The 19th-century greenhouse

Some Like It Hothouse

by Susan Stava


THE sprawling 19th-century greenhouse owned by Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien in Garrison is more than just a place to start tomatoes in advance of spring. With its wicker and wrought-iron furniture, a dining table that seats 12 and a fireplace, the 55-foot-long greenhouse is also an inviting backdrop for entertaining friends.

But perhaps most important, it serves as a cure, the doctor said, for the emotional depression that sometimes accompanies winter’s shorter daylight hours and its often harsh, unrelenting cold.

“There’s nothing more restorative than being in a greenhouse during a snowstorm with flowers around you in full bloom,” said Dr. Friedman-Kien, who practices and teaches dermatology in Manhattan at New York University Langone Medical Center.

In recent years, the doctor’s children and their children have grown up and out of his seven-building, 76-acre-property with 10 bedrooms, and as a result he has listed it, for $3.2 million. He is hoping, he said, that the next owner will use it either as a family compound, as he did, or as a retreat or conference center — or even perhaps for a bed-and-breakfast.

Not all greenhouses are as grand as his, although most offer similar advantages. And they are not as unusual as one might think. For many years, brokers say, such features were out of style with buyers — often promptly torn down because of the work and maintenance they require. But their popularity has grown in recent years as people become what Heather Fitzgerald, a real estate agent with Houlihan Lawrence in Cold Spring, calls “more green-oriented.”

When she shows one, she said, clients’ eyes often “light up with the possibilities.” Earlier this year, clients moving to Cold Spring from Manhattan paid $650,000 for a three-bedroom two-bath Cape with a greenhouse — which they then converted to a spa and bath.

“Increasingly,” said Ms. Fitzgerald, a former vice president of the Philipstown Garden Club, “greenhouses are coveted again and not thought of as just antiques. They’re in vogue again.” Noting that even some plant-loving apartment dwellers convert sections of their terraces to greenhouses, she concluded, “It only makes sense that they would come back in style.”

These days, giant hothouses are rare. The small one attached to the six-bedroom three-bath Victorian that Barbara Brundage is selling in Pleasantville is more typical. Ms. Brundage, a photographer, is like Dr. Friedman-Kien in relishing her view of snowfalls from inside — especially the patterns snow creates on glass.

For her, the greenhouse has been a place to grow herbs and other plants in winter, although now that the house is on the market, for $769,000, she is using the space to store plants and equipment. The fact that it adds light during the dreary days of winter remains a plus — “like having a car with a sunroof,” she said.

Bill Orange is the president of Under Glass Manufacturing in High Falls, N.Y., which in 1989 bought the Lord & Burnham Greenhouse company — the creator of the 19th-century greenhouse at Lyndhurst, the former Jay Gould estate in Tarrytown — as well as Dr. Friedman-Kien’s. Mr. Orange points out that greenhouses serve today both as collectors of solar energy and as places where families can grow pesticide-free vegetables throughout the winter.

“It used to be that 80 percent of greenhouse owners grew plants and flowers,” Mr. Orange said. “But these days, 75 percent grow vegetables and herbs. We’ve seen a big change in the use of greenhouses.”

His customers, he said, include “everyone from your average grower to the very affluent.” The least expensive greenhouse sold by his company is a $5,000, 5-by-13-foot lean-to style for the side of a house. At the other extreme is the 60-by-26-foot research facility for the United States Department of Agriculture in Buzzards Bay, Mass., which cost “far, far more,” he said.

Companies like Advance Greenhouses in Rayville, La., sell smaller, standalone polyurethane film greenhouses available on the Web for under $1,000. Echoing Mr. Orange, Tammy Wylie, the owner of Advance Greenhouses, said, “I sell greenhouses to customers from New York to California and Wisconsin to Florida who want an economical way to supplement the family food supply during winter.”

Maria T. Iacono, an agent with Houlihan Lawrence in Larchmont, described one of her recent listings, a four-bedroom colonial with an attached greenhouse that the owners decided to rent when it didn’t sell for $1.8 million. Potential buyers “fell in love with the perennial garden outside,” Ms. Iacono said, “but they were not interested in the greenhouse. It’s hard to say whether a greenhouse adds or detracts. It all depends on the buyer.”

Or, as Missy Renwick, a principal broker for Renwick Sotheby’s International Realty in Bedford, put it: “They’re not for everyone. We have potential buyers in Bedford for a house with a greenhouse, and the first thing they want to do is take it off. ”

from nytimes.com

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