First things first, right? When a house looks like a geriatric case, you want to dive right into fixing up its facade, gladdening the hearts of passersby. But decades of water damage dictated that this home's owners begin in back, even though the only eyes that fell on the racked lawn and rotting foundation belonged to the deer and an occasional bear.
"The backyard was sloped, so rainwater came rushing up to the house and moisture was eating away at the foundation," says homeowner Sean B. Nutley. And yet when Sean and his partner, Gregory Triana, first saw the place, it was the site they fell for. "The lay of the land won me over," says Gregory. "The house was on a country road, on a corner, with amazing light that traveled around it."
Shown: New painted cedar clapboards, a rebuilt porch, and a double row of clipped chartreuse barberry bushes reinforce the geometric lines of the house.
Paint: Carrington Beige (siding) and Rosemary Sprig (trim) by Benjamin Moore
At the time, the pair was running a business in New York City, but after 17 years of apartment life they longed for the chance to sit outside on summer evenings and watch the blink of lightning bugs, not traffic lights. They found their house 100 miles north, in tiny Accord, New York, after a year of looking. They were so charmed by its history—mud-mortared-log interior walls and a bluestone-lined basement date the earliest portion to the 1830s—that they moved right in. "Then we sat for a year, listening to the house," as Sean puts it.
Once they were ready to dig in, the first order of business was to divert that runoff. "There was a lot of engineering the land," says Gregory. "We were lucky to find a surgeon with a backhoe." A landscape crew dug a French drain to send water away from the house to the side yard and topped the regraded area with a bluestone patio. Then another crew had to lift up the back of the house long enough to get under it and repair the foundation. "We had to work from the outside in so that the house could live another 100 years," says Gregory.
Shown: Once the sloping front yard was regraded, there was no buffer between the road and the asbestos-sided house's sagging front porch.
Enjoying a Job Well Done
When it was finally time to think about the front, Sean and Gregory's luck continued in finding local contractor David Wyncoop, known in the area for his work on antique houses. Sean had made a rough sketch to guide Wyncoop, giving the hodgepodge facade a more unified, symmetrical look with new two-over-two windows and a wide, deep porch topped with standing-seam metal. After jacking up the front to bolster the original stone foundation, Wyncoop worked his way around, replacing asbestos siding with painted cedar and drafty windows with energy-efficient models. He built a deck on one side of the house, a shed entrance on the other, and a seven-columned porch to frame the off-center door out front.
Today there's no sight more gratifying than driving up and seeing the transformed exterior, says Gregory. And with a porch, a deck, and a patio all hugging the house, there's a vantage point to enjoy the outdoors, whatever the weather. "Whether it's a sunny day or a night of stars or snow is coming down, we can sit outside and watch it all and enjoy."
Shown: Sean B. Nutley (left) and Gregory Triana on the cedar deck they added off the living room, now accessed by single French doors. The see-through cable balusters add a modern note and ensure a great view from inside, while the chimney's new stone veneer improves the view looking back up from the stepped-down garden.
Contractor: David Wyncoop, Stillmeadow Habitat & Home, Accord, NY; 845-687-2346
A new porch with seven simply trimmed columns frames the front door, giving the facade a more unified, symmetrical look. It leads directly onto a deck on the chimney side.
The Front: Main Entry
The old entry had a haphazard look. It gained vintage farmhouse style with a new beadboard-panel door and wide steps with recycled bluestone treads. Sconces on either side of the door help reinforce the symmetry established by the pair of flanking porch columns.
The Front: Porch
The old rocking-chair porch was tight on space. The new one is 2 feet deeper and leads right onto a deck on the chimney side. The seven porch posts were chamfered and trimmed out on-site.
The Chimney Side
Part of a circa-1940 gabled addition, the chimney side of the house had a rudimentary look. Today it opens onto a deck that leads the eye—and visitors—to a lush garden.
The Chimney Side: Windows, Doors & Decking
The chimney was framed by pairs of windows. The owners changed out the ones on the first floor for single French doors that lead from the living room to the new cedar deck. The added glass also makes the house feel larger by opening up the view from inside. Bat houses installed on either side of the new second-floor windows encourage the mosquito eaters to stick around.
Windows and French doors: Crestline
The Chimney Side: Stone Veneer & Steel Cables
The cement-block chimney got a handsome upgrade with cultured-stone veneer. Put up with no visible mortar, it mimics the look of the stacked-stone foundation. The veneer's rough, mottled surface contrasts with the sleek, steel-cable balustrade capped with a cedar rail clear-coated with a nontoxic varnish. Sean designed the deck, with its horizontal bands of stone, cedar, and steel, to reinforce the lines of the house.
Stone Veneer: StoneCraft Industries
To divert rainwater away from the house, the land was regraded to flatten it out and a French drain was dug to funnel runoff to the side yard. A bluestone patio and grassy lawn now cover the rocky soil.
The Back: Banks of Double-Hungs and a Stone Patio
Small casements and a big picture window on the first floor were replaced with banks of double-hungs to match those elsewhere on the house. The catchall space in back became a welcoming gathering spot with a bluestone patio that meets the side deck, inviting guests to walk around.
The Side Entry
The proportions of the house came into alignment with the help of a larger entry on the west side. Its door and gable echo those out front; the metal roof matches the porch's.
The Side Entry: Shed Entrance
The old side entry, used for tool storage, looked like an afterthought. Its metal-roofed replacement is crowned with a barn light that draws attention to the new, higher gable. The paneled door opens onto original basement stairs carved from solid bluestone.
Light: Chris Bernard
Tips From an Old-House Pro
"My goal is a happy medium between structure and aesthetics," says contractor David Wyncoop, a veteran renovator of antique houses. "You want to make the house more livable, but you don't want to lose the charm." Here, his ideas for saving time, trouble—and money.
1. Salvage where you can. "Old windows may not be worth saving, and you can find reasonably priced new ones that are much more energy efficient and still have narrow mullions. But I always try to find and reuse old doors on the inside. It's harder to reuse an exterior door, but it can be done; just make sure it's going to fit tight."
2. Let the factory do the work. "Order cedar or pine siding preprimed, if you can—and make sure it's backprimed too. It's worth the extra money, and that way you won't have to worry about rain damage while you take your time choosing paint colors. Cultured stone veneer is another time- and money-saver. It's lightweight and easy to work with. You can put it up with thinset."
3. Use details to trick the eye. "To disguise a new cement-block or poured concrete foundation, I'll put a step, or 'brick ledge,' in it so that I can go back and add a stacked-stone face at ground level. And there's nothing like a nice long front porch to add the flavor of an old house. It also 'sizes down' a high front. You can really see the effect when you look at Sean and Greg's house, which is sitting on a rise. That low second roofline is what makes the house look so inviting."