I’ve always been a flipper. Not a mad crazy flipper but a serial monogamist flipper. One house methodically after another. And I have made money on every flip— sometimes good money, sometimes not so much.
Flipping is time consuming, labor intensive, and fraught with drama. Why, you might then ask, do I do it? Because I absolutely love it. With a flip I can do me (me that week, that is) because my flips do not resemble one another in the least. Each is an exploration—into the house, the neighborhood, the era, and the decorating zeitgeist of one specific moment.
House flipping reached a nine-year high last year, although profits were down a smidge (a mere two percent). Flipping is not a “here today, gone tomorrow” fad. Our houses need to be fixed or torn down—and I greatly prefer the former. With every flip I learn something mechanical, technical, and structural (the decorating, as always, is the fun part). Real estate is a highly competitive industry, and despite the proliferation of homeflipping TV shows, we do not do it in 30 minutes…or 30 days or even 100 days. If only. Oft I ask myself why it takes so long. The answer, in part at least, is geographical. Many of those TV shows are shot in Texas or Arkansas or Oklahoma—places without the intense oversight and scrutiny of the building departments of Westchester or Fairfield County. (And let’s not even discuss Manhattan, a total logistical nightmare.)
My last flip, with my husband Karl, and partners in Horseneck Property, Erin and Duggan Jensen, was in Greenwich. We made sure the renovation checked all the current decorating boxes: Black window frames, two-over-two window panes; herringbone walnut floors; Farrow and Ball paint; built up Quartzite (the real deal) island counters; miles of tile in the kitchen, up to the ceiling; board-and-batten exterior; white (more oyster-white) color scheme. Check, check, check, ad infinitum.
Clearly, we read the market well because we sold, and closed, within 45 days of listing, to a young (really young) superstar couple. They are famous—that felt good.
But our newest flip is a whole other story. And era. An over 100-year-old cedar shake, walk-to-town “cottage” (in the style of those majestic, oversized Maine cottages) with a welcoming front porch. She’s on a street where neighbors walk their kids to school and wave as they pass by or stop to chat.
And yet this grand dame was showing her age. She had been on and off the market for several years. It was clear she had serious layout issues. To wit: The kitchen was not connected to the family room; one needed to negotiate a 360-degree route (back to the entry and through the living and dining room) to move between them. There was no first-floor powder room. The basement stairs were scary and downright dangerous. Glaringly, the second floor had only two bedrooms, and the massive third-floor bedroom had been anointed “the master.” Well, we all know that doesn’t work.
But here’s what this newest flip has in spades: Charm. And high ceilings, beautiful moldings and original pocket doors, oversized windows. Alas, some of the character had been stripped, but we did our best to put it all back. We built knee walls between the entry and the living room—and, in fact, they were there long ago (floor board patches were the giveaway). We topped the new knee walls with white columns that echoed the beautifully detailed stair newel post. On the second floor, we subdivided a six-windowed 18 x 24 bedroom into two lovely 12 x 18 bedrooms. And the addition of an architecturally simpatico shed dormer out the back gave us not only a beautiful view, as the house sits high on the property, but enough additional headroom for a wonderful master bath and walk-in closet. And just like that—well, just after many months—the layout issues have been resolved.
The more “modern” flip, pictured in this article, was then. All of six months ago. This new one will be more a mix of old and new. Somehow that feels right, right now—traditional but never conventional.
Lyn Peterson, designer, author, mother of four and all round busy body is president of Motif Designs, Mamaroneck, NY.