On Location: A New Orleans Couple Decorates in Brooklyn

Mr. Habig’s family is less antique — his parents met at Tulane — but he still has strong New Orleans credentials: his father, an orthopedic surgeon, was for years the head surgeon of the New Orleans Saints.

In 2009, the couple were married at her alma mater, the Academy of the Sacred Heart Chapel. And afterward, their party at Antoine’s became entangled with the St. Joseph’s Day parade, which was lurching its way through the French Quarter. Three years ago, about six months before their daughter, Lise, was born, they bought a brownstone for $1.75 million in Carroll Gardens, a Brooklyn neighborhood strangely peopled with other New Orleans exiles, said Ms. Babst, who is always running into someone she grew up with when she buys the olive salad at Court Street Grocers.

The century-old house had belonged to an English professor, said Ms. Babst, who had carefully restored much of it, replacing its fireplaces with period mantels in various materials like limestone, slate and wood. It still needed new wiring, new bathrooms, a new kitchen and paint, all of which cost about $300,000, she said.

When she and Mr. Habig moved in, they brought with them a huge quantity of books, a sofa or two, a few chairs and artwork by New Orleans artists like Frank Relle, who makes glowing long-exposure photographs of that city at night. But because Ms. Babst had painted the walls blue, and upholstered what furniture they had in blue, she realized, she said, “that I needed professional help.”

Thrashing around on the Internet, as she put it, she stumbled onto a blog put up by Suzanne and Lauren McGrath, a mother-daughter design team whose work most resembled what Ms. Babst had in mind. Ms. McGrath senior had worked for Cullman & Kravis and Thierry Despont before becoming the producer, for 10 years, of Martha Stewart’s television show. Lauren McGrath had worked at Teen Vogue.

To explain herself, Ms. Babst sent the McGraths an email that noted, among other things, her preferences between random pairs of things: Manet, not Monet; the Frick, not MoMA; Truffaut, not Godard; autumn, not summer. “If I were going to live in an imaginary house,” she wrote, “I would want it to be designed by Wes Anderson.”

Ms. Babst’s exposition and the McGraths’ response to it yielded often uncanny results. One day, Lauren McGrath showed up with sofa cushions made from a fabric that was weirdly familiar. Ms. Babst couldn’t figure out why, until her mother pointed out it was the same print her grandmother had used to decorate her grandfather’s law offices back in New Orleans.

Last month, Ms. Babst sold her first novel, “The Floating World,” to Algonquin Books. Set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, it centers on a Creole family shattered by the storm. It was a tale nearly a decade in the making.

“The trauma of losing your city is an existential crisis of the highest order,” Ms. Babst said. “You learn that nothing is secure.” (Her mother, she added, has not yet been able to finish the book.)

Ms. Babst still has the chipped brown Pottery Barn desk she wrote the novel on. But when her advance check comes, she said, she plans to buy a new one that she saw at McNally Jackson, the independent bookstore on Prince Street.

“It’s made with no nails and all these marvelous drawers,” she said. “I love a good drawer. It will be the last piece of the house.”

Correction: February 27, 2015

An earlier version of a picture caption in the slide show with this article misspelled the given name of the artist whose work, “Father Holding His Son,” is pictured. It is George Dureau, not Georges.

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F.C.C. Approves Net Neutrality Rules, Classifying Broadband Internet Service as a Utility

Before the vote, each of the five commissioners spoke and the Republicans delivered a scathing critique of the order as overly broad, vague and unnecessary. Ajit Pai, a Republican commissioner, said the rules were government meddling in a vibrant, competitive market and were likely to deter investment, undermine innovation and ultimately harm consumers.

“The Internet is not broken,” Mr. Pai said. “There is no problem to solve.”

The impact of the new rules will hinge partly on details that are not yet known. The rules will not be published for at least a couple of days, and will not take effect for probably at least a couple of months. Lawsuits to challenge the commission’s order are widely expected.

The Faster the Internet, The Fewer the Choices

Three-quarters of households have the choice of only one broadband provider while only a quarter have at least two to choose from.

