Tuesday, March 16

For March let's hear personal stories of living in and restoring a historic house

March is a A Look At Historic Homes...

a limestone gem on the Upper East Side

It is interesting how many people opt to save the aged home, refurbishing it, making current the outdated sections, and in many cases going to painful extremes to preserve the original charm. There is always a personal tale that goes with each renovation.

I have chosen four stories, labors of love in each case, of homes that have been held onto tightly for their historical significance. These homes are not viewed as works of art, valued as historically rich. I am dedicating this month's subject to my first interview with my dear friend and interior designer Patrice. She renovated her limestone townhouse, and over the years, I heard many stories regarding the experience. Patrice tapped into her resourcefulness and talent as she multi-tasked, while problem solving and working with various artisans.  She did her historical homework to bring the house current and livable for her family. 

Next, I head downtown to the West Village to one of the most historic streets in Manhattan-King Charlton Vandam Historic District. A collection of original Federal brick homes line this lovely street and make up one of New York's most picturesque blocks. My friend Martin walks me through a tour of his lovely brick home where he and his partner Tom lived for over fifteen years. The home has been through various stages of refurbishment. 

In addition, I bring you two separate Long Island homes whose history dates back hundreds of years. First, Sallie Giordano of Leta Austin Foster & Associate, Inc. brings us a home in Oyster Bay that she is restoring for a client. This home has gone through several evolutions and the firm is bringing it current, with an appreciation of the home's history dating to the 1600s. Kristine Kennedy shares with us glimpses of her family home in the Long Island enclave of Amagansett. Kristine transformed her family's retreat (originally part of the infamous Bell Estates). While holding onto the charm, she expanded and updated to accommodate modern day living. Through their eyes we get snapshot views of these homes and their personal tales. Finally, we look at a very talented artist, Anne Harris, and her perspective on her artistry. 


-Patrice with puppy Cooper in the library
1. Restoring a historic limestone home
in the Upper East Side of New York City originally built in the 1800s

I spent the afternoon with my friend Patrice to discuss the long project she embarked upon several years ago to take her townhouse, originally built in 1881, and make it a comfortable home for her family. The five story home is from the Gilded Age, with its detailed architecture, limestone facade and beautiful garden. It had only been in the hands of three families before Patrice and her husband purchased it, and it was in dire need of a makeover. As we sit together on her settee perusing the plans from an earlier renovation from the past owners, we are ensconced in the library on a rainy day. Sipping our coffee, the dark woodwork that surrounds us helps to create a warm and inviting nest. We settle in and she tells me the whole story of the renovation. This is the only dark room in the house, and the original strap work has been impeccably restored by Patrice. One of the first realizations and challenges she faced with this home was how to retain the important features while not living in a dark and heavy environment that felt outdated. To the contrary, this home is a wonder in light, color, art and juxtapositions in glamour and history set against a relaxed backdrop. Along with a host of various projects to restore the house, Patrice focused her energies on making their new home livable for their family, but all the while keeping the graces and preserving the important details. Patrice explains how she painstakingly kept this woodwork that surrounds us, while bringing in experts to fix and repair whole sections that had been damaged. The wood traces back to the 1600s, and one of the previous owners had brought it back from an English manor.

The home had some cosmetic work done in the 1950s, but when Patrice and her husband found themselves the proud owners of this five story house, they soon realized the job ahead would be long. It became a four year journey, they added an elevator, virtually replacing both the electrical and plumbing systems, redid every joist, but their biggest challenge was getting the mechanical systems in order such as the HVAC, "Smart House" systems, electrical work and such. Some of the wiring was "cloth wiring" and from the original construction, and all had to be replaced.
"At one point, the construction was so drastic you could see straight from the
basement to the top floor...

Of course there were detours along the way. There were several months the electrical lights would simply dim at various hours of the evening, seemingly without reason. The elevator system seemed to have a mind of its own, and there were nights it would travel by itself up and down. Many contractors and workers became convinced the house was haunted, but Patrice eventually figured it out and the house settled in. In addition to her engineeringmathematicalspatiality and fortuity skillsPatrice has an amazing eye for aesthetics

Her husband is an avid contemporary art collector and they add their collection to the mix of antique furniture from all over the world. This lovely combination creates a beautiful, intriguing environment with warm and inviting touches. It is not a home where you are afraid to sit deeply on the sofaor even kick off your shoes 
Patrice was inspired by designers Elsie de Wolfe and Billy Baldwin.

