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UPDATE: This house has been sold, and Winnie has moved on. “I’m tackling a renovation in NC right now,” she writes. “I would never trade the experience I got from doing a restoration.  Believe me, it makes everything else seem easy.”

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A hand-painted mural of Shenandoah County by Virginia McLaughlin wraps around the dining room

I LOVE IT WHEN READERS SEND E-MAILS and pictures of their old houses. First, it’s material I don’t have to think up. Second, we all get to ‘visit’ a part of the country (or world) outside my usual Hamptons-Brooklyn-Philadelphia-Hudson Valley circuit.

Woodstock front

So I was delighted to hear from Winnie Boothe of Woodstock, Virginia, the county seat of Shenandoah County, whose lovingly restored 15+-room Colonial townhouse, above, is now on the market for 272K.

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Period-appropriate chinoiserie in the front parlor

The house was built in 1796, or maybe 1794. “I’ll leave it to others to squabble about that,” Winnie wrote. When she first saw the place in 2000, she had been “hoping to find a tiny house in the woods” — not a Main Street mansion, zoned commercial/residential, with a separate “little house” on the same lot. “My husband walked out, thinking it was nuts. My best friend told me the house needed me. You can imagine which voice I heard.”

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View from front parlor through hall to dining room

The old place has astonishing history. The original plat was laid out by a young surveyor named George Washington (the very same) of Winchester, VA, and Jacob Mullerberg, in 1752. “That gave me shivers,” Winnie recalled.

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Very old Windsor chairs in dining room

The house’s most spectacular feature are the wraparound painted murals in the front parlor and dining room, done recently in authentic Colonial style by Virginia McLaughlin, now in her late 80’s. McLaughlin has also painted murals for The Inn at Mount Vernon (the restaurant at George Washington’s home) and several B&Bs.

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Corner of dining room mural showing 7 bends of the Shenandoah River

The Shenandoah Room, aka the dining room, is a “conglomeration of all that is beautiful in the Valley. There is my house, the church next door, the seven bends of the Shenandoah, Robert E. Lee’s office, and the county courthouse.  The natural bridges and caverns are woven throughout in such a delicate way that they seem seamless.”

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Toile-papered bath with claw-foot tub

The black Windsor chairs in the dining room have been part of the house for a long time. While researching previous owners’ wills, Winnie found several bequeathing “my beloved black Windsor chairs.”  She encourages anyone finding themselves in possession of a 200+-year-old house to go to the local courthouse and read the wills, obituaries, birth, and death  announcements. “They came so alive for me.”

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A restored bedroom

McLaughlin convinced Winnie that chinoiserie would be the right choice for a mural in a front parlor of that period, above. “I waffled, but she prevailed.”


The same bedroom, ‘before’

Besides the extraordinary murals, the ‘guts’ of the house were replaced and upgraded, the kitchen ceiling opened up to expose the rafters, and all the fireplaces restored.


IT WORKED BEFORE, SO I’M TRYING IT AGAIN. I rented my townhouse in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, last month through this blog when six real estate brokers and Craigslist couldn’t do it. Now another of my rental properties is becoming available as of Oct. 1, 2009: a whole, albeit small, 1840s “trinity” house (3 floors – 1 room on each – plus basement and garden) in the South Kensington area of Philly, a few blocks from the trendiest of trendy neighborhoods, Northern Liberties, and not far from Fishtown.

The house is diminutive, like many old Philadelphia houses – about 200 square feet per floor, joined by narrow twisting stairs. (People with vertigo or bad knees need not apply.) It works for a single individual, a loving couple at most.


It gets great light, has a large-for-Philly backyard, original doors and proportions throughout. It’s totally charming, and the space feels good to be in. For an aficionado of old houses and vintage lifestyles, it’s a chance to live like a working-class family of the mid-19th century, but with more amenities (heat, indoor plumbing, electricity, etc.)


Kensington was once called “Little England” for the number of English immigrants who worked in the neighborhood’s behemoth textile and carpet factories, many of which have been converted to living lofts or artists’ studios.


The house is on N. Palethorp between Jefferson and Oxford, a nearly traffic-free alley around the corner from the magnificent St. Michael church. It’s actually the rear half of two back-to-back trinities under one roof (they’re entirely separate, each with its own entrance). It was renovated (re-wired, new kitchen, new paint job) in 2007. Here’s how the layout stacks up:

  • Ground floor: kitchen/dining. Opens to garden.
  • 2nd floor: bedroom/bathroom with pedestal sink, claw-foot tub
  • 3rd (top) floor: open loft-like space. Could be a living room, studio, or large bedroom (with the smaller room on the floor below used as a living/sitting room).
  • Basement: washer/dryer, storage

The rent is $850/month, plus utilities (gas for heat, hot water, and cooking, and electricity).

You were thinking of moving to Philly anyway, weren’t you? Email me at for more info or pics, with a few details about your situation and a phone number.

Retro rules in these soulful Brooklyn bathrooms.  Whether these sinks and tubs are new or old doesn’t matter.  They look old; that’s what matters.



Above: Zen-like in Prospect Heights, with a deep soaking tub and square sink set on an old Chinese cabinet. Original parquet floors are warmer than tile; red walls and shoji-like window treatment play up the Asian theme. Design: Caroline Beaupere

Left: Classic in Boerum Hill.  The claw foot tub is original (it’s always easier to leave those in place and have them re-glazed). The new tile floor has an unusual herringbone pattern.

Below: The marble sink and old door (as well as flooring, windows, and almost everything else in this Clinton Hill House) came from Moon River Chattel in Williamsburg. Design: DK Holland

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