The share of homes with

broadband providers

available at each speed






Number of




Megabits per second downloading

Faster Internet speed

The F.C.C. is taking this big regulatory step by reclassifying high-speed Internet service as a telecommunications service, instead of an information service, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The Title II classification comes from the phone company era, treating service as a public utility.

But the new rules are an à la carte version of Title II, adopting some provisions and shunning others. The F.C.C. will not get involved in pricing decisions or the engineering decisions companies make in managing their networks. Mr. Wheeler, who gave a forceful defense of the rules just ahead of the vote, said the tailored approach was anything but old-style utility regulation. “These are a 21st-century set of rules for a 21st-century industry,” he said.

Opponents of the new rules, led by cable television and telecommunications companies, say adopting the Title II approach opens the door to bureaucratic interference with business decisions that, if let stand, would reduce incentives to invest and thus raise prices and hurt consumers.

“Today, the F.C.C. took one of the most regulatory steps in its history,” Michael Powell, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and a chairman of the F.C.C. in the Bush administration, said in a statement. “The commission has breathed new life into the decayed telephone regulatory model and applied it to the most dynamic, freewheeling and innovative platform in history.”

Supporters of the Title II model include many major Internet companies, start-ups and public interest groups. In a statement, Michael Beckerman, president of the Internet Association, which includes Google, Facebook and smaller online companies, called the F.C.C. vote “a welcome step in our effort to create strong, enforceable net neutrality rules.”

The F.C.C.’s yearlong path to issuing rules to ensure an open Internet precipitated an extraordinary level of political involvement, from grass-roots populism to the White House, for a regulatory ruling. The F.C.C. received four million comments, about a quarter of them generated through a campaign organized by groups including Fight for the Future, an advocacy nonprofit.

Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, said, “This shows that the Internet has changed the rules of what can be accomplished in Washington.”


Supporters of net neutrality rallied on Thursday outside the F.C.C. building. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

An overwhelming majority of the comments supported common-carrier style rules, like those in the order the commission approved on Thursday.

In the public meeting, Mr. Wheeler began his remarks by noting the flood of public comments. “We listened and we learned,” he said.

In November, President Obama took the unusual step of urging the F.C.C., an independent agency, to adopt the “strongest possible rules” on net neutrality.

Mr. Obama specifically called on the commission to classify high-speed broadband service as a utility under Title II. His rationale: “For most Americans, the Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life.”

Republicans in Congress were slow to react, and initially misread the public mood. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas portrayed the F.C.C. rule-making process as a heavy-handed liberal initiative, “Obamacare for the Internet.”

In January, Senator John Thune, the South Dakota Republican, began circulating legislation that embraced the principles of net neutrality, banning both paid-for priority lanes and the blocking or throttling of any web content. But it would also prohibit the F.C.C. from issuing regulations to achieve those goals. This week, the Republicans pulled back, with too little support to move quickly.

Also at the Thursday meeting, the F.C.C. approved an order to pre-empt state laws that limit the build-out of municipal broadband Internet services. The order focuses on laws in two states, North Carolina and Tennessee, but it would create a policy framework for other states. About 20 states, by the F.C.C.’s count, have laws that restrict the activities of community broadband services.

The state laws unfairly restrict municipal competition with cable and telecommunications broadband providers, the F.C.C. said. This order, too, will surely be challenged in court.

Correction: February 26, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the role of the F.C.C. under the new rules in pricing and engineering decisions companies make for their networks. The F.C.C. will not get involved in those decisions; it is not the case that they will get involved.

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On Location: Furnishing the RISD President’s House

So she invited RISD’s faculty, students and alumni to do it. The result is an elegant second residence for Ms. Somerson and a showcase of RISD talent for everyone else. Trustees, parents, visiting lecturers, local politicians and even trick-or-treaters who cross the threshold are wrapped in its culture.

