Successful do-it-yourselfers share an important trait: a steadfast confidence that whatever they put their hand to will turn out well in the end—even if it takes a few attempts to get it just right. It’s an attitude that Jaime Costiglio has embraced since the first time she lowered the blade on her miter saw, 10 years ago. “That’s the great thing about DIY,” she says. “You always have the chance to do it over to get it exactly the way you want it.”
Shown: The homeowner, who blogs at jaimecostiglio.com, built the living room’s table, interior shutters, sliding-door cabinet, mirror, and side table (from an old library card catalog).
18th Century Saltbox
Since 2013, Jaime has fearlessly finished and furnished her family’s saltbox-style farmhouse to make it, well, just the way she wants it. For Jaime and her husband, Mark, that means a bright, casual home that celebrates its age while functioning flawlessly for a 21st-century family with three active kids. Somewhat serendipitously, it has also meant a new part-time career for Jaime as a blogger.
Shown: Dating to at least 1740, the Samuel Brown saltbox is one of the two oldest houses in Port Chester, NY. True to form, its tall side faces south.
Paint: Benjamin Moore’s Cottage Red (exterior)
For nearly eight years, the family lived a half mile from the Samuel Brown House, one of the two oldest homes in Port Chester, New York. “I always thought if it ever came up for sale I would go for it,” she says. In 2013, she did. “I relished the idea of having something different, and this was our opportunity,” she recalls.
Shown: To help the dining room feel more spacious, homeowner Jaime Costiglio painted the walls white and tore down a plaster ceiling to reveal original timbers that show off the house’s post-and-beam construction. The table is a refinished castoff from a friend.
Chairs: Restoration Hardware
Chandelier: Country Living Primitives, Katie’s Wilcox Wrought Iron Chandelier
Moving from a postwar Cape to a colonial-era home with steep stairways and low plaster ceilings took some adjustment, but Jaime delighted in her new home’s challenges. “It has all kinds of nooks and crannies, nothing is level, nothing is plumb,” she says. “I just like all that character.”
Shown: In the kitchen, Jaime painted rust-colored base cabinets gray, added open shelving, and painted the remaining wall cabinets white, helping them disappear.
Knobs: D. Lawless Hardware
Pulls: D. Lawless Hardware
The little red saltbox had, in fact, nearly 300 years’ worth of character. A plaque installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1967 marks the home’s origin as 1740, but newspaper accounts say it may date to 1660. It was built by Samuel Brown, a farmer, whose family lived there during the Revolutionary War. The lawlessness of the time comes up in an oft-told tale regarding a French Continental soldier who escaped a murderous local outlaw by diving through the home’s basement window. As the story goes, the Browns distracted the pursuer with dinner, later sending the soldier safely on his way.
Shown: In between projects, the family can enjoy the back patio, where Jaime does most of her building. Gathered here around a coffee table she made are, from left: Jaime; Andrew, 11; Ava, 14; husband Mark; and Emma, 12.
That window now hides behind a wall beneath a large family room added in the 1980s. An earlier 1943 renovation added about 10 feet to the back of the house, expanding the dining room and back entry, adding a proper kitchen, and connecting the home to the once-separate garage (now a laundry room). Previous owners also installed three baths, updated the electrical, and dug out and waterproofed the basement. Here, where the Continental soldier had huddled, is Jaime’s workshop, stocked with tools and stacks of wood. She drags her project materials to the back patio to build, weather permitting.
Shown: After exposing the beams in the dining room, Jaime did the same in the master bedroom. The bed, which she designed with fellow blogger Ana White, was inspired by one sold at Pottery Barn. Jaime built the bench and the wood-framed mirror, too; the matching dressers are 1880s antiques.
Paint: Benjamin Moore’s Simply White Matte (walls)
Admire any piece of furniture in her house, and chances are she made it, either from scratch or by artfully combining other people’s castoffs. One of her first—and possibly most ambitious—furniture projects for this house was her four-poster bed. She’s built desks for each of her children, nightstands for her daughters, a homework station, and numerous cabinets and tables.
Shown: Not restricting herself to interior furnishings, Jaime also built the outdoor dining table for the family’s patio, which is located just off the kitchen.
At the same time, she worked her way through the house, focusing on finishes and features to revive the home’s Colonial spirit. “I went with the living spaces first, just painting and adding electrical, room by room.” She covered the dark earth tones on most of the walls with white paint and added texture—shiplap, cedar paneling, and faux wainscot—to others. She designed and built farmhouse-style details throughout: interior window shutters in the living room, sliding barn-door-style window coverings upstairs, a rope handrail on the back stairs.
Shown: The master bath was reconfigured to make room for a shower and more closet space. Jaime cleaned up and painted the vintage sink, then built the vanity around it. She completed the bath’s cheerful look by painting a buffalo plaid pattern on the wall over cottage-style wainscot.
