evenings, or just outside a screened porch,” Mr. Druse said.ImageScent is often open to personal interpretation. When Mr. Druse asks visitors to describe the smell of the dark red flowers of the native shrub Calycanthus floridus, or Carolina sweetshrub, answers have included bubblegum, strawberries and paint thinner.Credit…Ellen Hoverkamp, for “The Scentual Garden” Open the WindowsBringing the outdoors inside is not just about creating views of the landscape, but letting in aromas, as well.To enjoy spring’s lilacs from an upstairs bedroom, Mr. Druse said, select a cultivar that has some height: “Not a dwarf Korean lilac, but one like Syringa President Lincoln, long and leggy like its namesake, or the later-blooming Japanese tree lilac.” The latter, Syringa reticulata, has frothy, cream-colored June flowers with a honey scent; the former are Wedgewood blue.Vines are another way to move fragrance upward, but they need trellises or stainless-steel cables to climb on.Mr. Druse grows Clematis Betty Corning, which blooms for weeks, with bell-shaped blossoms “that smell like lavender flowers and are the same color,” he said.Cold-hardy wisteria is also very fragrant, dominated by a honey aroma, “but as many gardeners know,” he said, “this plant is probably too powerfully aggressive for planting without a very sturdy trellis.”In places with gentle winters, Zones 7 and warmer, Mr. Druse said, “true jasmines and their impostors would be obvious candidates.” Possibilities include winter jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum), star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides, in Zone 8) and Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens).Create a Patch of Touchable FragranceMany gardeners grow culinary herbs, some of which — the mints and rosemary, for instance — offer the extra delight of scent when brushed against. A group of pots positioned within reach, somewhere you pass many times a day, is an ideal way to incorporate such touch-me plants, even where there is no garden space.Mr. Druse makes room, front and center, for some herbal-scented plants aren’t intended for the kitchen — like patchouli, anise hyssop (Agastache) and bee balm (Monarda).The pelargoniums, or scented geraniums, were his gateway to fragrance. “Scented geraniums helped get me hooked on gardening as a teenager,” he said. As with many of his favorites, their leaves have to be rubbed to release the aromatic oils, which mimic sharp lemon, rose, peppermint, nutmeg and even coconut.Some Native Plants Offer the Bonus of ScentBesides being the best match for native pollinators and other beneficial insects, many native plants offer scent for the gardener to enjoy. A few Mr. Druse suggests considering: the scented foliage of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum); prairie dropseed grass (Sporobolus heterolepis), with late-summer and fall flowers that smell like popcorn or cilantro; and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), whose foliage and fruits bear the scent.The flowers of perennial black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) are honey-scented; milkweed’s are “thick and syrupy,” he said.Some of his favorite native shrubs include that Calycanthus of his guessing game; Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), which smells like honey; fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), with a scent of honey and vanilla; various deciduous azaleas (Rhododendron species); and moisture-loving summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), like clove with vanilla.ImageMr. Druse, who grows Hoya kerrii as a houseplant, enjoys the heart-shaped leaves all year and the scented flowers in summer — a smell he describes as “very much like ketchup.”Credit…Ken DruseChoose Houseplants for Their ScentIn Mr. Druse’s New Jersey sunroom and throughout his house, a collection of tender houseplants emphasizes fragrance. Many of them migrate outdoors during the warmer months, where they sit in the gentle shade of a crab apple and dogwood.“That’s where my hoyas in hanging baskets and Arabian jasmine, Jasminum sambac, spend the summer,” he said. But his potted lemons and limes, which bloom from February to June, “want more sun, so they vacation on the sunny edge of the shadows.”Must-Have Fragrant PlantsMr. Druse’s list is long: More than a hundred options for various climates are included in “The Scentual Garden.”But if he was forced to pare down the list? “I couldn’t be without heliotrope, cottage pinks, licorice sweet flag, my beloved heirloom rose, lemon balm, tuberose and fruity cut freesias from the grocery,” he said.Then he remembered one special treasure: “Who knew I could grow tropical allspice — Pimenta dioica — with its leathery, evergreen leaves that smell, well, like allspice in the house over winter?”ImageA mix of iris color and fragrance possibilities, including the big, beige bearded flowers at the center with their grape scent. Credit…Ellen Hoverkamp, for “The Scentual Garden” Fast Fragrance FactsFragrance in plants did not develop for our pleasure, of course, but as a form of defense against predation and to help attract pollinators, among other functions. The protective aspect is often packed into the foliar chemistry, telling an insect or animal that nibbles, “I’m not good to eat.” In the case of popular culinary herbs, like mints, oregano and rosemary, the same chemical compound that deters predators is what makes the plant taste good to us.Fragrance is often evocative, and no wonder: Because of the brain’s anatomy, smell, memory and emotion are closely linked.The best way to sample an aroma? Take short sniffs, not long, deep breaths. Then take an occasional break by smelling the crook of your elbow. “We’re accustomed to the scent of our own skin,” Mr. Druse said, “so it helps reset the nose to our baseline.”For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.
