A run-down old farmhouse gets an overhaul — and a roomy addition that doubled its size
Photographs by Rob Karosis
The family room, which dominates the new addition, has “big, beefy, reclaimed beams,” says the architect. Floors are chestnut-colored resawn pine; twiggy chandeliers are among the rustic touches
It often seems the more beautiful an old house, the closer it is to the road. But one 30-something couple who own such a place near Clinton Corners got lucky: the road moved, and their weekend home — a Colonial Revival farmhouse that once got dirt kicked in its face — now sits at a distance from the rerouted thoroughfare.
The old road became Windswept Farm’s long, graceful driveway, bordered by two restored wooden barns, one with cupola, both painted dark green with bright white trim. This pastoral scene comes along with low stone walls — some old and crumbling, some crisply new — two newly excavated ponds; meadows; an orchard; unpainted wooden fences; a pool and pool house; and two young children, a boy and a girl. All the couple needs to complete the picture is the waggly black Lab.
The previous owner of the house, apparently quite a character, raised Black Angus cows and hunting dogs, as well as Thoroughbred horses that he raced at Saratoga. But after his kids were grown and gone, the property fell into disrepair. A lot of land clearing and outbuilding tear-down had to happen before the new owners could concentrate on the house itself.
Say what you will about weekenders changing the face of Dutchess and Columbia counties, they often bring a commitment to restoring what’s worth saving. And if they don’t know a lot about the historic architecture of the area, they find people who do. The owners of Windswept Farm turned to Millbrook architect Jimmy Crisp, an ardent traditionalist, albeit with a weakness for the design vernacular of his Louisiana youth. (Windswept Farm now has at least three more porches than it started out with.) “The clients weren’t sure how much, if any, was salvageable, but they wanted to keep the historical parts of the house,” says Crisp. In the basement, he found, and reused, some hand-hewn beams, suggesting that the 1830 Colonial Revival portion of the house may have risen from a still-earlier colonial core.
“We came to Jimmy with a huge notebook of tear sheets and said: ‘Can you do this?’” recalls the wife. (No names, at the couple’s request.) “And he did.” Adds Crisp: “It was a real pleasure working with a house that had some historic detail to preserve and to use as cues in a more modern way.”
The owners chose a local contractor, Jim Muncey, and hired an overseer, Paul Davis, to manage costs. The husband says Davis saved them a bundle, although he estimates the total cost of the project, which took over a year to complete, at upwards of $2 million.
Jimmy Crisp pulled off some 19th- and 20th-century additions and added new wings for a large kitchen-cum-dining room and an entertainment room, both equipped with stone fireplaces. “But the really difficult part was getting all the large spaces the clients wanted while saving the two beautiful oak trees close to the house,” says Crisp. He ended up putting a point-load rather than a full-footing wall under one porch in order not to damage the root systems of the old trees. The house, once just over 3,000 square feet, is now a luxurious 5,775.
Crisp also tore down some old kennels in back of the house and built a pool house instead. “It’s a bit of a folly,” he says, “but it does have a Palladian window and a Greek Revival look.”
The couple hired Carolyn Tierney and Diane Susoev, of Ferrium Design Studio in Manhattan, to decorate and furnish the house. “We tried to style the house in a comfortable, family way,” says Tierney, “so there’s no room where you feel, ‘Ooh, I can’t sit here.’” Tierney had a number of reproduction pieces custom-made in a Shaker or Adirondack style; she and Susoev also scoured flea markets and antiques stores for wooden chests and period accessories.
On a tour of the main house, the owners start with the oldest part, an entry where they’ve preserved the low, rough wooden ceiling rafters. A former tack room became a closet. A metal cow, grazing on a white-painted wooden sign atop an entry table, proclaims the farm’s name.
In the formal front hall on the north side of the house, the new owners display a framed and mounted deed to the house. Dated 1823, it states: “In consideration of the sum of $10 and with parental love and affection,” given to one Jonathan Lyons and his wife, Elizabeth, so the house was likely a wedding present.
The two original downstairs rooms on either side of the front hall are now his-and-hers spaces. For the “manly” room, Crisp restored the original fireplace and handsome surround, while the designers added a leather chair and ottoman, wool throw pillows, and tartan window valances. The owners guess this snug space was once the principal family room, where the fireplace was used for cooking.
Across the hall, a formal parlor probably gets as much use now as it did 150 years ago. Crisp kept the decorative Victorian wood mantel and window frames, and the designers whitewashed them. “This was the classic lady’s sitting room — obviously a prize room,” says Tierney. “So we wanted to make it elegant and formal, with delicate furniture and soft colors.”
Up a handsome main staircase, the second floor of the older part of the house works well for the couple’s two children. Their rooms are connected by a bathroom, redone with two marble sinks and a shower stall. The guest room, small by today’s standards, was smaller still when the couple bought the house, so walls had to come down. All three rooms are decorated in a traditional style and cheerful pastel colors — yellow for the girl’s room, green for the boy’s, and blue for the guest room, with awning striped window shades and lime green furnishings. Crisp added a porch to the boy’s room, overlooking a view of ponds, barns and meadow.
Onward to the laundry room, where Crisp installed small windows from one of the old barns he tore down, and then to the master bathroom, bright and airy, with a wall of multipaned windows facing west. A claw-foot tub faces a perfect view, but the husband’s secret pleasure is a TV mounted near the ceiling, stage right. “So I can sit in the tub with a glass of wine and watch the football game,” he says.
The master bedroom, decorated in restful shades of blue and camel, is made cozy by a stone fireplace and two small armchairs nestled on either side. Tierney and Susoev added playful details: bits and bridles hold back the curtains, and above the fireplace, a sliding barn door hides the TV and gives the room that “farm feeling,” says Tierney.
Back downstairs and into the vital organs of the house: a massive open kitchen with 10-foot ceilings, a fireplace, and a table that easily seats eight — or 10 when expanded. The couple chose a country look for the kitchen: beadboard paneling and ceilings, white Shaker-inspired cabinets with pewter fixtures. The designers used Turkish stone on the floors, with radiant heat underneath.
The kitchen opens onto an all-purpose great room, with still higher ceilings and an enormous stone fireplace. Comfy sofas and a pool table make the room a natural gathering place. Chandeliers made from twigs give the room that rustic, just-shot-a-deer touch. “We needed something whimsical for that room, something that would make you smile,” says Tierney.
“We wanted to make this a real country house, not a suburban house like you might find in Westchester,” says the husband, a native of Hartsdale, so he knows whereof he speaks. At the moment, Windswept Farm’s old feed barn houses two ATVs. But the couple plans to reinstitute the hunt that was once held at the farm, so maybe there are horses and hunting dogs — and even Black Angus cows — in this young family’s future. ●