Saturday, April 26, 2008

Treehugger's Delight

After reading Hooked on Houses' post about treehouses, I was inspired to get myself to Longwood Gardens yesterday to look at their Nature's Castles exhibit of three treehouses. The first one I saw (and my favorite) was the Canopy Cathedral, a 589 square foot beauty about 10 feet off the ground recalling a Norwegian stave church, a medieval architectural style achieved by timber framing. Beautiful diamond-shaped windows and a wraparound balcony make you feel one with the surrounding landscape.

These houses are all tree-friendly. They are not anchored to the trees themselves, nor do they interfere with the root systems or free movement of the trees. They are built using a pin system that stablizes the treehouse without doing any damage.

The second house is the Birdhouse, the highest at more than 20 feet above ground.

You can see how closely they are built to the trees, yet are not attached to them.
Finally, there is Lookout Loft which is accessible by ramps even to people in wheelchairs. The thing that intrigued me about this one was its artistry. There are over 75 feet of ramps girded by a railing that is a subtle work of art.

See how each center insert is a different design.

It also has a built-in skylight that a tree grows right through.

Discreet signs tell you that the treehouses were all built of reclaimed wood from old mills, factories and barns.

The structures are amazing and provide a rare opportunity to set foot in a place most of us only dreamed about having as kids.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Eat, Pray, Live

Before we leave Cape May, I must show you Franklin Street Church, an 1879 structure converted into three dramatic condominiums. This is one of my favorite Cape May houses, not a Victorian at all, but Gothic. It was a Designer Home in 2006 and, sadly, I didn’t get to see it, but my friend Madeline did, and says it was unique and fascinating.

It was badly deteriorated and empty for several years before Bill Saponaro, a Cape May antiques dealer-turned-developer bought it and acted as general contractor on the construction project. His vision was to create three luxury condos from its 7,700 square feet of soaring open space punctuated by the lacy fretwork of a series of exposed trusses. The units incorporate the stained-glass windows and celestial ceilings -- 15 feet high in the bedrooms, 27 feet high in the great rooms.

"He's a pretty persuasive person, and since the mission of our organization is to support preservation, his vision inspired everyone," says Marjorie Preston, communications coordinator for Cape May's Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts.

"I have a soft spot for these old buildings," says Saponaro, 46, a onetime hotel and restaurant manager who still owns a pizza shop in Roxborough.Architect S.J. Fenwick of Linwood, N.J., worked with Saponaro on the design, coming up with a plan that positioned the bedrooms on the ground floor and the living spaces on top to create great rooms that use the steeply peaked roof.

"The hardest part was figuring out where to set the floor levels," Fenwick says. "When they decorated the walls with all those large, wonderful windows, they didn't have a constant horizontal plane in mind."

Saponaro, who estimates he's spent $1.7 million on the renovation, had all the stained glass removed and sent out for restoration. The bottom sashes of most of the windows have been changed to clear glass to let in light and views. The leftover stained glass has been incorporated into some of the 14 new windows added to the building.

Two of the units have been sold, but the good news is that one is still on the market. For a mere $1,195,000, this one could be yours. Here are some photos of the inside.
The kitchen with hardwood floor as well as Wolfe, Subzero, and Asko appliances.
The Great Room with arched windows and doors.
Two of the three bedrooms.
There are 3.5 baths and California Closets.
The unit comes "as is" so you get all the furniture too. Not a bad deal at all.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Weathervane Collection

Pig Weathervane

Rooster Weathervane

Dolphin Weathervane - we saw dolphins, by the way. Every morning around 7:30 they swam up toward Atlantic City and every evening about 4:30 here they came back. Almost like they were going to work. I guess they were in a way. Trolling the coastline for fish. They swim very close to shore and are majestic to behold.

Mermaid Weathervane

Another Rooster

Fish Weathervane

Glass ball

I got to add to my weathervane collection. I like to photograph weathervanes because they make me remember to look up. Then when I look up, I remember to look around.

Whale weathervane

If I Had A Million Dollars

Hah! A million wouldn't even buy the land. This house sits directly across from the beach and is just strikingly beautiful. The whole beach block in what they call the North End is amazing. There are no houses on the ocean side of the block which is lovely and unique. This is the only shore town I can think of that is like this. You drive along Beach Avenue and all there is is beach! Right there for everyone to see. On the land side of the street is one huge gorgeous home after another . I honestly can't even imagine what they would cost. I looked at a few real estate brochures for much smaller homes a street or two back and they wanted millions for them. These just defy my estimates. None of them appeared to be for sale either. And they all look like single family homes, unless they are cleverly concealing the fact that they are not.

This is a little outbuilding on one of them; I'd take that if I could.

Where Have All The Birdies Gone?

One of the reasons we thought it might be interesting to spend a few days in Cape May at this time of year was because of the Inquirer article about it being such a fabulous place to see migrating birds. All the way down we were joking and teasing each other, "see any birds yet?" Three crows flew by and we decided they must be migrating. So the first thing we did when we arrived (too early to check in) was ride out to the Bird Observatory where we got out our Sibley's bird book, binoculars, and camera. There we were, poised for some serious bird action. There were a couple of Canadian Geese swimming around in the large freshwater pool right off the beach. Oh, there were these guys, too.

And, finally, a rare find at the shore.

But I see more birds at the feeders in my yard every day than I did in Cape May. Fortunately, there were other things to do and the weather was beautiful. The big bonus was that we had the town to ourselves and enough things were open to make it a real pleasure.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It's All About The Gingerbread

If you've ever had a craving for gingerbread, then Cape May is for you. You can have it with whipped cream, lemon curd, chocolate sauce, or almost any way you desire. In fact, when you're done with Cape May, you might never want to have gingerbread again. This town is an architecture-lover's delight. Overwhelmingly Victorian, but bits of art deco . . .

Craftsman . . .

and even what they call "stick" style abound

Street after street of the most lovingly cared-for homes begin to boggle your mind after a couple of rides around the block. It takes a lot of money to own a home in Cape May. Many of the homes are massive structures which have been turned into bed and breakfasts, inns, or boarding houses just to pay the upkeep. The prime-week summer rates are steep. The Historic Preservation Society here is unrelenting and even the most unassuming little cottage has to adhere to strict guidelines in any rehab or restoration. They must use original materials whenever possible, forget new composites that might be easier to maintain in a salt-air environment. You must research structure, color, dimension, landscaping, every aspect of what might have once existed before you will be allowed to pick up a hammer. If, God forbid, you want to tear down your ramshackle bungalow and build a new duplex or something that you could actually make some money from, you will face formidable opposition in the stone-faced ladies of the Society who aren't afraid of any lawyer you can pit against them. It's a lovely place to visit, but a daunting place to own a home. Proceed at your own risk. The payoff, of course, is that many structures that would have been torn down years ago, are still in existence for the benefit of all to feast their eyes upon.

The attention to detail is amazing, and it just goes on and on.

Look at the dear little porch on this turret; notice the trim underneath it.

Cape May is definitely worth a few days of your time. My advice would be to come off season so you can walk or drive slowly and take it all in. When it fills up for the summer season, gawking will be strictly curtailed.