Any home can feel claustrophobic during a pandemic. But those with young children may feel especially hemmed in, if their living space is covered with toys, games and school supplies.If that’s your reality, there is a way to hold back the deluge of clutter, or at least make cleanup easier at the end of the day — with a well-considered combination of cabinets, shelves and containers.Without a storage plan, you don’t stand much of a chance of maintaining a serene, ordered space.“Quite often, I go to people’s houses and they haven’t thought through where things are going,” whether it’s toys, sports equipment, art supplies or even children’s clothing, said Lisa Mettis, the founder of the family-focused interior design firm Born & Bred Studio, in London. “They don’t section things off, which leads to chaos.”For tips on controlling the clutter that inevitably comes with children, we asked interior designers for advice.ImageBorn & Bred Studio frequently uses shallow wall shelves to store and display books.Credit…Anna StathakiTake Stock of the SituationStart with an honest assessment of each child’s storage needs. Some children have more toys than others, some play team sports and some might be budding artists or bookworms.Then consider the approximate volume of goods each activity requires and try to designate a specific area for each cluster of goods, whether it’s a mountain of Legos or a bag of hockey equipment.“It’s about giving everything its place,” said Kevin Isbell, a Los Angeles designer. “You designate a space for everything, in the hopes that kids will actually follow through” with cleanup at the end of the day.“Usually, we think about it as three key areas: rest, study and play,” Ms. Mettis said.Books, for instance, could be placed in a quiet reading corner, while arts and crafts supplies could be organized around a desk or table and various toys stowed in designated drawers.ImageWhen designing any child’s room — even a nursery — “we usually approach it as, ‘How can they grow into this space?’” said the designer Jay Jeffers, who suggested choosing colors and furniture that a child won’t quickly outgrow.Credit…Matthew MillmanPlan for the FutureChildren’s interests evolve rapidly, so try to leave some flexibility in the storage plan.“We usually approach it as, ‘How can they grow into this space?’” said Jay Jeffers, a San Francisco-based interior designer.Specifically, Mr. Jeffers said, he cautions clients about designing children’s rooms that are too juvenile or cutesy. “New moms might be excited to do a whole nursery in pink for a baby girl,” he said. “But then they’re redoing it in four years,” as the child outgrows the style.Containers with simple designs and colors — rather than ones that resemble animals or are in pastel shades — more easily make the transition from plush toys to sports equipment when the time comes.Mr. Jeffers also tries to anticipate future needs. “We always want a desk” — specifically, a desk with drawers — he said, even for young children, as they will eventually need a study space.ImageA room by Studio DB includes numerous storage drawers in a custom-made bed.Credit…Matthew WilliamsCreate More Storage With FurnitureBig closets are wonderful for containing clutter, but even without them, some pieces of furniture can help. When renovating homes, many designers try to shoehorn as much storage space into built-in furniture as possible, with integrated drawers and cubbies beneath beds, benches and window seats.The New York-based design firm Studio DB, for instance, frequently creates custom beds for children’s rooms with big drawers below the mattress and cubbies at the head of the bed.For a young family in Brooklyn, Studio DB also designed a living room with a toy-concealing window seat, a coffee table with hidden storage under a swiveling top and a long cabinet along one wall. “That cabinet is a good mix of adult and kid storage. It’s a bar as well as toy storage,” said Damian Zunino, a principal of the firm.The result is a room where children can play (and parents can drink) — and a place that can be cleaned up in a hurry when it’s time for a videoconference.Purchased furniture pieces can