When I suggested to my wife that I was interested in writing about the toilet and its history, her response was, “You’re joking, right? Isn’t that a bit indelicate?”

It seems that some essential facts of life are always subsurface, such as the claim I heard recently that some people will buy toilet paper only when no one is looking.

But, the relevance of the toilet in modern life was hammered home to me when I met with a new seller client who told me she totally rebuilt her old cottage-style home from the ground up 20 years ago because she grew tired of using an outhouse in the back yard. Did I hear right? Actually, 30 years ago when I bought my home built in 1734, there was still an outhouse in the backyard that didn’t look that long abandoned.

The removal of human waste from domiciles has been one of the greatest challenges and necessities of tolerable living from ancient civilizations to the Romans, who in their glory days had perfected a sophisticated sewage system. But when Rome fell, so did the technology of the sewer, along with baths, engineered water and basic sanitation.

In fact, by the Dark Ages, bathing and sanitation became uncommon, resulting in more than a quarter of the European population dying from such diseases as cholera and the plague. Until the 18th century, most people just did whatever they had to do, whenever and wherever they needed to do it. Even as recently as the mid-19th century, the contents of chamber pots were commonly dumped from second story windows into the streets.

When the connection was made between disease and waste, sanitation came to the fore once again, especially in cities with dense populations in Europe. In America, most of us relied on outhouses until the development of water supplies, indoor plumbing and a system to accommodate waste removal from the home, either to a septic or sewer.

The development of sewer and septic systems is a fascinating subject for future exploration, but the focus here is that porcelain- coated fixture we relate to most directly when the need arises. To rid our environment of any residual, all we need do, mindlessly at that, is press a handle, which even a cat can be trained to do.

For years, I believed that the toilet was invented in the late 1800s by an Englishman named Thomas Crapper. Seriously. But those old English words preceded Crapper’s flush toilet by some centuries and the connection with his name is purely coincidental.

Three hundred years earlier, another Englishman, Sir John Harington, wrote a treatise of the toilet’s design and peddled its first installation to his godmother, who happened to be Queen Elizabeth I. The flushing mechanism is remarkably similar to what we use today.

Very honestly, I had rarely thought about how a toilet works, leaving any problems with its operation to my plumber. It’s like my car. I just fill the tank with gasoline and it runs. But it’s actually quite a sophisticated piece of equipment, considering its 16th century origins.

Today, a toilet is composed of two main pieces – the tank and the bowl, with the working parts in the tank. When the lever is pushed, it pulls on a chain, which pulls up a flush valve at the bottom of the tank, allowing water to rush out into the toilet bowl. As the water level in the tank goes down, a float ball attached to a rod opens the fill valve and water from the house water pipe begins to flow into the tank. When the tank is almost empty a flapper falls onto the discharge hole and seals it again, and water starts refilling the tank. That sitting water in the tank actually serves as insulation from smells and fumes from the pipes.

The toilet’s significant contribution to the environment was further enhanced in 1992 when Congress passed legislation requiring new toilets to drain just 1.6 gallons per flush instead of the then 3.5 gallons, conserving water resources.

In recent years, the look of the toilet has become more sleek, particularly the tank. The bowl shape had always been round, but newer versions feature an elongated shape, designed perhaps with the male anatomy in mind. For a man, it would seem to me that trading up to an elongated toilet bowl is like switching from jockeys to boxers.

And, of course, there has long been the “up or down” debate between men and women about the lid, as well as the rank humor attached to this serious, essential fixture in our homes. But, an exploration of that latter subject would indeed be indelicate.

A Sears home, assembled from a kit in 1930, located in North White Plains, available for sale from The Home Guru.

A Sears home, assembled from a kit in 1930, located in North White Plains, available for sale from The Home Guru.

When I received a call from a 92-year-old gentleman telling me that he had read every one of my articles since I started writing as The Home Guru, I was quite flattered. And, when he told me that he wouldn’t consider having anyone else sell the house that he had lived in since he was married, I was delighted.

But when he told me it was a Sears-Roebuck house, built from a kit, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to see it.

My enthusiasm dampened a bit when he added, “But I warn you, to reach my home you must climb exactly 50 steps up from the street.”

Okay, I’m game, I thought. If this 92-year-old can cut it, certainly I can, too. When I arrived at the home in the “quarry” neighborhood in North White Plains with my real estate partner Michael Pierce, we ventured the climb to the flat plateau in the sky where the charming home is perched, almost exactly as it was constructed in 1930.