On a recent afternoon, Ms. Somerson sat on a dove-gray sofa with gray-and-white patterned pillows — fabrics by Rachel Doriss (B.F.A., 1999), now the design director of the textile company Pollack. In front of her was a simple wood coffee table by John Dunnigan, a furniture professor at RISD. Underneath lay a black-and-persimmon-striped wool carpet by Martin Emlein (B.F.A., 2009), a designer with Merida Studio.

“I know the culture really well,” said Ms. Somerson, who arrived at RISD in the 1970s as a student, returning in 1985 to teach.

“I have been here ever since,” she added. “What is that, 40 years?”

“Thirty,” said Pat Brown, a landscape designer who coordinated the logistics of the house-decoration project and was on hand for a tour of the new acquisitions. (She also grows and arranges fresh flowers for the rooms.)

“I wasn’t a math major,” Ms. Somerson said.

In fact, she was trained in industrial design and helped found RISD’s furniture design department in 1995, heading it for many years. Her own work includes pieces that she and Mr. Dunnigan, along with Peter Walker, created for a new RISD dormitory in 2006. A desk and chair from the group sit upstairs, in a second-floor bedroom.

Ms. Somerson is hardly the first RISD president to make a big show of the school’s creativity, for who could resist such easy pickings? Mr. Maeda used the house’s built-in library shelves to exhibit his personal curios, each tagged with a thought bubble containing a message in Korean. (The project was by Jiwon Choi, then a furniture design student, working with Lane Myer from the sculpture faculty.) Now the shelves hold books by RISD alumni, including Roz Chast and Shepard Fairey.

For Roger Mandle, who was president of the school from 1993 to 2008, living in the house is “not like assuming a throne,” he said. “It’s really taking charge of a community property that’s owned by everybody at RISD.”

He and his wife, Gayle, an artist, put notable marks on the place, renovating a group of rooms in the basement and lodging graduate students there. They also insisted that everyone who attended their social functions sign the walls in the antechamber next to the powder room. That included the governor of Rhode Island.

The dense graffiti was obliterated in the Maeda administration, but Ms. Somerson has paid it homage. A photography composite of the original wall by Peter Goldberg, an alumnus, hangs in the little room.

A number of the new pieces were donated, others lent. Dale Broholm, a senior critic in the furniture department, worked for half his usual rate when he built a mahogany dining table, whose top is inlaid with words arranged by Jan Fairbairn of the graphic design faculty. Ms. Somerson said that the mahogany came from RISD’s rare wood collection. This helped make the final cost “comparable to commercial tables from a not-high-end source.”

The budget for the new décor, she added, was “unbelievably frugal for a house of this size and beauty,” because she needed resources for other projects.

“There’s a lot we’re trying to accomplish,” she said. “One of my big initiatives is to keep the rate of tuition increase low.”

Correction: February 26, 2015
An article on Feb. 12 about efforts by Rosanne Somerson, the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, to furnish the historic house provided to her as the school’s president, misstated the surname of a faculty member. She is Jan Fairbairn, not Fairbanks. The article also misspelled the surname of the design director of the textile company Pollack, who is an alumna of the school. She is Rachel Doriss, not Dorris.

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On Location: A Victorian Loft With Creature Comforts

Beyond the welcoming fireplace is a media center and a low-slung cabinet made of carved walnut, designed by Mr. Ramsey to evoke vintage stereo cabinetry, a piece he has re-created for clients. “Remember the speakers in the ’60s and ’70s?” he said.

The kitchen and dining area is in the middle of the loft, a space that is often dark in 19th-century buildings, because all the windows are at the front and back. Mr. Ramsey took advantage of the eight-foot space between this building and the neighbor’s, punching out three windows: one to bring light into the eating area, a second in a guest room and a third in the children’s room. (The one by the dining table has a window seat, which comes in handy when the couple entertains, as they do nearly every Sunday.)

The Miele appliances in the kitchen are hand-me-downs from friends who were renovating. “It’s amazing what people throw out,” Mr. Ramsey said. And the 300-bottle wine rack, made out of terra cotta drainage pipes, was an inspiration borrowed from another friend, a well-known fashion designer: “We stole the idea from our neighbor, Lela Rose, who lives across the street and has one.”

