Friday, August 23, 2013

Brooklyn's Collection of Wooden Houses

Wooden houses and present-day New York City don't sound like a natural fit. By 1900, you couldn't build wooden houses in Brooklyn that had just become part of Manhattan where wooden houses were outlawed because of their propensity to catch fire. No wonder, considering, with no electricity at that time, families were roaming around their houses with lighted candles.

So imagine my surprise when, on a walking tour with the Wooden House Project, I learned that 50% of the houses in Brooklyn are made of wood.  The Project's founder, Elizabeth Finkelstein and Chelcey Berryhill, one of the contributors to the Project that delights in everything about wooden houses, led our small group through the streets of Brooklyn's South Slope one recent sweltering day, pointing out these reminders of the past that are often concealed by none other than vinyl siding.

Many of us had the erroneous notion that these wooden dwellings were once old farm houses. In fact, they were Brooklyn's early row houses in this neighborhood where most everyone worked in the Ansonia Clock Factory, the major employer dating from 1879, and the stimulus for the neighborhood's development.

Webster Place – it's a row of 1867 houses with simple porches. This block is what most of the streets once looked like.
The gingerbread detailing, with spindles and portico columns are not original, but they are of that time.
Dating from 1863 , this house is located in the Historic District. From this house, the original owners would have views of the Ansonia, which was set on rocky land with immense embankments.
The mansard roof on this dormered house was popular in the 1860s. It was popular in the 1860s then fell out of favor only to return again in the 20th century.
Aside from these treasures, we also learned that a lovely yellow house on 11th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues was moved to this spot between 1886 and 1898. On 12th street between 6th and 7th Avenues, a carpenter owned the early cottage row house, circa late 1850s, that's snuggled between two brick brownstones. Since there were few architects at that time, houses like this one were built using pattern books illustrating what was  trendy. 
But for all the love we hold for wooden houses, they wouldn't still be around today, at least not in the good condition they are in, if it weren't for the aluminum or vinyl siding we find on many, like the row of six houses, all clad in different siding on 15th street between 6th and 7th Avenues. This is an inexpensive way to protect the wooden facade. And protection is what they need because once these houses are all gone, that's it. Because they're outlawed, you'll never find another wood house in New York City. Enjoy 'em while they last.
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Eco-Centered Resort in Nicaragua

A few people leisurely swam in the infinity pool, looking out to the serene bay where a fishing boat was anchored. Others sat in lounge chairs, sipping watermelon coolers. No one seemed to give a care in the world to the sloth lounging in the mangrove tree nearby, something he did every afternoon. Or the tiny lizard taking in the rays atop the pool's stone steps.

Ah, life is good at Morgan's Rock, an all-inclusive eco-resort where, of course, the guests catered to but, more interestingly, the native creatures and natural environment are given their due respect.

 I recently wrote about Morgan's Rock for National Geographic Traveler - Intelligent Travel.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gear Review: Synergy Organic Clothing For Savvy Travelers

I couldn't seem to escape the sweltering temperatures this summer. Whether racing around Manhattan or Williamsburg, Brooklyn from one meeting to the next, checking out a newly developed waterfront in Lisbon, bicycling in Madrid, waiting for hours to catch a long-distance train in Budapest, or exploring galleries Bratislava, I found that the weather over the past four weeks made it difficult to dress comfortably but professionally.

Luckily I traveled with two new dresses by Synergy Organic Clothing.
The Peacock Flutter and the Hummingbird Meadow, both made mostly of (95%) organic cotton and a little (5%) Lycra, packed well in my tiny carry-on, hardly wrinkled, washed easily and dried quickly and, most importantly, felt oh, so comfortable in the sticky climes I was frequenting. They were light, airy and just plain fun.

In addition, both went from days of strolling urban scapes, attending business meetings, and even pedaling along the path paralleling the Rio Manzanares in Madrid to nights sipping a crisp Vinho Verde wine in a chic Lisbon bar, or  having dinner in a rooftop restaurant in Manhattan.

Both dresses capture a creative vibe (they are bedecked with hand-sewn appliques carrying a nature-based theme) and are part of the company's sustainability ethic: they are manufactured in Nepal with the factories subscribing to fair-trade business practices, and relying on low-impact dyes.

What I love about these two dresses is that they embrace what I'm looking for: I gravitate to clothing companies that are sustainable but I also don't want to look like I'm about to hike the Appalachian Trail. The items should be simple without neglecting a sense of informal elegance, and, as a bonus, also have a creative side. (I am a writer, inventor and designer, after all, so wearing staid clothing isn't my thing at all. But nor do I want something that is over the top bohemian.)

These two dresses wore so well, I might order a few more.
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