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A REMINDER OF THE VAST SPACES and great bargains still available in bucolic Delaware County, this mid-19th century farmhouse, currently owned by an artist and writer, was once the centerpiece of a farm called “The Overlook,” and it does indeed sit on a hill above the hamlet of Meridale, N.Y. The 6-bedroom, 2-bath house is just one of a complex of buildings, including a massive barn and a charming old storefront, not to mention nearly 30 acres of pastureland. Taxes not bad either — under $5,000/year.

I can’t say it better than Lynne Resch of Two Stones Realty, who has the listing right here, where you’ll also find more photos to dream on. See below for Lynne’s words:

Not unlike the nearby Hanford Mills Museum, this charming homestead is “intact”. This is how folks lived in the 19th century. A complex of buildings servicing their needs in a cozy, contained environment. Very much, if not exactly as it was when it was the engine of “The Overlook” Farm. And the property does indeed ‘overlook’ the charming hamlet of Meridale.
Full disclosure… I am in love with the store… having passed it, and its enormous turn-of-the-century crock on the porch, hundreds of times on the way to Oneonta.
The immediate live/work complex with big red barn would be satisfying enough. But the nearly 30 acres includes pastures and long-range views that put this offering at the top of the list. Spectacular views and open meadows hosted the owner’s own wedding and could provide the ideal for weddings to come.
The location is perfect for work or play… for a Catskills entrepreneur to a NYC expat/escapee. Keep an eye on the store while rocking on the porch, toiling in the studio, negotiating that wedding party, or tending the flock and herd in the barns. The options satisfy a wide range of interests. Literally midway between two college towns… Delhi (15 mins) and Oneonta (15 mins) you will want for nothing. Mere walking distance to Greenane Farms’ bounty, their amazing CSA, The Dutch Deli for that quart of milk and the charming hamlet of Meridale’s Post Office.
Area attractions nearby include The Hanford Museum, The West Kortright Centre, Stone & Thistle with Fable Dining, Harmony Hill, and the entire Western Catskills. 3 hours from NYC, easy access to Delhi and Oneonta, area attractions from The Hudson Valley to the Glimmerglass Opera, Fenimore Art Museum, and not-to-be-missed Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, make “Wedding Hill” a base for any dream.
And yes, a Trailways bus stop, cell phone service, high-speed internet!… pinch me!
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JUST BACK from a few days visiting a friend in Western Massachusetts, where I was amazed at the number of Victorian villas. The area is a catalogue of 19th century styles including Second Empire and Italianate, with details like arched, porthole, and bay windows; porches, balconies, and cupolas; and all manner of decorative molding.

Sadly, these grand dames of yesteryear are often located on now-busy roads, and they mostly look like white elephants  — enormous and drafty and difficult to heat without servants to stoke the many fireplaces. Some are in sorry shape. Others, like the blue- shuttered example here, in the town of Lee, seem well-maintained.

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We stopped in Lee for lunch at the Cakewalk Cafe, then checked out a couple of thrift/antique stores on the intact 19th century main street, below.

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Then into nearby Lenox, where my friend had managed to dig up the one historic house in the area — of some 75 such Berkshires “cottages” — open on a mid-winter weekday: Ventfort Hall, below, a 28,000-square foot Jacobean Revival mansion with 54 rooms, designed in 1893 by the Boston architectural firm Rotch & Tilden for Sarah Morgan, sister of financier J.P., and her husband George.

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Like so many unwieldy mansions of that era, it had been abandoned for some time and fallen into ruin. As recently as the 1990s, the floors were ice-covered and littered with chunks of fallen ceiling plaster. Oak wall panels were missing, and the exterior was crumbling.

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Docent Marsha McDermott, above, showed us ‘before’ photos — that is, before a small group of concerned locals formed the non-profit Ventfort Hall Association and purchased the property, then raised $4million in private and public funds to restore it and open it to public view. Then she sent us off to explore, giving us carte blanche to open doors and poke around.

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Being avid Downton Abbey watchers, my friend and I could well visualize the family that lived here, enjoying such amenities as indoor plumbing, electric and gas lighting, radiant heat in the basement ceiling, a burglar alarm system, internal fire hoses, copper speaking tubes in the walls, and an electric elevator. Above, the Great Hall. Newly carved American red oak panels were left unstained, below, to distinguish them from the original woodwork. Unfortunately, there are no original furnishings left in the house; they were sold off long ago.

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Below, the dining room, which suffered a great deal of water damage. The Cuban mahogany ceiling was restored with new Honduran mahogany.

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Below, new plasterwork recreated from molded casts of the original ceiling.

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Delicate plasterwork and an onyx marble fireplace in the drawing room, below, which was used by Sarah Morgan and her daughter Caroline to entertain guests. It’s now a gift shop.

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We exited onto the rear verandah, below, made of wood painted a ruddy color to match the stone facade. (If this elevation looks familiar, it’s because it was used as a set in the film The Cider House Rules.) The breeze coming off Stockbridge Bowl Lake, now obscured by trees, gave the house its name: Ventfort means “strong wind.”