As I learn about the many projects, bumps in the road and discoveries they encountered over the years of construction in the house, it it obvious that Patrice met these challenges head on. Formerly a banker, she turned her focus on interior design and attended the New York School of Interior Design during the time of the renovation, and while in the throes of this project.  She researched art history, architecture and interior design both at school and through the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she attended the galleries several hours a week.  She discovered a historical book store on Lexington Avenue to bootShe felt it was very important to marry the architectural details on the ceiling and walls with the Jacobean accoutrements she worked hard to restore, but all the while injecting a modern feelHer research and studies paid offShe created a reflected ceiling plan for almost every room in the house to draw the eyes upward, and met the challenges of keeping the architectural details in line with the strap work and other factors. She drew designs on scraps of paper as she collaborated daily along with the construction crew. The ceiling height varies from floor to floor so she considered this when planning the stairwell that dips and turns at many pointsMuch of the stairwell had to be constructed by hand. As with many old homes, there seems a constant upgradingfixing and tweaking to keep it in working order, but now the renovation is a memory that she relishesOf course, she has been bitten by the "restoration bug", and keeps herself busy with a few select clients
Well done, Patrice!

"the designer is in the details"




2. A Federal Style homes lining a quiet street in the West Village of New York City

I have known Martin for years and he is a respected painter and wallpaper hanger, so I already knew about his talent as an artist, but when I visit him for a tour of his Federal townhouse, I learn about his love for history as well. Originally from Ireland, Martin has shared his home in one of New York's most historic blocks with his life partner Tom for fifteen years. They built their nest together, and over the years the house has gone through many stages of construction, so today it rests nicely on its historical laurels. Martin reminisced with me about how he would often urge Tom to take on various projects within the house of painting and restoration, while Tom enjoyed the tranquility of living in the house with all its quirks. Tom bought the home in the 1960s and it became a respite from his busy and fulfilling life as a law professor at New York University. Thomas was a prominent expert in international law and was particularly committed to promoting justice in developing countries. He was a professor at NYU from 1957-2002 when he retired. He authored many books on international law. Sadly, Tom passed away several months ago. Martin holds on tightly to the woven memories that they created together in this home. By finishing the last phases of construction, Martin is able to use this experience to reflect upon the life they shared together. He repeats these sentiments to me as we walk from floor to floor, giving me a complete tour of this Federal home. The home was built during the Federal period of the late 1700s, although small additions have been added, it still retains its charm from this original period.

the historic district of King Street- This street is a lovely walk through time tucked into the West Village. The King Charlton Vandam Historic District in Manhattan

Martin Daly in his courtyard on King Street







family portraits Photographs of Thomas Franck are throughout the home, alongside his parents' childhood portraits when they lived in Germany. Thomas, an only child, fled Germany at seven years old with his family during the Nazi regime in 1938. His antique furniture, his family portraits, all mingle with the history of the home, melding together to make their own story

What and where is King Charlton Vandam historical area -This three block historic district in the South Village is located on the site of Richmond Hill, a colonial mansion that served as George Washington’s headquarters, the official residence of the Vice-President of the United States, and the home of Aaron Burr. The street grid dates to 1797, commissioned by Burr. The district contains the largest concentration of Federal style rowhouses in New York City, as well as houses in the Greek Revival style and a Queen Anne style former school. When Sixth Avenue expanded through the neighborhood in the early twentieth century, many of the homes were destroyed. Today, this district, one of New York's oldest historic neighborhoods is made up of approximately 72 Federal- and Greek Revival-style houses built mostly in the early 1800s. And now the area sits nicely preserved on a quiet side street in the West Village. One feels as if you are walking back in time as you meander down a lovely street of brick townhouses that make up this area. Each one is regal, yet simple, reflecting the Federal Style of architecture.
Historical look at the sometimes-bumpy road for this area -Richmond Hill is an area from the Dutch era of the late 1600s. There are many stories of the land given to a freed slave called Symon Congo who in turn gave it to Trinity Church and later given to British major Abraham Mortimer. Mortimer built the mansion and after the revolution, Richmond Hill became the offical residence of the Vice-President for just one year when the Capitol was located in NYC. Senator Aaron Burr lived there in 1794, and later Burr sold the property to fur magnate John Jacob Astor. The mansion's days were numbered when Charlton and King Streets were cut through due to the expansion of Sixth Avenue. It was placed on logs and rolled away from the street for some time and it survived as tavern, a country resort, and a theater. Astor sold off parcels of Richmond Hill and built dozens of row houses on Charlton, King, and Vandam Streets. Other than a fire that destroyed many of the homes in the 1840s, many of the homes remain today.
The construction of an Oyster Bay Long Island home
that dates to the 1600s
"George Washington rested 
here in April 23/24 1790"
The history of this home starts with the Youngs Family -The Youngs lived in Oyster Bay Cove for over 250 years. Thomas Youngs arrived in the area during the mid 1600s and made this his home. Daniel Youngs, a descendent of Thomas, spent the war fending off Hessian soldiers who tried to steal from his cider press. Once the war ended, he hosted George Washington in his 1651 home-a sign in the home bears a special marker noting this visit.
interior design firm, Leta Austin Foster & Associates, Inc. has taken on this project to assist a client in tranforming the home. They are in the midst of construction.
See below detailed
interior design work of
Leta Austin Foster on other projects

