Photo by Monika Kratochvil
Through her Worth Preserving business, Kate Wood helps old homes find new life by preserving and celebrating their past.
Kate Wood is an old-house person, someone inexorably drawn to the tired, sighing dwellings gently collapsing along country roads. She is also an old-house-person person, a collector of the artisans and dreamers and would-be-buyers and window-makers and painters who are her brethren—people who are always living a little bit in the past and figuring out how to gently coax that past back to life in the present.
The name of Wood’s business is her battle cry: Worth Preserving, a firm whose purpose is to help others who love and buy old houses, offering a pre-sale consultation, renovation advice, or “the whole shebang,” as Wood calls it, total start-to-finish rehabilitation project management.
“In a perfect world there wouldn’t be fixer-uppers,” says Wood, who calls her projects “properties of character.” But she readily admits that “the houses most people want to run away screaming from are my favorites.”
Wood has major preservation chops, earned through academia (a master’s degree in preservation and conservation from Columbia), career (15 years leading Landmark West!, a nonprofit historic advocacy organization in Manhattan) and probably even her childhood, having visited “every battlefield, every historic house, every Presidential library,” she recalls, on trips planned by her educator parents. (She also helped her parents renovate the 1927 Tudor Revival home they bought when the family transferred from Texas to New Jersey when Wood was nine.)
When she and her husband decided to buy a weekend home in the Hudson Valley, they settled on an abandoned property in Livingston. “And then our weekends became us just completely covered in all kinds of nastiness,” Wood recalls. A dream come true, in other words.
“That house needed everything,” says Wood. “It had had nothing done to it since the mid-’50s.” Her real estate broker (Patricia Hinkein, where Wood is now also a parttime broker, in Germantown) helped connect her to a team of contractors “who became like family” throughout the years-long process of renovating that first house. Enter more family, when Wood’s mother bought an old farmhouse in Germantown. “We gathered a lot of the same people together to do that house,” she says.
Two or three projects later, “I finally decided to take the plunge and leave my nonprofit job and just do this work full time,” says Wood. She and her husband moved to the Hudson Valley and bought a circa 1900 fixer-upper in Linlithgo. She now splits her time between being a real estate broker and a house preserver, and has worked with clients in Staatsburg, Germantown, and Copake. “I’ve been able to marry the two, and one directly informs the other,” she says, admitting that getting to look at houses all day is a thrill. “I love to walk into a house and feel like it’s been untouched for 50 years because that, to me, is where I can do my best work.”
Her best work is gently unpeeling layers, to give the house time to show its history: to reveal an old doorway an addition has hidden, let ghost lines on old wood floors formerly under carpet tell the tale of where original walls stood, expose layers of wallpaper and paint and newsprint that reach back into other centuries. As she says on her website, “Sometimes a scalpel serves better than a sledgehammer.”
But preservation is not for the weak or impatient. Wood says one of her first jobs with clients is to assess whether they will be able to roll with the uncertainties of what’s ahead. She’s currently working on an old train depot in Copake, turning it into a residence while protecting its history. She calls the owner “intrepid,” and says the restoration is getting into deep technical territory, as the depot was built on piers. How to add plumbing, insulation, electric? “Fortunately, I have a network of people who, if I don’t know the answer, they do.” The shared values and work ethic are what makes a project like this work, says Wood.
“I want to try to match people up to the right property for them, and help people understand what’s a big deal and what’s not a big deal,” to fix or address, “because I don’t want anybody to be unhappy,” she says. “And I don’t want the properties to be unhappy with the wrong caretakers.”
Her best work is gently unpeeling layers, to give the house time to show its history: to reveal an old doorway, let ghost lines on old wood floors tell the tale of where original walls stood.
She doesn’t apologize for putting houses ahead of people, saying “my passion for preservation is [that] it’s a form of sustainability. You want to get as much life out of things as possible.” But it’s more than houses Wood is preserving. “I feel strongly that preservation is something of value to the community. I love projects that are visible—on a main street or at a crossroads,” says Wood. “They have the most impact because they speak volumes about the value of community and history.”
“That’s what attracted us to this area to begin with—just seeing that there were all of these places that could use that kind of love,” says Wood. “The river estates will take care of themselves, but it’s these little houses on the road that you pass by and wonder what’s going on.” She would take them all on, if she could.
“There’s so much positive energy that preservation can bring to a community,” says Wood. “It’s not just nice—it’s necessary.”
Worth Preserving offers pre-sale consultations, renovation advice, and full project management services. You can reach Kate Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the contact form on her website worthpreserving.com/ contact.