Local homeowners tell us about their vintage homes and the challenges they face in maintaining them
It was the mature trees and the way all the yards blend together like one big park in Hills and Dales village that drew Michael and Mischael McKenna to that neighborhood, where they have had two homes.
The couple and their four children outgrew their first home and have lived in their second, a 1928 colonial-style home, for six years.
Because of a job transfer, the home is on the market, and they have purchased an 1873-built colonial in upstate New York.
“There’s so much detail in the older homes that my husband and I like — the woodwork and the craftsmanship,” Mischael said. “Our house has crown molding and chair rails and built-in cabinets that are really quite charming,” she continued.
When looking for an older home in New York, she discovered that some of those homes had “settled,” making it necessary to go in and add support to the foundation, a problem she never had seen here. Older plumbing and electrical systems have been their only issues.
“That’s outweighed, really, by the mature trees. We just love Hills and Dales,” she said.
1821 Federal-style farmhouse
The beautiful Federal-style home of Al and Pat Buck in Plain Township was featured on the logo for the township’s centennial celebration. The original eight-room farmhouse was built in 1821 with an addition in 1850.
Al Buck said they fell in love with the woodwork inside, along with the center hall staircase that climbs three stories.
“The construction is superb; it’s very well-built,” he said.
As part of the upkeep, they have painted the brick a few times in the 35 years they have lived there. From seeing old photos of what was once the McDowell farm, they know the brick always has been painted white.
“We’ve put a lot of work into it. It needed a lot of updating,” he said, explaining that when they got the house, there was “hardly a kitchen.”
Still, they try to be respectful of its vintage quality. For example, when they added cabinetry, they matched the original wainscoting style. And after removing layers of wallpaper, they discovered there was once crown molding there, which they replaced.
They also replaced the windows — but kept the originals.
Outside, the foundation is original and the property has a natural spring that still runs. General maintenance, Al said, is the biggest challenge to having a vintage home. The couple do all the painting and design work themselves.
“We love the house,” Al said. “We keep it the way it was, with a few modern things here and there.”
1927 Mediterranean Tudor
Rob Roland, a local attorney who lives in the Ridgewood neighborhood of Canton, has a contagious enthusiasm for the architectural details of his 1927 Mediterranean Tudor home, the second home he has owned there.
“It’s an interesting, one-of-a-kind house,” he said of the home built by the Max Deuble family, who owned it for 60 years.
The rounded doorways and stucco plaster walls are characteristic of the home’s style, and, he said, every brick is handmade.
As the home’s third owners, he and his wife have worked to return it to its original splendor by replacing modern fixtures and pulling up carpeting that covered hardwood floors.
He loves the 2-inch-thick solid walnut woodwork and the six kinds of doorknobs throughout.
“They’re one-of-a-kind architectural masterpieces,” he said. “That’s why we love these old houses.”
Part of the difficulty of living in a vintage home, Roland explained, is what he calls “a tension” about what you modernize and what you don’t.
For example, he has considered modernizing the downstairs windows to be more efficient; however, that would change their historical significance and the look of the house.
Hanging artwork and photos, something most homeowners take for granted, is another challenge. While most homes have drywall, studs and insulation, “in my house, the brick is the wall,” Roland said with a laugh. That’s considerably harder to drive a nail through.
Maintenance costs are significantly higher with a vintage home as well, along with finding knowledgeable contractors and artisans to work on things such as the authentic bathroom fixtures, lighting and tiles such as those in Roland’s home.
That’s where living in Historic Ridgewood, with a neighborhood association of what he calls “people of like minds” comes in handy.
By that, he means they are all people who appreciate the history, and they network to provide others with qualified contractors to maintain their homes.
“We love it here,” he said of what he called a tight-knit neighborhood where everyone knows their neighbors’ dogs’ names. “It provides a lifestyle you can’t find anyplace else.”’