Far removed in time and spirit from Sabina and Kevin Kelley's busy Manhattan life, an early-1800s farm house in the Hudson Valley matched their wish list for a weekend retreat. It was old enough to have a wealth of character and was hidden away on 30 rolling acres. A poor-man's farmhouse with several additions, it had been lightly renovated by previous owners and was updated just enough for the Kelleys and their young son, Hudson, to settle in.
"All we wanted was to enclose the screen porch," Sabina says. But soon after this small renovation was underway, the Kelleys were delving into corners of the old place that hadn't been uncovered for almost two centuries. By the time they were done, the venerable house shone with new light — and new life — from top to bottom.
As their one-task project began to grow, they enlisted architect Jimmy Crisp. The old roof — with its strata of asphalt shingles, tin, and ancient cedar shakes — had to go. Why not make some changes in the cramped upstairs at the same time, the couple figured. Along with converting the porch into a sun room, Crisp designed a trio of gabled dormers at the front of the house and a space-making shed dormer across the back-all paying homage to the vintage character of the place.
"When we saw Jimmy's vision for the front of the house, we knew he was the right person for the job," Sabina says.
Once construction began, the building's post-and-beam framework proved an obstacle course. But that was business as usual for contractor George Carrothers, who has labored over old houses in the area for more than 20 years. "You have no idea what you' re getting into until you take them apart," he says.
The Kelleys' house was no exception; the entire roof structure eventually had to come off to make the new dormers work.
As Carrothers adapted Crisp's plans to the structure's quirks and secrets, the design process became ever more a team effort. Kevin and Sabina weighed in with ideas and requests from far-off London , where they lived during the construction, and Carrothers made his own modifications.
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