Interiorssneak peeks

A Bewitching Old Stone House in The Hudson Valley

by Maxwell Tielman


My neighbor John McKinney is an optometrist with a serious eye for design (pun absolutely, shamelessly intended). Although his days are filled with eye charts, optical exams, and glasses fittings, his evenings and weekends are packed with trips to local auctions, estate sales, and flea markets—all part of his tireless and passion-driven journey to renovate and furnish his 1723 house in the heart of uptown Kingston, New York. John’s home, an absolutely stunning stone construction, is a a gem amongst gems—one of the neighborhood’s oldest and longest-standing structures, dating back to Kingston’s pre-Revolution days when it originally functioned as the town’s Elmendorf Tavern. It has survived not just the Revolutionary War and the infamous 1777 burning of Kingston, but centuries of change. Nineteenth century Italianate and Victorian homes have sprung up around it, but this quaint colonial construction has remained one of the area’s most beautiful homes.

Throughout my first months as a Kingston resident, I had always admired John’s home when walking past it on trips to the city’s center, but I was absolutely floored when I was first welcomed inside for afternoon cocktails. After purchasing the home from a former medical practice five years ago, John has been painstakingly renovating it to its former glory—right down to period-appropriate antique furnishings and woodwork. John’s loving commitment to his home is clear in every detail—and the story of how he purchased the home and ultimately furnished it in its colonial and colonial revival style is downright fascinating. John’s previous home—a split-level ranch filled exclusively with midcentury modern furnishings—was a far cry from the pre-Revolution styles he currently surrounds himself with. When he put his former home on the market five years ago, though, the purchaser chose to buy with one proviso: that the home come with all of its furnishings. Despite having obsessively culled all of the home’s authentic Modernist pieces over the years, John split with them willfully and amicably, relishing the opportunity to start fresh. Although John seems to have broken up with his midcentury obsession when he broke up with his former home, the colonial style, with its hallmark simplicity, has proven to be an unexpected complement to his eye for the clean, modern line. “As long as you keep it simple,” he notes, “it’s all ‘modern’ for that time period. If you pick the right pieces from each time period, you can see the clean lines in it.” John’s house might have a 1723 date on it, but its classic styling and timeless beauty makes it right at home in the twenty-first century. —Max

Check out all of the photos and design notes after the jump!

Above image: The upstairs hallway. Original wide board floors. In the corner are a 18th Century Hudson Valley Chippendale chair alongside Tiger Maple Pembrook Table. Paintings, both mid-19th Century, purchased from Ebay. Drapes by Tim Lester Designs.


Above image: The house’s front facade. Built in 1723, originally the Elmendorf Tavern.



Above image: A view into the living room from the dining room. To the right is an 1820s cupboard with original blue paint. On top is a small collection of miscellaneous earthenware. The walls are bare, unfinished horse hair plaster (ca. 1790), a look that is carried out throughout a number of the home’s other rooms.


Above image: Once the original tavern room, the front room now functions as John’s main living room. The room is filled with an assortment of vintage and antique furniture, culled from auctions, estate sales, and tag sales. Walls painted in Benjamin Moore’s Linen.


Above image: A Hudson Valley banister-back chair and a Pennsylvania tavern table sit along the living room’s front wall. Atop the table are a set of early 20th Century steer horns mounted on tramp art bases. Wainscoting is painted in Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter.


Above image: A portrait of a horse by G. Fowler, a nineteenth century animal portrait painter, 1882.


Above image: A Colonial Revival Towle chandelier, ca. 1930.


Above image: A lantern originally used on the interior of a train’s caboose.


Above image: An engraving of Kingston, New York, ca. 1770.


Above image: Metal bird’s feet, purchased at a local jewelry store.


Above image: A colonial Connecticut armchair against the dining room’s northern wall.


Above image: The dining room’s eastern wall.


Above image: The dining room fireplace. A Hudson Valley School painting sits atop the mantle. Deer skull purchased at a flea market in Dallas.


Above image: An 18th Century Dutch Kas, originally crafted in Kingston, NY.


Above image: The view into the dining room from the kitchen. Honed marble countertop. Kitchen appliances like the refrigerator and a Kitchenaid two-door dish washer are hidden beneath custom-crafted cabinet fronts.


Above image: A Shaw Original farmhouse sink. A shelf above the countertop holds various antique items.


Above image: Standard Edison bulbs hang bare above the countertop.


Above image: Cabinets on the Kitchen’s southern wall. On the lower right are two early Abercrombie & Fitch sandwich tins. All white dinnerware from Fishs Eddy.