Sallie Giordano is busy with many projects as a partner in this family owned interior design business, but this particular restoration of one of Long Island's oldest homes brings a new adventure. Sallie shares with me tales of the process of restoring and refurbishing this home that dates back to the inception of the country. In the photograph below you will see the original timbers from the home that was built in 1651.


modern day photo of the house

"We took out the drywall ceilings to uncover the original beams and are reinstalling wide plank floors throughout to keep the old farmhouse look. I am trying to peel back some of the misconceived layers of renovation to uncover the original charm of this wonderful house. I plan to restore its farmhouse feel while still maintaining its more contemporary spaciousness and modern amenities."
They first took away the narrow strip flooring, and instead added wide-board old growth oak and drywall ceilings and walls. They were fortunate to have uncovered all the 350-year old beams in an old section of the home. In addition, they will plaster all the walls. The home sits overlooking an amazing vista, so to maximize this view, they plan to add double-hung windows along the water side, as well as a 3-season, glassed-in porch with doors that can open in summer months. They've added upper porches for the master and guest bedrooms, which aesthetically balances the large flat roof. The entryway has been widened and they are attaching a new portico. They hope to achieve a charming English cottage feel. The home sits perched at the head of a peaceful cove in this historic area of Long Island. Sallie plans to combine the historical past with a gracious, modern lifestyle.
A labor of love to
keep this home in its original splendor


a lovely historic enclave of Amagansett, Long Island

the area boasts relics from the past
Photographs from the East Hampton Historical Society below
A sketch of an original windmill
built during the 1600s in Amagansett
The Amagansett Marine Museum
perched overlooking the ocean
the dunes on the Bell Estate area in Amagansett
My friend and interior designer Kristine Kennedy, owner and partner in Jmack and Kennedy Interiors, shares her thoughts on restoring a historic home with me. This lovely home that she and her family own in historic Amagansett, Long Island has a history that traces back over one hundred years ago. The area is known as the "Bell Estate" and infamous in the tiny hamlet of eastern Long Island.
The screened porch section of this home is the original gate house of the 350-acre "Bell Estate." Originally owned and built by Dr. Dennistoun Bell, he built a mansion, several guest cottages, a firehouse and this gate house in 1910. He gave the town a pond in exchange for the private beach, which is now owned by a private association on Gardners Bay. Kristine's family bought the original structure in 1987 and lived in the 1000 square feet until they added a new addition in 1998. After consulting many architects whose advice was to bulldoze and start from scratch, the family settled with an architect who loved and appreciated the history of the home as much as they did. They copied the outside roof lines and continued the shingle style, which is very typical of homes in the area. They connected the old house with a new addition by building the 3-story tower. This stairwell runs up the new and old sections and meets in between. The original structure had many challenges due to the thick walls of concrete, horsehair and jute, as well as exaggerated moldings, high ceilings and tall doors to match. After concerted efforts and research, they matched the architectural elements with the early 1900s styles, keeping the wide pine floors, large base molding, high ceilings, stairewell and rail dimensions.
"When we renovated the main bathroom in the original portion of the house, dating to 1910, the electrician closed up a pair of sconces flanking the mirror over the sink.
This was 75-year old wiring, so he clipped the wires, filled the holes and smoothed the plaster.
Later, we realized this eliminated power to the entire downstairs.
To this day we do not understand why, but only by rewiring those sconce boxes are we able to electrify the rest of the house.
The house seems to insist upon the original sconces being left intact....as if this old house is haunted, but in a good way.
a close up view of Anne Harris and her art,
learned in the Italian-style of mural painting....

There are many artists in the interior design business, but when you meet someone with great talent, you are truly inspired. I had this experience when I viewed the work of Anne Harris' mural paintings. I interviewed Anne to get her thoughts about the amazing talent and passion she possesses. Anne aspires to create work that will endure through history for its beauty and integrity, regardless of trends. She has been painting since she was a child, but on one of her first trips to Italy many years ago, the incredible frescos truly changed her perspective on her life and work. Her scope has been influenced by her trips to Italy.




"I paint them as if they are paintings, not just decorative works to be changed with time. I am not afraid of dark colors and paint in oil. We don't have much of a tradition of good mural painting in the United States, so I am a passionate crusader for murals. There is nothing quite like being engulfed in a painting as it transports like nothing else."


