Farmhouse Renovation on a Budget in Columbia County, Upstate, NY

Au courant cottage: With help from family and friends, a pair of young architects beat the recession and pull off a stylish renovation


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new bedroomMix and match: Beadboard wainscot and exposed beams add charm in the cozy master bedroom, which is tucked into the eaves

The Dockerys were forced to drain the pipes and turn off the heat. The house remained shut up for nearly 18 months, unsellable and unusable. “It was very hard to see the place empty and gutted,” Esther says. “It was basically a ruin for over a year.”

“We entertained the idea of a fire sale, but couldn’t bring ourselves to do it,” says Matt. Instead, they spent the time saving as much money as they could, and drawing up plans for the renovation they hoped to do. Leaving the trusses exposed helped drive the design, and Esther was adamant that the house should have an open floor plan. “I wanted a place where I could be in the kitchen but spend time with family and friends, not have rooms that have only one purpose,” she says. “Matt took a stab at the plan, and then I took a stab at it. We went back and forth.”

By the time the economy crashed in September 2008, “the kitchen and bathroom were out and the house was uninhabitable,” says Matt. “The banks wouldn’t give us a dime”

Once the plans were complete, the Dockerys submitted them to contractors for bids. “Pricing was coming in way beyond what we could afford,” Matt recalls. But — with work drying up for builders — the “one silver lining of the recession” was that Ben Ingram, a friend and general contractor who lives in Pennsylvania, was available. “We were super lucky,” Matt says. “Without him, we’d probably still be spinning our wheels.”

new bathroom

old bathroomIn the bathroom (left), an IKEA vanity, classic subway tiles, and modern Kohler fixtures contrast nicely with old planks from the attic, which were used to line the walls and tub

Ingram agreed to move to nearby Hudson for a couple of months to tackle the job. “That was the turning point,” says Esther. “It was a tremendous relief. We all became very energized.” Family members helped out with loans that the banks still refused to make.

Ingram arrived in January of 2011, set up a propane heater, and worked 12-hour days, “loving every minute,” so Matt says. “I can’t say enough about how good Ben was,” he adds. Ingram did the carpentry and millwork, added insulation and Sheetrock, laid the sub-floor and new pine planking, and put in double-glazed windows. He supervised the plumber and electrician, and installed the new oak staircase, fabricated off-site, in the middle of the open space. He also poured and polished the concrete countertops in the kitchen. Perhaps most importantly, he charged only for his labor, letting the Dockerys purchase materials directly. With no contractor’s markup, the cost came in at about $100 a square foot rather than the $180 or more that other contractors had bid.

exterior of houseThe Shaker-like simplicity of the modest farmhouse appealed to the Dockerys. The couple enclosed the portico to create a small vestibule, and painted the front door a traditional, welcoming red. Below, Esther Dockery helps out during the demolition

esther during renovation

Esther sought out the best deals on appliances, cabinets, fixtures, and finishing materials. “We wanted something nice, with a somewhat modern aesthetic,” she explains. “The idea was to juxtapose an old farmhouse with contemporary living, basically using the farmhouse as a stage.” She chose mid-priced IKEA cabinetry for its clean lines. (“Ben can put that stuff together in his sleep,” Matt observes.) KitchenAid and Bosch appliances were selected for good looks as well as affordability. Eve Quellman, Esther’s friend from college (and Ingram’s wife), helped design the lighting.

Ingram completed the work in three months — “a small miracle,” Esther remarks. In April, the building earned its Certificate of Occupancy. The Dockerys enjoyed their stylish cottage during the summer, but finances demanded that they rent it for a year or so. (They found suitably thrilled tenants last fall.) They’re also expecting another baby in February, and juggling two homes, a new infant and a toddler would probably be complicated, says Esther. “But we’re dying to get in there,” she says. “It was the first project for ourselves, so it has a lot of soul. We love it. I can’t think of anything I would have done differently, if we’d had a larger budget.”

“The house is small but sweet,” adds Matt. “It represents the zeitgeist — a chic second home created on a small budget.”

» Return to Hudson Valley Home Winter 2012


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