Our host let us into the house and the first room we entered was the kitchen. Having been married to his first wife for more than 60 years, before being left a widower, he had just remarried and was retiring to New England. The home he is leaving behind for another generation of home adventurers is also delightful as a piece of Americana.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. first conceived of selling ready-to-assemble homes by mail order in 1906 in response to a financial dilemma. High inventory costs threatened to close the company’s building supplies department, until a new manager, Frank W. Kushel, had the idea of letting the factories ship supplies directly to buyers in the form of complete home kits.

The trustworthiness of the Sears catalog already helped the public become comfortable with the idea of buying items sight unseen. By the time the first Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans was printed in 1908, customers were ready to trust Sears with what was likely to be the biggest purchase they would ever make.

Kits weighed 25 tons and were shipped by a combination of railroad boxcar and sometimes truck. Similar to Ikea today, the innovations and efficiencies Sears brought to its home kits made homeownership affordable to families who previously could only dream of having a place of their own.

The innovative “balloon style” framing helped reduce the hours needed to assemble a house by 40 percent compared to standard methods of construction. In fact, the process of assembling the homes from kits was simple enough that neighbors sometimes pitched in to do the job themselves, barn-raising style. All the major pieces were numbered, every beam, shingle and clapboard, and there was just the right amount of nails so there would never be any guesswork for the novice builder.

Today that attention to detail helps owners identify their houses as being authentic Sears Modern Homes, as the numbers are still visible on many of the untreated pieces.

Modern Homes incorporated the newest technologies for comfortable living, gradually adding central heating, indoor plumbing and electricity to most of its designs. The newly invented drywall and asphalt shingles, which were lightweight, easy to install and fire resistant, were also utilized.

From 1908 to 1940, about 75,000 homes were sold through the mail-order Modern Homes program. Over 447 different housing styles were available, eventually branching into three distinct lines: Honor Bilt, the most expensive line with the highest grade materials; Standard Built, recommended for warmer climates; and Simplex Sectional, the smallest and simplest designs.

Not only did prospective homeowners have many designs to choose from, but these designs allowed for great customization. Floor plans could be reversed, breakfast nooks and ironing board cabinets added and trim customized. Sears even assembled home kits based on any other home design.

Sears offered mortgage financing for a few years, but the Great Depression caused many loans to go into default, ending that service soon thereafter.

It’s not always easy to identify a Sears home, especially as homeowners were given great freedom in customizing the designs. To determine if a home is from Sears, check to see if it was built between 1908 and 1940 (keeping in mind that a few old kits were sold through 1942). See if there are any shipping labels or the aforementioned printed numbers in the home framework. Another good sign of a Sears Modern Home is a record of a mortgage issued by Sears.

After all these years, Sears homes are still prized by collectors and are known for being of high quality in even their most humble variations.

For more information about this particular home in North White Plains, call The Home Guru at 914-522-2076.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

The Gary Kleiber Building at Freedom Gardens, a residential complex for mobility-impaired adults in Mohegan Lake.

The Gary Kleiber Building at Freedom Gardens, a residential complex for mobility-impaired adults in Mohegan Lake.

My friend Dave Goldberg, the plumbing and heating supplier in upper Westchester, now retired from his own business, called me last week to tell me that he had joined the board of Freedom Gardens in Mohegan Lake in upper Westchester and asked me if I might visit it.

He didn’t have to tell me what it was because I knew it as a small colony of homes for the disabled that I would drive by regularly during a period that I owned a “country” home in Putnam Valley, just 11 miles away from my regular home in Yorktown Heights.

And just recently, on my town’s architectural review board, I participated in the review of its development of three new homes and club house.

I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to explore housing needs for the disabled which surprisingly enough is a consideration for as much as 20 percent of our population.

Within days, I was in the colony’s club house in the company of Goldberg and some highly dedicated members of its board, including its delightful president, 92-year-old Frank Harris, a WWII hero who had escaped Nazi Germany, became an American citizen to serve in the war, and then returned to the States to build a career in the foodservice industry, which is also my heritage. Within minutes we found that we had good friends and experiences in common from my days as Marketing Director at The Culinary Institute of America.

Harris told me the story of Freedom Gardens, founded in 1958 originally in Yonkers by Lillian Petock Crowley, herself a paraplegic. Harris says that her objective was to fulfill a dream of establishing a “real home,” for the handicapped. And, that is where the name “Freedom” comes from, according to Harris. “Lillian called it that, meaning that she wanted its residents to be ‘free’ from having to live in an institution,” he said.

By 1962, Crowley had accumulated the money she needed to purchase the property located in the hamlet of Mohegan Lake, requesting that her home be regarded as a “residence,” not a nursing home, not unlike a recently argued case in Yorktown with a sober living residence.

