NY House Tour: Anna's Old-and-New Newburgh Victorian

NY House Tour: Anna's Old-and-New Newburgh Victorian

Feb 20, 2008

Name: Anna

Location: Newburgh, NY

Size: 2000 sq. ft. (brick row house, built in the 1880's)

Years lived in: 2

Anna of Door Sixteen has agreed to open her home to us, 'before' photos and all.

Anna says, My husband Evan and I moved to the City of Newburgh about two years ago. Newburgh is about 60 miles north of Manhattan, on the west bank of the Hudson River. We had previously spent a year renting a house across the river in far trendier (and pricier) Beacon, and before that, we were in (even pricer still) Brooklyn. Initially our plan was to buy a house in Beacon, but finances and a desire to live in a more urban, architecturally-stimulating setting drove us to Newburgh. I work as a book cover designer, so I need to be able to commute to Manhattan on a daily basis. Evan also commutes -- we take a ferry across the river every morning to Beacon, and then take the Metro North train to Grand Central. It's the most relaxing commute I've ever had!

It's really only a matter of time before other New Yorkers who have been priced out of buying in the city find out about Newburgh and make the trip up the river, but for now Newburgh remains a bit of an undiscovered gem. Housing here is comparatively inexpensive, and we have one of the largest historical districts in New York State. Yes, Newburgh has its share of problems, and it was definitely an adjustment (particularly when it came to realizing how much we missed Brooklyn's cuisine options!), but we love it here. Our house has become a member of our family, and our friends and neighbors up here are wonderful.

My/Our style: Scandinavian modern; mid-century modern; mix of old and new

The inspiration for my home: I'm endlessly inspired by the house itself. It's 120 years old and still standing strong despite periods of neglect, so I figure it must know something about good living! Despite being a modernist at heart, I try to respect the Victorian bones of the house as much as possible while still staying true to my own style. I enjoy the limitations the architecture of the house imposes, and it's fun to see the contrasts between really old, sort of old, and brand new all over the place. The British magazine Living Etc is filled with examples of Victorian row houses occupied by modernists, and I get excited whenever there's a new issue.

Favorite element: Of the things that I brought into the house, I'm going to give a potentially unpopular response here and say the white walls. It took me a long time to pick the right shade of white, and ultimately the choice (BM Moonlight White) was the one that most closely resembled the color of our freshly replastered walls. Going all-white was not a default, it was a conscious decision. The color changes with the sun throughout the day, and it manages to complement any other color I bring into the house -- including other whites. The house was painted various shades of yellow, mauve, brown, forest green, and turquoise when we bought it. I think it's breathing a sigh of relief now! I also have no shame over having painted woodwork. It's funny how painted mouldings are the norm in Europe, but in the US it's almost considered a mortal sin to paint wood.

Biggest challenge in designing my home: Architecturally, the biggest challenge has been dealing with having a fireplace in nearly every room, as well as having numerous doorways, windows, and thick mouldings throughout the house. There are very few expanses of uninterrupted wall space, so furniture placement can be tricky. Practically speaking, our budget (small) and time constraints (large) have been extremely challenging. We constantly have to prioritize (and re-prioritize!) and are always struggling to not feel overwhelmed by the huge list of things remaining to be worked on in the house.

What friends say about my home: Having moved to Newburgh from Brooklyn, I think most of my friends are just shocked to see me living in a HOUSE (!)...with a view of the Hudson River, no less. Real estate in Newburgh is very inexpensive, despite it being an urban city within commuting distance of Manhattan. Beyond that, I'm pretty sure my friends feel comfortable in my home. I never want anyone to feel like they can't touch anything in the house, so hopefully the general vibe is casual and calm.

Biggest embarrassment in my home: We have two bathrooms in the house, and one of them is completely gutted right now while it goes through a total renovation. That room doesn't embarrass me because it's at least in progress, but the OTHER bathroom does. It's an add-on bathroom that was poorly "renovated" by an unskilled DIYer about 10 years ago, and it's hideous. It's also the only working bathroom in the house, and I always feel slightly ashamed when a guest uses it. We'll redo it once the other bathroom is completed, but for now it is really an eyesore.

Proudest DIY: We bought our house as a fixer-upper, so just about everything in it has been touched by the hand of DIY! The kitchen was a pretty big deal for us. When we bought the house, the kitchen looked like part of an abandoned bus depot. Everything in it was rotting and decaying and totally unsafe. We managed to renovate it top to bottom without destroying any of the original aspects of the house and with a very tiny budget. It's now one of my favorite parts of the house. It's functional, bright, and totally unpretentious.

Biggest indulgence with respect to my home: At 2000 square feet, I think the house itself is a pretty big indulgence -- not in terms of the cost of the house, but in the amount of space that is allotted to two people and their 10-pound dog. I know that the trend of oversized American living still defines my house as "small", but to me, it feels enormous. It's incredible to me that there is still another entire room at the back of the house that's unused (we haven't renovated it yet -- it's all peeling paint and doesn't have heat). I grew up in a small house, and then had a series of small Brooklyn apartments. 2000 square feet is a mansion to me!

