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Hudson Valley Home 2011: 18th-Century Stone Ridge Stone House

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At first glance, the 18th-century stone house was downright daunting. Archaic heating and wiring systems, a cramped and outdated kitchen, and bathrooms with less-than-ideal layouts were just some of the challenges. One room had no source of heat whatsoever (though it did conceal charred beams, suggesting that a previous attempt at generating warmth had literally gone up in flames). In the basement, you could clearly see where water had run right through the house and down a hill out back.

Nevertheless, to Julia Bronson, Stephen Gilman, and their four-year-old son Ben, the house in Stone Ridge was practically perfect. “We always wanted a stone house, a historical house,” recalls Julia, who spent her earliest years in a Missouri farmhouse renovated by her dad. Stephen, a history teacher who grew up in Virginia, was enamored with the idea of living in a place with a past.

kitchen to sunroomTo open up the state-of-the-art kitchen to the sunroom, the owners removed a section of the house’s original stone wall. The wall is now supported by a huge steel beam covered in “mushroom boards,” which gives it a wood-like appearance

“The long history of the house was a big draw for us,” he explains. Colabargh, as the home was called, was built in 1770 for Jacob I. Hasbrouck and his wife Sarah. Members of one of New Paltz’s original families — a relative built the Jean Hasbrouck House on the village’s historic Huguenot Street — Jacob and Sarah reportedly went on to fill their home with at least 10 children. “The 1790 census showed 16 people living in the house, four of whom were enslaved African-Americans,” Stephen says.

“It was a very cool time in American history,” he continues. “A revolution is stirring. The nation is not yet born. All that history will unfold around the house as the first capital of New York is established at Kingston — and soon after burned by the British.” In addition, cement from nearby mountains provided foundations for American landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, and the nearby D&H Canal carried coal from mines in Pennsylvania to factories in New York City. “For anyone who loves history, this area is a great place to live,” says Stephen. “Living in a house from those times brings that history home, so to speak.”

sunroomThe light-filled sunroom includes French doors, new windows, and an informal dining area. Below: another view of the sunroom, which features plenty of comfortable seating (including a child’s chair for four-year-old Ben)

sunroom

The couple began spending weekends in the area in 2002. During the week, Julia worked in Manhattan for an investment banking and securities firm, while Stephen taught school in Harlem and the South Bronx. Their first house, in nearby High Falls, was charming, cozy, and not particularly old. It did, however, sit right on a creek, providing opportunities for swimming, kayaking, and canoeing.

After becoming full-time residents in 2007, the couple began putting down roots. Stephen accepted a job at Rondout Valley High School, got involved in several local organizations, and even founded Hudson Valley for Obama. Julia served as a board member and treasurer of her son’s preschool before joining the Marbletown town board. But the couple found their weekend retreat too small for full-time living and worried about keeping Ben safe from the creek’s 14-foot-deep waters. The search for a new home began.

Julia fell in love with Colabargh when she saw the layout, which features a center hallway. Gazing at the tiny kitchen and adjoining utility room, she and her husband envisioned the creation of a spacious kitchen/sitting area — a rarity in old stone houses. They also liked the house’s high ceilings, large windows, and the fact that all the bedrooms were located upstairs. “We thought it was very livable for a historic home,” Julia remarks.

The couple soon hired Ron Sanchez of San-Pri Interiors in Red Hook to serve as project manager. Sanchez brought in contractor Matt Alexander of Old Home Restorations in Catskill as well as a team of local craftsmen. Alexander recalls his first reaction to the house: “The scope of the project seemed really ambitious. We all kept walking around making that low whistling noise in every room.”

In the kitchen, Stephen and Julia sought to create a space that could accommodate everything from intimate family dinners to fund-raising events for local causes. To that end, they eliminated a doorway leading from the kitchen to the driveway, thereby adding space for a wall of cabinets. State-of-the-art appliances — a Viking stove, a Thermador double oven, and two Bosch dishwashers — were installed. Recycling chutes leading to basement storage bins were hidden away in a pantry.

powder room from the sunroomA window in the exterior wall, which now looks into a small powder room, is one indication that the sunroom was not part of the original structure

A 14-foot-long section of a three-foot-thick stone wall was removed, opening up the kitchen to the adjoining room, where previous owners had housed their washer and dryer. French doors and a bank of new windows were installed, framing views of a sloped forest, a gorge with a bubbling brook, and cow pastures. Automated shades were added to help retain heat at night.

Removing so much stone presented a formidable engineering challenge. “If we had just pulled out the stones,” says Alexander, “the whole back end of the building would probably have come right down.” Preventative measures included the installation of a massive steel beam designed by Benson Steel in Saugerties. The beam weighed over a thousand pounds, and was designed to be installed in four separate layers.

To conceal the steel, Alexander covered the beam in “mushroom boards,” obtained from Antique and Vintage Wood of America in Pine Plains. The boards are thin pieces of lumber used in the mushroom industry to line the trays in which mushrooms are cultivated. They appear aged and weathered due to the conditions in the soil and the enzymes produced by the mushrooms.

Julia is thrilled with the result. “The mushroom-wood beam is one of my favorite things,” she exclaims. “It looks like it’s been here forever.”

