There’s nothing like a domestic calamity to catapult you into tackling an overdue renovation project, as Jimmy and Alicia Crisp discovered.
While they were gallivanting around Paris on a week’s winter vacation a few years back, a water pipe burst in the bathroom of their old farmhouse in Poughquag, Dutchess County. Alicia’s mother, who was checking on the house while they were away, arrived to discover the front door and windows encased in ice, and water streaming through the cold rooms inside. “It was a big mess,” says Jimmy Crisp, an architect whose offices are in Millbrook.
The oldest part of the Crisps’ home was built in the 1790s, with an addition from the mid-1800s — and all the charm and quirks that those dates suggest. Previous owners had added the usual modern conveniences, including insulation. But the place needed work when the couple bought it, a few years before what Jimmy calls “the deluge.” Crisp, who has a talent for seamlessly updating and adding onto old houses, knocked down a few walls and made some cosmetic changes. But — apart from installing a new commercial-strength Garland stove and a steel chandelier from Arrowsmith Forge in Millbrook — the couple put renovating the circa 1980s kitchen on the back burner. “We did first aid,” Crisp says. “We patched things together, put down some plywood over a rotten bit in the floor and added vinyl tile — stopgap measures.”
After the deluge, the cleanup required such extensive repair and repainting, the Crisps decided it was a good time to tackle the kitchen as well. The room was efficiently laid out, but the materials were out of date, and there were small annoyances: aging cabinets, for example, which had become misaligned over the years so that the doors stuck. The couple also wanted to move the washer and dryer to a laundry room upstairs, and they needed a roomy pantry.
An expansion wasn’t practical, but at roughly 18 by 12 feet (or 30 by 12 if you include the breakfast area), the kitchen was already large enough. A tight budget also meant the Crisps wanted to keep construction costs to a minimum.
“Even though I’m the architect, my wife has strong opinions,” Crisp notes. “We looked at a lot of potential layouts and eventually came to a meeting of the minds.” One decision was how to get the best arrangement of stove, sink, and refrigerator. This is usually referred to as the “work triangle,” but Crisp calls it the “chicken test.” “You need to have a situation where you can grab a chicken out of the refrigerator, wash it, cut it up, and put it in the stove” with the least amount of walking about, he explains.
Out came the vinyl tile and old floor, replaced with a classic Crisp touch: resawn, recycled fir beams from Antique and Vintage Woods in Pine Plains. The wide planks imbue the space with instant charm, and are in keeping with the character of the rest of the house. They didn’t even have to be stained to look rich and warm, Crisp says. “Part of the point of using old beams is that they keep their patina if you don’t sand them too much.”
The new design called for a pantry in the cavity where the old fridge had been. The stove and the sink (overlooking the patio) stayed in the same positions, with the new Sub-Zero refrigerator opposite the sink, and a freestanding butcher block table subbing as an island in between. Hmmm. So if you get a chicken from the fridge, you have to walk around the table to get to the sink. “Well, you can put the chicken on the table, and then… The chicken test doesn’t apply at the architect’s house,” Crisp replies, laughing. “Anyway, light and views always trump the chicken test. You have to compromise and take an extra step or two.”
JEM Woodworking made and installed the new cabinetry, chosen both to ensure good quality and because custom-made cabinets are a time- and money-saver in the end, Crisp says. “If you’re trying to put premade cabinets in an old house, it’s going to be a problem, because nothing’s square, the floor slopes, everything’s all over the place. We needed someone talented and clever enough to make it so you couldn’t tell it was all so off.”
Cabinetry, trim, and new bookshelves are all painted a creamy white, which looks clean and fresh against pale green walls. Countertops are an almost jade-green limestone.
“Making decisions for yourself is much harder than making decisions for clients,” Crisp says. “I can be objective for clients, look at the facts, and rely on my esthetic. Working on your own place, there’s family and emotions and fear of mistakes.”
Did he make any mistakes? “Well, one thing we didn’t plan on: The little peninsula comfortably seats two and it ended up we needed one more seat, because we had a third child,” says Crisp. Their youngest may not have a perch at the peninsula, but his arrival provided the impetus for a master suite and porch that the Crisps added not long after his birth. Sometimes a renovation is propelled by a delight rather than a disaster. • •
Captions: Back to the past Resawn vintage fir planks replaced vinyl tiles to match the mood in this 18th-century home. When the original rotting floor was torn out, the Crisps found a big cistern underneath (the bricks at left conceal the pipe that at one time carried water from the roof to the cistern). A moveable butcher block table stands in for an island, and a four-door panty occupies the space where the old refrigerator used to be. The hand-forged chandelier is from Arrowsmith Forge in Millbrook
Subtle colors Pale green walls and green limestone counters reflect the outdoors and set off creamy-white cabinetry, custom-made to fit the out-of-square angles in the home. A skylight, probably added in the 1980s, is an anachronism, but brings in lots of light