There was a raucous public hearing when the application was made, where neighbors complained bitterly for fear that the value of their homes would depreciate, some even shouting, “we don’t want those cripples living here.” According to Harris, there was an impassioned plea where an early advocate for the home upbraided those neighbors for their small mindedness, dramatically espousing that the proposed residents may have had disabilities that were “physical and could be seen, but that their future neighbors had a disability that was mental and could not be seen.” That speech shamed the community into a broader view of acceptance and, in 1958, the first homes were built.

Today, the complex is home on five acres to 15 mobility-impaired adults who are able to live independent and productive lives in reasonably priced, Section 8 housing. In 2013 the new 3,300 square foot one-story building was constructed to accommodate three one-bedroom living facilities as well as an outdoor patio and garden.

Generally speaking, considerations that must be given to homes to accommodate the disabled include:

How many barriers there are from the outside to the inside, such as narrow walkways, uneven pavement, steps, and hills; whether a ramp is required; whether the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room are easily accessible, and do they require additional accommodations such as grab bars; whether sinks and counters are lowered; and if there are grab bars in the bathroom.

As our population ages, it will no doubt require a greater knowledge and sensitivity to the needs of the physically impaired. And, the availability of a complex like Freedom Gardens for those who require public assistance to meet their needs is a wonderful asset to any community.

The new building at Freedom Gardens is dedicated to the memory of a certain Gary Kleiber who served as the organization’s board of directors for many years and spearheaded the construction of the new facility. He passed away suddenly shortly after the $1.2 million facility was completed. Any reader would like to help in caring for the disabled may contribute to the fund set up in his honor by making a tax-deductible donation to: The Gary Kleiber Fund, Freedom Gardens for the Handicapped, Inc., 1680 Strawberry Road, Mohegan Lake, NY 10547.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

Bill Primavera, The Home Guru, with Jessica Lynn, country singer and songwriter, appearing September 27 at the Paramount in Peekskill. Both their businesses are home-based. The Home Guru is a sponsor of the event. Photo Credit: Primavera Public Relations

Bill Primavera, The Home Guru, with Jessica Lynn, country singer and songwriter, appearing September 27 at the Paramount in Peekskill. Both their businesses are home-based. The Home Guru is a sponsor of the event. Photo Credit: Primavera Public Relations

Would you believe that 52 percent of American companies operate as home businesses, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration? My wife and I have occupied that category almost from the day we were married and perhaps, at least on my side of the family, it was ordained.

I was fascinated when as a child my mother told me that my paternal grandfather had been a soda bottler in Philadelphia, and more interestingly, that his bottled sarsaparilla was delivered to and stocked by the corner store owned by the father of the wildly popular singer at the time, Mario Lanza. When I asked where the bottling plant was located, I was astonished to learn that it was based in the basement of my grandfather’s row home, and further, that the returned bottles were hand scrubbed with round brushes by his first wife (“who literally worked herself to death,” my mother said) and all of her 18 children who had survived childbirth and were old enough to work.

My stay-at-home mother, who had a bent toward the dramatic, left me with a horrible impression of an at-home business as dark and dangerous, even draconian, and I was grateful that my family lived simply in a one-story ranch with no industry going on around or beneath us that required my slaving away after school. However, once married and ensconced in my first home in the city which happened to have a ready-made antiques shop on the first floor, I seemed to become obsessed by a demon, perhaps the spirit of my grandfather, to succeed in my own business located within my own home. And when I moved to the country, I intentionally looked for an old historic home that was three times the size I needed to accommodate both a special use permit and a business du jour.

Over the years that space has hosted in succession and sometimes concurrently a failed antiques store, a very successful nursery school, a short-lived weight loss club, a shorter-lived gourmet society, an exhausting New York State packaged foods operation, and from 1980 to the present, the longest running public relations firm in the Hudson Valley, combined in the past six months with the office for The Home Guru Team of William Raveis Real Estate.

Lately there have been rumblings from the distaff side of my wonderful marital relationship. “I’ve lived my home life ‘above the store’ practically since Day One of my marriage,” says my wife Margaret, “and there has always been something going on other than our daily living routine. It would be nice to see how other people live for a while!”

Lately the two businesses I run from my home base have both experienced a significant growth spurt that is literally forcing us out of our home and into new and beautiful quarters with less square footage where, as I understand it, the bylaws do not allow me to set up shop of any kind. At last I’ll know how “other people” live.

