32308917_sWhenever I see a model home, I marvel at how a professional designer can throw together a beautiful living space with so many creative ideas so quickly. Some peoples’ minds are just wired that way, but obviously mine is not. In fact, the one course in college I ever dropped mid-term was Interior Design.

While I’ve frequently heard other people boast about how quickly they’ve “settled in” when they’ve purchased a new home or moved from one place to another, either working with a decorator or doing it themselves, as for me, I need to add the element of time to be fully happy with any design project I tackle.

I remember years ago when I invited one of the editors of Good Housekeeping to my home and she surveyed my garden, she asked how long I had lived at my property and when I responded “20 years,” she said, “It shows.” And truly, it wasn’t until another 10 years that I was really happy with what I had done there.

And, I know I’m not alone. When the question “How long did it take for you to decorate your home” is asked online, most people say things like “I’ve been in my house three years and I’m STILL not done.” Some will elaborate and share that they more enjoy the “process.” For instance, one response was: “I just kind of bought things here and there, changed them out, changed my mind, and now I am starting to fix it exactly how I want it.”

My wife’s theory is that when a decorator does a model home, it’s easier because the assignment is impersonal. “There are no personal memories attached to the things selected so it’s easier to bring the plan together,” she said. “But, there’s the danger there that the end result is going to lack any ‘soul,’” she added, “and that can happen if a decorator selects everything for you.”

With our current move, our biggest dilemma has been dealing with too much ‘soul’ in that our decades of collections had to be edited down from nearly 4,000 sq. ft. of space to less than half that. This time around, my wife wanted more open space than we ever had in our antique home, but after six months in our spanking new condo, slowly adding this and that from many things we had previously vowed to sell or give away, we’ve definitely missed that opportunity.

There was a second problem, a big one that the time element helped solve. I had always resisted the idea of having a television set in our living room, no matter where we lived. In our old historic home, we had a television set only in the master bedroom and a small one in our library. When our whole family visited, we all would pile into the bedroom if we wanted to watch a show together, and my wife always hated that.

She insisted that in our new home – a condo in Trump Residences in Shrub Oak – there must be a large television installed above the fireplace/mantel that we are having designed and installed by master cabinetmaker Jan Efraimsen of Woodtronics in Yorktown. I had been “angsting” about that for months. It was probably the biggest decorating conflict my wife and I had ever had in our long marriage. I have always hated visiting beautifully designed homes costing over a million dollars to find a big “black hole” of a television set over the fireplace in a living room. In a family room, fine.

Last week, Jan’s skilled workers arrived to install the magnificent mantel with its gorgeous Carrera marble inset and its rich baronial style design and inwardly I was balking at the idea of having the television plopped on top of it. I stayed awake thinking about it. I knew that once the new TV and sound system was installed by Ray Benza of Entertainment Technology in Mt. Kisco, I would be stuck looking at that big black screen, center stage, for the rest of my life.

With a lot of pleading, my wife gave me one last stay of execution. We are now planning to place the tube on the far side of the room above a bookcase in the corner. Thank goodness it took some months to plan, design and build the cabinetry for my living room because it helped me avoid the bullet of a lifetime eyesore. Once again, it was the element of time that came to my rescue.

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). 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.

Most every spring I write a piece about simplifying garden chores to achieve maximum effect in design and color with minimum effort in terms of planting, weeding and especially bending and kneeling for us folk who are “getting better” each year as they say now about active, mature adults.

But, a lot happens to a property in decades of living with it, much of it not good, and that sometimes throws a monkey wrench into landscaping simplification.

How naïve I was as a young homeowner thinking that every tree, shrub and bulb I discovered on my property, as well as all that I plopped there over the years, would continue to grow and prosper during their lifetimes and mine.

Oh, my, how the landscape that embraces my historic property has changed over the years thanks to pestilence, severe winters, and especially Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, transforming my shaded Shangri-La into a very sunny property just in the past few years, requiring an entirely different landscaping plan.

That unforgiving sun demands that little things grow into big things, be they cultivated or wild, and that requires a lot of work to either encourage growth or eliminate it. That would be fine if I were willing, which I am not, and had the time, which I don’t.

After the tree service people removed 14 felled trees from Hurricane Irene, then another nine from Hurricane Sandy, my property, which had been a gorgeous shaded glen, suddenly looked like a war zone, and I was thousands of dollars poorer from the experience. Deranged visions of newspaper headlines danced in my head, like “Neighbors Complain that Home Guru Blacktops Entire Property.” At first I was grateful that none of the trees had hit the house, but I didn’t know where to start with suddenly moving from shade gardening to that of bright sunlight.

