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October 24, 2016
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Something old, something new; A country house lovingly restored

Cheryl Greemberg's house in Hortonville, NY was recently restored into a lovely country house.
TRR photo by Isabel Braverman

There’s a reason that people are obsessed with home makeover shows. There’s nothing like a good transformation story and the big reveal. We constantly tune in to “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Trading Spaces” to watch cringe-worthy spaces become homes you want to live in, all led by the skilled and snarky renovators who have become household names (Ty Pennignton, Genevieve Gorder). Not to be outdone by celebrity makeover artists, Ramona Jan of Country Home Restoration (Abrahamsville, PA) has recently completed a project to restore an 1800s farmhouse in Hortonville, NY, owned by Westchester resident Cheryl Greenberg.

Jan orchestrated the makeover and restoration of Greenberg’s house. (She doesn’t like to use the word “renovate”). The restoration was a dramatic change. Jan said, “Everything from the landscaping down to finishing off the basement [was restored], so that it looks and feels like it did when it was first built.” Jan and Greenberg wanted to keep the historic qualities of the house, so the resulting finished product is a mix of the old and new.

The restoration included starting from scratch in the kitchen. “We completely tore out the kitchen, because the kitchen looked like it had been redone many times, and the last time it was done was probably the ‘70s,” said Jan.

There were about four layers of wallpaper on every wall and ceiling of the house, so Jan and her team took all the wallpaper down and exposed and repaired the plaster, rather than get rid of it, which is what a lot of people do. They gutted out two bathrooms, made archways where there used to be doors, and built a shower where there used to be a closet. These were the large transformations. The house is filled with many special touches of restoration: for instance, repurposing barn wood to create a closet for the washer and dryer. During the restoration, when they knocked down walls, they discovered hidden treasures—like the sliding wooden doors that separate the dining room and living room and the kitchen cabinet glass front doors. I said to Greenberg that it must have been like opening a present, and she smiled in agreement.

The house isn’t the only structure to get a makeover on Greenberg’s property. In the expansive yard sits an old chicken coop. While no work has begun yet, it will be transformed into a guest house where Greenberg hopes her children and grandchildren can play and hang out. Greenberg is especially fond of the wrap-around porch, and once you see it you would be, too. The large porch is painted white, as is the rest of the house, and the floor is a light gray. There are two sets of stone steps each leading to a separate entrance, and white wooden chairs and an old wood and linoleum table provide places to lounge and look at the view of the creek right across the road.

Besides the dynamic duo of Jan and Greenberg, there was also a team of local workers who helped with the project. The carpenters were Teb Fink and his crew of fourth-generation carpenters. Russel Lyons did exterior painting, and Andee Kraft worked on various parts of the job, including wallpaper removal. Jan said she handles pretty much every aspect of the job. “I pitch in wherever I can; whatever my height and age allows,” she laughs.

I asked Jan how she got into the home restoration business. “I grew up in a family of builders, half Italian, and never thought I would be in the trade,” she said. “I lived in an apartment most of my life, so when I got my home, it needed work, and I dedicated myself to restoring my 1915-era house, and then pretty soon people noticed and asked me.”

Jan has worked on many houses around the area. However, she said she doesn’t take on every project. “I take projects with people who are interested in restoring their homes with a modern twist.” She and Greenberg worked very well together.

“Ramona was fabulous to work with—a great partner who shared my vision of the house—making sure that historic elements were preserved and creatively incorporating the new with the old,” said Greenberg.

“What I like to do is work closely with the client,” said Jan, “to try to, first of all, save them money; I’m very scrappy. I like to work with what they already own and not have them buy so many new things. I will try to up-cycle as much as I can. If they don’t have it, I try to find it somewhere.”

Much of the furniture in the house has been re-purposed or bought from an antique shop. Other spaces, like the kitchen, are new and modern. And the living room uses furniture from Greenberg’s Westchester home.

“It has been a wonderful process and my family and friends are thrilled to begin a new era of traditions and celebrations, but most of all looking forward to quiet times together on the porch,” said Greenberg.

Jan said she doesn’t usually have a vision for a house. Her first aim is to open and brighten up a space, and then to look at it as a blank canvas and discover the taste of the customer. Later, there will be a drawing, but Jan said she doesn’t like to make the drawings set in stone, because once you have a feeling of what’s in the space, there are always changes to make along the way. “It’s really an improvisational creation,” she said. “It’s like jazz music. Since I used to be a musician, I can swing with that; no pun intended.”