But, as stated earlier, I’ll be in the minority, just as with my newest public relations client, Jessica Lynn, the country singing and songwriting star who grew up in a home in Yorktown Heights that was basically a rehearsal hall and recording studio. “From my earliest memory, I was surrounded by music from my mom who was a singer and my dad a bass player. My younger sister, parents and I lived in a three bedroom ranch, but one of the bedrooms was set aside as our recording studio,” she says. “Even though I went to college and received my master’s in math and also studied special ed, there was never any question that I would pursue music. It was just always there and obviously it influenced who I became and what I do.”

As I plan to move, I take comfort knowing that I’ll be living in new, beautiful surroundings and care-free comfort, and that eases the pain a bit. Also, my grandfather could never have telecommuted like I can. But still, there is much reluctance as I say goodbye to living “above the store.” I guess I’m an incurable merchant and just love hearing that cash register ring close by, anytime during the day or night. I await with wonderment discovering what “normal home life” is like.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

The “The Crayola Building” in Peekskill where dye was mixed in the 19th century to color the paint for red barns that dotted the landscape across America. Now, it’s both an office and residence. Photo Credit: Jane Haslam

The “The Crayola Building” in Peekskill where dye was mixed in the 19th century to color the paint for red barns that dotted the landscape across America. Now, it’s both an office and residence. Photo Credit: Jane Haslam

Of all the wonderful and diverse communities we have among us in the Hudson Valley, one of the most intriguing for both its promise of the future and grittiness of the past is Peekskill in the northwestern corner of Westchester. Historically, Peekskill is known as an American industrial center for its iron plow and stove products and for Binney & Smith Company, now makers of Crayola crayons, as well as Fleischmann’s Yeast, not to mention the notorious Peekskill Riots of 1949.

Today, Peekskill is poised for a long awaited re-gentrification, promise after promise that it would come, with a spate of artists’ lofts and galleries, a colony of musicians, some really good restaurants, a beautiful park by the Hudson River and a number of housing opportunities that are moderately priced, including modest single family homes, but some that are surprisingly upscale, several condo developments, co-ops and rental complexes.

And there are some grand secrets tucked in among commercial and multi-use buildings along its byways and alleys, the provenance of one which is occasionally debated with my friend County Legislator John Testa: the “Yellow Brick Road,” just over the railroad tracks near the river, behind the historic Standard House that now houses Dylan’s Wine Shop. Is this the yellow brick road that inspired L. Frank Baum’s famous road in “The Wizard of Oz?” John says, doubtful. I say, let us have our fun with it. In our last debate, I think John won.

Peekskill claims its oldest business as Dain’s Lumber, founded in 1848 on the waterfront and today run by Jeff Dain, great, great grandson of founder Nathaniel. And, a fascinating building directly across from City Hall on Main Street, now being magnificently restored, housed a theatre in the 19th century where both great American actors Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, performed.

But an interesting secret that I never knew was revealed to me just recently when I listed a mixed use building at 650 Central Avenue owned by Bob Frissora where he and his son Steven run Arcanna Marketing Group, famous for the development of the NASCAR logo and several prominent PepsiCo brands.

Aesthetically, the Frissoras’ offices create a perfect commercial space on the first and lower floors, stripped to the brick walls and huge hand-hewn beams. On the second floor is a large, loft-like one bedroom apartment which provides rental income. Behind the building is the very active McGregor Brook running gingerly down to the river, giving the back area a feeling of the country even though the front is very much a city scene.

What I didn’t know is that this building was part of a thriving industrial complex in late 1800s that covered the now visible brook that wends its way through the urban sprawl of the city. At that time, Binney & Smith Company used this area as its main distribution and warehousing facility. In 1864, John Binney started the Peekskill Chemical Company to manufacture products containing red iron oxide particles that acted as a preservative. This was the product used for painting out buildings and also become a part of American history as the standard color for barns that dotted farmland across the American landscape.
Built in 1870, this particular building could also have been the plant for the production of carbon black used on tire thread on early cars, increasing its life by four to five times. The company that owned the building was a leader in developing pigments used to protect wood from decay and strengthen the composition of vulcanized tires while adding the consistent black color and white wall tires of the day.
In time, the Binney family expanded their product line by including shoe polish as well as printing ink and the now famous Crayola Crayon brand.

So the next time you open a box of Crayons, know that its origins are very close to home. And when you drive across America and see all those red barns dotting the farmland that graces our land, know that their siding might likely have been protected originally from iron oxide dye mixed in this building.

And, if you have a fancy to own a piece of history as an investment property, one with a bit of “color” to it, give me a call.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

View of the Meditation Garden at the Constant White House in Yorktown, owned by  Joyce and George Harvey, which is for sale by The Home Guru.