offer just as much storage as custom designs. Furniture brands like Pottery Barn Kids, Lulu and Georgia, and Ikea offer platform or captain’s beds with integrated drawers, storage benches with flip-up tops or cubbies, and free-standing cupboards.And there’s no rule that says credenzas and chests of drawers can hold only glassware and clothing — they can just as easily be used to store dolls and action figures.ImageRegan Baker Design converted a wine room into an arts-and-crafts space where an Ikea storage system holds supplies on one wall and clips on wires hold art on another.Credit…Suzanna Scott.jpgAdd Bins and BasketsDon’t rely on drawers, cubbies and shelves alone to contain the clutter — adding bins or baskets will make them far more useful. Containers can keep various types of toys separated, while making it easier for children to find their things and put them away later.“We use baskets all the time. They’re great because you can move them around, they look good, they’re sturdy, and they don’t need to be organized like an open shelf does,” said Shannon Wollack, a partner at the West Hollywood-based interior design firm Studio Life/Style. “They still look clean and organized, but when you’re cleaning up with kids, you can just throw stuff in really quickly and move on.”Mr. Jeffers said he especially likes stackable bins from RH Baby & Child and Crate & Kids.Regan Baker, an interior designer in San Francisco, encourages her clients to reserve an extra bin or two for toys and clothing that children have outgrown, so they can be collected for donation to free up space elsewhere. “It’s just a spot so everyone knows where to put the donations,” she said.If the bins will be concealed in a closet or storage unit, Britt Zunino, a principal at Studio DB, recommended using clear containers, so children can easily see what’s inside. “You can see that it’s the Lego bin, the block bin or the plastic horses bin,” she said.If your bins are opaque, Ms. Zunino suggested taking pictures of the contents of each one and taping them to the outside, an idea she borrowed from her children’s preschool.Another advantage of bins is that they can easily be carried from room to room. “In our house, right now, we’ve been using oversized clear shoe bins for the kids’ schoolwork,” she said. “It fits a laptop, all their school paperwork and a cup of crayons and pencils, so the kids can carry it around.”ImageA living room by Studio DB hides toys in a window seat, a coffee table with swiveling top and a long cabinet (which also holds a bar for the grown-ups).Credit…Matthew WilliamsUse the WallAn empty wall is another opportunity to add storage space, including shelves where a collection of books or toys can double as decoration.Ms. Mettis often installs shallow wall shelves to hold favorite toys and books with their covers facing out. “A lot of kids’ things are really fun and made for display,” she said. In one project, she also used shallow wall-mounted baskets to hold art supplies above a craft table.In an arts-and-crafts room for a client, Ms. Baker installed an Ikea pegboard storage system to hold beads, ribbons, paintbrushes, glue and pompoms in separate containers across one wall, and horizontal wires with clips on another wall, so the children could display their artwork.ImageBaskets help container clutter in a room designed by Studio Life/Style.Credit…Sam FrostMake it EasyStorage containers and shelves should be within easy reach of the children who will use them. If your children are very young, shelves close to the floor will be far more useful than those mounted high on the wall.When you’re fitting out closets, Ms. Baker said, make sure to install adjustable shelves and rods for the same reason. As children grow, they can expand their usable storage space by moving the fixtures higher.And as their interests change, don’t forget to empty out old bins to make room for new possessions.In the end, the goal isn’t pick up your children’s clutter every day, Ms. Baker said — it’s to encourage children to do it on their own.“My kids are proof that it can happen,” she said. “It is possible.”For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.
