Renovation of my family’s North Fork Long Island home is ongoing. It’s been a great project and we are starting to see and enjoy the results. I have a lot of ideas and reflections and updates to share – and I will. But first, I’ll share a prologue – an introduction to the North Fork and our property.
A few years ago, my family started our search for a weekend home after spending a truly enjoyable long-weekend with good friends at their house in Maryland. Our children were still young (pre-school and toddler). Our friends’ home in Bethesda had a great yard on a corner lot, a big play structure, a sandbox, and space for the kids to sprawl, throw, and yell. At the time, my husband and I were working very hard at jobs we loved, and then rushed home nightly for kids’ dinners, baths and bedtime. On the weekends, we did a good job of enjoying our life in Manhattan - we had a nice enough apartment including a bit of outdoor space, and it was close to parks, but we sometimes missed that feeling of freedom you get from being in a house on a plot of land. My husband and I spent our formative years in Australia and Northern California respectively, and we were used to having the ability to move about outside.
While we were not willing to give up everything we love, love, love about having a family in NYC - a topic for another piece – we couldn’t help thinking - wouldn’t it be great if we could occasionally step into a different life and a different space? We wanted the best of both worlds.
We didn’t rush into anything, but once we started moving in this direction we loosely formed a set of criteria starting with where, how, and then finally what.
First we thought about where. We placed somewhat of an arbitrary time and distance limit on our ideal spot. We wanted to be within a two hour drive from our home in Manhattan. We wanted it somewhere we could get to easily via public transportation if needed. We wanted to be in a place that was adult and kid friendly, year round. We wanted someplace that felt specifically different from Manhattan.
There are lots and lots of great options within a two hour radius of the city, but we had to pick one area for focus. We had always been intrigued by the North Fork – a location we drove through on our way to a few Shelter Island vacations – but we had never spent a significant amount of time there.
Before fully leaping into things, we decided to spend some time on the North Fork, off season. This would ensure we weren’t just falling in love with the summer atmosphere, and would also allow us to practice our weekend getaway protocol.
We rented a small home in South Jamesport and brought out tricycles and other gear. It was late fall and winter – the roads were sufficiently quiet for street play with supervision. There was a yard and we were a short block away from a mellow, sandy bay.
We visited vineyards and brought snacks for the kids to picnic on while we tried the wines. We visited the old-style carousel in Greenport, the local libraries, and the beaches (until it got too cold). We visited farms and farmstands, picked pumpkins and apples, and we cooked. When it snowed we built a snowman and made snow angels, of course.
We fell in love with the area and decided to use our rental as a springboard for our own property search.
Finding a property – whether a weekend space or a city apartment - is about knowing your top goals, and using these to evaluate a range of places. Budget comes first and foremost, so pick an agreed sum and don’t bother looking far outside of it. Budget should not just be what you can afford, but what you want to spend. My husband and I have never been willing to stress ourselves over real estate – we want to leave space for travel and so many other great things.
Three or four bedrooms - at least two for the family and the remainder for frequent guests.
A spacious kitchen and good-sized yard.
A home constructed for year-round enjoyment, close enough to a bay-side beach for a two year-old to walk.
We didn’t want to pay for things we didn’t need. We saw some great places that had been newly built with bells and whistles, but they weren’t our bells and whistles. Sometimes these homes had a small yard; sometimes they were on a lovely plot of land, just not near a beach.
Finally, we landed on a fantastic property. It was just shy of an acre, 100 yards from a sandy bay beach, just large enough to give us space, peace and privacy. The water on the bay is calm enough for toddlers to play, and young swimmers to stretch out. The yard was lovely, with an expansive lawn area, and many large trees.
It was our getaway while we renovated our city apartment. We spent a number of years there, with a few improvements, just enjoying the location and visiting with family and friends.
Still, there were issues with the space. Seven years later (yikes!) it was finally time to take on another renovation project. Many of my friends and colleagues have heard bits and pieces of the process – the good, the bad, and the ugly. The ever present compromises and quick pivots in design. The reminder that something always goes wrong. And that wonderful feeling I had as a designer, mom, and wife, the first time my family (my “clients”) saw a close-to-finished project and loved it! I will share much of this journey with my readers.
Stay tuned, comment and please feel free to ask questions.
Want more? Check out my Escape to the North Fork Board on Pinterest