Above image: White dinnerware from Fishs Eddy fills a cabinet along the kitchen’s southern wall. An antique sausage stuffer, colander, and cherry pitter sit on the bottom shelf.


Above image: The kitchen’s western wall. To the left hangs a student’s personal school chalkboard.


Above image: The hallway adjoining the living room and the kitchen.


Above image: The downstairs bathroom. Cabinets are filled with various medical accouterments, many of which came with the house (the previous owner was a gynecologist practice!).


Above image: A 1920s skeletal chart sits atop the houses’ original toilet.


Above image: The main entryway. A Hudson Valley Chippendale chair sits alongside a primitive wall cupboard. An original Kingston crock from the mid-19th century sits atop the cupboard. Painting purchased on Ebay.


Above image: The front stairs. Stair woodwork painted in Old Village’s 1709 Antique Yellow. Stair treds painted in Benjamin Moore’s Mink.


Above image: The upstairs hallway. A cabinet along the southern wall holds John’s collection of pewter objects.


Above image: A collection of books and a painting (another Ebay purchase) in the bedroom’s anteroom.


Above image: The bedroom. A cannonball rope bed, ca. 1830, rebuilt to hold a queen-size mattress. In an effort to save money, one of the home’s previous owners only refinished the room’s floor along its borders, leaving the interior covered in the original black paint, where a rug would cover it.


Above image: Fireplace painted in Benjamin Moore’s Avon Green.


Above image: The bedroom’s western wall. The mirror was originally the “O” from a Woolworth’s sign. Victorian exercise weights sit on the nightstand. 


Above image: a collection of antique keys.


Above image: An antique document box sits on the bedroom’s northern windowsill.


Above image: The upstairs bathroom. The walls are pine planks, hand-hewn by a local carpenter to match period woodwork. Floors are wide-board planks with the original paint. Western paintings from the late 19th century hang on the wall.


Above image: Sink purchased at the Brimfield Antique Fair.


Above image: Stools made by a local Kingston craftsmen in the 1970s.


Above image: A turkish watering can, a scale weight, and a plumb bob sit on the bathroom’s windowsill. Outside the window is the original Fitch House of the Abercrombie and Fitch company.

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Above image: the garden path along the house’s eastern wall.

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  • Thanks for sharing this, Maxwell! My grandparents (who, now, have both passed on) owned a farmhouse in Rochester that was built in 1815; and seeing the tour of this home took me right back, on my very own trip back into time!

    Particularly, seeing the low ceilings in some of the rooms; and that awesome staircase.

  • I assume the horsehair plaster walls must have been painted or covered at some point. Any tips on how to remove later layers without harming the appearance and patina of the plaster beneath?

  • My hometown! My optometrist! I’ve always loved this house and I’m glad I finally got to see what’s inside.

  • What an absolutely gorgeous home. Packed full of personality and style. I would move here in an instant if I could. Fantastic!

  • @Bradford – I have heard people that have had success with Speedheater. It is an infrared paint remover that doesn’t get as hot as traditional heatguns so there is no lead vapor. That or a product like Citristrip or Soygel that have less toxins. If you end up not liking the look (like too much of the dark green base coat that I have still left behind) you can do a light skim coat of plaster.

    @Maxwell – What is the color of the walls in the hallway connecting the living and kitchen? I recently purchased an old victorian that once had that tan trim. How do you like it? I’m unsure if I match it with a true white or beige walls. This is a very timely post and a great source of fixture and color inspiration. Thanks!

  • Oh my, what a house. The floors, the textures of the walls, the fixtures- nothing feels like a prop. It strikes such a perfect balance between period authentic and livable-looking at the same time. The contemporary objects and furnishings are very well-chosen and don’t overwhelm or contradict the already strong historical character of the space. So incredibly lovely.

  • Wow, this is truly a gorgeous house. The horsehair plaster walls are the best, and the green fireplace! I’m curious to know more details on the human skull in the bathroom, though… seems like more than just any old medical accoutrement!

    • Natalie—the skull was actually purchased from a different medical office’s estate sale. Apparently it was the former doctor’s skull from medical school!

  • Jaw-dropping good. Beautiful, and I loved reading about all of your antiques. I learned so much! Thanks so much for sharing.

  • That is so gorgeous — great match between house and owner. How interesting that he went from mid-century modern to 18th century. Wonderful tour, thanks!

  • Amazing! I love it when the original style of a home is honored. Any era of home can be beautiful so long as it is approached with a thoughtful eye and a genuine interest in the details and aesthetic that made that time special.

