You can trace initials in the wainscoting of this 1865 schoolhouse in Millbrook , N.Y. And you can ring the bell the way a teacher once called students to class. Current occupants have preserved the spirit of the one-room school while making it their weekend home. Furnishings chosen by Nelson Ferlita—Ethan Allen reproductions plus antiques—offer a similar lesson: You can capture the feeling of the past without sacrificing comfort and livability.
When architects Mac Clapp and Jimmy Crisp bought the 19th-century schoolhouse three years ago, it had been vacant since the 1930s. Broken shutters were stashed in a nearby toolshed, the bell was missing, and the rotted belfry tilted like a cockeyed hat. The new owners faithfully restored the exterior, then Clapp's uncle donated the bell.
The interior is a different story. "We took liberties here," Clapp says. "It had to work for us." To pack into one 800 square-foot space all the comforts of home, the architects designed sleeping lofts overlooking the living area and created a separate kitchen and dining room. While the open plan is a modern solution, the materials nod to the past—pine floors and cabinets plus marble counters.
In decorating, Nelson Ferlita also opted for the flavor of the past rather than period perfection. "This takes confidence," he says of his decision to mix antiques with reproductions. "But the results are more interesting." Not to mention practical. Ethan Allen's sturdy pieces, based on English, Irish and American designs, have enough character to stand on their own. And the school now has a lived-in quality that makes this transformation complete.