Jumat, 29 Februari 2008

An Iconic Look in High Demand

Often, people refuse to look at anything else,” said Terry Horrocks, owner of Prudential Terry Horrocks Real Estate in Lake Placid, N.Y., referring to Adirondack-style homes. Whether on a historic home or on new construction, the style’s twig-filigree detailing, stone appointments and bark-sheathed surfaces appeal to buyers who want to own a part of, or pay tribute to, the region’s rustic history.
Popularity of the style has soared over the last 10 years,” said Mike Damp, owner of Century 21 High Peaks Realty in Lake Placid, noting that the trend coincided with the boom in the market.

But the available number of homes in that style in Lake Placid is extremely limited, and turnover is rare. The area’s historic great camps, with their multiple structures and lakefront acreage, are often both more expansive and more expensive than many second-home seekers want or can afford.

In response, builders and architects have revived the style, making it possible to purchase a brand new Adirondack-style home, or to remodel and winterize one of the originals with attention to historic detail.

Prices for these homes, no matter what tier of the market, are greater than for otherwise equal counterparts. “Take any two houses of equal value, and the one that’s Adirondack style will sell for more,” Mr. Damp said.

A Relaxed Mountain Retreat That Offers More Than Snow

ONE HUNDRED miles east of the smog, gridlock and vanity of los engles, cupped high in the pine forests of the San Bernardino sits Big Bear Lake, a glistening splash of fresh alpine water ringed by 22 miles of shoreline. A resort town of the same name hugs the lake’s south shore and offers a multiseason retreat.

Working families, pro athletes, retirees, show-business personalities and outdoorsmen from Los Angeles, san diego and las vegas come for the slow pace, the stunning scenery, the bald eagles and, yes, the occasional actual big bear. And, in winter, there’s all that snow — foot upon foot of it.

“We bought here for the snowboarding,” said Marlene Taylor, who, with her husband, Tim, owns a construction business in Escondido, Calif. Big Bear has two major ski areas, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain; the latter is especially popular among snowboarders.

The Taylors’ four-bedroom house, perched on a mountainside and with clear views of the lake, is their second vacation home in Big Bear. The first was modest, but as their resources and their family grew, they traded up to their current place in the chic Castle Glen district. For $850,000 in 2004, they bought into a neighborhood where steep, twisting roads are lined by expansive and expensive new homes that sit on acre-plus lots and cost in the low millions.

Trading the World for a Cabin in the Woods

T’S my first night in the cabin, and I can’t sleep. The quiet is too loud, as if I were holding a conch shell tight over each ear, and any sounds that do seep through — a wet bulge of snow sliding off a fir tree, the pop of a log in our blazing wood stove — send me tossing and turning, a skittish city mouse in the country.

We are staying atop the modest rise of Mount Mineral in northwestern Massachusetts, my partner and I, tucked into downy sleeping bags spread across a futon in a tiny two-room cabin that has neither plumbing nor electricity. We have come here willingly, to this Quaker-founded retreat named Temenos.

But now it is unnervingly late, and my racing mind settles, albeit briefly, on a scene from just a week before: cocktails at a swank Manhattan hotel bar with friends, who had stupefied reactions to our rustic getaway plan.

“And you’re going there why?” asked one, martini in hand.

I had explained my need to escape — to find some simple peace and quiet in a muffled, snowbound forest that had no chance of cellphone reception.

“That scares me,” admitted another.

I scoffed at the time, but now here I am, awake. What else do I possibly need to relax? And then I notice it: the skylight above our heads has been capped thick with snow since our arrival, but somewhere between my getting into bed and this anxious gazing upward it has cleared, the snow melted off by the warmth of our fire. Now I see stars bright and thick, surrounding a yellow jewel that’s probably Jupiter. The light in the room has changed — from daunting black to a soft-silver glow — and I breathe, falling into my first deep sleep in weeks.

City folk have been finding solace now for more than 25 years at Temenos, a 78-acre forested retreat founded by the late Joe and Teresina Havens. A charismatic Quaker couple with an interest in Buddhism, they purchased the land, which had served as a Civil War-era health resort, and invited groups of friends out to relax and regroup, eventually building four cabins and a lodge, all of which were open to the public.

“Their idea was that being close to nature is healing for the human spirit, and that our lives have removed us from opportunities for doing that,” said Nancy Smith, director of the property.