Years ago, the spreading limbs of two-century old sugar maples required only broad swaths of pachysandra below. And in the sunny areas of the property, enthusiastic gardener that I was at the time, I planted beds of annuals and perennials in every inch of space that had access to the sun. Now, suddenly, there was too much access to the sun and I had no drive to plant much at all. But it taught me some lessons in garden simplification that I pass on here.

Where a giant maple had once been, centered on my front lawn, I seeded grass and bordered it with the pachysandra that had been under the tree to create a soft transition to the wooded area beyond.

I replaced all of the annual beds with either hardy perennials or daylilies, or better yet, vinca, where I don’t have to do anything at all.

And for flowers that require less planting time, I’ve turned to container gardening! Since my attack by Mother Nature, I’ve created a more architectural garden by collecting urns – in iron, aluminum that looks like iron, in concrete and clay – and have interspersed them in key spots throughout the property: on either side at the entrance to my driveway, three on my patio, at the entrance to my front door and at several locations in my back yard. To make them really carefree, I plant three geraniums in each urn, usually in pink and one white, my favorite combination. Geraniums are the hardiest plant under the sun and surrounding them, I plant white and pink petunias, the kind which hang over the edge, and then I mulch them to better retain water. The nicest thing of all about container gardening is that I don’t have to bend over or kneel down to plant them!

Also, I’ve added three teak benches in those areas of the yard that are still shaded so that I can sit and enjoy the new vistas of lawn and color that I’ve created in containers as focus points.

To guard against the need for constant weed-pulling during the summer, I ask my young buddy John Fitzpatrick of Fitz Landscaping to drop me off a truck of “clean” wood chips at the far edge of my wooded property and when I feel like some physical exercise, instead of going to the gym, I take my pitch fork and coat every bed of perennials and all around my hosta with a thick layer of chips to keep the weeds at bay all season long.

If you’d like John to do the same for you, call him at 914-618-1549. At the same time, you might ask him to give you an estimate for your other landscaping needs. You’ll find that his pricing and total landscaping services are very good.

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). 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.

34009689_sMy wife and I frequently comment about how barren those new multimillion-dollar condos in Manhattan look when we see those ads with only sofa, a coffee table, and maybe a sideboard in the living room and nothing else. God forbid that you would walk around in your underwear in that room, put your feet up, and munch on a bagel with lox and cream cheese. How do you live in a room like that? And what do you enjoy visually, other than the view of the skyline? Maybe that’s the point? Just look beyond the void of the room into the wild blue yonder, because there’s certainly nothing to ponder inside!

While most of us seem possessed with decluttering, especially when it comes time to sell our homes, fashion designer Iris Apfel, aged 93, is known for keeping her house filled with all sorts of treasures. When interviewed recently by The New York Times, she said, “I love clutter. I think being totally minimal shows a lack of history and soul, and I find it sort of pitiful. I think it’s wonderful to have stuff and live with memories and things you enjoy.”

My wife and I share the same sentiment and, a few years ago when we unsuccessfully attempted to sell our house at a time when the housing market had ground to a halt, the hardest thing we had to do was pack up a large amount of our collections in boxes when it came time to have professional photography done. Those items are still in boxes waiting to be unpacked for a new home that is 2,000 sq. ft. smaller, where we’ll have more display space for them. It might seem ironic that we will have more display space in less square footage but that’s the way it’s being brilliantly planned for us by cabinetry genius Jan Efraimsen of Woodtronics in Yorktown Heights. That story is for a future column.

Yes, the next chapter of our lives will be spent sharing space with many years of collectables, all items that have personal meaning to us. Among them are those few things, heirlooms, that have come from my parents and their parents – a Lionel train set from 1934, a Rosewood vase, a watercolor painting from my Aunt Helen, dated 1939. And from my wife, some pieces of Meissen china that her mother brought with her from Germany as a displaced person after World War II.

And from our own marriage, all the things that we scoured Greenwich Village and lower Second Avenue antique shops for, before the skyscrapers were built. And later, all the delights we found throughout the Hudson Valley during our four decades of weekend field trips, combined with my scouting trips coast to coast and internationally. Each piece comes with a memory of where we bought it, what we paid for it, and what it represents to us. Then, there is the fun of the connectivity of one thing to another.