View of the Meditation Garden at the Constant White House in Yorktown, owned by
Joyce and George Harvey, which is for sale by The Home Guru.

When I was 10 years old, I had a summer experience of great wonderment. My father had taken a short term work assignment in Lynchburg, Virginia, and my mother, he and I took up temporary residence in an in-town ante-bellum mansion that had come upon hard times after the Civil War and was split up into rooms for transient tenants like us.

There was an unkempt back yard that was a bramble of underbrush that seemed all but impenetrable. In an apartment on the first floor of the building was a couple, Bella and Jake, who looked after the premises as caretakers. They were both world weary and Jake was particularly weather beaten. Sometimes in the late afternoon he would sit rocking on the back porch and tell me stories about the Civil War in which his dad had been a drummer as a boy.

One day while rocking on the back porch, perhaps observing that I was bored with nothing to do, he told me a secret. With a twinkle in his eye and whispering low, he related that, within all the bramble of the back reaches of the yard had been a beautiful formal garden, surrounded by a low wall and traversed by brick paths leading to a center fountain made of marble. It was still there, he told me, but now completely covered by years of vine and overgrowth that he estimated had been neglected from the time of World War I when the mistress of the property, before it had been converted to a multi-family dwelling, had died.

Can you imagine the effect the telling of this secret had on a highly curious boy of 10? Upon my begging, he allowed me to borrow his heavier garden tools from a shed and the majority of my days for the rest of the summer were spent, with his permission and my mother’s, cutting, hacking and pruning until I reached the outer rim of the fountain that had been long obscured. I didn’t totally finish the job before the time we had to leave town, but I did have time enough to create an effect in the dense growth much like the parting of the Red Sea.

Since that early experience, I have never regarded a lawn as just a lawn but as an opportunity to create hidden, private spaces for reflection. On the property of my own historic home, I have created shaded walkways made from bluestone and flat faced field stone, and in my head, I have planned a formal English garden for the broad expanse of my lawn, created when a 200 year old maple was felled by Sandy two years ago and changed the shady plane into a sunny one.

However, for some years I’ve had to concentrate more on urn and container gardening, leaving behind my bigger projects, like more secret paths and gardens, until my eventual retirement years, or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. I’m approaching an age when most mortals are at least thinking about retirement, yet I’m busier today than I was in my 30s, and it appears likely that this is not likely to happen any time soon, if at all. So, devoid of time to do much gardening myself, I live vicariously through others’ joy of gardening.

The most ingenious garden plan I’ve found in recent years is that of Joyce and George Harvey whose historic home, the Constant White House, I have listed for sale in Yorktown Heights. Behind the house, started in the early 1700s, is a “secret” meditation garden, hidden from view by plantings until you are upon it, that was ingeniously placed where an old tennis court had once been.

“The dimensions were determined by the pre-existing but dilapidated blacktop tennis court,” Joyce said in explaining how it came about. “Removing all the material was a Herculean task by a crew and excavator. We reused much of the gravel underneath the surface for the paths which were edged with recycled bricks from an old patio and lots of rocks and boulders unearthed during the demolition.

“There are several different seating areas, all with different views of the garden, as well as the rest of our property – our sweeping lawn, barn and pool,” she continued. “We simulate prairie-style waves of green with three circular beds of five different grasses of varying heights and hues. For color, there are swaths of undulating wildflower patches along the path as well as a native garden and horseshoe court.”

Considering some other exceptional amenities offered by this particular house designed to appeal to the mind, body and spirit – like a large soak tub/ jacuzzi for two, a barn with a second story gym/meditation space, and a beautiful pool, also surrounded by grasses and colorful perennials, I can personally guarantee that anyone lucky enough to acquire this particular house will be stress free while under its spell.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com.  To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

Bill Pope of Spotless Cleaning Systems on The Home Guru’s rug, reporting the bad news that a stain has permanently dyed the fibers, necessitating replacement.

Bill Pope of Spotless Cleaning Systems on The Home Guru’s rug, reporting the bad news that a stain has permanently dyed the fibers, necessitating replacement.

As a young child I was overly impressed by the movie “Gone with the Wind,” especially Scarlett O’Hara’s line, “I’ll think about it tomorrow,” and whenever there’s been an unpleasant task at hand, I’ve frequently pulled it from my bag of tricks to accommodate procrastination. Now as I tread gingerly through my Golden Years, that trick doesn’t seem to serve me very well and it’s become all but impossible for me to live with certain gnawing aggravations that I’ve tolerated for years on end and done nothing about.