Though it’s independently run, the property is part of an informal network of simple getaways in the Berkshires called the Western Massachusetts Retreat Association. There are a dozen diverse properties on its Web site, from Stump Sprouts, a lodge and a converted dairy barn that is popular with cross-country skiers, to Woolman Hill, a Quaker-run conference center with three cabins available for private stays.

At Temenos, Ms. Smith, who is a youthful 75, is a constant presence. She said she saw an ad for the job after tiring of a career in international development. “I was hired, and two weeks later I moved in. They were desperate!” she said with a laugh. “It’s been a good match.” She’s lived for eight years now in the large red cabin that once belonged to the Havenses. It’s spare inside, and, like the others, without electricity or running water. But it’s got other luxuries, from floor-to-ceiling shelves of books to a meditation corner that overlooks the forest — places for respite from hard days of loading firewood, pumping well water and other chores.

“People often don’t want to do outright camping, and here you still have that sense of being close to nature and of living simply,” Ms. Smith said. Most guests are from Massachusetts, but some have come from as far as St. Louis, New Orleans and Alexandria, Va. “People all come looking for the same thing,” Ms. Smith said. “They want to get away from their lives.”

I was no exception. But first I had to get there.

The first leg was an easy four-hour drive from Manhattan. The second was more challenging: a hike, about a mile uphill, while lugging plastic sleds, provided at the parking lot, which we’d filled with backpacks of food, clothing, candles, flashlights, sleeping bags, books and Scrabble for the three-day stay. We wore snowshoes rented in nearby Hadley to make the trek easier, as Ms. Smith had warned me in a preparatory phone conversation that there was a good three feet of snow on the ground.

“I haven’t been down the mountain in four days now,” she had said, adding that we should arrive as early as possible, as the cabin would take a couple of hours to heat up and that we’d want it to be warm by dark. Her words loomed large in my mind as we began our journey in, and I began rushing, city-style, to get to the top.

“Slow down,” my partner reminded me. “This is part of the fun.”

I eased up and looked around. And it was wonderful: all the snow I’d felt robbed of during global-warming city winters was right there, crunching under the titanium claws of our snowshoes and weighing down the feathery, nimble branches of fir trees that lined our silent hiking path. I grew nostalgic for walks in the woods of my youth, back when suburbia still had tracts of undeveloped land to explore, and also for wilderness camping trips I’d done in my 20s, from New Hampshire to Oregon. None had ever been in the snow, though, and I marveled at how the stark whiteness threw all of this nature into high relief.

A Tiny, Beloved Home That Was Built for Spite

COLLEEN SAMMIS recalls that “it came out at a restaurant” in early 2006. She, the man she later married and friends were having dinner, “and they were talking about a house Jack owned,” Jack being Jack Sammis.

“I said: ‘Wait a minute. You own the Spite House?’ I had heard about the house, I had read about the house, but I had never seen it.”

The house, 7 feet wide, about 25 feet deep and a whopping 325 square feet in two stories, is a tiny landmark on Queen Street in the Old Town district in Alexandria, Va., just across the Potomac from Washington. Structurally, it’s more of an enclosed alley than a house — the brick walls of older houses on either side form the painted brick walls in the living room. It’s called the Spite House by some because John Hollensbury, the owner of one of the adjacent houses, built it in 1830 to keep horse-drawn wagons and loiterers out of his alley. Indeed, the brick walls of the living room have gouges from wagon-wheel hubs.

(Alexandria is not the only place where people have settled grudges by building narrow houses. Boston has its own 10-foot-wide spite house, also called the Skinny House, on Hull Street. The most famous spite house was on Lexington Avenue in New York, a five-foot-wide house that was built in 1882 and demolished in 1915.)

Although the couple who previously owned the Alexandria house for 25 years used it for most of that time as a full-time residence, Mr. Sammis has used it mainly as a pied-à-terre since buying it for $135,000 in 1990. “I used to walk by it every day when I worked near here,” he said, “and when it was listed in the paper, I knew right away what house it was. I bought it the first day it was shown.”

“I thought having something unique and historic would be fun,” he said. “And it was near my office at the time.” His primary home then was a colonial in McLean, Va.

Ms. Sammis, who is a commercial real estate agent, finally got to see the house on a date with Mr. Sammis, “one of our early dates.” They were married in a nearby church last July and held a post-reception gathering at the house for about 25 people. “You have to use the garden,” Mr. Sammis said, referring to a walled patio that is 7 feet wide and about 12 feet deep.