A visitor can’t help noticing another design element in the loft, one that complements all those 19th-century details — a “natural-history feel,” as Ms. Blumin put it. “We love wacky animals,” she said.

In fact, there are animals everywhere. A Beluga whale skeleton made from a plaster mold is suspended over the dining table. Photos of giant squid decorate the guest bathroom. A fish mask hangs on the wall in the guest room, and a walrus mask in the boys’ room. And at the foot of the master bed is another sheepskin, this one black and white.

“It’s the dog substitute,” Ms. Blumin said, for “the English sheepdog we don’t have.”

Why don’t they have a dog?

“Jen wants one,” Mr. Ramsey said. “But I just know I’ll be the one walking it on a day like today.”

And he’d prefer to watch the snow from inside, through the 19th-century windows.

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What You Get: $1,050,000 Homes in Colorado, Alabama and West Virginia

The guest cabin has two bedrooms. The living room has a river-rock wall with niches for a wood-burning stove and a TV, with picture windows on either side. A ladder in the living room leads up to a loft bedroom; the other is on the main floor.

Between the two cabins is a hot tub and a deck on top of a building that serves as a changing room. Other outbuildings include a four-car garage, a tack shed, a bunkhouse and a cluster of three offices, all low-slung.

OUTDOOR SPACE: The property is rolling and pristine, with access to both forest service land and the Fryingpan River.

TAXES: $4,155 a year

CONTACT: Brian Hazen and Jim Cardamone, Coldwell Banker Mason Morse Real Estate, (970) 379-1270 / (970) 948-2832; brianhazen.com


WHAT: A contemporary with five bedrooms and four and a half bathrooms

HOW MUCH: $1,040,000

SIZE: Approximately 10,000 square feet


SETTING: The city of Mountain Brook is an affluent suburb of Birmingham. Development began in the late 1920, and some of the commercial pockets have a Tudor design. This house is on a three-and-a-half-acre lot, in a neighborhood of wooded, winding streets not far from walking trails and the city’s public high school.

INDOORS: The two-story contemporary was built in 1988, with a light-colored stucco and limestone exterior, curving walls of glass and an extensive terrace. Floors are hardwood in most of the house.

The living and dining area is a large space with a two-story ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows and a partial wall with a mottled black-and-white marble fireplace. The stainless-steel kitchen appliances were updated in the late 1990s. Countertops are granite. Next to the kitchen is a sitting room with a fireplace flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows; the ceiling over these spaces is pitched and punctuated by skylights. Also off the kitchen are a family room and a den. Every common room opens to the terrace or the yard through glass doors.

The main-level master wing, an addition, has two dressing areas, as well as an upstairs loft that opens to a private balcony. Another main-level bedroom, designed as an au pair suite, has a bathroom and private entrance. Three more bedrooms are upstairs, one of which is yet another large suite with a living room.

OUTDOOR SPACE: The lot is 3.4 acres, mostly wooded, with a stream. There are a pool and a tennis court.

TAXES: $14,858 a year

CONTACT: Liz and Mike Cleckler, RealtySouth, (205) 222-1962; realtysouth.com


WHAT: A cottage with three bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms

HOW MUCH: $1,050,000

SIZE: 2,400 square feet


SETTING: This house is at the Greenbrier Sporting Club, a residential community on the grounds of the Greenbrier, a 10,000-acre resort in the Allegheny Mountains. The resort has been in operation in one form or another since the 1770s; its current anchor is a 682-room hotel. According to the resort, visitors over the years have included Davy Crockett, Debbie Reynolds and 26 United States presidents. Members of the Greenbrier Sporting Club have access to the resort’s amenities as well as members-only amenities, including a spa, a pool, sports courts and a golf course, the Snead.

The town, White Sulphur Springs, sits at the edge of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, which stretch across the Appalachian Mountains in one of the largest continuous pieces of parkland on the East Coast. The Greenbrier has 15 restaurants, but there’s more dining in Lewisburg, a college town nine miles away. Lewisburg also has an airport.