Among them are a few annoying spots on my carpets and upholstery from which I’ve averted my eyes for years. Lately they serve beacons of frustration, especially since I’ve started writing as The Home Guru.

Some 25 years ago, I stumbled upon a great opportunity near my New Orleans office in the French Quarter at an estate sale to acquire several fine oriental rugs. On one of them, the most beautiful with a pale beige background, I detected a pale brown stain, probably from dog poop, but I figured I could have them removed once shipped to New York. But it was set in place in my living room without having had the job done. How, I ask you, could I live for 25 years hoping that everybody who visited my living room would be as myopic as I am? Also, there was that coffee stain on the damask of my camelback settee and the questionable stain on the silk of the sofa. Time to clean up, I thought. Tomorrow is finally here.

Finally last week, I received an promotional email from Bill Pope of Spotless Cleaning Systems and decided to bite the bullet by calling. Based in Carmel, he was at my door within 24 hours and on the floor examining the stains in question, explaining to me the difference between types of stains. “If it’s a stain, like urine from an animal it can be removed,” he said, but if it’s from the feces of an animal, depending on what the dog or cat has eaten, it can actually change the color of the fibers, dye them and that type of stain can’t be removed.” Pope then told me the story of a client who gave his dog a medicine that was delivered through a chocolate based medium, but the dog found the package and ate all of the medication which resulted in a case of diarrhea which ruined a white carpet. “Chocolate is the worst thing a dog can eat, for this reason” Pope warned.

It is apparent, according to Pope, that my living room carpet was the victim of such an attack and if I don’t want to see the unpleasant residue of the incident, I must dispose of the evidence and get a new carpet. A decision a long time in the making, and an expensive one at that.

For area rug cleaning, Pope removes rugs and uses a pit wash system where the rug is first vacuumed heavily with a method called dusting, then soaked with a mild cleaning detergent. When removed, it is brushed with a rotary machine then vacuumed with a powerful machine that sucks the water out, then dried with fans.

For wall-to-wall carpeting, a truck based machine is used for surface cleaning. I had my central hall and stairway carpeting done by this method and it is amazing how it plumped up like new.

When I showed him the small stains on my damask and silk and asked if he did “spot” cleaning, Pope said no, it wouldn’t pay for me to request that. There are minimum charges for his crew to come out, and it wouldn’t be feasible for a homeowner to request anything but a full cleaning for an upholstered piece of furniture, and I did request that for the two slipper chairs in my dining room, but for the small stains on my living room chairs, I asked how I might remove them on my own. “Simple,” Pope replied. “Just use warm water and a mild soap like Ivory and dap inward with a clean towel.”

If you happen to be sleepwalking through the rooms of your house, wringing your hands moaning “out damned spot,” you may need to call Spotless Cleaning Systems at 845-225-6449 or email Bill Pope at bill@spotless-clean.com.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

KimMatt&SydneyCozza

From left, Kim, Matt and Sydney Cozza in front of their 1726 “Home of the Future” in Yorktown Heights, garnering multiple showings and two offers in less than two days on the market. PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Buchanan

When I first met Kim and Matt Cozza and their teenage daughter Sydney, I knew I would enjoy helping them find a home because they said they would consider an historic one and, as a realtor, I had developed a specialty in historic homes, having studied early American architecture at The College of William & Mary in Virginia and having interned at Historic Deerfield, Massachusetts, with the intention of becoming a museum curator. But, somehow that profession and my more gregarious personality didn’t seem to match up, and I ended up in the more “out there” fields of public relations, then real estate, instead.

However, I have enjoyed owning and restoring two historic homes which has greatly enhanced my living experience, and I have been fortunate to be called upon to list and sell a good number of historic homes since I entered the field. Currently I have several such homes on the market, and the one purchased by the Cozzas more than two years ago offers a particularly exciting opportunity for some lucky buyer to visit the future while stepping back into the past because of the vision demonstrated by this couple in the home’s renovation.

While searching for the Cozzas’ home, I had to be on my toes because Kim had been a realtor upstate, working on the commercial side of the business, and Matt was the vice president for development and construction for a major supermarket chain.  Kim would check everything new on the market each day before I got around to it, and I can’t count how many houses we looked at before we came to the wonderful 1726 colonial they decided to buy, coincidentally on the very same road on which my historic home is located in Yorktown Heights.  Kim eyed it up and down and I could see her mind working in terms of the work it needed.

“When buying a house, I think about what it needs in terms of investment and what additional value it will bring to the house when we go to sell it,” she said recently when readying her house for re-sale, necessitated by Matt’s having taken a job in a new location. “We look at the roof, the heating system, the windows, the siding, water heater, the kitchen and bathrooms…the expensive things to deal with…everything else is relatively minor in bringing a house up to where it needs to be.”