  • We go through Kingston every weekend, and we love the historical houses. The owner has such great taste in keeping with the feel of the home plus a little playfulness(:

  • I grew up in Woodstock (very close to Kingston) and always dreamed of owning one of the 18th century houses in the Stockade. This is that dream come to life. Wow. Just wow.

  • @ Chris: thank you! Hard to find a lot of “how to’s” when fixing up old houses. Word of mouth seems to have word best so far.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this house with us. I live in So Cal, where an old house is pre-war.

  • That’s just amazing. Antiques and period-appropriate furnishings without the feeling of living in a museum.

    Also, beautiful and inventive photography to capture the whole thing! Love the light in the pics, the motion blurr in the hall photo and the angle in many of the pics.

    Thank you for this.

  • This is absolutely incredible!!! I wonder how long it took to create that kind of space? It looks like a long life of collecting! Every room is so well thought out,,, perfection!

  • While I never would have thought of doing it myself, I love the look of the floor in the bedroom where previous owners saved money by only refinishing the edges. It’s so real and interesting!

  • Love this house! I really appreciate how the owner kept to the simplicity if the house’s original character. That really makes everything seem more harmonious than when you see homes like this with modern artwork and plush carpets, and to me it is the perfect form of minimalism. Thanks for sharing.

  • Probably one of my favorite Sneak Peaks of all time!!! I love how the owner says that any period can be modern as long as you maintain clean lines in the design. Beautiful, beautiful. I can’t stop reading through for inspiration – thank you for sharing. :)

  • Makes me want to strip all the walls in my 1893 house. Interestingly, people used to paint or finish floors only around the edges. My mom had a 250 year old house with bordered floors in every room.

  • Wow. What a departure from the norm. This is a fascinatingly beautiful home, and it’s portrayed so well. Thanks, Maxwell.

  • This is a very elegant home; comfortable but containing things that have been sensitively chosen for an old house. I loved the quote about loving to live where others had been for 290 years, as I feel the same way about my “new” home built in 1913.

  • Utterly fabulous!!! I love the way it’s updated and thus totally livable, and yet feels old and historied. I also appreciate how much the decor respects the age of the home. Great job!

  • Beautiful home, thank you so much for sharing. Dreadful spelling, sorry to have to point it out.

  • Beautiful house. And so personal as well.
    I grew up with a type of “Kast” like the one in the pictures. It is called a “Kusssenkast” translated: “Pillow-cupboard” if you google it, you will find more examples of similar cupboards. It is called pilow-cupboard because of the bulky things on the doors.
    Kind regards

  • I am in love with the cabinet handles & hinges. If those aren’t original (which they are beautiful and probably are), where might I find them? This is going to be on my mind until I know!

  • so happy to see so many things that came from my antiques shop
    your house looks great John!!!!

  • That home is absolutely amazing! He has done such an incredible job…really owns every inch of it. This has got to be favorite “sneak peek” ever. I am very envious but it is a good envious. My husband & I purchased a 1890 farmhouse about two years ago and have slowly been working on it. I have always loved historic homes & it was a dream of mine to own a old farmhouse. It is always a pleasure to “meet” someone else working hard to preserve history & brings me encouragement as we have a lllloooonnnggg ways to go. Fantastic job!

  • Adorei a casa e toda a decoração,sou restauradora e achei mesmo a distância o trabalho incrível.

  • I just spent the weekend in Hurley (just down the road from Kingston) in a similarly aged stone house so how nice to see another example done so beautifuly. You really do get a feel for all the people who came before in old places like this that have been loved and cared for but not so carefully preserved that you can’t see the passage of time and the marks of habitation.

  • oh wow! i’m a brooklynite now, but grew up in kingston, and my parents still live on fair street. i used to hang is this house when i was a kid, and my dad, a stone mason, actually rebuilt the chimneys! it is SO BEAUTIFUL now. every time i go back upstate i am awed by the renaissance i see happening there. thanks so much for sharing this space!

  • I live a block from this beautiful home, on Fair Street in Kingston. We are so very grateful that the owner of this historic home loves it. We all benefit from his caring.

  • Could you share more about the beautiful stripey blanket/towel/scarves hanging above the stools? I love them!

  • Best house tour ever. Seems like you could spend a lot of time in this house just looking at different treasures. Love it

  • I’m very interested in the paneled ceiling in the living room. Did you put that in, or was it already there? I’m looking for an interesting way to cover asbestos popcorn ceiling.