For instance, while everything in our new home is basically in disarray as we wait for our new cabinetry to be installed, we have only one surface for displaying a ragtag of collectables that I swept up myself on moving day from our large 19th century round table in front of our sofa in the living room. They include as odd an assortment of things that you could imagine, some of which have given people pause to wonder, and say, “What the heck is THAT?” Mostly made of brass, they include: an 18th century candlestick, a candle snuffer, travelling inkwell, a glass globe with a brass base for the top of a newel post, a tea strainer, a large art décor dish, two elaborate European butter knifes, a large 19th century door key, a perfume vial, a small sun dial, and a device to tap down tobacco with the likeness of George Washington.

These collectables may all seem like a big disconnect from each other, but to me personally, there is a mental exercise, connecting the dots of association, much like playing six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. Granted, to visitors, it offers only the experience of seeing great looking items on a coffee table.

Philosophically, I look at it this way. We have only so many years on earth and our brains can contain only so many thoughts at the same time. Memories are very precious to all of us and having a home loaded with reminders of them enriches our lives. Therefore, wouldn’t it seem that minimalist environments make for minimalist lives? Am I reaching here?

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). 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.

20243512_mlThere’s always the possibility that we’re taking a chance when we hire a home improvement contractor for the first time whether the job is big or small. When I moved to the suburbs and it was time for me to find a contractor, it was for a big job: to take a mud room that was literally falling off the back of my historic home, reframe it and install a new door, a half bath and a closet.

A good friend who had moved from the city a few months before us recommended a contractor he had used, basically a handyman, and knowing no one else in the area, I trusted that referral. Foolish me, I forked over $500 upfront to the guy to buy materials, and that was the last I saw of him. Forty-some years ago, that was a lot of money to me, but being rooked and made a fool of hurt more than the financial loss.

The lessons learned where to never hire a contractor who wants money up front nor to hire one who doesn’t have a whole portfolio of jobs in the community to demonstrate his or her stability.

Since I became The Home Guru more than a dozen years ago, I’ve formed happy alliances with many home improvement suppliers, and because readers frequently ask me for recommendations, I’m opening the pages of my “little black book” to share those I’m using right now or have used in the recent past. I can recommend them with full confidence and, for good measure, I’ve included some personal notes about the nature of our relationships.

BLINDS: Niles Floors & Blinds, Anthony and Pat Viverito, 914-737-6780, www.nilesfloorsandblinds.com (Anthony and Pat Viverito convinced me to filter the light in my new digs rather than have my windows go naked, as I was wont to do for some years!);

CABINETRY & WOODWORKING: Woodtronics, Jan Efraimsen, 914-962-5205, www.woodtronicsny.com (Jan and his designer Chris Keating are designing and building the cabinetry at my new home, needed because I’m downsizing by 50 percent! Jan, originally an engineer, turned his woodworking hobby into the most skilled cabinetmaking skills I’ve ever encountered, both for residential and commercial applications);

CARPETING: Redi-Cut Carpets, Michael Feldman, 914-937-5885, http://redicut.com (Michael just installed all the carpeting in my new offices);

CONTRACTORS: Miracle Home Improvements, 914-2719119, www.miraclehomeimprovements.com (Mary and Robert Sniffen specialize in roofing, windows, siding, doors, skylights and decks, and always nicely support The Home Guru column, too!); Franzoso Contracting, Mark Franzoso, 914-271-4572, www.franzoso.com (Mark as you know is the marketing genius who came to Yorktown’s aid when we were about to lose an historic landmark which he agreed to restore in exchange for an the right to build an additional house on the property);

ENVIRONMENTAL COMPANY: ENVIRO-STAR, Mark DiBartolo, 845-279-9555, www.tankremovalservices.com (By the way, always remember, an underground oil tank isn’t a death sentence for having it there! But, if it must come out, Mark’s the guy who will do it for you);

ELECTRICIAN: P&K Electric, 914-962-3581 (Pete and Ken are doing the wiring needed for an electric fireplace in my new digs that, I swear, you would never know isn’t the real thing. I found it at Fireglow in Jefferson Valley);

FENCING: Campanella Fencing, Tony Campanella , 845-628-2200 (Tony always offers me creative solutions when it’s time for repair work on my VERY old stockade fencing);

FLOORING: Absolute Flooring, 914-245-0225, www.absoluteflooring.com, (When it came time to replace my kitchen floor, owners Mary and son Bryan Fellbusch treated me like family and gave me the best installation job imaginable for a checkerboard white and black pattern);

