Twenty-four years ago I moved from London to New York.
I moved because my (financial) partner closed my business. He closed my business because my PR, a Buddhist fashion personality called Lynne Franks, told him that I would never amount to much. That he was wasting his money. She had called a meeting with him behind my back. Two days later he broke the news.
Her motivation? She was a struggling fashion PR wanting to break into big corporate (like damage control) PR, he had just sold his corporate PR company for millions. It was just selfish politics. I lost my business, he lost his respect for her and she closed her business a few years later, just around the time when I launched CK at Calvin Klein and, for a fashion nano-second, amounted to something in the eyes of the groovy international fashion PR. A case of divine justice? Or karma? For what it was worth.
Anyway. After her Machiavellian move I moved to New York. A good move. I loved New York. I got a great job, then another great job. And then the super-job: Design Director at Calvin Klein as the designer hired to create a collection that would compete with DKNY and I came up with CK.
That first year in New York I sold my flat in London and put a deposit on a loft in the Duane Triangle, Tribeca. In 1986. Imagine! My only view, I was on the 2nd floor, was of the World Trade Center, like I was David and there, looking up, was Goliath. I thought it was cool, after all I was New York!
Every Saturday night the building behind me had an all-night disco in the basement. The music would pulsate through the walls up and into my bed and I’d have nightmares about my heart. Like it’s beat was off and I was dying. Came June, I decided to rent a house on Shelter Island, and after one summer of spending the weekend outside Manhattan I was hooked. I needed green. I needed space. I needed acreage. I craved the Ralph Lauren country life-style.
So. I looked in the NY Times weekend real estate section*. I noticed: “Two farm houses on 20 acres, pond, streams, pasture – $185,000.”
Do-able, I thought. Desirable, I thought. But where the hell was Milford PA?
That Saturday morning I got in my GMC Jimmy, blue and white, with lift kit and oversized wheels (don’t ask – I was into being a cross between Thelma and Louise) and drove out to the Delaware Water Gap.
*Explanation: I was living in my Tribeca loft but I could not buy it. I had a mortgage lined up for months, and every few weeks I had to “renew” it and pay another $2300. My building did not have a C of O. It was owned by Meile Rockefeller and when she added the penthouse she had added 13″ over code, so fuck her, that Rockafella, the city was not giving her permission to sell. As a result I could not actually purchase my loft. In fact it felt I’d never be able to buy unless Meile decided to chop a foot off her penthouse, which, according to her, was like chopping a foot off her own body.
Those two farms on 20 acres had been renovated and had shag carpet everywhere. On the floors wall to wall, but also between the fake hand-hewn beams and on the toilet seats.
Back at the realtors office I spotted, between pictures of lake fronts and A-frame skiing cabins, this: “1790 historical farmhouse. 12 acres. Streams. Close to town. Needs TLC.”
TLC? Perfect, TLC was me!
That one, I said to Debbie the realtor.
No, she said. I’m not going there.
But it sounds perfect.
Trust me, she said.
I want it, I said.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you….
So. The house was rented by a drug dealer. A guy called Jo Monaco. He had a German shepard that attacked our car mirror as soon as we drove up.
Jo yelled from the porch: “Didn’t I tell you to call first!” “I did and you didn’t pick up!” Debbie yelled from the car.
Still. We looked around the place. The dealer’s gun collection was on one wall. It looked huge and scary to me, recently arrived from Maida Vale, London.
His shag carpet was old. His shower was a porta-cabin. Still. The paneled ceiling whispered that real hand-hewn beams were hidden, as well as a 200 year-old fireplace. I couldn’t see the stream but I could hear it.
But more than anything, I heard my future.
I had, what I call, a future memory.
And based on this future memory I placed an offer with the owner of the drug dealer’s house. (Ten years later Jo was arrested for killing a cop in Staten Island, sexual abuse and child pornography, he’d been hiding out in my house, they nabbed him a few years later, sent him to Rikers where he eventually died.)
Maybe the house had egged me on to set it free.
And I did. I loved my house. I love my house and my house loved me.
I am here now. At the old English kitchen table that I brought with me from London. Writing this Ode to my Home.
The house where I brought future husband the weekend after we met and where we made love for the first time. Where we explored and learned about each other, away from everything else.
Where I came a few weeks after Iona was born and where my mother first met her first grand child.
Where I came with Kiki and Leila as babies,when life, after 9/11, became almost unbearable.
Where husband and I decided to settle down by moving out and adding 3000 square feet that included studios for both of us and bedrooms for all four kids.
And, as you know, then we moved to Miami.
But I am here. Now. Inspired to write this as I hoosh for our new renters. The fridge, the pantry, the drawers,the laundry room, I finally scraped the “Energy Guide” sticker off my ten year old dryer, and even moved the female nude (my favorite painting, which I bought at a Lambertville gallery) because it makes me feel exposed somehow.
It is here I want to return, eventually, maybe just husband and I, older, wiser, calmer, to write and paint and design and Skype with our kids all over the world.
It is here that I still see many, many more future memories…
all photos of the house by Erik Freeland
Architects of the new addition: Smith and Thompson Architects
October 28, 2010 at 1:20 pm
I have a future memory now! It won’t be an empty nest, I will visit and add to the skyping with kids around the world!!
October 28, 2010 at 6:08 pm
I remember the original house with very fond memories. We celebrated my l3 year old’s Birthday, Johnna there. The Bruces, the Leokums and all of the Klebans were there. And, we had a great time. And, I’ve seen the new addition with all the members of your family there and that was, also, a great evening. You can still feel the spirit of the old house there. It’s a beautiful house — home!!
November 8, 2010 at 2:16 pm
Great home story of heart and hope. We read stories differently at different times and your house looks better as we are in throes of migration to benign and bustling Riverdale in NYC, with it’s big Broadway and template 50’s condos jammed into the trickling winding streets, ten miles north of midtown. Now that rankling sweet street power is what we need though as accommodation, your spacious light filled choice of home looks more desirable.
As they say: Never compare your insides with someone else’s outsides. In blood we run.
November 9, 2010 at 11:08 am
This leave me speechless with admiration…. Here’s to tons ‘n tons of beautiful future memories!