by Deborah on May 20th, 2013 · No Comments ·
This is one of those posts that is focused on the “… and beyond” part of Greater Gotham. It’s been a busier year of moving, bedding in and – not unsurprisingly decorating. Moving from an apartment into a house usually means you don’t have NEARLY enough furniture from the former to fill the latter. But in this case, because I moved from the US to the UK, space didn’t work out that way. Why? UK houses are smaller than your average American expects. A few years ago, the BBC had an article on JUST this point. In brief, average home sizes around the world work out something like this:
- US: 2,300sf
- Australia: 2,217sf
- Denmark: 1,475sf
- France: 1,216sf
- Spain: 1,044sf
- Ireland: 947sf
- UK: 818sf
So if I’d been moving from a New York City apartment into a house and if both of those places were in the US, I might well have found myself wandering around in empty, furniture-less rooms. Even if, as was the case, my apartment was a pretty good sized two bed for Manhattan (approx 1190 sq ft). But I wasn’t moving within the US. I moved to the UK and the furniture from my two bedroom, 1190 sq ft apartment filled my 4 bed (they called it a 5 bed but we’ll debate that later) up quite nicely.
Other things that I had to wrap my head around (and which watching years of decorating shows prepared me for) – the closet issue. Now, my apartment in New York had closets, having been built only 20 some odd years ago but I knew plenty of people who lived in older, mostly pre-war apartments who struggled with one closet or no closets. The creativity displayed in the face of the adversity was tremendous and I salute everyone who carved a closet out of a niche, organized entire wardrobes into under bed bins or found ways to make their clothing part of the decor.
Closets in the UK? Not so much. I was told this was because back in the days of yore, no one used them and the more recent lack of closets was down to square footage. “Closets,” I was told, “made the rooms smaller.” This is true. You know what else makes rooms smaller? HUGE WARDROBES. Don’t get me wrong – I knew exactly what to expect so I didn’t actually say that. I kept it to myself. But I know a lot of the real estate agents got very nervous when they heard the American accent and thought “Oh here we go – it’s gonna be an afternoon of size complaints.” But I assured them I knew the score and all proceeded well. As it happened, I lucked out and settled on a house described as a 5 bed but which any sane person would call a 4 bed with an odd shaped room that could only theoretically have a bed of any kind in it. That room (to stretch the boundaries of the word) became my closet. I have generously given over the enormous closet IN the master bedroom to my husband.
But wait – I hear you cry. What enormous closet in the master bedroom? Weren’t you just complaining about a lack of closets? Yes I was. But not in the extension the previous owners put in. Lots of storage in the master bedroom (now master suite after a handy dandy door move). But the other 3 bedrooms? Sans closet. Well, OK – one has an airing cupboard so the linens have a home and I have a guest room with no enclosed hanging space. But never mind – guests are made comfortable (IKEA hacked some hanging space and embraced over-door hooks) but not TOO comfortable thus ensuring that they depart before taking root.
One more thing. This whole single/double bedroom business. It’s a bedroom or it isn’t. It might be a small bedroom but as most of these “single bedrooms” also lack a closet and require some sort of storage furniture as a result, these rooms would be more accurately labeled closets. Try turning this bug into a feature (as my software developer friends would say). You might find people LIKE houses with closets.
Tags: life gotham-style · Life in the UK · UK vs US
by Deborah on May 19th, 2013 · No Comments ·
Now, I don’t want the title of the this post to give the impression that this is some sort of gardening showdown. It is most assuredly not. It’s more interested musing than pointedly comparing and contrasting. After all, to compare a balcony on the upper east side to a back garden in the burbs of Banbury is like comparing apples to – well, not even oranges but a canteloupe.
That said, each of those spaces served and serve as an extension of the living space of the house, were just the right size to satisfy my need for outdoor space without pressuring me into undertaking more “greenthumbing” than I was comfortable with. I am not a gardener. I don’t plan out planting beds or deck out my deck out with pots galore. But I like a neat and tidy outdoor space where I can entertain or relax with a cup of coffee and a book.