Q: When I take my dog for a walk in my suburban New Jersey neighborhood, I try to encourage him to do his business on the berm between the sidewalk and the curb. But on some blocks, lawns run right up to the curb, leaving no sidewalk. A homeowner recently yelled at me for letting my dog go on her lawn, even though I had picked it up. She has since posted a sign telling dogs to stay off her grass. I was taken aback. I’m a courteous dog owner, but what else am I supposed to do? My dog needs to go.A: Your neighbor’s lawn is not your dog’s bathroom, regardless of the design. The nitrogen content in the urine could damage her grass or plants. If she has children, she may not want them playing on a soiled lawn, especially because your dog’s waste could potentially carry harmful diseases. And if she has a dog of her own, another canine marking his territory might stress her pet.For all these reasons, train your dog to defecate closer to home. “Why would you walk your dog to my property when you have a yard?” said Jean Owen, the owner of NJ Fix My Dog in Morristown. “Frankly, it’s gross.”[embedded content]Ms. Owen suggests that you instead designate a place on your property where your dog can relieve himself. To train him, stand near the spot until he goes and reward him with a treat, and then a walk. “It is very easy to teach,” said Andrea Arden, a Manhattan dog trainer, “especially with puppies. On the second or third trip, they’re going to go to the bathroom where you teach them.”This will benefit everyone involved. If you walk your dog with the goal that he might eventually pee or poop along the way, expect distractions to drag out the process. “When it’s pouring rain, you are going to have to walk half a mile” before the dog relieves himself, Ms. Owen said.Consider the sign and the earlier conversation with you as polite ways to make a point. (You’re probably not the only offender.) Other frustrated homeowners have resorted to sprinkling the ground with cayenne pepper or ginger, which can cause nasal irritation, or set sprinklers to motion detectors to spray pets on their property. By contrast, your neighbor chose a clear, direct and safe tactic to get your attention. In return, heed her request, and stay off her grass.For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.
When Mike moved from Vancouver to Silicon Valley in late 2018, he couldn’t believe his luck. He found a beautiful Art Deco cottage less than 30 minutes from work, with redwood forests and wineries on its doorstep and rent that was inexplicably within his price range. It was the dream home he and his wife, Jackie, had been searching for — perfect for the family they were about to start.If you feel like you’re watching the opening of a horror movie, you’re not wrong.First, the heating got weird. “We’d turn it on and the whole house would suddenly fill up with this strange, humid, almost tropical warm air,” said Mike, who asked that his last name be withheld to avoid retribution from his landlord. “Water would condense on the windows and just pour down the panes.”No amount of cleaning kept little blooms of mold from flowering on the walls and window frames. When Mike went down to the basement (disregarding decades of horror canon) he found that his heater was a 1940s-era contraption with rusted ducts, drawing air from earthen trenches flooded with stagnant water. They turned it off.The problems stopped, and soon their son was born. Mike’s landlord replaced the heating system and sealed up the old ducts and vents. But when the rains came back in November, the baby became sickly and wheezy. “He always had a snotty nose and this constant chest gurgle,” Mike recalls. Their pediatrician dismissed concerns about mold, instead blaming day care. The respiratory problems grew worse and soon he needed an inhaler.It was when he developed pneumonia that Mike’s unease turned to dread. Was his dream house making his child sick?It’s coming up on mold season in many parts of the U.S., and with the ongoing pandemic and looming possibility of new outbreaks and quarantines you may feel a nagging worry about what could be hiding in your home. Terrifying tales of mold invasion abound on the internet — ones that spark many questions. How dangerous is it? Are some types worse than others? What can you do if your house has mold, and at what point should you just walk away?It’s hard to sort fact from fiction, especially when some of the misinformation is coming from the very people paid to exorcise mold demons for you. Luckily, there are things we can do for peace of mind while — like in any good horror flick — we’re all trapped in our own homes.First the good