Not that everything envisioned by Julia and Stephen proved entirely feasible. “Every day was a challenge, calling for a constant reevaluation of our objectives,” Sanchez reveals. “We had to make adjustments about what we could really do, versus what we had fantasized.”

 

mudroomThe mudroom addition features a heated floor; the reproduction early American light fixtures were made in nearby Hurley

The master bathroom was one area where Julia and Stephen’s wish list — including twin sinks, a steam shower, and a deep tub — wasn’t easy to achieve. Moving a door helped free up space for a new layout. The final solution, recalls Alexander, involved bringing the shower and tub into a glass enclosure, and experimenting with different angles and seating arrangements. Stephen was happy to give up some of his own prep space in exchange for a soaking tub.

To create a comfortable master bedroom, a wall was eliminated to combine two small rooms. Space was claimed from an adjoining bedroom, so a walk-in closet could be constructed.

The removal of two dormers — one located at the top of the staircase and the other in the master bathroom — added headroom in both the bath and the adjoining bedroom, says Alexander. The dormers were replaced with a single shed dormer, which extends into the master bedroom. The new dormer, with a shallow, single roof pitch, allows light to flood into the rooms.

As work progressed, more of the house’s history was revealed. Workmen resetting the bluestone hearth in the living room uncovered a 1787 Connecticut penny. “It seemed to have been placed there for good luck,” says Stephen. Rafters in the dining room ceiling showed that the room had originally been three rooms, including a “birthing and dying” room. Recently, Stephen says, some hikers stopped by to say that their grandmother had been born in the house.

exterior view with porticoAn exterior view of the house shows the added portico

Enlarging the footprint of the home, Julia and Stephen added a mudroom, which includes a heated stone floor. Reproductions of early American light fixtures, hand-crafted by Hurley Patentee Lighting in Hurley, are a nod to the house’s history. Bluestone unearthed during the excavation for the addition was used to fashion window sills elsewhere in the house. Workman flamed the edges of the stone with a torch to make it look old, rather than freshly cut.

The couple also added a portico. “We thought the front of the house looked a little plain,” Julia explains, adding that they also wanted to shelter arriving visitors from inclement weather.

formal dining roomThe formal dining room (above) showcases the house’s wood floors, which were painstakingly removed and restored; the living room (below) is furnished with antiques; the table was purchased from Asher House Antiques in Rhinebeck

living room

To build an adequate foundation for the portico, it was necessary to temporarily move a huge piece of bluestone. Not wanting to risk damaging the bluestone by using a backhoe, the workers used straps, levers, and rollers to move it. “It was a nice reminder of how spoiled we are as builders these days, although at times I really would have appreciated a horse or mule!” Alexander laughs.

Architectural purists would likely take issue with the decision to alter the home’s façade, Sanchez admits. But he is quick to point out that the home has undergone a number of changes over the years, from the addition of a study and bedroom in the 19th century to the relocation of the home’s staircase, thought to have occurred in the 1960s.

But Stephen and Julia showed their appreciation for the building’s historic character on more than one occasion. In the office, musty red paneling was stripped away to reveal the original stonework. The rock was wire-brushed, the mortar cleaned, and glass shelving installed and lit from above to showcase as much of the stone as possible.

The pair also went to extraordinary lengths to rescue original wood flooring, which had been damaged from centuries of use. Though it would have been significantly cheaper and easier to simply replace the floorboards, the couple instead decided to have them removed and restored. “It was quite a process to remove the boards without reducing them to splinters,” recalls Alexander. Before the boards could be shipped off to Ghent Wood Products in Columbia County for refurbishing, each one had to be painstakingly examined with a metal detector. (The workers had been warned that even a single speck of rust from an old rail could seriously damage the company’s planing machine.)

Throughout the house, Sanchez designed furniture and accessories to suit his clients’ tastes and needs. Swiveling bar stools and chairs allow guests to easily converse with anyone toiling away in the kitchen. The sunroom’s huge steel-and-glass light fixtures were created by a California firm to Sanchez’s specifications. He also used some of the couple’s favorite possessions, including an antique bookcase they picked up in London, and Julia’s collection of blue and white porcelain plates.

Below, built-in “secret” compartments give young Ben a place to hide his toyschild's room with secret closets

heating ventAn ornamental vent is part of the home’s new heating/air conditioning system

Sanchez incorporated punches of color, including a persimmon-hued living room sofa, into the home’s décor. “The object of the color scheme,” he notes, “is to be warm and comfortable, not monochromatic.”

Stephen and Julia, who wanted their son to share in the adventure of the house, created secret chambers — involving false panels, magnetic keys and the like — for Ben to discover as he grows up. “All over the house, there are hidden cubbies where he can hide his toys and treasures,” says Julia.

Living in an old house does have its down side, of course. Julia says she has to vacuum frequently because the mortared walls generate dust. Stephen notes that there are drafts around some of the old doors and windows, and that he and his wife have to be vigilant about keeping ice from forming on the house’s stone exterior to prevent water from seeping in through the porous walls. “There are definitely drawbacks to living in an old house,” asserts Stephen, “but they are small compared to the joy we have from living here.”

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