INDOORS: The two-story cottage was built in 2008, with western red cedar siding and a cedar-shake roof. Common areas are on an open floor plan, about 650 square feet. The living area has a fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows facing the woods and mountains. The dining area is between the living area and the kitchen. Kitchen appliances are by General Electric and Wolf; countertops are Corian, and the custom wood cabinets were made by Mouser Cabinetry, a Kentucky company. Floors are heart pine. There is a large stone porch.

The master suite is on the first floor. In addition to a bathroom and a walk-in closet, the room has a ladder leading to a small loft used as an office. A second main-level bedroom is past the kitchen. The third bedroom is upstairs, as is a sitting room with windows on three sides.

OUTDOOR SPACE: The house is in a valley on six and a half acres. The property is mostly wooded, with landscaping by Riverbend Nursery, which has worked on properties throughout the area. A creek runs behind the house.

TAXES: Annual taxes are $6,000 a year. Membership in the Greenbrier Sporting Club is mandatory. The initiation fee is $120,000, a percentage of which is refunded when the property is sold. Club dues are $15,450 a year.

CONTACT: John Klemish, the Greenbrier Sporting Club, (304) 536-7792; greenbriersportingclub.com

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International Real Estate: Real Estate in Austria

The Eighth District is very traditional, said Michaela Orisich of Otto Immobilien in Vienna, which is listing the property, with a number of parks, good public and private schools, and easy access to major highways and the city center via public transport. City Hall is nearby, and the Vienna airport is about 30 minutes away, she said.


The Viennese real estate market largely sailed through the 2008 recession unscathed, agents said. According to a report issued by Knight Frank real estate in London, home prices in the city rose 55 percent from the collapse of Lehman Brothers to June of last year. Overall prices in Austria rose 34.7 percent in the same period, the report said.

Agents cited a number of reasons, including a limited supply of new and renovated apartments in the desirable city center, Austria’s stable economy and conservative banking system, and limits on foreign buyers that had discouraged speculation and flipping.

When the crisis hit, said Peter Marschall, the owner of Marschall Real Estate in Vienna,  “A lot of people invested in real estate as an alternative to shares. It was a secure investment.”

The luxury and second-home market in Vienna has traditionally centered on apartments in the First District, a Unesco heritage site with a wealth of Baroque architecture as well as the Imperial Palace. In recent years, as the high-end market has grown, a number of historic buildings in the center have been converted to luxury apartments. Prices in the First District range from about $1,000 per square foot to three times that or more for the most exclusive penthouses.

Buyers looking for houses or villas will find them in the 13th District, west of the center, as well as in the 18th and 19th Districts to the north. “You are 15 minutes by car from the city center, but you are in the countryside,” Mr. Marschall said. The very best historic houses in those districts can sell for up to $12 million, agents said, though many are under $4 million.

Prices tend to fall as buyers move away from the First District, said Alexander Koch de Gooreynd, the international residential director of Knight Frank in London, which is partners with Otto in Vienna, and developers are starting to respond to the limited supply there.

In districts like the second and fifth, he said, “It’s still easy to walk into the city center, but you’re looking at price points from 750,000 to 2.5 million euros,” or about $850,000 to $2.8 million. “That is where we’re getting a lot of interest.”

The swiftly rising prices have brought some soul-searching among Austrians, said Eggert Koch, the owner of Dr. Koch & Company real estate as younger people are finding it harder and harder to afford property. “There are two opinions,” he said, about whether the jump in prices is a good thing for the city. “One is that prices are too low — if you compare to London or Paris, it’s much, much cheaper. The other feeling is that young people can’t afford to buy here if you didn’t inherit money. If it’s a world city, then we’re too cheap, but if you live here and make money here, it’s too expensive.”

Nonetheless, Vienna remains a relative bargain, said Christian Sommer, the managing director of Austria for Engel & Voelkers. “If you want to spend maybe 6,000 or 7,000 euros per square meter,” or about $630 to $735 per square foot, “you can get good quality in a good location. That puts us in a good situation compared with other international locations. You get two or three times more here for the same price.”