news: We are all constantly breathing in a “thick soup” of fungi, bacteria and other microbes, plus their byproducts, said Naresh Magan, D.Sc., a mycologist at Cranfield University in England. No, really, this is good news. It means our immune systems have adapted over 500 million years to cope with fungus.For some, though, trouble at home starts in mold season, when warm, damp weather triggers mold to release its spores. Any kind of mold spore can colonize your living space, but there’s a quartet of usual suspects: Penicillium, Cladosporium, Alternaria, and Aspergillus. Stachybotrys, the toxic so-called “black mold,” is very unlikely to colonize your home.Demystifying moldMold spores stick to surfaces and, if conditions are sufficiently warm, moist and undisturbed, extrude tendrils which turn almost any surface into food — these form the fuzzy structures creeping out of the corner of the shower. Ceiling tiles, wood, paint, rubber, carpet, soil, dust; it’s all food to the mold, just add water.How do you know when mold has arrived? That’s easy: you’ll smell the — how to put this? — the airborne end products of its digestive processes. That’s right, mold farts. “Every time you smell that musty odor, that mold smell, that’s what you’re breathing in,” said David Denning, principal investigator at the Manchester Fungal Infection Group and a professor at the University of Manchester, in England.What effect does all this fungal activity have on health? Broadly speaking, we know there are two main ways mold can engage the immune system, and they depend on whether your system is underpowered or overactive.If you’re going through chemotherapy or have had a recent organ transplant, your evolved immune system firepower may have been depleted. The fungus can colonize the lungs and begin treating you as it would ceiling tiles or wood paneling, said Matthew Fisher, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London. But this is more often a problem in hospitals, home infections are exceedingly rare.You’re much more likely to have an overactive immune system that freaks out when confronted with the irritating proteins present in spores and mold filaments. Filaments land on the mucous membranes of our eyes, nose and mouth, causing eye-watering, itching, sneezing, coughing or asthma attacks.For most, these stop when you leave the moldy room. But experts estimate that between 5 and 10 percent of the population are more sensitive than others. “In an environment that’s colonized by fungus, you’re also going to be inhaling those spores every day and you may potentially become sensitized to them,” said Elaine Bignell, Ph.D., who co-directs the Manchester Fungal Infection Group. Sensitization means your body recognizes a substance and mounts an aggressive response to even the faintest traces of it. If you already have asthma, you might get a particularly severe “fungal asthma.”More worryingly, a decade of studies show a firm link between mold exposure in infants and the development of asthma symptoms by age 3. The only thing more correlated with asthma onset is maternal smoking.That’s the settled science. Beyond that, things quickly get confusing, scary and unsupported. Various exploitative websites, remediators and clinics cite a handful of papers claiming links between mold and neurological damage and developmental delays in kids. Neither Magan nor Denning buy it. “There is not enough of a body of evidence to support this,” said Denning. “This needs more in-depth investigations to prove cause and effect.”That is always the tricky bit. As with conditions like Wi-Fi sensitivity, symptoms of mold sensitization are all over the map, and tangled up with other potential allergies, like dust mites or cat dander. In particular, it’s impossible to disambiguate whether someone is sensitive to fungal fragments, the spores themselves, or the volatile organic compounds in the mold farts.Some people claim that they are sensitive to chemicals in these V.O.C.s, but when they were tested in placebo-controlled trials the results were mixed. When some participants were told that mold had been released (but hadn’t) they would often manifest symptoms like debilitating headaches. When mold spores were actually released without telling them, they remained unaffected.Denning has a lot of sympathy for people who live with these problems. “It’s no doubt that these people are suffering,” he said. “But as with a lot of things, the science isn’t there yet to say it’s actually mold that’s the culprit.”The path of resistanceInitially, Mike’s landlord tried to fix the problem himself, bleaching the moldy walls. “We call that ‘spray ‘n’ pray’,” said Scott Armour of the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification, a global industry body for remediators. They, along with the EPA, advise against bleach for a variety of reasons, namely that fumes can be dangerous and it’s usually ineffective.Bleach only works for non-porous surfaces. It can’t touch the mold that has burrowed into surfaces like wood or drywall (supposedly, vinegar may help you there). But the most important reason bleach fails is that people don’t stop the mold’s water supply.