Their primary residence is only 20 or 25 minutes away, a 3,200-square-foot town house in North Arlington, a leafy Washington suburb. That house is about a mile from IMN Solutions, which Mr. Sammis founded in 1982; it is an association and meeting management company that serves 86 nonprofit organizations.

His work and the 21st century can be left at the door of the Spite House. Mr. Sammis said that the house was in pretty good shape when he bought it, but that he wanted to take it back to a more original look. So a friend, Matt Hannan, who had redone the patio space for him, took on the interior as well, adding period details and highlighting original elements like the brick walls and the wood floors. Mr. Hannan put the heating and cooling system in the tiny attic space and moved the water heater out of the kitchen and into an upstairs closet. Another upstairs closet conceals a stacked washer-dryer unit.

It’s all as efficient as any sailboat cabin, yet it feels like an 1830s house. In fact, Mr. Sammis says he once rented it to a couple who wanted to see if they could survive living in a ship’s cabin on a round-the-world cruise. They decided they could.

The front door opens into the living room, where a regular-size sofa faces a decorative black wooden mantel. Just beyond that is a narrow and steep wooden stairway to the second floor. Beneath the stairs is a cupboard with a small microwave oven on top. On the other wall is the kitchen counter with a small sink, a small four-burner gas range and an under-counter Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer. A wooden table is pushed against the other wall, providing plenty of room for three to dine comfortably. If it is pulled out and someone sits on a built-in bench at the end of the counter, four or more can use the table. At the rear is a door to the patio. Shelves and small built-in cabinets add storage space.

Upstairs, a bathroom with a claw-footed tub/shower is at the rear. Storage space lines a narrow hall beside the stairs, and a bedroom with a large single window overlooks the street. A full-size double bed is pushed sideways against a wall; it is made up as if the side against the wall is the head. “But you sleep the other way,” Mr. Sammis explained. “This was Matt’s idea.” Painted cabinets frame the window and hide a small television.

The utility bills are appropriately small, Mr. Sammis said, averaging about $22 a month for gas and $30 for electricity.

Mr. and Ms. Sammis use the house as a base for weekends in Old Town. “Mainly summer weekends,” Mr. Sammis said. “We can walk to the farmers’ market just down the street. There are restaurants, the parks on the Potomac.”

In North Arlington, going out inevitably means driving. In Old Town, they can walk almost anyplace they want. Mr. Sammis’s son, Jake, 17, also enjoys the house. When he was growing up, his father said, he especially liked that the Washington Day parade went down the street in front. Now he finds it a good place for homework and for practicing cooking.

Mr. and Ms. Sammis also entertain at the house. “Unless we put some of the people upstairs,” Ms. Sammis said, the house can hold only “about 12” guests.

Both enjoy introducing new people to the house. “It brings an immediate reaction,” Ms. Sammis said, with most expressing amazement.

“The area loves the house,” Mr. Sammis said. “It’s on napkins and cards that show Old Town scenes. It’s always on the Christmas tour.” The house has drawn attention out of proportion to its size. It has even been featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

A cast-iron fire shield on the front, which signifies that a 19th-century owner paid the local fire company to ensure that it would respond if the house caught fire, is part of the charm that prompts tourists to pose for photographs by the house.

Mr. Sammis says he often lends the house to out-of-town clients and friends, usually for three or four days. “It’s more interesting than staying at a hotel.” He says his company books about two million hotel rooms a year for clients, and he travels a good bit in his work.

Mr. Sammis, who grew up in a 18-foot-wide Baltimore row house, seems to have a thing for attached housing, with the Alexandria and North Arlington town houses as well as a third attached house in Mougins, 20 minutes from the Nice airport in the South of France. That one is about 650 square feet on three levels. Mr. Sammis, who loves to ski, plans to close in July on a one-bedroom hotel condo unit at Beaver Creek in Avon, Colo. “The gondola leaves from the hotel,” he said enthusiastically, “so it’s really a ski-out place.”

But the little house in Old Town remains the favorite, especially, it seems, for Ms. Sammis. “I deal with commercial spaces,” she said of her work in real estate, “and this house is so different. I love the idea of it — that something like this can exist. It makes the world a little more magical.”