In the case of their home in Yorktown Heights, “the exterior had already been done in top quality no- or low-maintenance materials like Azek trim, HardiPlank clapboard siding, and ‘lifetime’ roofing, but the heating system needed to be replaced, along with the kitchen and windows,” Kim said, “and because we intended to stay here for a long time, we decided it was worth it to make this major investment.”

Matt chimed in that, in the case of the heating system, he decided to go whole hog because, in this house, it was such a hodgepodge of steam, hot water and electric. “Home buyers are sometimes hesitant to invest in an old house because they fear such factors as the upkeep, the heating system and the lack of insulation…these are the biggest concerns … so we decided to put our money there,” he said. “We invested in a dual pump system that was expensive as an initial investment (in the case of the Cozzas’ home, it involved a $27,000 cost, to include air conditioning), but it pays for itself over the years of efficient energy use.”  The Cozzas also invested in a new kitchen with top grade surfaces that cost close to $40,000, and all new windows that cost $8,000.

“It’s the dual pump heating system that really makes this a home of the future because we can achieve maximum energy efficiency by switching back and forth from electricity to propane, depending on which is cheaper to use during the course of the season,” Matt volunteered, “and should we get a gas line in, or choose to install solar panels, we could also switch to one of those energy sources if we choose.

“It’s expensive to install but if you’re going to be in the house for a while, it pays for itself, “ Matt concluded. As it happens, relocation for Matt required that the Cozzas place their house on the market long before they planned, but combining the charm of yesteryear with the efficiencies of the future captured the attention of the market. As this column goes to press, the house has been on the market only two days, but it has enjoyed multiple showings and has two offers on the table already.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

Hillary Sheperd, "Dirty Jobs" gal.

Hillary Sheperd, “Dirty Jobs” gal.

When the bundle of energy that is Hillary Sheperd bursts into a room, or in this case, into the sidewalk café where our networking meeting was taking place, you can’t help but take notice. I overheard her apologize to friends for her tardiness with snippets about “traffic” and just having had to deal that day with a really “dirty, dirty” job. My ears picked up.

“You mean you do dirty work like Mike Rowe on ‘Dirty Jobs’ on TV?” I asked her as soon as I could grab her attention. “Yes, I’m the female Mike Rowe,” she responded, extending a friendly hand. More questions revealed that Sheperd is co-owner with her husband Forrest, a contractor, of a ServPro franchise serving the mid and lower Westchester area. The company handles fire and water cleanup and restoration, mold removal and remediation and other “dirty, dirty” jobs that “somebody has to do” as Mike Rowe, one of my favorite media personalities, always says and as the ServPro’s tag line states: “Like it never even happened.”

When I confessed to Sheperd that I always have held great admiration for women doing jobs typically associated with men and asked what attracted her to the business, she said, “I had worked with both Homeland Security and FEMA prior to buying this franchise and, especially with FEMA, I had dealt with the effects of disaster with that rash of hurricanes we had, one after another in 2011 and 2012. Many times I heard our ‘old-timers’ there recommend to victims of the storms that they reach out to services ‘like ServPro’ to help them clean up from disaster, rather than resort to the possibility of hooking up with some unscrupulous contractor who might take their money for materials and never come back, and they’d be victimized yet again. I knew that ServPro had a good reputation and it would be a good match for my experience in dealing with immediate response to disaster.”

As a journalist, it was my natural inclination to ask Shepard to tell me about her most “disgusting” job and her most “horrific” job. After she told me, very honestly, I was sorry I asked, especially in the case of the latter, but I feel compelled to report it, to demonstrate the extent to which these valiant service providers must sometimes go to restore living environments for the protection and safety of others.

Shepard reported that the most disgusting job her crew encountered was in a home where the occupant had a hoarding problem, including with her own human waste which she kept in her bathroom, wrapped in toilet paper, completely filling the room over many months until its capacity had been reached. When the problem was discovered, help was sought through ServPro. “My crew had to don Tyvek non-porous protective clothing and respiratory masks, but still it was the most disgusting job they had ever encountered and they have seen it all.”

The most horrific job involved the tragedy of the loss of a human life and a conflagration that resulted from that. “A woman was filling an oil lamp and, without realizing it, she got some of the oil on her clothing that was highly flammable,” Sheperd explained, “and when she lighted the lamp, her clothing caught fire. Thinking fast, her daughter got out the fire extinguisher but, what most people don’t know – and this can be a lesson – is that the type of fire extinguishers which are mostly talcum don’t work with a hot oil or grease fire that should really be smothered with a blanket. The woman fled down a flight of stairs ostensibly to a downstairs bathroom shower destination as she was being immolated before her daughter’s eyes. She became a human fireball through the house filled with electronic equipment that caught fire with a very hot burning blaze that took a long time to extinguish. The melted electronics and the resulting water damage made the job particular difficult for Sheperd to mitigate. It was also difficult for her to share the story and for me to report here.