I was hugely lucky in NYC that I had a balcony big enough to use in that way – though the streets of Manhattan aren’t (I admit) the most soothing view. It face a relatively quite street, was high enough that I wasn’t being peered at by nearby windows and the when opened up, the balcony made my living room a really exceptional space.
My back yard here in Banbury was also a lucky find. It’s not at all overlooked (except for the far corner). It’s not too big so my lack of skill or interest in gardening ’causes no real problems and not too small, offering a nice sized square of lawn, hedges along two sides and a lovely large deck big enough for a dining table and chairs plus armchair and BBQ grill. The double doors leading out to the yard also mean that the yard works as an entertain extension for the kitchen.
When I packed up all my belongings and sent them across the Atlantic, I gave my lounge chair and outdoor rug to a friend with an even bigger balcony (his was more a roof deck, lucky sod) but I did bring two things with:
- the faux wicker arm chair (real wicker goes bad – faux wicker is forever and was one of the world’s great bargains when Home Depot put them on sale)
- the cast iron bistro set. It currently two purposes. One chair and table make what was a covered storage area into more of a lounge and the other chair serves as an elegant cat perch for when Miss Thing (our resident feline overlord) wishes to survey her domain from something lower than the garden wall.
I have a confession to make – much as I loved my little urban oasis, my city balcony… I am relishing the chance to really make the back garden here a PROPER outdoor room. Not in the sense that I need an outdoor rug as I did in Manhattan (though if you want to define your deck or balcony as a room city-dwellers, I can recommend nothing more impactful than finding a good, nice looking outdoor indoor rug) but in that it is laid out attractively, with conversation spaces and gathering spots like a really well thought out living room. I love the fact that we have space for herbs – I am not and have no intention of growing beds of my own veg or compete with the local florist for the best and brightest blooms. But herbs? They are useful, inexpensive and easy to grow. We started ours in the kitchen window sill and a year later, they thrive outdoors regardless of the weather. I also love the fact that I can have a BBQ grill. This was VERBOTEN in Manhattan. I totally understood why but it’s nice to be in a position to have one once again.
My current outdoor punch list includes:
- grabbing a nice potting bench and a few marble cutting boards to create a proper cook’s workspace near the grill. Yes, I could splash a bunch of cash on an outdoor kitchen set up or a stainless steel grilling trolley but why? Garden centers have nice solid potting benches made to sit outdoors, made of wood so I can easily add some hooks for hanging utensiles and baskets within easy reach. Thinking this one (right) from homebase might be just the ticket. £29.99? Perfect. And the marble cutting boards? A mere pittance (£8 last time I checked) at the dollar store/pound shop and the very definition of long lasting;
- Taking all those small pots of herbs and put them in a nice, tidy slightly raised planing bed. This has the dual benefit of a) neatening the area up and b) making it easier to ignore the bricks that may or may not need re-pointing on that low wall. I know there are kits around but I wish they weren’t so pricey. I mean, how hard is it to build a BOX? I may need to see if there’s a hack somewhere I can use;
- rip out the badly placed evergreen shrubs that offend my sense of symmetry in addition to being in the way of my future herb bed;
- reposition the even more badly places stepping stones that create a walk way around the edges of the yard. We’ll end up with extras but maybe we can use them along the side of the house where the root ball from the “buddleia from hell” remains, awaiting removal. Once removed, we’ll level it out and put them in their for easier access;
- put in a few solar lights so the place isn’t PITCH dark once night falls
Tags: Banbury · life gotham-style · Life in the UK
by Deborah on February 17th, 2013 · No Comments ·
Things to note about New York City in February:
- It snows. Obviously it snows in other months as well but it’s the February snow that always seems to come down in BUCKETS. This is great for making snowmen and finding relative bargains on flights and hotel rooms. It doesn’t do much for flight arrival schedules.
- February is when City Bakery holds it’s annual Hot Chocolate festival – which I have touched on previously
- February is also when more dog breeds than you can imagine descend upon Madison Square Garden for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
Today in NYC history:
- 70 years ago today: Yankees slugger Joe Dimaggio waives deferment and joins the Army. 3 years later, he returns to baseball.