“First thing I do is check for leaks, in the bathroom or roof or a crack in the foundation,” said Greg Bukowski, who runs the Chicago-based remediation company Moldman USA. “There’s always a leak.” If you don’t fix that, don’t bother with bleach or vinegar. Then kill and remove the mold with detergent and water, then prevent its return with mold-resistant paint like Kilz (which, confusingly, does not kill existing mold).When bleach didn’t work, Mike paid for an indoor airborne mold test, which raised more questions than it answered. “We had no idea how to interpret the results. I just couldn’t find any information out there that isn’t written by remediation guys,” he said. They told him he had the dreaded black mold, and needed professional remediation. (Even if your mold is that color, it’s usually not the infamous toxic black mold. Unless the remediator has sequenced your mold’s genome, don’t take their word for it.)Whatever kind of mold you have, if there’s more than 10 square feet of it, the EPA advises against DIY remediation. But where do you find a specialist for larger areas? Denning said while the industry is not quite snake oil, it is certainly not based on settled science, and it is being sold by an under-regulated industry.Reputable remediators wantedBukowski is the first to agree. “We don’t have the greatest reputation as an industry,” he said. “There’s a lot of scare tactics, and they leverage that to charge really high prices.”For instance, the mold test Mike paid for was likely not useful. “There are so many reasons not to do a home test of any kind,” said Armour. “No home test is reliable. None are valid.” Still, after the mold test results, Mike and his family moved into an AirBnB for two weeks. They were worried about the baby developing asthma — whether from the mold or from the “mold fog” Mike’s landlord hired remediators to set loose. Mold fog is similar to roach bombs and their efficacy is just as contested.Not everyone in the industry is trying to upsell people’s misfortune. I.I.C.R.C. is a good place to find reputable mold remediators, and is working to establish standards, guidelines and training around how to deal with the problem.Regardless of who performs the exorcism — you or a reputable specialist — after it’s complete, your work is not done. Some firms offer long warranties, but you need to do your part. Some people will have a harder time than others. If the ambient humidity in your area is above 80 percent, congratulations, it’s always mold season.Your situation is probably worse if your home is made of wood. (Brick houses anecdotally offer less nourishment for mold, but no official studies confirm this “Three Little Pigs” system.) In mild weather, get a dehumidifier to keep your home under 65 percent humidity, which prevents most molds from gaining a foothold. As the temperature outside drops, however, a complicated relationship emerges between temperature and indoor humidity, often causing the mold-bearing condensation Mike saw in his home.The rule of thumb is to drop the humidity by 5 percent for each 10 degree drop outside, and regularly drain the water from the dehumidifier and clean it. Track any leaks and cracks in your home and always change your air conditioning filters on schedule.And if you do have a mold allergy? Pay attention to the age of your bedding. I regret to inform you that the mites who live in your pillow poop there, which makes a tasty snack for mold. Your head sweats on the poop and the mold while you sleep, and then it grows.Mike didn’t have to worry about the dehumidifier — this past February was the driest in California on record. Eventually, antibiotics and an inhaler cleared up the baby’s pneumonia. Nonetheless, just before the Covid-19 lockdown, he and Jackie decided to abandon their dream home. Apart from tearing the whole house apart, there was no way to know if hidden pockets of mold lurked behind the walls, and their landlord was tired of doing tests.“We just didn’t want to wait and see what the house would do to our son next year,” he said. Their new place is smaller, more expensive and free of unwanted guests. For now.