Looking ahead, there are signs that the market is cooling down, even if prices have not fallen. Chief among them is the uncertain economic situation in Russia, as well as the conflict in Ukraine. “I think this year it will not be so easy, because we are strongly influenced by the economy in Eastern Europe, and a lot of buyers come from there,” Mr. Marschall said. “But if it gets better, they will come back.”


Apart from Austrians, a majority of buyers in Vienna come from Eastern Europe or Germany, agents said. “We have about 60 percent Austrians and 40 percent foreigners, especially the high-end residential market, mainly from Eastern European countries like Russia and Ukraine,” Mr. Marschall said.  

Mr. de Gooreynd said buyers from Eastern Europe “see Vienna as a very safe environment. You can walk around the center of Vienna and no one knows who you are, no one cares who you are.”

He added that recently his agency had seen “a lot of expat Austrians looking to get back into the market,  because they feel that Vienna is a safe investment.”


Buyers from European Union countries enjoy the same rights and privileges as Austrians when buying property, but those from other countries will need to obtain permission from the government. This is generally obtained without too much difficulty in Vienna, agents said, if the buyer is not planning to use the property purely as an investment.

Agents said buyers should budget about 10 percent of the purchase price for fees and taxes. There is a real estate transfer tax of 3.5 percent and a registration fee of 1.1 percent. Unlike in many countries, the broker’s commission is usually divided in half, with buyers customarily paying about 3 percent. In addition, foreign buyers will need to retain the services of a lawyer and pay notary fees. Those costs together are about 2 percent to 3 percent of the purchase price, according to Knight Frank.


Vienna tourism: wien.info

City of Vienna: wien.gv.at

Austria tourism: austria.info

Kunsthistorisches Museum: khm.at

Unesco World Heritage Site: whc.unesco.org/en/list/1033


German; euro (1 euro = $1.13)


Building costs and taxes are about $430 (380 euros) a month.


Michaela Orisich, Otto Immobilien, (43 1) 512 77 77-323, Otto.at

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On Location: Trading a Beach House on Fire Island for a Farmhouse in Columbia County

Even better, renovation wasn’t really necessary because the previous owners had already done a lot. So the couple contented themselves with building a dock on the pond.

Settling in, however, took some doing.

“We love this house, but it took us a while to figure out how to use it in every season,” Mr. Morris said.

For Dr. Grubman, part of the answer involved learning to garden. Growing up in Brooklyn, he had limited green space. And at the beach, gardening wasn’t on the agenda. But now Dr. Grubman began to take classes at the New York Botanical Garden, planting trees and elaborate flower beds around the property, and tending to the older trees, particularly in the winter, when heavy snow has to be removed from their branches to keep them from breaking.

Mr. Morris, an avid art collector, immersed himself in decorating, hanging art he had stored for more than 30 years. Although, as he noted, “It’s hard to hang any art in this house because it has so many windows.”

There was plenty of space to furnish, though: about 3,200 square feet. So he made a list of all the furniture they needed and hired a contractor licensed to reproduce E. J. Audi furniture to make two dozen or so of those pieces.

Five years later, they’ve finally finished decorating and have acclimated themselves to rural life, which seems to suit them despite the challenges that come with living in an old house that has an antiquated, almost porous foundation.

“We’ve seen our share of wildlife coming into the house, like squirrels and snakes,” Mr. Morris said. “But we like snakes. They control everything else. It’s like the circle of life down there in the basement.”

And recently, he added, perceptions of upstate New York have changed radically. Now this feels like the place to be.

“It used to be that Fire Island was the sexy place,” Mr. Morris said, and “the Hamptons was for the elite.”

And this area?

“Upstate New York,” he said, “was where people came who weren’t those things.”

Correction: February 6, 2015
An earlier version of this article omitted the title used by Sam Grubman. He is Dr. Sam Grubman, not Sam Grubman.

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