- 60 years ago today: New York federal court delays the executions of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in order to give them time for a Supreme Court appeal. Four months later – their appeal having failed – the couple was put to death.
This Month in NYC History:
- 1653 New Amsterdam becomes a city (later renamed New York City)
- 1790: Supreme Court convenes in NYC for it’s very first session
- 1870: First NYC subway line opens (pneumatic powered) and almost 40 years later (1909 to be exact), NYC is also where the first subway car with side doors goes into service
- 1872: Metropolitan Museum of Art opens (NYC) – and by the way, there’s a fantastic book about the history of the Met called Rogue’s Gallery. Highly recommended.
- 1901: The New York City Library is established. While I may not care for some of the current renovation ideas, it is a central and vital NYC institution of which the city can be deeply proud.
- 1913: Grand Central Terminal opens – glorious space and I did manage (belatedly) to wish the old gal Happy Birthday
- 1930: New York City is the sight of the first red & green traffic lights being installed. Also where the color-blind first fail to see what all the fuss is about.
- 1985: “New York, New York” became NYC’s official anthem
- 1993: A car bomb terrorises explodes underneath the World Trade Center, killing seven people and injuring scores more.
Tags: entertainments and events · gotham grub · historical gotham · life gotham-style
by Deborah on February 16th, 2013 · No Comments ·
The news from Gotham these days is usually “It’s cold.” Therefore I am focusing slightly less on Gotham in this post (since we all know it’s cold and there’s not a lot we can do about it) and more on the global. As you know, I’m still very much in “explore mode” out here in the northern end of Oxfordshire so I thought I’d give you a quick run down of what and where I’ve been lately. Might as well start close to home and both these local highlights are a 10-15 slow stroll from my own front door.
Had fab birthday dinner early this month at Veritas Wine Bar and Bistro. Had driven past it a few times and wanted to try it. I am so glad we did. We both thoroughly enjoyed our starters (he had the mussels and I had the grilled goat cheese) and both of us had the Poulet Napoléon which was outstanding. The chicken and chorizo were delicious – the chicken in particular was the very definition of tender. The sauce as as smooth as any sauce I’ve had anywhere in the world and the pasta was cooked to perfection. As it was a special occasion, I treated myself to a special after dinner hot chocolate – the After Eight. This is a particularly strong combination of hot chocolate, Baileys, Crème de Menthe & Cream – and won’t be to everyone’s taste. But if you are a chocolate and mint fan, it’s a must!
Also – I continue to be enjoy the shops in the town centre. Hugely enjoy Books & Ink Bookshop whenever I stop it. It’s one of those used bookstores that has enough little corners and turns to make the browsing feel like a treasure hunt and while roomy enough for the browsing to be comfy and not crowded, it’s still a small enough shop in a slightly out of the way location that so you feel it’s a little discovery in and of itself.
There a whole slew of awesome eateries shops in Banbury – even ignoring the not inconvenient presence of the Castle Quay shopping center, which I shall ignore as we all know what shopping centers are about and while useful they are not hugely interesting. I’ll go into more detail about some of these soon – including Abraxas Cookshop (which is a gadget lovers dream), Cafe Mocha (which has one of the best mochas I’ve ever had – their bacon sandwich isn’t bad either), Pinto Lounge (where brunch is properly brunch), Betts Butchers (which is old school and awesome as only a butcher can be) and Sugar Rush Sweets (where I get my fix of American sodas like root beer and Pibb). But that’s for another post (or sets of posts). Right now I’m off to Warwickshire to see a man about a castle.
Tags: And beyond · Banbury · Life in the UK
by Deborah on February 2nd, 2013 · 1 Comment ·
Grand Central celebrated its 100th birthday yesterday and I missed it! Damned! Happy belated, GCT. My only excuse is that I was busy celebrating my own (not quite so venerable) birthday. But ya look good, you ol’ landmark you.
Tags: historical gotham · sight seeing