So, you want a country home. Really? Well, let me tell you a story before you rush out to grab one.
By Chris Cohan
So, you want a country home. Really? Well, let me tell you a story before you rush out to grab one. It all started one day when Jenny, my sister, went for a walk. She came upon the ideal country home. It was just around the corner from the one we already own. We agreed if that house ever went on the market we should consider it. Mind you, our house was fine. Basically, we open it up in spring, enjoy, and then close it down in the fall.
Jenny was right: Lady Tree Lodge, a 1890s lakefront house filled with classic Adirondack detail throughout, is a keeper. New York Gov. Charles Evans Hughes summered at Lady Tree running the state from the front porch. He ran for president against Woodrow Wilson, barely losing. Later, Hughes became one the most distinguished Chief Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The house features four fireplaces, original square and diamond mullion windows, bead board throughout, and deep porches with ornate log screening. Lady Tree Lodge overlooks the widest part of Upper Saranac Lake with distant views of the forever-wild Adirondack Mountains.
Rita, my wife, is an architect who worked for NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. It is the lead agency in charge of protecting NYC’s historically significant buildings. She knows a good building when she sees one. My sister heard the house was for sale in late November and we went the next day. We had a moment without the broker when I asked Rita what she thought.
Rita said, “Buy it.
We did. Then the fun began. We figured it would cost X and take Y time to complete. We are well past Z. Guess our math and timing was off.
Where to start? We decided to tackle the boathouse, a smaller structure. I figured a few floorboards needed replacing and maybe the roof needed a patch. We ripped up and reframed the floor, poured footings, and replaced some siding timbers. Then scrapped, patched, and stained the entire boathouse followed by replaced the electrical wirings. Oh, and that roof patch turned out to be a whole now roof.
The 48 large square & diamond mullion windows was a detail that attracted us to the house. However, repairing them was a complex project. They required scraping and replacing of caulk. Each window is actually a combination of many smaller panes. You must have patience and an exacting personality to spread an even caulk bead around many tiny panes.
I could not resist wandering away from the building and getting lost on the property. I discovered beautiful mountain ash trees, towering white birches, mature pines, fragrant balsam fir, and wildflowers galore. The waterfront had become so overgrown that the lake was barely visible.
“I discovered beautiful mountain ash trees, towering white birches, mature pines, fragrant balsam fir, and wildflowers galore.”
To open up the lake view and preserve privacy we selectively removed trees and branches. We needed to cut down other trees on the property as well. We retained all logs, split them, and now have firewood for this and the next generation to burn.
Back at the house Rita drew up plans for the renovation. This was not easy as we are committed to minimizing any intrusion to the structure. The house had originally been built before central heat and electricity.
There were exposed hot water and radiator copper pipes everywhere, only to be outdone by exposed electrical molding running to outlets located in the most curious spots. Making them disappear was a priority; how to do it was an architectural magic trick. Rita came up with some brilliant ways to hide them.
The walls are framed with wood studs and fire blocking for nailing the tongue-and-groove bead board. This makes for solid walls. It looks great but creates major headaches to snake wires and pipes up walls.
First, Rita decided on a combination of copper and ALPEX for the radiators and hot and cold water lines. ALPEX piping is flexible, sturdy, easy to work with, and bends around corners. Hidden under the first floor is a sea of plastic spaghetti.
We were desperate to install a chandelier in the dining room. The thought of damaging the bead board ceiling for a fixture was too much to consider. Once the second floor bathrooms were gutted we realized we had clear access across to the dining room ceiling. Now all we have to do is decide on a chandelier — world peace may break out before this decision is finalized.
Opening the bathroom walls allowed better connections from first to second floor for heat and hot water lines. Also, access to rooms on the other side of the bathrooms became available for easier installation of electrical lines, switches, outlets, and fixtures.
The kitchen is in the rear of the house, with a separate service hallway leading to the dining room. Times have changed. We decided to relocate the kitchen directly across the hallway from the dining room.
Our family loves to cook and everyone had an opinion on the kitchen design. First, it was clear there would be many cooks in the kitchen at one time. Generous counter space was a must. Also, it was necessary to have room for others to help, comment, or just hang around picking at the food during preparation.
The ceiling will be painted white, which along with natural light will brighten up the deep kitchen. Walls of wood-stained cabinets with mostly open shelves will be installed exposing the bead board walls behind. All countertops and a central island with sink will be stone. There will be stool seating at the island and a breakfast nook set in the boxed window area with a lake view.
We knew that our restoration project would grow; we just didn’t realize it would start Day One. In the end, we had no choice but to confront and deal with the construction conundrums as they came along.
Sure, there were stomach pangs, frayed nerves, and a few headaches along the way. Oh, and yes, the price tag went up. Still we are as excited about the project now as when we started.
Everything that we accomplished makes it ready to last at least another 125 years.