Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Park Slope House Tour

Although for the past nine months I have had three good friends living in Park Slope, I had never been there in the daytime until last Sunday, when I trekked out for the Park Slope House Tour. House tours, for those of you who are unfamiliar, are usually set up by neighborhood non-profits (in this case the Park Slope Civic Counsel), who browbeat area residents into opening up their homes to hordes of strangers. Participants buy a ticket, get a list of which houses are open, and wander around the neighborhood looking at them inside and out. In the picture above they are impatiently waiting to enter one of the houses while a volunteer checks their tickets and asks them to take their shoes off. At least the delay gave me the chance to check out that exterior glass vestibule. More volunteers stand around inside the houses making sure that you don't steal, touch, or photograph anything. Since I wanted to go on the tour for the express purpose of taking pictures for this post, I found that last injunction rather annoying. And although a couple of the houses we saw were absolutely lovely, most of them were pretentiously decorated in heavy fabrics and dark woods. As you can see from the pictures below the real treat was the neighborhood itself.

At left you can see an example of the over-the-top decorating that made me cringe. This house was entirely done up in a Persian/central Asian theme, with thick carpets, incredibly strong paint colors, traditional Asian furniture and more bourgeois knick knacks everywhere. On the left the owner (whose face is blocked by a couple of viewers asking questions) enjoys his lavish daybed. Unfortunately, the decor came off as more Victorian robber baron than Eastern hip. But the house did have some interesting touches like this antique telephone. Other houses we saw still had their bell systems for calling servants.

The first house we saw seemed overdone at first but turned out to be one of the best. All the original wood trim and wrought-iron fixtures (radiators, chandeliers, even a pie-rack built over the kitchen radiator) had been preserved, and the decor combined rich wall colors (mustard yellow, Pompeii green and red) with craftsman furniture. On the right is a slice of what was hands down my favorite room on the tour. Big art nouveau style windows let in lots of light, which is maximized by the yellow walls, white trim, and cream furniture. I love this cream and gold color scheme and the glamorous 1940s furniture. A modern glass chandelier and framed prints complete the shimmering look.

Although the Upper East and West sides have a pretty eclectic mix of townhouses, they've got nothing on Park Slope for architectural diversity. Beaux Arts houses (above left) share street space with neo-Tudor (above right), Spanish Revival (below left) and even some neo-Romanesqe/Craftsman style houses that tried their best (pretty unsuccessfully) to translate the strong horizontals of Midwestern architecture to the vertical city scape of New York. Of course, Brooklyn is far less vertically oriented than Manhattan. Buildings are lower and sidewalks like the one pictured below are wider, allowing more light to pour into the streets and onto all those trees.

In most townhouses light and outdoor space are at a premium, so it was interesting to see how homeowners maximized both. In this modern kitchen addition (above left) a frameless corner window blurs the boundary between indoors and out, especially since the bamboo plant indoors provides a link to a screen of bamboo plants in the backyard. The kitchen also features a long skylight, which is also in the foreground of the picture below (left), taken from the house's second story window to capture a neighbor's two-tier deck. Another neighbor (below right) has a gorgeous big bay window, almost a little conservatory (maybe that's why it seems so English to me). Most of the houses we saw had truly tiny yards, but this more spacious garden (above right) uses a round patio to make room for a dining table and chairs set in the shade.

On the day of the house tour there was also a massive street market going on all along Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue (why oh why are all the street names the same?). Along with the usual food stands and accessories vendors were moon bounces and an absolute crush of people. All along the side streets neighbors were taking advantage of the extra traffic to have yard sales, or they just left their unwanted books out on their stoops for people to take. And within this friendly, peaceful, vibrant neighborhood, one house on the tour took our breath away . . .

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