When asked, Sheperd volunteered that the most frequent request for cleanup is for issues regarding water damage, including sewage. “We have our own code for that,” said Sheperd to lighten the subject, “which is ‘OPP,’ code for ‘Other People’s Poopie.’”

Pricing, according to Sheperd, is pretty much set by the insuring companies, such as State Farm, which have codes for payment for particular kinds of damage and, if it’s a self-pay situation, the cost will depend on the people and time needed to get the job done.

As Sheperd explained her response to disastrous situations and her way of doing business, I took away the conviction that if I were to suffer a loss, I would want her steady hand and mind by my side to pull me through the ordeal.

Hillary Sheperd can be reached at 914-699-5181 or at hsheperd@servprosmv.com.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.r

When I announced in the office sales meeting at William Raveis that The Home Guru Team was just about to list a great “mother/daughter” house, my office manager Doris Ellias gently advised me that “now it’s suggested that we refer to them as ‘extended family’ houses.”

Oh, no, I exclaimed mentally, now we have yet another widely accepted housing term that is considered either politically incorrect or unacceptable to the Fair Housing Act’s advertising guidelines. I looked for any reference to support Doris’ notation and couldn’t find anything, but I’m sure she’s right. After all, my friend Steve Welles lives in that kind of set-up with his two sons, Shane and Cody and why should his house be called a “mother/daughter” and not a “father/son?”   So, I guess “extended family” can cover a broader swath of new family situations, including all the in-laws, and all the other possibilities we now have with equality in marriage.

But, consider yourself lucky when you set out to sell your home that you’ve hired a professional realtor who’s trained to navigate all the language land mines out there that protect citizens from discrimination in housing. We realtors have one heck of a time making sure that we are in compliance when we create copy for a listing, write a brochure or place ads. We might as well have a lawyer by our sides to make sure we are not in violation of those guidelines. Acceptable terms and phrases may seem arbitrary until they offend someone and spark a complaint to a government agency.

Section 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act prohibits language that would foster discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin and, now, in some states, sexual orientation. Some limitations are allowed, such as “no smoking” and “no pets” but others are not, such as “no children” and may not state a preference for adults, couples or singles but rather can describe the properties, as suggested by the National Association of Realtors.  We all know the obvious phrases that would denote a particular preference or those code words that imply limitations such as “exclusive” or “private.” Also we must be careful not to mention particular school systems or houses of worship that could imply a preference in a buyer or tenant.

And when we set about to describe the house itself, there are difficulties in describing its rooms with all the changes that have come about with modern living and, in some cases, where a name may have one meaning but imply another. For instance, does having a master bedroom imply that slavery is still alive and well, or that only households with males at their head should consider buying the home? And, where would the mistress put down digs?

Scores of other questions come to mind about rooms’ names. Why do we call it a John and not a Jill? And, I don’t even want to venture a guess about the Jack and Jill bathroom.

So many room names have gone totally bye-bye just by virtue of the way we live differently from the way we lived years ago. Does anyone really live in the living room anymore? Hasn’t it been completely replaced by the family room just off the kitchen? Shouldn’t we just dump it from our housing vocabulary and our floor plans as well? And who decided that the great room should be a great room? Is that in contrast to a lousy room?

And have you seen a sitting room or sewing room lately? Or a library? That is, unless you live grandly, as some do. One of my favorite stories is about the time I visited the home of a client, Ella Brennan, matriarch of the family that owns Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, and when she opened the double doors to her grand ballroom, I exclaimed, “Oh, you have a ballroom in your house!” and she replied, “Doesn’t everyone?”

And why do we still call the mud room the mud room? Has there really been any mud in it since we stopped being an agrarian society? Just in the past month I’ve listed two historic houses that have “birthing rooms” just off the kitchen. What in the world should I call them? And, remember the rumpus room when we were kids? All such vestigial rooms have been replaced courtesy of the internet with the home office that people my age never had the luxury of and are now de rigueur in the modern household.

There are so many terms and room descriptions that are being pulled from our housing vocabulary for one reason or another, either because of lifestyles changes or the requirements of the Fair Housing guidelines, that someday we may be reduced to saying simply, “nice house for sale.”

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.