HOME INSPECTOR: Robin Home Inspection, 914-456-7718, (Dale Robin does an incredibly thorough job; clients are always impressed);

INSURANCE: Albert J. Chapman Agency, Inc., Bob Chapman, 914-962-5778, www.albertjchapman.com (Bob found me the best priced policies for both my new condo at Trump Park Residences and for my cars. He’s a second generation insurer and the most attentive provider I’ve ever encountered!);

LANDSCAPER/SNOW REMOVAL: Fitz’s Landscaping, John Fitzpatrick, 914-618-1549, www.fitz-landscape.com (Now that spring is here, you can rely on John for total landscaping design as well as lawn maintenance needs);

MOLD REMEDIATION: Oxygen Sanitizing Systems, 1-877-224-3080, www.newindoorair.com (When my office library was attacked by mold, owner Valerie Maziarz brought this wonderful service to my rescue; I actually breathe better now!);

MOVER: Advantage Movers, 800-444-0104 (My friend Phil D’Erasmo is the best in the business, and his resources aid charities in need. That really appeals to me);

PAINTER: Joe Pascarelli, 914-330-3889 (Can there be anyone else but “Fireman Joe” for painting inside or out? He’ll also tell you about fire safety at home and check your smoke detectors!);

PAVING & STONEWORK: Jim’s Driveway Sealing & Paving, 914-962-8727. Jim Capone will be paving my driveway on Hickory soon as well as constructing my new stone walls);

PLUMBER: Goldberg Plumbing & Heating, 914-962-3498. Dave Goldberg was the first plumber I called over 40 years ago).

To my suppliers, I say, if I’ve left anybody out, don’t shoot me. Forgive me, and I’ll catch you the next time around. Just as with the throes of maintaining a home, there’s always another job to be done, right?

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). 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.

34956197_sLately I’ve been made aware that I’m probably a noisy person. Not to myself so much, but maybe to others. More and more, if I’m watching TV in one room and my wife in another, for instance, she’ll say mine is too loud.

And just the other day, when I had driven into my property which houses my PR business and jumped out of the car without turning off the motor to unlock the place for my painters who are redecorating my offices, the realization really struck home. One of the painters who’s worked for me for a long time looked at me askance and said, “Knowing the kind of man you are, I never would have thought you’d play loud music in your car!” I guess I was busted.

Yes, I like loud music, whether in my car or at home. Not rock or country, but Broadway show tunes that get my heart pumping. And it doesn’t do the trick for me with earphones. The sound has to fill the room I’m in and reverberate off the walls to fully embrace me.

For more than forty years I’ve lived on a property with no homes near me, but now that I also own a condo at Trump Residences in Shrub Oak with neighbors across and down the hall, I guess my reverberating days are over if I’m to be a considerate neighbor. Just last week, a gentleman across the hall asked if the piano playing he heard was coming from my unit. Oh, no, I thought! I’m only able to play the American Songbook, and I am so rusty after a 30 year absence from the keyboard that I’m sure Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers are rolling over in their graves.

Sheepishly, I admitted it was I tinkering on the keys and apologized that I’m not a more accomplished musician. Since that time, I haven’t been playing late and have been using the soft pedal when I do.

Most of us who live in Westchester or Putnam Counties have some kind of proximity to a neighbor who is subject to noise we make as we share property lines or walls of apartments or condominiums and that can create problems, sometimes big ones.

When I moved into my first apartment on my own in Brooklyn Heights, it was new, cheap construction and the floor above me had no carpeting. Living there was a single mother who must have worn spiked heels her every waking moment, and she had a child who could only have been possessed by a demon. In the days before cell phones and when everyone had no fear of being listed, I looked up her number and called her so frequently to complain about the noise that I can still remember her name and Triangle exchange to this day. Then, one day, her tough boyfriend came banging on my door, which I refused to open, calling me names, the least offensive of which was “a neurotic,” threatening me serious bodily harm. That’s when I decided to skip out on my lease and leave the building for a more solid pre-war building with a lot more insulation from sound.

When my wife and I married and shared our first apartment in another new building, there was an older gentleman who lived in the apartment right off the lobby who loved to share his life with all the residents of the building. He must have been involved with entertainment in the 1950s, because he would leave his door open and sing songs of that period without accompaniment. Only in New York, right? His favorite was “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation.” Whenever my wife and I want to refer to the intrusion of one person’s lifestyle, aka “noise,” into another’s, all we have to do is sing that song as code and it speaks volumes.

