Sunday, July 10, 2011

Old House "renovations"

This delicious old farmhouse, originally called Lynfeld and still standing on the outskirts of Millbrook, NY, was built in 1871 for a rich farmer named Milton Conrad Ham. Ham's ancestor, Conrad Ham, came to America in 1660 at the age of 18 to work as a bodyguard, of all things, for Peter Stuyvesant. By the 1730s two of his grandsons made their way to Dutchess County and married a pair of sisters whose father would eventually own this farm and will it to one of his Ham grandsons. When this photo was taken in the 1920s, the Hams were prosperous pillars of the Town of Washington's agrarian economy. The current Conrad Ham, alive and thriving today, sold the house on 190 of its original 250-or-so acres to sub-dividers in 1969. The house on 23 acres changed hands half a dozen time until the present owner bought it in 1978.

Here's the house today, looking like a once-beautiful woman squeezed into a too-tight house dress. The building has been divided into three duplex rental apartments, each with it's own private interior staircase. Two additional structures on the property - a small cottage and a newish two-unit structure built on the foundations of a former greenhouse - comprise the balance of a three-building rental complex. The ornate tower on the big house was removed during the Ham era, probably a victim of decay and Depression era economics. The vinyl siding was installed after the present owner took title.

Lynfeld was designed by Milton Ham's unmarried brother-in-law, John Jay Ferris, an architect from nearby Pawling, New York. Ham, who was 56 at the time of his marriage, not only engaged Ferris to draw up the plans, he invited him and his unmarried sister Mary Ann to move into the new house together with himself and his new bride. This detail of the facade illustrates the elaborate detail that lends so much charm and visual interest to Victorian houses.

Alas, the purveyors of vinyl siding are immune to this charm, and the often conscientious owners of old houses can be just as unaware of the aesthetic impact of this kind of siding job. Preservationists warn of the damage caused by unobserved water leaks between original wood siding and an enveloping plastic skin. However, the greater damage is usually to the architectural appearance of the house. Some installations shave off a great deal of detail in order to make the new siding lie flat. You never know until you pull it off just how much damage has been done.

Here's the main staircase at Lynfeld as it appeared in 1925. Pretty showy for an upstate farmer, right? It survives as part of the largest of the three rental units occupying the house today.


  1. I hate vinyl siding with a passion. It is used as an excuse by lazy and stupid contractors and building owners to obliterate a structure's architectural interest and integrity, dumbing it down to the lowest common denominator. I hate vinyl siding even more than I hate screw on plastic shutters or snap in muntins. And that is saying a lot. Excellent post, and vivid testament to the vileness of vinyl siding. And to the vile, greedy, low-brow, cheapskate developers and homeowners who ruin marvelous buildings with it.

  2. The Old House Journal used to call this "re-muddling", which term unfortunately makes this kind of sacrilege seem humorous and benign.

    The quality and distinction of buildings like this should protect them from such treatment, but apparently no developer understands the difference between architecture and square footage.

    Those windows are the ultimate example of placing square pegs in round holes.

  3. You did a great job in there. You still manage to maintain its old beauty with a few touch of changes that could not be noticed from afar. It is indeed a job well done.

  4. What a beautiful house. I agree it's so lovely how you preserved much of its original look. The siding looks great! I love homes with vinyl siding. It looks so nice!

  5. Sad to see how much was lost in the butchering of this building. I have seen similar detailing on what look like stucco (which is often a combination of cement board, EIFS and hand-troweled stucco these days) buildings lately. I wonder if the details in the original photos could be replicated using the same techniques more economically than by having them custom milled. The lap-sided areas could be filled in with Hardi-plank and the result would still be reasonably low-maintenance. Purists would still disapprove, but it would look a ton better than the vinyl-drenched mess they have now. It would be such a joy seeing those plastic fake shutters land in a dumpster.

  6. The Lynfeld house doesn’t look like an old farmhouse at all. It looks really good. The vinyl sidings and windows made it look more modern. Removing the tower is quite a pity though because it kind of added a special touch to the house.

    Randell Jeffries

  7. This renovated old farmhouse looks nice. I see that some comments hate vinyl sidings, but I agree with Randell that the vinyl sidings and windows made a difference in making the house look modern which really doesn’t look bad at all.

    Kayce Church

  8. Home remodeling is a good concept. But there are certain things which we have to keep in our mind like Make sure to obtain all necessary permits before remodeling a home. Although these days many contractors take care of getting all the permits at themselves but don't depend on them for getting necessary permits