Tiny and Treasured: A Village Antique

A small house with a long history
A neighbor felt so serene in the garden that he used to hang out there when Uwe Kind wasn’t home.

Tucked inconspicuously on Dayton Lane Extension in the Village of East Hampton is a small house with a long history. Now owned by Uwe Kind, an educator who invented  SingLing, a language-learning technique based on familiar tunes (more on that later), it was built in 1750 on Main Street and moved to its present location in around 1900.

It was derelict in 1961 when an East Hampton couple, Sholom and Shirley Farber, bought and renovated it. They sold it to Mr. Kind in 1987.

 “When I walked in, I had stars in my eyes,” Mr. Kind said. “But my friend Gudrun Hoerig, who was a broker at Braverman, tried to discourage me. She said the Farbers had turned down buyer after buyer because they loved the house so much. When Gudrun said I could open up the ceiling, I said I loved it the way it was, and I think that made the difference.”

 Afer the closing, the Farbers’ lawyer told Mr. Kind they had wanted him to have the house. “Shirley came back about eight years ago. She wanted to come by with her son and stay for a few minutes by themselves.” She said, ‘You did exactly what we would have done if we had more money.’ They were very sweet.”

Mr. Kind undertook a substantial renovation, but without changing the 800-square-foot footprint or intimate character of the house. Among the original features are hand-hewn beech beams and pumpkin-pine floorboards.

Nestor Kalogrias, a cabinetmaker from Creative Concepts First, moved into the house with his family for two months during the summer of 1997 while the owner was in Europe. “He turned my house into a jewel,” Mr. Kind said. 

Among Mr. Kalogrias’s many creations are two large Shaker-style cabinets in the living room. Using only primitive hand tools from Mr. Kind’s garden shed, he built them outdoors beneath a big tarp to protect him from the sun. On other visits he built the kitchen and bathrooms. “Uwe started out as a client and became my best friend,” he said.

Mr. Kind, a longtime friend of Adelaide de Menil,  “wanted Shaker because I had seen it in Addy’s house. The style and simplicity of her houses influenced me a great deal.” Four historic buildings from Ms. de Menil’s Further Lane property became the centerpiece of the East Hampton Town Hall property. 

Of two bedrooms, one was a screened-in porch with a concrete floor when Mr. Kind bought the house. In addition to enclosing it, he added beams of old wood and a wooden floor and closed in a closet with an antique French door. 

A bathroom was added to the second bedroom with a sink converted by Mr. Kalogrias from a 200-year-old Chinese stone frying pan. Mr. Kind created the light fixture over the sink from an old piece of wood he found at Ms. de Menil’s house. He also converted what had been a dark, windowless attic into an expansive, bright guest room.

“People who visit me feel there’s an energy in the house and garden,” Mr. Kind said. “David De Silva, who used to live two houses down and was the producer of ‘Fame,’ told me that sometimes he liked to come into my garden. I said, ‘Why don’t you stay in your garden?’ He said my garden had a kind of energy. He felt high there.”

Although the house is filled with antiques and unusual objects, Mr. Kind does not consider himself a collector. “I just see things, and if I like them I buy them. I collect friends, not things.” Similarly, when Country Living magazine wrote about the house, with a focus on his garden, the writer asked how he picked plants. “I told her that when I go to a nursery, the plants say, ‘Buy me, buy me.’ ”

Both the dining table and a large cabinet in the living room are Pennsylvania Dutch from the 1820s. A wooden armchair he found in Virginia was originally a potty chair. It has pride of place in the living room, as does an early-19th-century desk from England. A 10th-century statue of an angel from his family in Germany is mounted in a corner of the room. 

Among the surprises in the kitchen are an etched pewter wedding plate from 1603 and two hidden refrigerators, one of which, faced with pine, slides out from its housing like a drawer. The other, with an antique wood door, is halfway up a wall next to the dining table. The exposed portion of the hot water heater is sheathed in copper.

Mr. Kind came to the United States from Germany in 1965 to learn English and landed a job teaching German at the New School. After a blind student taught him to play the guitar, he began teaching German folk songs and noticed that students learned the lyrics quickly. “ ‘You can’t speak that way,’ I told them. ‘It’s archaic German.’ They asked me to teach them something they could say, and that’s how the SingLing method was born.”

SingLing is a technique based on familiar tunes, which he later refined as a graduate student at Harvard University. He has since published four SingLing books that are used by students and teachers worldwide as an effective way to learn conversational German, Spanish, and English.

Mr. Kind’s methods catapulted him beyond academe. One of his students, an aspiring opera singer who worked at NBC, was asked by the producer George Schlatter why she was singing German grammar at her desk. Intrigued, Mr. Schlatter, the producer of “Real People,” filmed Mr. Kind at the New School and again while he was teaching Wall Street brokers Spanish through music.

Soon after, Johnny Carson was passing an NBC editing room when he heard laughter. “Being interested in languages, he said, ‘I want this guy who speaks German.’ That’s how I wound up on the ‘Tonight Show.’ After that, I went all over the place. It changed my life.” He also taught David Letterman, on the air, the writer Gail Sheehy, Rikers Island inmates, and Big Bird on “Sesame Street.”  His book “Eine Kleine Deutschmusik” has been adapted into a popular television show in Japan.

A dozen years ago a pumpkin sprouted in front of the house. “I had not planted it. It grew and grew, and I was delighted. My only explanation is that a bird might have planted it.” A year later, after the pumpkin plant was gone, a friend placed a big pumpkin in the front yard. “From that day on my cottage has been known as the Pumpkin House.”

The living room’s Pennsylvania Dutch cabinet and chrome-and-leather armchair by Le Corbusier, reflect eclectic taste.
The garden shed was a prefabricated “ugly box” until Mr. Kind shingled the roof and planted Boston ivy and climbing hydrangea.
The dining table is Pennsylvania Dutch from the 1820s, the chairs are from Ireland, and the cabinet in the wall is actually one of two hidden refrigerators.
The bedroom, which just about fills the whole room, was originally a screened-in porch with a concrete floor.
Because the addition of a bathroom made another bedroom even smaller, a built-in bed with storage beneath was added.
Uwe Kind enjoyed a sunny May afternoon in his East Hampton backyard.
In 1989, Johnny Carson, who was already so interested in languages that he had taught himself Swahili, invited Mr. Kind to be a guest on the Tonight Show after hearing him speak German in an NBC editing room and learning of his unique language-through-music technique, SingLing. Mr. Carson was Mr. Kind’s first celebrity student.