When we moved to the country, the vagaries of close proximity were lessened for sensitive ears and far different. Here in the wide open spaces, we have lawn mowers, leaf blowers and the biggest offender about which most of us complain, barking dogs, that is, if they bark too long unabated. Most towns have in their codes the acceptable length of time an owner can have a dog bark before a neighbor can ask that a warning be issued by the code enforcement officer.

For those of us who share walls in condos or apartments, we have the same issues that those of us in the city would have. The other night at a dinner given by a social club I belong to, I discussed this subject with a fellow member who told me that he shares walls on either side of his unit with other retired people. “I know most things about their lifestyles, he said, like when the nice woman on one side of me can’t sleep and I hear her TV go on in the middle of the night. We just adjust.”

And, failing all else, there are always old-fashioned earplugs.

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). 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 Home Guru with his stash of trash from his hometown’s litter clean-up day, “The Battle of Yorktown.”

The Home Guru with his stash of trash from his hometown’s litter clean-up day, “The Battle of Yorktown.”

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about litter and how it relates to the real estate industry. I was inspired to write on that particular subject because I had just been asked to cancel a showing appointment when a couple had done an advance drive-by of the house and found that it was in a neighborhood where they felt there was an excessive amount of litter left on the streets.

“We wouldn’t want to live in a place where our neighbors could just leave litter in front of their own homes without picking it up,” they told me. They even added for emphasis, “We just wouldn’t want to live among people who could stand to live like that.”

I must confess, I have similar feelings when I’m driving down any road or byway. I don’t know if I’m obsessive, okay, maybe I am, but any foreign object of litter on the road catches my eye like a magnet and sets up that feeling of guilt that I can’t stop my car, get out and pick it up. If I happen to be on my own street, even if it’s not in front of my own house, I do it. Otherwise it’s just impractical. After all, don’t we all get honked at if we linger just a second too long when the light turns green?

Litter does affect the value of our neighborhoods and, unfortunately, at least in my case, it tends to affect our feelings about those among us who are not as conscientious as we are, just as my buyer client expressed when cancelling her appointment. Indeed, what kind of people would throw trash from their car on to the road and just not give a damn about it?

Last Saturday, I had a full six hours to ponder that question as I personally cleaned up a half mile of one of the three roads, the busiest one, that borders my property, on the day we in Yorktown have designated as “The Battle of Yorktown,” our annual litter clean-up day wonderfully sponsored by our town and directed by a master administrator named Kim Angliss-Gage.

I adopted that road some years ago in exchange for a sign promoting my real estate practice and at first I would hire people to do the job for me. But for the last two years, I’ve done the job myself as mental therapy, in part to vent my anger against those who litter and in part, of course, to maintain the appearance of my own neighborhood.

First, I am unhappy to report that despite all the campaigns to discourage littering, we seem to have more, rather than less litter on our roads. My collected volume was probably at least 25 percent more this year than last year. But the type of litter seems to be shifting a bit. The number of empty cigarette packs has diminished (besides the health factor, who can afford them anymore?), but alarmingly, the number of empty liquor bottles has greatly increased as has beer cans.

As I worked, I would quell my anger by visualizing the litterbugs as mostly unhealthy people, judging from the predominance of fast food packaging, as well as plastic containers of those sugary jumbo drinks. Indeed, since litterbugs offend only when no one is looking, all we know about them is the scant information Keep America beautiful tells us: they tend to be men between the ages of 18 and 34 who drive more than 50 miles a day and eat in fast food restaurants at least twice a week.

While I mumbled and grumbled during the course of those hours I spent keeping a watchful eye on how close the cars were driving to me (most drivers were very considerate, slowing down, giving me encouragement, beaming and saying “thank you!”), I totally enjoyed the experience of cleaning up. In fact, these were among the most gratifying hours of my year. While doing something good for myself and the neighborhood, I helped restore a patch of Mother Earth to some semblance of how she should be.

There was only one negative factor involved in the experience. From so much bending and stooping, I found that my muscles were aching the next morning, more so than I remember in the past. Oh, yes, I forgot. I’m another year older. That’s all right. Doing good at least makes me feel younger.

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). 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 Home Guru at his 1929 Baldwin Baby Grand, given to him by a family who was downsizing to a smaller space.

The Home Guru at his 1929 Baldwin Baby Grand, given to him by a family who was downsizing to a smaller space.

Either the piano is about to become as extinct as the dodo bird from American homes or, much like Mark Twain, its untimely death has been greatly exaggerated. It depends on what you read and who you believe.

