When two Hudson Valley creatives decided to take on a dilapidated 19th-century farmhouse, they had sky-high hopes. Now 16 months into a huge reno intended to preserve as much of the house’s history as possible, Simone Eisold and Mark Turner are looking forward to what’s still to come.
Interior designer Simone Eisold and her partner of 16 years, decorative painter Mark Turner, lived happily in the Hudson Valley for three decades—the creative environment always felt ideal for them. But after lengthy stints in Nyack and Piermont, with her son (now 23) and Mark’s son and daughter (23 and 17) coming of age, the couple found themselves open to seeing what else was out there. “We were thinking, a mid-century house or even later, with a garage or additional building that could be converted into a design studio and house Mark’s tribal art collection,” recalls Simone.
Yet soon enough they found themselves contemplating a 19th-century farmhouse in Rock Tavern. Known as Bull Farm (the man who built it in the 1800s was named John Springstead Bull), the house had certainly seen better days. No one had lived there for 20 years. The paint was worn. The wallpaper was falling off. The pipes leaked. As for heat and hot water? Not happening.
Still, the couple was drawn to the beautiful stone structure and its slate roof, situated on a 3-acre parcel with a sizable barn. Having grown up in Europe (Mark is from England and Simone is Germany), the couple loved old architecture and its rich history. The structures and property checked many boxes on their ‘must have’ list.
Luckily, Mark had renovation experience under his belt, having restored a large Victorian in South Nyack and a few other houses as well. And due to their professions, creativity and a propensity to think big are both givens. The couple envisioned a comfortable, spacious home with tons of character, plus plenty of room for their extensive collection of artwork and design books. They dreamed of transforming the rotting barn into a combo design studio/art gallery. In other words, they were sold.
Closing on the 4,800-sq-ft, 12-room house took months, due to pandemic-related paperwork delays and the discovery of a leaky in-ground oil tank. When they finally took possession of Bull Farm, the first order of business was getting the place to a point where it was livable.
”We had no running water and no heat, it was colder in the house than it was outside,” recalls Simone. The warmest spot was the basement because it’s built into sloped ground. With a mattress and a space heater, they moved in as soon as there was heat and one functioning sink. Their clothes stayed in boxes. “It was a bit rough in the beginning,” admits Simone. “But it was also very exciting to be researching, narrowing down possibilities, making decisions —bringing ideas together with experience and intuition.”
Mark and Simone hired a contractor to help with about 30 percent of the grunt work, including gutting the kitchen and bathrooms, some carpentry, and installing stone floors in the bathroom. The rest of the labor was entirely on them.
It definitely wasn’t easy for a while. Still, they were happy. “We felt like kids in a candy shop,” says Simone. “So many amazing surfaces to plan for and experiment with.” They feel it was worth the effort to tough it out onsite during the renovation process. “Living in the space, experiencing the flow and energy at different times of day, allowed us to create an ideal framework to make sure that whatever we decided would work for us. We made better informed decisions.”
Today, the original cut stone home stands proud, situated just slightly up the road on the property and surrounded by four magnificent cottonwood trees that went in the ground back when the house was first built. The exterior stonework appears to be mostly original, the carved inscriptions intact. Inside, high ceilings, wide plank floors, wood paneled walls, carved woodwork and plaster moldings create an elegant, old-world elegance. A gracious center hall runs from front to back. Formal twin parlor rooms on either side of the main hall boast marble fireplace surrounds and pocket doors. An elegant wood paneled dining room and library and full bath round out the main level. Upstairs, there are four bedrooms and two full baths.
The couple’s inspiration for the interior was the work of Belgian designer Axel Vervoordt, with many of the finishes and palettes drawn from nature and natural materials. “We’re blending modern and traditional design elements,” says Simone. Preserving original features is absolutely the couples’ primary focus, but newly designed areas like the kitchen and bathrooms lean on modern design sensibility, meaning cleaner lines and smoother surfaces. “This way the old and the new don’t take away from each other, and it allows for an interesting juxtaposition,” she adds.
Mark has lovingly—and painstakingly—created numerous special paint and plaster finishes in the house. The downstairs bathroom boasts waterproof marmorino plaster (from Vasari Lime Plaster & Paint). The living room also received a marmorino plaster treatment, resulting in a beautiful textured finish. Another of Mark’s personal missions was rehabbing the original windows, all of which had been painted shut for decades. It was extremely time-consuming and tedious to free them so they could function again, but he stuck with it. Now the beautiful old windows all hang on original brass sash chains and open and close easily.
Meanwhile, careful upgrades continue at Bull Farm. Simone is working on a comprehensive reference book with snippets of all the old wallpapers, color-matched paint colors, and photos of every stage of the renovation, intending that it will eventually go to the next owners. Rather than renovate to perfection, they think of the patinas and worn down areas as imperfectly perfect elements that are important to keep because they tell the story of the house that has been standing for 165 years. “It will stand for another 165 or more if it’s well cared for,” says Mark.