From soldier statues to inanimate animals to boats-turned-planters, Long Island residents have been personalizing their lawns for decades. In most towns, it appears there are few rules. And homeowners take full advantage of the freedom.
Traffic stops in front of the Nassour family’s Rockville Centre home. Passers-by pause. Children and adults alike pose for photos.
The place is a zoo, both outside and in, with a collection of animal statues arranged around a waterfall on the lawn and a menagerie of live animals kept as pets (including a spotted pig, parrots and a crab that lives in the kitchen).
“It’s a stroller pit stop,” says Dana Nassour, a teacher’s assistant in her 50s who shares the home with her husband, John F. Nassour Sr., and their four children — Natalie, 25, Albert, 24, John Jr., 23, and Nicholas, 22.
Outside, a 7-foot-tall giraffe stands over its baby. Two gorillas sit atop the waterfall, and an elephant with long, white tusks stands within the greenery. The figures are out-of-state purchases, says John Sr., who is a car salesman in his 50s, , and some weigh hundreds of pounds.
The animals — some aluminum, some fiberglass — are cemented into the ground. In the days before they were so permanently secured, a group of high schoolers stole the giraffe during a scavenger hunt. He’s back now.
When the Nassours bought their Rockville Centre home in 1999, they gutted it. The structure had been a group home and now is a single-family residence with seven bedrooms and three bathrooms. When the renovations were done, John Sr. says, he wanted to do something “over the top.” His wife suggested a giraffe for the front yard; he suggested that was a ridiculous idea.
Then, “I went to a car show in Pennsylvania,” he says. “The guy was selling a giraffe, so I bought him. And then, it just exploded.”
The family adds to the zoo each year, John Sr. says. He would add more often, but Dana is satisfied with what is there. Still, “I’m always looking,” admits John Sr. -- ARIELLE DOLLINGER
When John Lewis was a kid growing up in Dix Hills, his uncle gave him a 12-foot fiberglass boat. For a while, he used the dinghy to travel back and forth from a larger boat a 34-foot Chris-Craft in Northport Bay and Long Island Sound. But eventually it had just taken up residence in his backyard.
In the mid-2000s, after Lewis and his wife, Kelly, and their children, Shannon, 19, and Robert, 16, moved into their Smithtown home, they decided to turn it into a planter, front and center, on the lawn. “It became the focal point of the front of the house,” says Lewis, 51, who works as a real estate agent. “We used to have anchors hanging over the top of it and stuff.”
Aside from the fact that “we’re big boaters,” Lewis says, he wanted to keep the boat to honor his uncle. He's dedicated the boat to his mother-in-law because she was a good gardener and loved flowers. It was her idea to make the little boat a planter. Each year, she would plant flowers in the boat, until she died three years ago.
When Kelly is outside planting, people still compliment her on the lawn fixture, says the special-education teacher. -- ARIELLE DOLLINGER
DINOSAURS IN THE WOODS
Driving up Spring Road in Huntington, a house with red and brown shingles might be easy to miss — if it weren’t for the bright green dinosaurs out front.
Years ago, there was one dinosaur sculpture. Now, there are dinosaur and fish sculptures all over the property. But despite the display, its owner likes to keep a low profile and declined to speak about the creations (though photos were fine).
The community has taken notice of the dinosaurs, for better or for worse. Local children point them out on drives home, people write Christmas cards to “Mr. Dinosaur.” Once, someone even cut one dinosaur’s head off (it’s since been repaired).
Matthew Deegan, 46, a physical therapist born and raised in Huntington, says he remembers seeing just two dinosaurs on the property — “what we call the parent dinosaurs” — and later noticing baby dinosaurs. “We’ve watched the family grow there, the family of dinosaurs,” he says.
The dinosaurs started their family at least two decades ago, Deegan says. But they take good care of themselves. “Occasionally they look like they get a new paint job,” he says. “They get all freshened up.”
At holiday time, the creatures dress accordingly. And they draw attention, even in the wooded area at night, since some seem to glow in the dark. “Going up that road, everyone always looks and says, ‘There’s the dinosaurs,’ ” says Deegan, who has three children — Logan, 15, Rachel, 14, and Gavin, 11 — with his wife, Maria.
It created a constant family contest: Who would be the first to spot the dinosaurs on drives up Spring Road? --ARIELLE DOLLINGER
SOLDIERS ON GUARD
A Dix Hills house comes with something better than a security system — two Roman soldiers that stand guard.
OK, so they’re only statues. “But some people who drive by think it’s a real person,” says homeowner Kacey Lipsky, who has listed her home (and its statues) for sale for $1.375 million.
Lipsky says she and her husband, Dave, purchased the statues at an estate sale about 20 years ago. At nearly seven feet tall, the fiberglass Centurian statues come complete with red capes, galea helmets, body armor, leather skirts and steel swords.
The Lipskys initially kept the statues in storage. But when they purchased the house in Dix Hills and redesigned the front entry with rounded steps and stonework, an appropriate setting was developed. “Everyone kept saying that our house looks like a castle,” Lipsky says. “So we figured, you know what, now it’s time to take the statues out.”
One is at the bottom of the stairway along the paver driveway, and the other is on a landing at the front of the house.
She says that at an additional cost, the property’s firepit table, barbecue island, gazebo and additional statues can stay with the house.
“We feel like they brought a lot of good luck to us,” says Lipsky.
They’ve also kept watch outside the two-level house, which includes five bedrooms and four bathrooms and sits on one acre. An entry hallway with marble flooring leads into an open concept living and dining room with vaulted ceilings and an eat-in kitchen with granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and center island table. Sliding glass doors off the kitchen open to a deck that stretches the length of the house and overlooks the backyard and heated in-ground pool. Three bedrooms are on the main level, including the master suite, which boasts a bathroom with a chandelier and Jacuzzi tub.
The house, which is listed with Aziz Qaud of Keller Williams Realty Greater Nassau, includes a lower level with a living room, eat-in kitchen, bedroom, two full bathrooms and laundry room. French doors lead out to a covered paver patio with a sitting area.
Will the Lipskys' next home have Roman soldier statues out front?
“Not like these, because you can’t find them anywhere,” Lipsky says. “But there will definitely be statues.”
-- MICHAEL GAVIN