Within the past few weeks, there’s been good news and bad news about the piano industry and, oddly enough, a report of its connection to the real estate industry.

First I heard an interview on SiriusXM Radio that referenced a New York Times article about a “graveyard” for unwanted pianos in Southhampton, Pa., and that particular graveyard was only one of many.

As a realtor, I frequently am asked by clients selling their homes for advice about how to dispose of their pianos, especially if they are downsizing.

It wasn’t all that long ago that a piano was as integral to a home’s living room as a flat screen TV is today. Sheet music for popular songs was readily available, and families would play music together as its principal mode of entertainment. Even with our wealth of modern diversions, people still love listening to music. Why shouldn’t they still love creating it?

At least some enterprising artists will occasionally make use of the parts. The recent production of “Into the Woods” by the Fiasco Theatre at the Roundabout in New York played within a set constructed from piano harps retrieved from that dump in Pennsylvania.

But, what’s the connection to real estate and is there hope on the horizon for the future of the piano? According to a report in the Chicago Tribune just last week, the tempo for piano sales is picking up and, flying in the face of earlier reports of doom and gloom for the industry, the reason is the improvement in real estate sales.

According to Larry Morton, president of Hal Leonard Corp., an educational music print publisher, the sale of new pianos is directly tied to real estate. “The sales of new pianos have always been driven by people buying new homes,” he said. “It’s part of the experience of having a house, not unlike buying furniture.”

But more importantly, there are distinct benefits to young people associated with the study of piano. To know the full score about that, I spoke to Jonathan Ackerman, a private piano instructor in lower Westchester and Chair of District 4 of the New York State Music Teachers Association (NYSMTA). Here’s the list of benefits he gave me:

Discipline: Piano study requires a daily routine and regiment of warm-ups, music theory study, listening and repertoire development.

Long-term Planning: Learning piano is a series of achieving a continually more complex set of skills and repertoire over many years. To master an advanced piece of music may take many months.

Persistence: Mastering a piece of music takes repeated efforts with many failures along the way to achieve success.

Future Success in School and Work: Studying an instrument is the most corresponding factor to future success in school when compared with any other activity. A recent study found that 75% of Silicon Valley CEOs had instrumental music education as a child.

Brain Development: An MIT study determined that the cerebral cortex of a concert pianist is enlarged by 30% on average compared to people who are considered intellectuals, but who did not have instrumental music education.

Cultural/Artistic Connection: The piano literature contains some of the greatest musical compositions in history. Many great composers began as pianists, and the piano is a great instrument to develop improvisational/composition skills.

Social Connection: A pianist can play solo, in an ensemble, and accompany singers and choirs. Students learn how to work in teams when preparing for a performance.

The best year for new piano sales in the U. S. was 1909 when more than 364,500 were sold. In 2005 that number was down to 95,000, dropping to 33,000 at the depths of the recession in 2009, but encouragingly that number grew 4.3 percent and sold more than 37,200 last year.

Offering such solid benefits to those who study piano, here’s hoping that the improving real estate market will support a movement to reclaim an important part of our cultural history and encourage people to bring the piano back into our homes.

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). 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.

Brad Goodman, master craftsman, can repair small jobs, such as this broken splat (shown repaired in insert), or build entire kitchens.

Brad Goodman, master craftsman, can repair small jobs, such as this broken splat (shown repaired in insert), or build entire kitchens.

One of the favorite pieces my wife and I retrieved from our antiques shop when we closed it some years ago was a Sheraton-style (but not original) settee that is delicately made with three harp-like splats in the back. We’ve always had it in our central hall as though guests might linger there if they wanted to, but it was mainly for show and rarely ever sat on.

Somewhere along the way, however, one of the splat’s spokes had broken away and because of that, the settee had lost much of its value. However, with a big throw pillow covering its flaw, it was still pretty to look at, but I had no idea or plan of ever getting it repaired. But then I met Brad Goodman, assistant building inspector in my hometown of Yorktown. Lorin in my PR office had told me that he was an extraordinary craftsman and could “build and repair” anything made of wood. I was fascinated. “Can you repair that broken splat so that it doesn’t show?” I asked.

Without missing a beat, he responded, “Yes, I have a workshop where I have all the tools I need to do all of that.” I pressed him further saying, “but HOW do you know how to do those things, tell me.” Shrugging his shoulders, he said modestly, “I just picked it up along the way from the time my mother sent me to a YHMA woodworking class when I was eight years old.”