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Open 360 days a year, Ventfort Hall is available for weddings, receptions, dinners, parties, corporate meetings, and Victorian teas — not to mention picnicking on 12 acres of surrounding park. For more info: 413/637-3206, www.GildedAge.org

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HERE’S A NEW YEAR’S GOODIE. Yep, with the turn of the calendar, it’s time to start thinking about…summer houses! The listing says this sweet and unpretentious 3BR, 2 bath  (bigger than it looks at from the outside) dates from 1847, and that seems about right. The symmetry, porch columns, pilasters on either side of the front door and six-over-six windows, all say Greek Revival to me. At the same time, the front porch and picket fence say farmhouse (they’re not mutually exclusive). It’s in the village of Greenport,on Long Island’s North Fork, where nearly all the houses are of similar vintage (see more of Greenport’s architectural charms here).

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The price has just been reduced by 30K. The still-upwards-of-400K ask reflects the tip-top condition of the house, the optimism of the sellers, and the market being pretty strong.

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Except for the dated kitchen, the house appears immaculate — renovated perhaps to a fault (recessed lights in old houses are a particular peeve of mine).

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Check out the listing, with lots more photos, here.

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Anyone local have insight to share about the Main Street location?

A PRETTY GROUND FLOOR apartment in an 1890s building is the subject of my column today on Brownstoner.com. It’s the home of Teri Brajewski of TWB Design, and it’s just undergone a low-key renovation.

My favorite aspects: the carefully considered paint colors and interesting uses of ceramic tile in two new bathrooms.

And isn’t that original fretwork archway a lovely thing to behold?

Go here to see and read more.

 

 

Photo: Ofer Wolberger

SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO SEE FOR YOURSELF. That was the case with the Southold Victorian on the North Fork of Long Island whose listing I blogged about a few days ago. Even though it is more than an hour’s drive and a $30 round trip ferry fare through Shelter Island from my house in Springs, I made the trek on Sunday morning to see just what was wrong with the place for it to be priced so low. I knew there had to be something.

Ah, yes… it is an intriguing situation, and an object lesson in how listing photos can lie. Head on in the photos, the place looks normal: a gabled farmhouse of the late 1800s, with a wide front porch. But there were no photos of the sides or back of the house.

Here’s why: for reasons known only to previous owners, the house had metastasized over the years, with a series of completely and utterly wrong-headed, senseless, absurdly un-designed additions and extensions. What we have here is a demolition project. The whole house doesn’t need to be taken down — just 2/3 of the existing 3,600-square-foot structure (if it can be called a structure), to bring it back to approximately its original size and shape.

There’s very little in the way of old detail, even in the original part of the house, and the rooms have been mostly chopped up with extraneous walls. There are little jigs and jogs that lead to nowhere, closets with windows, room after tiny room so confusing you can’t even tell what’s meant to be the dining room, the living room, or the master bedroom. The whole house is covered with vinyl siding, over 1950s asbestos shingle. Maybe there’s clapboard underneath, or perhaps that’s long gone.

Any bad decision that could be made has been made. There are a couple of roof decks that have no logical access (you have to climb through windows to get to them). They would provide a view of Long Island Sound, which is tantalizingly nearby — a matter of a few hundred yards — but inaccessible, because of fenced neighboring properties, except by roundabout road.

The balusters on the original staircase have been replaced with new Victorian-style ones, below. The floors are newish and mismatched.

The windows in the “best” room, below — a coffered (though low) ceilinged space in the middle of the old part of the house — were replaced with an ugly modern ‘picture window.’

One of the rear additions, below, was meant to be a rec room or family room of some sort. It is dark, water damaged, visibly moldy.

A huge disproportionate growth on the second floor, below, is a sun-flooded room with another modern picture window that should perhaps, if it’s to be anything, be a bedroom or office, has been given over to a crummy-looking Jacuzzi — someone’s idea of a good use of that space.

There are two kitchens (both awful) and 3-1/2 baths, done cheaply and horribly. There are approximately 7 bedrooms.

The only original windows are in the attic, below, reached by a ladder that folds down out of the ceiling.

On paper, the place is exactly what I was looking for when I began my search for an old house on Long Island in early 2009: a Victorian farmhouse fixer-upper in a secluded location — it’s at the end of an unpaved road, on a 1/2 acre lot with abundant sunshine — for under 300K. But the amount of money that would probably have to go into demolition and rubbish carting alone, not to mention rebuilding, makes it no bargain. As you look around, incredulous, the house even begins to seem over-priced (though it is a foreclosure, and offers are being accepted).

On the plus side, the basement looks clean, the circuit breaker panel fairly new. There are two furnaces in undetermined condition, forced-air ducts running hither and yon, and the plumbing pipes have been properly drained and winterized.

Anybody know how much demo costs? If only I owned a bulldozer.

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