An architect best known for designing sumptuous hotel interiors turns his attention to Ulster County’s historic stone dwellings
by Tyler Wilcox
Photographs by Philip Jensen-Carter
You could say Anthony and Danielle DiGuiseppe’s hobby is rescuing stone houses. So far, they’ve bought and restored three of Ulster County’s great 18th-century fieldstone farmsteads, carefully transforming them into luxury homes. And they do it on top of full-time jobs in Manhattan â€“ he as an architect, she as the head of a modeling agency.
The most recent example of what Danielle calls the couple’s “24-hour sideline” is the circa-1750 Ephriam DuPuy house in Accord. When they purchased it last year, it was showing every minute of its age. The grounds were overgrown. Inside, walls were covered in faded wallpaper and floorboards had been painted gunmetal gray. “It certainly didn’t have the charm it does now,” says Danielle.
It provided just the kind of challenge the couple has thrived on since they completed their first restoration â€“ the 1740 stone house they moved into four years ago. They had just finished work on another farmhouse when an ad for the DuPuy homestead caught their eye. “We toured the house and decided it would be our next project,” says Danielle. “We really threw ourselves into it.”
She’s not kidding. A list of the updates and redos made to the house goes on for a page and a half, 45 items in all. Even more amazing, the work was completed in just nine months. And while the DiGuiseppes employed a crack team of contractors, the buck definitely stopped with them. “We’re very hands-on,” Danielle says. “We act as general contractors, making all the selections â€“ what goes into the home, the floor plans… “
“We even try to think about where furniture should go, which is unusual for architects,” adds Anthony with a laugh.
Fortunately, the house had good bones. Its windows date from an 1840s renovation. (“People wanted to show they had more money,” says Anthony, explaining why the owners back then made a switch to larger panes.) A clapboard front gable was added at roughly the same time. Otherwise, despite the wallpaper of previous generations and some unfortunate sheetrock installation, the structure retained its simple beauty: massive ceiling crossbeams with decorative beading, window openings that flare dramatically inward, and pine floors whose boards are up to 22 inches wide. The exterior still bears traces of an early whitewashing â€“ another display of wealth, says Anthony, who’s no stranger to historic restoration. His firm, DiGuiseppe Architecture + Interior Design, has handled numerous preservation projects in Manhattan. Today it specializes in hotels and resorts, including the sumptuous interiors of the reincarnated Emerson Inn & Spa in Mount Tremper.
The DiGuiseppes’ plan for their local renovation projects sounds simple enough. “Our concept is to take a historic house, restore it, and add all the 21st-century comforts a family would want,” says Anthony. Yet before any work begins, the couple does painstaking research. When they discovered that the DuPuy house is listed on both the state and national registers, they decided to save as much of its historic fabric as they could. That included the windows, which contain their original, wavy glass. It would have been cheaper to throw them out and replace them with period knockoffs. Instead, each one was removed, patched up and put back. Storm windows and screens were added, as were shutters (the hardware for the latter was crafted in an 18th-century style by local blacksmith Jonathan Nedbor).
Inside, the rooms belie the home’s modest 2,200 square feet. “It looks like a little cottage on the outside,” says Anthony. “But when people go inside, they say, ‘Wow, it’s so big.'” Part of the airy feeling comes from the smooth white walls, which were stripped down to the stone before being replastered. (No effort was made to straighten walls or windows that have settled over the centuries.) Floors were hand-sanded to retain the cupping and characteristics of age that an industrial-strength sander would have removed. Electrical outlets were placed in the floors, instead of the walls, so they’d be less obtrusive. Pipes for new bathrooms were hidden in faux crossbeams.
The living room is a charming space, with a ceiling higher than usual in stone houses. An early mantel found in the house is incorporated in the stone fireplace, which provides a modern focal point in an otherwise elegantly primitive room. The four large windows, two each on the house’s eastern and western sides, let in plenty of sun. “The Dutch were very much into light,” says Anthony.
Another first-floor space that dazzles is the kitchen, which was enlarged by moving a wall between it and the dining room. Now there is space not only for top-of-the-line appliances and soapstone counters, but a breakfast nook and even a powder room. The floor, once covered with terra-cotta tiles, is now sheathed in antique pine boards that are similar to the original flooring, except without the scars from centuries of wear. “They’ll come eventually â€“ say in another 200 years,” says Danielle. Although the DiGuiseppes were planning to install ready-made cabinetry, they had to have cupboards custom made to fit the kitchen’s unusually angled niches. That only adds to the house’s vernacular appeal.
Up the reconstructed stairway, past a beam that shows off the marks made by the original builder’s adze, is a spacious second-floor hallway. Off it radiate three bedrooms and two baths. The bedchambers have been updated with closets, a rarity in 18th-century homes (they were considered separate rooms, and homes were taxed according to the number of rooms they contained). Meanwhile, the baths provide 21st-century amenities, including glass-enclosed showers and Carrera marble floors. In each of them, however, the DiGuiseppes left a nod to the past â€“ a wall of exposed stone. The master bedroom is all interesting angles, with a cathedral ceiling and a small sitting area.
Perhaps the best thing about the house is how well it accommodates any decorating taste. This was proven during a showhouse the DiGuiseppes hosted to celebrate completion of their restoration. A mix of mid-century modern furnishings, country classics, old and new, went into the rooms. “It all looked wonderful,” says Anthony.
While the house’s asking price, $1,295,000, might seem high for its size, Anthony believes it’s fair when you consider that anyone who bought the place pre-renovation would have been looking at a messy, time-consuming project. Now, all the next owners need to do is move in and start living it up. All the details â€“ a new electrical system, plumbing, hot-air ducts, even pre-wired cable TV and telephone â€“ are in place. “You’re buying a new house,” says Danielle. She quickly rephrases that: “You’re buying a historic house, but with entirely new systems.”
The DuPuy house complete, the DiGuiseppes are itching to tackle their next project â€“ a three-story, circa-1730 stone house in Saugerties. “Once we’re in the process of finishing one, we start looking for another,” says Anthony. “And along the way, we always fall in love with it,” adds Danielle.