(Coincidentally, I was sent to a class when I was ten to make something out of wood, a Bible holder to be hung on a wall, which I still possess, and in my case, I somehow feel I committed a religious desecration.)

“Did you see the movie ‘Amadeus’?” Goodman asked me, referring to the story of Mozart and his arch rival Salieri where they were both talented, but Mozart’s work came naturally and Salieri had to work harder to get the same results. “I wouldn’t compare myself to Mozart, but building things all came easily and naturally to me.”

After that first woodworking class, other classes followed that helped cultivate his practice of craftsmanship including art and sculpture, and from that time, he pursued two passions: making furniture and, as a musician (or “bluesician” as he calls himself), the making of guitars.

When he as young as 20, Goodman purchased his first business, an antiques store in Scarsdale, with his mother and younger brother. That evolved into a kitchen sales business and from there, his entrepreneurial pursuits brought him into the tiling, plumbing and electrical businesses until the physical labor aspect of those jobs took their toll on his body. At that point, he transitioned into functioning as a building superintendent for a contractor for some years until taking his current job as a building inspector.

Goodman took my settee for repair and when I received the call that the job was done, I asked if I could visit his shop which is in the lower level of his expanded raised ranch high on a hill in Brewster. There, the large space is filled with all of his automated equipment to which he oriented me: a machinist’s lathe, a jointer, plainer, band saw, a BIG band saw, a pin router, a table saw, and a panel saw. Then he revealed my repaired settee and, for the life of me, I could not determine which spoke of the splat had been broken off. This man should be a restorer in a museum and yet, his talent is available at reasonable cost to any homeowner who needs repair, big or small.

As I explored Goodman’s journey to becoming a true craftsman, I kept asking myself the same question: Would it have been possible if I had applied myself that I too might have become a true craftsman? I really doubt it.

While Goodman modestly quoted Thomas Edison when he said that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, I believe there is definitely something innate, a special knack, a certain “eye” that some of us have and others don’t. Brad Goodman definitely has it, and I definitely don’t. If you would like his brand of genius put to work for your special project, whether a big kitchen or a small repair, he can be reached at 845-480-6840.

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). 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.

DianeDarbyAbsoluteFlooring

Diane Darby of Absolute Flooring in Yorktown Heights holding the two vinyl tiles selected by The Home Guru and Mrs. Guru for their checkerboard kitchen floor where a “softer, warmer” surface was required for an older floor.

When it was time to replace the surface of our kitchen floor and we had to decide which material to choose, we found that it was as though there had been an explosion of options since the last time we had visited a flooring store more than 15 years ago. The new varieties of materials, both natural and especially manmade, were dizzying.

But from the outset we knew that we wouldn’t be able to use a hard material like stone or ceramic because our kitchen was in an historic home and, with too much “give,” needed the forgiveness of a soft manmade material. The floor had been further challenged twice from leaks, one from the refrigerator and the other from a burst pipe that had somehow frozen under the sink because some animal, of what species, I’m not sure, had eaten away the insulation from the pipes in the crawl space.

We visited Absolute Flooring in Yorktown Heights where store manager Diane Darby helped us narrow down our choices over a period of some weeks, showing infinite patience as we veered wildly from one possibility to another among the endless choices in its expansive showroom. “Yes, you’d be looking at either a vinyl or a linoleum,” she told us. “Linoleum?” I asked naively and in surprise, as though I had heard a naughty word from the past. “Isn’t that the stuff that has all the asbestos that we always have to worry about when we see old flooring tiles that have to be removed from homes?”

“Asbestos was removed from linoleum a long time ago,” Darby assured us. “Now it’s a 100 percent natural product, totally green, made of flax and linseed oil, so there’s no off-gassing. All the colors are plant pigments and go all the way through the product.” So, what’s the difference between linoleum and vinyl, I inquired, knowing that I was totally uninformed.

“While linoleum is all natural and what you see is the product itself, vinyl is a plastic that utilizes a photo process to achieve the look of the material you want. There’s a base layer, and above that, an image layer or what we call a ‘view,’ and, above that is the ‘wear’ layer or clear plastic that covers and protects the image. It’s amazing how realistic the photo images can be of either wood, stone or marble. The difference, however, is that with vinyl or linoleum, the material is softer and warmer than the natural material.

“Also, there is a far greater variety in terms of quality and price,” Darby continued, “the more ‘wear’ layers you have, the more longevity and the better quality you’ll have and, along with that, the higher the price.”

After much consideration, my wife and I had decided we wanted a white and black checkerboard effect and that dictated that we go with vinyl rather than linoleum because we could get a whiter white in that product.

