Name: Lorraine Boutyette Nipps
Who else lives here: Teddy, the Tibetan Temple Dog
Location: Washington County, New York
Size: Approx. 2,000 sq/ft
Years lived in: 25, owned
Nearly three centuries ago, a group of Quaker settlers and a local Indian tribe met peacefully in an upstate New York farmhouse. Legend has it that the natives stuck a white feather over the house's door, a gesture which let the other members of their tribe know that friends dwelled within.
Over time, the 18th century white clapboard home underwent various incarnations. Once owned by a dungaree-clad corn farmer, then an art-collecting jazz label executive, the tranquil country abode became known as "The Wretched Chateau" after Lorraine Nipps and her late husband John bought it in 1985. Comprised of two houses joined together, one dating from 1736, the other from 1820, the residence was in a sad state of repair. Two contractors recommended they tear it down, but the third declared "I've seen worse," and "he buttoned it up."
A stroll across the original, wide plank wooden floors reveals glimpses of tawny spring fields through the wavy glass of colonial windows. In welcoming rooms, sparsely furnished like a Swedish country hideaway, natural light falls upon hand stitched quilts and old farm tables made of reclaimed wood. Everything in this beloved house once belonged to an earlier era. But now these treasured furnishings, rescued from the sidewalks of New York City, picked up from among another man's trash at a tag sale, or discovered at the local thrift shop, come together to create a graceful interior that enhances the historic character of one of America's oldest homesteads.
My/Our style: Swedish, pre-American Revolution.
Inspiration: Houses in Denmark and Sweden. Carl Larsson. I like to shop at resale shops and yard sales. I can scan a yard sale really fast and see what belongs in this house.
Favorite Element: My new deck off the kitchen. A friend put it up, he's an artist and a carpenter. He elongated the existing deck so it wraps around to the kitchen and he put a sliding glass door in that he found at the salvage yard. I love sitting in the kitchen and looking out the new doors and wide windows. I can see Saratoga and the canons across the river.
There's a cemetery in the back that has a plaque that says "Horseman, pass by." That's a quote from Yeats that references the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Bible. I plan to stay here until they drag me out. I adore being home alone. I'm not closer to anyone in the world as I am to me.
Biggest Challenge: Taking the house apart and putting it back together without changing the real character of it.
What Friends Say: "It's so peaceful here."
Biggest Embarrassment: The historical society came up and said don't change anything. And I said OK.
Proudest DIY: I tore down a wall around the fireplace so you can see straight through. The original side oven dome was under there. Almost everything I've taken down I've kept and used some other way. The headboard for the bed upstairs is the old mantle. The molding around the bathroom door is all part of an old china cabinet that fell apart. No matter what I've done to the house it always looks good. I think it has a spirit all its own. It's all movable jigsaw pieces. It's like having your own little kingdom - what I've always wanted.
Biggest Indulgence: Blankets. I'm going to try to restrain myself and get some duvets instead. I'm having such a good time in my bed. I sleep a lot, but I'm entitled to. I have about three feather beds and three down blankets on my bed and I keep re-arranging them all night, making caves and valleys.
Best Advice: If you really like it, get it, because the rest of your life you will remember that you didn't get it. I didn't get a copper bathtub once that I saw at an auction in Westchester, I'm still thinking about it 30 years later.
Green Elements/Initiatives: My friend Hugh made me a clothesline for my birthday present. He attached two metal flag pole holders to the side of the deck. They hold a pair of two-by-fours, which are strung with three lengths of rope.
Dozens of salvaged decor items: A pair of library ladders from a local hospital that got torn down; the deck table is made of a porcelain sink pedestal and a stone mill wheel.
Future Goals: I've taken some clippings from lilac bushes and planted them along the road - about two dozen. You just stick them in the ground and they grow. When they're in bloom it's really great. They started last year. In a few years they should be really full.
Furniture: The couch is a very old French provincial piece i found at a local moving sale. Most pieces come from yard sales. A lot of towns around here hold big community yard sales in the summer.
Accessories: A lot of things were here when I bought the house, like a photograph of the guy that lived here in the early 1900s. He's standing in front of a corn field and the corn rises way above his head. A music stand I found at a yard sale. A coat rack I made from a big bunch of antlers I got from a game warden I knew. I went to his yard sale and found a huge box of antlers. I had somebody mount them on a piece of wood. I have a papier mache dog I'm very fond of. It's from an old window display place. They were getting rid of props. When he was in better shape I used to take him to restaurants, just to hear the owner say "oh, no."
Lighting: 1920s frosted glass light fixtures hang over the kitchen counters. Lots of antique oil lamps.
Beds: Constructed from salvaged wood like old mantles and moldings.
Artwork: There was an artist who lived here that left a lot of pieces. One is called "Duck a l'Orange." He owned an early jazz record company and used to have the Duke Ellington band up frequently. A poster from a museum in Honduras of Mayan art. A collection of primitive paintings found at yard sales. A series of vintage bathroom illustrations made by the Kohler company that I have hanging in the bathroom.
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(Images: Celeste Sunderland)