A Colonial-Style Home in Stone Ridge Gets a Modern Makeover
An Ulster County couple honors their Colonial home’s history while adapting it to modern life — and adding a wonderful new wing.
Traditional timber-framing construction gives the kitchen addition a barn-like feel. The stone wall was once the rear of the house. Luxurious touches include custom cabinets, soapstone counters, a wine refrigerator and stainless appliances, including a six-burner Wolf range.
Photographs by Ken Gabrielsen
These days, most people’s idea of a dream house includes a big, open kitchen with nifty stainless-steel appliances, acres of counter space, and enough room for friends and family to gather. Sara Buckley and Paul Mullen have just such a kitchen in their house in Stone Ridge — it’s a swoon-worthy, sunlit, country-style room with wraparound windows overlooking cows grazing in fields and views of Mohonk, a big dining table, the aforementioned nifty appliances, masses of storage, wide-plank floors for atmosphere, a wood-burning stove for coziness, and soaring ceilings that emphasize the post-and-beam construction. The rest of the house — a stone center-hall Colonial with generous living rooms downstairs and three bedrooms up — has considerable charm, too. Enough charm, in fact, to convince the couple to buy it, even though, at the time, it didn’t have a functioning kitchen at all.
Mullen, originally from Alabama, and Buckley, who grew up in Massachusetts, met in New York City, where they both work in the financial world, in 2003. When they decided to look for a country place, the Hudson Valley beckoned. “We both love the outdoors, and we’d visited Mohonk and Minnewaska to go hiking,” Buckley says. “We both love old houses, and we thought it would be fun to have a place with a lot of open space, to have acreage.” Adds Mullen: “Ideally, we were looking for an old farm. The idea of ‘back to the land’ was a big draw.”
Restoring the house included repointing the stone walls.
The stone farmhouse they found was built around the mid-1700s by a Hasbrouck, a member of one of the Huguenot families who settled in Ulster County and left a number of handsome stone dwellings in the area. Judging from its gracious proportions, high ceilings, and tall windows, it belonged to one of the more prosperous members of the family. But by the time Buckley and Mullen found the property, the barns were dilapidated and the house had fallen into disrepair. Along with some ill-chosen updates, the previous owner’s many dogs and a pet raccoon had left their mark. In fact, Buckley declares, “it was a wreck.” But it was a wreck with character and history, on 125 acres in a picture-perfect rural spot.
“When we closed on it, in February ’07, it was basically unlivable,” Buckley recalls. “The heat didn’t work, and there was water frozen in the toilets.” There was no running water. The kitchen was a dank, makeshift affair in a collapsing lean-to at the rear, with missing appliances and a PVC pipe running from the sink out into the yard as rudimentary drainage. “We’re both reasonably handy, so we figured if a house needed a little work it would be okay. But we bit off more than we could chew with this,” Buckley says. “It was a huge undertaking.” Daunting enough that Mullen says they toyed with the idea of building a new house on the property instead of trying to restore the old one.
A lean-to housing a derelict kitchen was torn off. When Buckley and Mullen added the new wing, they kept the original window
Instead, the couple stayed in local B&Bs on weekends while they worked on the house, stripping away layers of grime and moldering drywall. They cleaned out the mud that had poured into the cellar through the old coal chute, demolished an oddly placed bathroom blocking the wide center hallway, and installed a small bath in the space under the stairs instead. They renovated the upstairs bathroom. In the living room, Mullen tore out the small firebox and rubble to expose the big original stone fireplace. “I thought it would be really cool to have huge fires,” he says. But expensive repairs to the chimney and the drafts that would blow down it persuaded him to choose a practical wood stove instead.
Scorched beams in the living room are from a fire that probably burned in the 1940s or ‘50s, Buckley guesses. “When they made repairs, the owners at the time seem to have taken out the original detail, like all the old doors, and they installed modern doors. It was important to us to have the house look right, so we went to architectural salvage places and picked through about 10,000 doors until we found ones that were the right style and size. We found old strap hinges and handles. We literally did it hinge by hinge.”
They replaced unsalvageable windows with new ones that look the part but have efficient insulation. Those they saved “are quite breezy,” Buckley wryly reports. Unsafe wiring and antiquated plumbing were brought up to date, and a new septic system excavated. After 10 months, the house had two working bathrooms and there was running water and heat. It was Christmas when the couple spent their first night there. Say Buckley: “We got candles for the windows — yay!” But there was still no kitchen. “We bought a cooler and felt like we were living large,” she says, laughing.
Previous owners had built a bathroom that blocked the wide center hallway (left); now there’s a shower room tucked below the stairs. At right: Plank doors salvaged from a collapsed barn were reused in bedrooms. One of them has initials carved into it, most likely by John Hasbrouck, who built the home in the mid-1700s
Restoration slowly continued, but when the couple found that there was a baby coming, they knew it was time to get the kitchen addition underway. “We love to cook and we love to have people over, so having a big kitchen where kids could play and people could hang out was important to us,” Buckley says. “At the time, we were living in a 750-square-foot apartment with a one-person kitchen. So 500 square feet seemed really luxurious,” adds Mullen. “We wanted to open up the back of the house to the fields, and we wanted a barn-like addition,” he continues. When, by chance, they saw a timber-framed house built by Vermont Timber Frames, it seemed just the right style. “We were really impressed by the craftsmanship, the mortise-and-tenon joints,” Mullen says. “It was beautiful.”
“And we thought it would match the character of the house even though it’s obviously from a different time,” says Buckley. “We didn’t want the kitchen to look glued on.” An architect drew up dimensions and plans to attach the post-and-beam addition to the main house, and, in summer 2010, the foundation was poured. That done, craftsmen from Vermont Timber Frames arrived with a truck, and within a week had constructed the room’s skeleton. “They cut the pieces in their factory and put it together like a big puzzle with pegs, no nails,” Buckley says. “It’s really neat.” The carpenters installed rigid SIP insulation panels and then departed, leaving the shell ready for electrical and plumbing to be run before the drywall interiors and cedar cladding went up.
Local carpenter David Wyncoop connected the addition to the main house and did much of the finishing work, including installing the doors and windows, adding trim, and laying the floor. The couple hoped to make floorboards out of beams from their collapsed barn, but the wood was so full of nails it couldn’t be milled. Instead, they used 100-year-old salvaged pine. A hand-hewn beam from the barn forms a mantel over the stove, and a big hayfork on the wall is a memento of the farm’s working days.
Norwegian Jotul wood stoves efficiently heat the kitchen and the living room, where the big stone fireplace with its bread oven was discovered hidden behind a modern firebox. Salvaged vintage pine flooring in the new kitchen blends with the 18th-century wide boards in the rest of the house.
As for getting back to the land: “So far, we’ve had failed agricultural endeavors,” Mullen remarks, dryly. ”I planted a vineyard, and it’s not thriving. We planted 50 apple trees and most were girdled by critters in the snow. The first couple of years, we had big gardens, but the deer fence wasn’t robust enough. Our garden now is a lot smaller and it’s like a fortress.... It’s been very humbling. The original owners of this house had to rely on what they produced. We laugh, because we could never do that.”
Still, when Mother Nature deals a blow, Mullen can retreat to the house and the kitchen that’s turned out just as they’d pictured, with their two little children romping, and friends congregating. “I’m glad we didn’t rush. We got to know the house and knew exactly what we wanted for the kitchen,” Buckley says. “It’s definitely our favorite room,” Mullen declares.