There are other reasons and situations for choosing “fake” over “real” in flooring. For instance, if you want the look of wood flooring in your kitchen or bath, Darby tells us emphatically that “water and wood don’t mix, and a ‘view’ vinyl is definitely more durable for such locations.” And here’s something that was a revelation to me: there are now ceramics in both wood and stone patterns that can be used for flooring in wet areas as well as for outside porches and decks.

Another instance where vinyl flooring, rather than hardwood flooring, is more durable is in high traffic areas such as entranceways.

Price is another factor where man-made product is more favorable. Oak flooring would cost about $6.00 to $7.00 per square foot while a vinyl product would cost between $4.00 and $5.00 per square foot and about the same price to install.

As for me personally, I find myself walking around more in my bare feet inside the house, much like I did as a child living in the South, simply because I find the flooring so comfortable, so warm and soft.

If it’s time to replace flooring in your home and you’re looking for expert advice, you can’t go wrong by talking to Diane Darby at Absolute Flooring, located at 1735 Front Street, Yorktown Heights. Telephone: 914-245-0225. Web: www.absoluteflooring.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), 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.

Frank Quigley, left, owner of Windows Plus, a construction company, and  Joe Pascarelli, a house painter, are both retired fireman involved with fire safety education for kids and now plan to write a children’s book about it.

Frank Quigley, left, owner of Windows Plus, a construction company, and Joe Pascarelli, a house painter, are both retired fireman involved with fire safety education for kids and now plan to write a children’s book about it.

One of life’s greatest pleasures for me since I assumed the moniker of The Home Guru more than a dozen years ago has been the great talents and personalities I’ve encountered among the suppliers who service our many needs around the house, both inside and out.

As for me, a self-professed klutz with most things that require any amount of skill or technical expertise, knowing these miracle workers has always been essential to running my household and maintaining my property. I can communicate the expertise of others by writing about it, but I can’t do it.

As I have become friends with my suppliers and learned more about their backgrounds, I have encountered much ingenuity, sometimes sheer genius, and many surprises along the way. Sometimes there have been valuable life lessons learned as well.

For instance, some years ago when I needed to have wallpaper removed from some of my rooms and have them painted, Joe Pascarelli came highly recommended to do the job. Little did I know that he would become part of my life, both personally and professionally.

More famously known as “Fireman Joe,” Pascarelli retired as a Mount Vernon Fire Department lieutenant seven years ago. But 14 years before that, he had experienced a trauma where a young child had been lost in a fire he responded to and, as he put it, “I needed to get help to deal with that.”

As part of his recovery process, he decided to educate young children about fire safety and has been doing that annually at the Van Cortlandtville Elementary School in Mohegan Lake for the past 20 years.

Last week, I met him for lunch with another good buddy of his, Frank Quigley, also a retired fireman who had been with the New York City Fire Department in the Bronx and also involved with teaching children about fire safety.

In his case, Quigley would invite them into the firehouse to see the equipment. When he retired nine years ago, Quigley developed his own construction business called Window Plus. Besides windows, his company covers the gamut of projects from roofing, siding and decks to full additions.

The purpose of our meeting was to discuss our writing a brochure together about fire safety in the home for children with illustrations that Pascarelli could distribute  at his school appearances. The intention would be to expand it into a children’s book and a CD.

As a public service to us all, especially to any young children in your own family or to any children you know, please share the basic outline below.

Fireman Joe’s Safety Tips for Kids

If you smell smoke, don’t HIDE, run OUTSIDE;

Make noise! Shout “Fire!”

If you see a man in strange-looking fireman’s gear, DON’T BE AFRAID. He’s a friend;

Have an established place outside for all family members to meet;

If your clothes catch fire, STOP, DROP and ROLL!

NEVER go back into the house for pets or anything else;

Two “toys” NEVER to play with:  matches and lighters;

Have an EDITH plan with your family (Exit Drill in the House);

Change batteries in smoke detectors when you change clocks.

 To my way of thinking, good guys who are concerned for the safety and education of children are the kind of people with whom I want to work.

To reach Joe Pascarelli for wallpaper removal and painting, inside or out, call 914-330-3889. To reach Frank Quigley for any construction project, big or small, from roofing to an addition to your home, call 914-438-0249.

Postscript: While Pascarelli’s good work was born from the tragedy of the loss of a child, a young girl who attended one of his school presentations was able to save her own life and her entire family when fire struck her home in the middle of the night.

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.