Sink: American Standard
Faucet: American Standard
Medicine cabinet: Pottery Barn
Steep Storage Steps
She was thankful for the modern kitchen, but felt it lacked the centuries-old vibe of the rest of the house. So she struck a balance between old and new by painting the rust-colored cabinets gray and replacing the uppers on one side with open shelves of Douglas fir on iron brackets.
Shown: A string of well-worn and precariously steep stairs leads from the second floor to the attic, which is used for storage.
The home’s bathrooms got face-lifts, too. Jaime clad the walls of a first-floor bath once used as a birthing room in shiplap and hung a wall cabinet with an old window for a door; in the children’s bath, she added cedar paneling and towel racks made out of pipe parts. In the master bath, she moved a door to make room for a shower and a larger bedroom closet. She rescued a cast-iron wall-hung sink from a refuse pile at a local art school and built a vanity around it. To finish, she applied battens to the walls for faux wainscot and painted a buffalo plaid pattern above it using three variations of navy blue.
Shown: Jaime rescued her girls’ matching twin beds from a roadside; a fresh coat of polyurethane and new support slats made them good as new. She also built twin desks (one can be glimpsed at right), and matching nightstands, each with a deep drawer and a pull-out tray.
In other places, she simply let the house show its age: in the deeply cupped treads of the three staircases, in the possibly-original dining room door she freed from layers of paint, in the old post—saved from the 1943 renovation—she mounted as a mantel over the dining room fireplace. While her blog is one thing that keeps her building, the other is that in a 278-year-old home, there are always delights yet to be revealed. “It’s part of having an old house,” she says. “It wants to show you how old it is; it’s proud of that. I try not to take away from what was there in 1740. So I keep all the stuff I find.” She pulls out a box filled with objects discovered during various renovations: a spool, a spoon, a tiny horseshoe, the business card of a carriage-maker, a multitude of handwritten lists.
Shown: The boxed front staircase leads to an upstairs loft and creates a delightful nook for reading or playing.
Many of those items came tumbling down when, on a hunch, Jaime tore open the dining room ceiling. “I just knew there had to be beams under there,”she says. “And I needed the headroom.” The possibility that the beams might not be as she imagined barely crossed her mind. “I figured, if it’s not great we’ll just Sheetrock it up again.” The hand-hewn timbers were nearly perfect, so Jaime simply cleaned and de-nailed them before calling Brian Smith, her go-to contractor, to drywall the spaces in between.
Shown: Weather permitting, the family enjoys meals on the patio, which is surrounded by a classic picket fence and mature landscaping.
Simple Farmhouse Charm
“She’s not afraid—that’s what I like about Jaime. She’ll jump right in,” says Smith, who also worked on the master bath. “I do all the rough stuff for her—and then she takes it and runs with it,” he says. He’s duly impressed with her furniture-building skills, recalling the reaction he and two of his best carpenters had when they saw a picnic table she’d made. “All three of us were like, ‘Wow!’ She’s very talented with that kind of stuff.”
Shown: A bridge faucet and windows above the sink add simple farmhouse charm to this kitchen addition, which was completed in 1943.
Though she’d always enjoyed crafts and sewing, Jaime hadn’t built much of anything before making stools for the renovated kitchen in her previous house. Husband Mark, while supportive, had no building experience either. So Jaime went online, watching hours of YouTube videos before plunging in. “I never used a miter saw before 2007,” she says. “But I just picked it up and tried it. You just have to do it.”
Shown: A plaque from the Daughters of the American Revolution testifies to the home’s 1740 vintage. Previous estimates put the construction of the home as early as 1660.
Replacing 8 feet of the kitchen’s wall cabinets with open shelving helps the 20th-century addition blend in with the rest of the house.
Shelf design and install: Jaime Costiglio
Brackets: The Home Depot
After brightening up the lower-level playroom with white paint, Jaime’s next project was to build a homework and craft area for her three children. The left wall cabinet obscures the cellar window through which a French Continental soldier made a legendary escape.
The living room fireplace—one of three originating from the center chimney—includes a bake oven that was rebuilt in recent decades. Jaime made the OLD GLORY sign from a hunk of discarded picnic table.
Paint: Benjamin Moore’s London Fog (fireplace)
A tight turn up the front staircase leads to the second floor. Behind the door to the left is one of two closets serving the adjacent master bedroom.
A hammerhead, scraps of handwritten lists, and a business card for a New York City carriage company are among the artifacts Jaime and others have uncovered while working on the house.
The home’s 18th-century footprint was expanded in 1943, when owners moved the rear wall out about 10 feet, enlarging the kitchen and incorporating a garage (later converted to a laundry). A family room with a playroom beneath was added on the opposite side of the house in the 1980s. The second floor of the original house now includes two bedrooms, a walk-in closet, and a comfortably sized bath.