Thanks Anne for a glimpse of your work!
And, finally, lets add a delicious recipe to our nesting
Don't you just love the entrepreneurial spirit!
Melissa Ivey is a working mom,
yet finds time to add "caterer" to her list of talents.
Sweetface and Bubba is her catering dream, which she originally started in 2000, and with the encouragement of her friends and family, she is seeing that dream materialize. Melissa loves to cook and enjoys making people happy through the experience of food.


"My philosophy on the meal is that you should start with dessert and work your way backwards. The joy and soulful smiles that comes from the perfect dessert are universal. When I meet with a client for the first time, I always ask what they want for dessert first. In my experience, it has made for happier meetings. This venture has provided me the opportunity to share my love of homey gourmet foods with urban and suburbanites alike. When someone shares their home with friends and family, the food should be the undefinable warmth, not the star. If you remember the meal, it's because it was the vehicle to a great event. If I can accomplish this, then I have helped someone's event become truly special." Melissa has generously shared her incredible cheesecake recipe with Nest by Tamara. She is working on her new website, but in the meantime, please email her at Melissabivey@yahoo.com LEMON CHEESECAKE W. AMARETTI ALMOND CRUST INGREDIENTS 32 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature 4 eggs, room temperature ¼ cup heavy cream, cold 2 tsp vanilla extract (I like Caswell-Massey) 2 cups of amaretti cookies (not the soft kind) 2 oz almond paste, chopped ¼ cup of slivered or sliced almonds, toasted 4 tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly ½ cup water 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar Zest of 2 large lemons ¼ cup fresh ginger, grated Preheat oven to 325°. Butter a 9” springform pan. Wrap the pan with two layers of aluminum foil with the shiny side out. Combine cookies, ¼ cup of sugar, almonds, almond paste in a food processor. Mix until you have a fine crumb. Transfer to a bowl, add in butter, and mix until the butter is incorporated. Pour the crust into the pan and tamp down to an even level with a glass, making sure the crust goes up the sides a little. Refrigerate until ready to use. *If you want a crunchy crust, you can bake this off for 15-20 minutes and cool to room temperature. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the water, 1 cup of the sugar, fresh ginger and lemon zest; stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth (if your cream cheese is not room temperature, you will have lumps and they will end up in your finished product). On a lower speed, add eggs one at a time, heavy cream and vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth. Strain the lemon-ginger syrup through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl and add to cheesecake batter in a slow stream. Mix until just incorporated. Pour the custard into the prepared pan and place in a roasting pan. Pour enough hot water to come ½ way up the side of the pan. Bake about 1 hour and 30 minutes until the cake is set. It should be slightly jiggly in the middle. Allow cheesecake to come to room temperature on a wire rack (remove cake from water bath and take off foil). Refrigerate at least 4 hours, but overnight is best. Courtesy of Melissa B. Ivey, Proprietor ~ Sweetface and Bubba

Please stop back in April
I will bring you dozens of shots of my favorite rooms of all time, and from the perspective of how the color influences the design. How does color play such a predominant role in design? Plus, the medicinal value of music in our nest with a look at some musical talents!

4 comments:

Lisa said...

Tamara,
I have so enjoyed reading each and every one of your stories tonight. The personal accounts of living in and lovingly restoring these beautiful homes is just wonderful.
Your dear friends speak to us of history and values and distinct traditions that bring comfort to us all. Please extend a warm thank you to them for graciously welcoming us into their homes.
I also want to mention that the artistry of Anne Harris is absolutely incredible! I had to look and then really, really look to believe my eyes. Her laughter and smile tells me that she truly loves what she paints, it makes her a master!
And, last but not least, your lovely friend Melissa and her mouth-watering cheesecake! (Tamara you always get me with the sweets.) I wish her continued success with Sweetface & Bubba! Let us all know when her website launches!
Thank you Tamara for another memorable visit to the Nest. Now I have to go get a cookie or something...to take care of my sweetooth!
xo Lisa

Anonymous said...

I love the stories about these home, because these personal stories make these homes come alive. great job. Jan

Marcy said...

Tamara, what a beautiful post! The yummy cupcakes are so creative and there are lots of springy colors - it makes it look like spring has really sprung in your colorful pictures.

I adore historical homes. I think the Federal style is wonderful and especially liked the glimpse of Martin (and Tom's) home. Hearing about the history of the home and their lives gave it special importance.

And I especially love murals. Especially ones like Anne Harris does. They look historic and bring an element to decorating that is unmatched. It was great to see her with her murals - to match up artist with artwork.

Thank you so much for putting so much content into your blog - it is beautiful!

Anonymous said...

just finished reading this month's entry. I loved all of it - your friend Patrice, Tom and Martin's Federal home and the others. You give us such insight into many different aspects of the interior design world. I anticipate next month's look at color as well. Thank you, joelle