The priciest co-op sale so far this year occurred on the Upper East Side, as several more big closings took place throughout New York in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.Many of the deals that closed in May were in contract before the coronavirus pandemic struck in New York, or came together quickly before the lockdown and avoided the disruptions in the real estate industry brought on by sheltering-in-place rules.The full-floor apartment, at 4 East 66th Street (a.k.a. 845 Fifth Avenue) was bought by the financier and philanthropist J. Christopher Flowers and his wife, Anne W. Flowers, for $43 million, marking the city’s most expensive sale in the month of May. (The record price for a co-op was set in 2015, with the $77.5 million sale of a duplex at nearby 834 Fifth.)At the ultra-pricey 220 Central Park South, two sponsor units were acquired by a single anonymous buyer for a total of $28.6 million, though both sales had been in contract long before the pandemic surfaced.There were a few luxury townhouse purchases as well, including a newly constructed manse in the Lenox Hill neighborhood and an Upper West Side brownstone bought by the “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and his wife, Elly Blankenbuehler, a physician assistant.Also last month, Alexandre de Betak, a fashion-show and events producer, sold his co-op loft in SoHo to Dick Costolo, the former chief executive of Twitter, and his wife, Lorin Costolo.ImageThe financier J. Christopher Flowers and his wife, Anne W. Flowers, bought a co-op taking up the entire eighth floor at 4 East 66th Street.Credit…Andrea Mohin/The New York TimesThe Flowerses’ co-op, on the eighth floor, was purchased from a trust set up for Ezra K. Zilkha, an Iraqi-born financier and investor who died last fall. It was an off-market deal, so few details about the residence are available. Most of the units in the limestone building on Fifth Avenue and 66th Street are around 7,500 square feet and occupy full floors. They have high ceilings, grand galleries and direct Central Park views.Mr. Flowers, a former partner at Goldman Sachs who runs his own private equity firm, has been an active player in Manhattan’s high-end market. In 2006, he paid $53 million for the Harkness mansion on East 75th Street, which at the time was a residential townhouse record. (He ended up selling the building five years later to the art dealer Larry Gagosian for $36.5 million.)The couple’s new apartment house, designed by James E.R. Carpenter and built in 1920, has been home to a number of notable people, among them Paul G. Allen, a founder of Microsoft, and the socialite Veronica Hearst.
Mortgage rates may be appealingly low, but people shopping for a new home this spring face a challenging market.Demand, which was pent up during coronavirus stay-at-home orders, and a dearth of homes for sale are keeping prices high and setting off bidding wars in some areas as states continue to reopen for business. Some buyers may also find it tougher to qualify for mortgages, as lenders require higher credit scores and bigger down payments in response to higher unemployment and economic uncertainty in the pandemic.The situation is different from the economic downturn in 2008, when home prices fell sharply as a housing bubble popped.“We’re still seeing a huge sellers’ market,” said Colsie Searcy, an agent in Colorado Springs.Nationally, the median price for a home, excluding new construction, was about $287,000 in April, up more than 7 percent from a year earlier, the National Association of Realtors reported.Housing supply was already tight in recent years, especially for first-time buyers, because of the sluggish pace of new construction, said Danielle Hale, chief economist for the listing site Realtor.com. Then uncertainty because of the pandemic gave buyers cold feet, leading some sellers to pull their homes from the market.Home sales in April were down about 18 percent from a year earlier. Declines were particularly steep in the West. But Realtor.com reported this week that there were signs of improvement in May, “setting the stage” for continued recovery over the summer.Now, with many states lifting restrictions on home tours, the housing market is reawakening. Shoppers are feeling more comfortable visiting properties: About two-thirds of people who attended an open house within the past year said they would attend an open house now “without hesitation,” a separate survey from the Realtors association found.
If anyone is happy about our being stuck at home, it’s our pets. Owners who previously left for work every morning have become constant companions to pets during the pandemic, providing scratches, treats and walks throughout the workweek. This writer’s own skittish rescue cat has become increasingly playful and willing to accept a pat or two as the lockdown has stretched on.According to reports from shelters across the country, people have been eager to foster pets recently, so while we can infer that pets are happier with us around, it’s clear that humans have been leaning into the opportunity to experience their companionship. In fact, it wasn’t long after the lockdown began that The New York Times started reporting on the hunger for puppies and providing advice on topics like grooming and planning for a pet’s care should their owner become ill.But how does our resurfaced love affair with furry creatures affect how we buy and sell homes? A recent study by the National Association of Realtors compiled more than 15,000 responses to surveys of its professional membership, recent home buyers and sellers, and randomly chosen, geographically diverse households. The findings show that a pet’s needs are important to buyers, though only a small percentage will actually make a move to accommodate the needs of a pet. Pet-friendly features such as fenced yards and pet doors were among those on many a buyer’s wish list.The survey demonstrated that many people consider their animals members of the family, though it also showed that it’s important to erase evidence of pets when showing homes. That includes removing the pets themselves in addition to their toys, their odors, and any wear they’ve caused. After all, not every buyer is a pet lover, and even those who love their own animals may not love yours.