Best advice given or received: I disagree with the "resale value" approach to home renovation. Buying a house was a incredibly emotional process, and the relationship I've formed with my house over the past two years is intense. I would never choose a certain countertop material or make a structural change based on a fleeting perception of the monetary value it might add to the house. The worth of your property is less important than how you actually feel in your home, and I will not allow my surroundings be defined by the impression they may someday make on my house's eventual next occupant. This is also part of the reason why I could never see myself buying a house that had already been renovated to someone else's taste. I wanted a fixer-upper! Seeing something you dislike occupying your personal space on a daily basis is not healthy.

Also, don't be afraid of IKEA. Apply the same standards to their furnishings as you would to anyone else's, and you'll be fine. A $300 dining table from IKEA is no less worthy than a $3000 Eames storage unit, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with putting them in the same room together! If it's well-designed and well-built, go for it. Don't worry about the label.

Dream source for stuff: I'm always looking for a great score, whether it's on the street or at an antique store or at the DWR outlet. My "dreams sources" have nothing to do with money, really, it's more about finding the right thing at the right time. I suppose my biggest home-related fantasy involves finding a carpenter who will properly repair all of our windows (they are original to the house, and we do not want to replace them) at a reasonable price, and throw in a new front porch and a beautifully landscaped garden at the same time. Oh, and repoint our bricks and line the chimney. And then tell us he has a perfectly-worn Eames lounge chair in his basement that's just taking up space, and would we mind taking it off his hands? Yeah, that guy. He's my dream source!


- refrigerator: LG
- range: Siemens/Bosch

- kitchen faucet: IKEA
- all other hardware is original to the house

front hallway:
- vintage Florence Knoll credenza (with new marble slab top)
- vintage Eames chair

living room:
- Parcel sofa from DWR
- vintage Danish armchairs and coffee table
- vintage Arthur Umanoff bar cart
- Thomas O'Brien TV cabinet
- vintage Arne Jacobsen stool
- homemade side table (made from a scavenged teak tray and an iron-leg stool)

dining room:
- dining table from IKEA
- dressers (used as sideboards) from IKEA
- Eames storage unit
- vintage Eames chairs
- Elfa shelving on wall

- cabinets and shelving from IKEA

- bed, shelves, and trunk from IKEA
- vintage Eames chair

- vintage desk top with IKEA legs
- IKEA metal cabinet
- vintage Eames chairs
- IKEA shelving

dressing room:
- vintage Heywood-Wakefield dresser
- IKEA wardrobes
- vintage Eames chair

- coat rack: Eames Hang-It-All
- wall calendar: Stendig by Massimo Vignelli
- orange house numbers: Erik Spiekermann for DWR
- small pillows on chairs: Ray Eames fabric by Maharam
- large pillow on sofa: Anthropologie
- big square pillows on bed: IKEA
- sheepskin throws: IKEA
- wallpaper in vestibule: Orla Kiely
- most other "accessories" are vintage Dansk, street finds, or from IKEA

front hallway:
- ceiling light from IKEA

living room:
- floor lamp from West Elm
- vintage teak table lamp (with shade from IKEA)

dining room:
- ceiling light by Mibo
- glass globe from IKEA

- ceiling light from CB2
- vintage anglepoise floor lamp

dressing room:
- ceiling light from IKEA

- trim throughout: BM Simply White
- walls throughout (except kitchen): BM Moonlight White
- kitchen walls: BM Sea Foam
- pocket doors, stairs, fireplace inserts: BM Toucan Black

- kitchen floor is Armstrong VCT in Classic Black
- all wood flooring is original to the house

Rugs and Carpets:
- living room and hallway rugs are from IKEA

Tiles and Stone:
- all tile and stone is original to the house

Window Treatments:
- various homemade linen sheers, nothing fancy!

- IKEA frame and mattress
- duvet cover by Dwell Studio

There's a LOT of artwork in the house, and much of it is not shown in these photos. I come from a multi-generational family of artists and designers -- I try to rotate what's on display to keep it from becoming the Dorfman museum of art.

front hallway:
- posters by Elisabeth Dunker (left) and Robert Dorfman (my grandfather)

living room:
- monoprint over fireplace by Joan Busing (my aunt)
- bird illustration by Matte Stephens

dining room:
- drawings under bookshelves by Yellena
- Smiths poster over fireplace (I refuse to call anything I bought when it was new "vintage"!)
- print above rocker by J. Otto Siebold

- Marimekko print over hearth (actually a tea towel)
- small Gocco print in corner by Yellena

upstairs hallway:
- painting by Kristina Norgaard (my mother)

- small drawing by Yellena
- print over fireplace by Alexander Girard

- "Swamp Thing" illustration by Jock
- collage over fireplace by Bruce Dorfman (my father)

Bruno, my dog, is a 5-year-old bundle of love and fluff and general wonderfulness. He's a long-haired Chihuahua and Bichon Frise mix.

Do you have an idea for a house tour? Let me know! jill@apartmenttherapy.com
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