About Joye Cottage - continued


            The pristine façade, with its grand airy veranda, was, Mr. Naifeh said, “a Potemkin village, “ painted only for sales-brochure purposes.  Inside, chunks of plaster ceiling littered the floors, roof leaks dripped into buckets, and when Mr. Naifeh stopped to admire a chimney piece in a first-floor bedroom, the floor collapsed, “leaving me up to my groin in rotted wood.”  Crude cuts in the pantry’s bead-board walls led the men to conclude that the room’s sink had been fitted into place with an ax.

            Mr. Naifeh and Mr. Smith bought it anyway, a decision that made friends and relations question their sanity.  (What do two men need with 60 rooms? But more on that later.)

            Nobody doubted their good fortune, however.  Priced at $1.7 million by a thwarted developer, the house finally changed hands for $495,000 (paid by the sale of their apartment, for $525,000).

            “When you consider the history of the family, and that the house was worked on by some of the greatest architectural talents of the last 200 years, and you get all this square footage, too,”  Mr. Smith said, “it was a bargain.”

            Seven years of renovation followed, each one recounted in hair-raising detail in “On a Street Called Easy, in a Cottage Called Joye” (Little, Brown, $23.95), Mr. Naifeh and Mr. Smith’s wry and gentle new book.  Imagine “Home Improvement” with a Southern accent and scripted by Beverley Nichols, the English writer of the 1930’s known for satires of house-and garden renovations gone delectably awry.

            Set in America’s polo capital, a sleepy town of dusty red-clay roads lined with yellow pines and magnolias, the sitcom is broad.  There are menacing subcontractors, loopy local aristocrats and Mordia Grant, foreman and barber manqué, whose hair-clipping hobby transformed his crew of young laborers, as the authors tell it, into “kinetic garden sculpture, all angles and curves and squiggles and stripes.”  And if the tone of the book veers occasionally into self-congratulation, the indulgence is easily forgiven:  a 60-room renovation requires guts.

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Salon staircase

The staircase off the salon

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