Photo by Nancy Horowitz-Felcetto
Sugarhouse Design and Architecture turns a tired Victorian farmhouse in Hillsdale into a home sweet home filled with beauty and history – sans the leaky pipes and rotting floors.
Owning a historic home in the Hudson Valley is wonderful. Oozing with character and filled with stories from bygone days, the old-timey abodes that dominate the region hint back to the generations that crafted the landscape we now call home. They’re one-of-a-kind gems, and the sort of thing that Pinterest lovers collect with abandon.
More often than not, however, they’re also a whole lot of work. Because they’re, by definition, old, they often come hand in hand with hard-to-replicate architecture, time-worn structures, and more than a few much-needed repairs. In other words, they’re a labor of love.
But they’re so, so worth it.
Such was the belief of the New York City couple who purchased this Victorian farmhouse in Hillsdale. Looking to unwind from city life and connect with nature, the pair sought to create a home in which they could grow roots. To help with this, they recruited Sugarhouse Design and Architecture, the design firm behind places like Cecconi’s in Brooklyn and Soho House in New York City. After running through the renovation plan, Sugarhouse, which has offices in both Pine Plains and New York City, began its estimated sixteen-week project to renovate and restore the house to its former glory.
“We instantly fell in love with the potential of the property and the clients’ enthusiasm,” says Jess Nahon, RA, AIA, Leed AP at Sugarhouse. “The clients adored the quirkiness and whimsical spirit that the house had.”
Dating back to 1860, the 3,600-square-foot abode has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Although it was renovated in 1990, it required a number of architectural and structural changes and enhancements to bring it up to spec. So, with assistance from D&B’s Decking & Home Improvements in Ancram, Sugarhouse got to work in November 2019 to peel back the layer and shine a light on the history of the space.
“During demolition, as the walls, ceilings, and floors were opened up, we learned about a lot of the earlier modifications and additions,” Nahon explains. “For example, a waste pipe had been compromised during one of the previous repairs and the subsequent leak had rotted major joists and columns on all three levels. We also discovered that the kitchen and upstairs bedroom were being supported on raw stumps instead of proper foundational columns.”
During the restoration process, Sugarhouse made a point to balance any modern upgrades with historic elements. The firm did a significant amount of research on 1800s-era farmhouses beforehand, so it had a sense of the existing layout prior to making any modifications. To better tackle the renovation, it broke the project into three phases. The first focuses entirely on the main house and adjacent landscape to ensure the integrity of the property was intact. The second phase prioritizes the 6.4 acres upon which the house sits, with plans to dredge and deepen the pond, add a swimming pool, renovate an existing guest suite barn, and convert another barn into a pool house. Last but not least, phase three sees the addition of a tennis court, the renovation of a grain barn, and the conversion of the remaining acreage into usable pastures for livestock.
Although construction was slow-going during the height of the pandemic – Sugarhouse had to drop everything during the NYS on Pause mandate – it’s now back up and running. The integration of historic elements remains critical, and the firm has done everything from removing additions that were not original to the 1860 structure to replicating molding profiles for the base, crown, window trim, and door jambs. It also scouted the surrounding area for period hardware and interior doors and found two sets of pocket doors from Rose Hill Mansion in Geneva. Although most of the original floors had been previously replaced, Sugarhouse restored the striped mahogany and oak flooring in the dining room and entry to help tie the home’s four original rooms together.
With less than five weeks to go on the project, the firm is excited to witness the property come into its own. As an industry expert, Nahon recommends that anyone considering a similar renovation keep in mind that, as with the Hillsdale home, it’s more than likely that updates will not be linear.
“Being patient and open-minded is crucial,” Nahon explains. “The experience of the team you hire is important, but, more than that, find people that you love to work with and who push your imagination. In the end, it can be an extremely rewarding challenge.”