When it comes to historic homes, the common phrase, “they don’t make them like they used to” often applies in unexpected ways. Take the home of Jeffrey Monteiro and Clayton Dean Smith in Peakville, NY, in the Western Catskills. It is part of a small hamlet surrounded by seven other houses, including what was once a general store/post office, a hotel and bar and a one-room schoolhouse, among others. Eager to make the historic space their own, Jeffrey and Clayton have taken on a number of projects and worked around a few structural challenges in the six years they have lived there.
From discovering wall insulation made of denim jeans paired with 1930s newspaper, to working around the lack of a basement (at the time it was built in 1890 it originally had earthen floors), they are continually striking a balance between modern convenience and historic charm. Perhaps the most surprising experience was a couple of years ago when they were shoring up the stone wall attached to the house. While working on the wall and the slope near it, the stone mason happened upon what was once the burial ground for unwanted household items, including ceramics, utensils, tin toys, intact glass bottles, boots, belts, clothing, tools and other household detritus to the total of 5 tons that had to be carted away. Which explained why that particular slope was pitted and unstable — it wasn’t earth that was under there! It only added to the sense of history that we appreciate about the hamlet. To this day, the occasional cup and saucer emerge from the front lawn.”
Whether it’s gardening, decorating or digging up archaeological curiosities, it is always a work in progress, but the two realize that just being in there is part of the process. There are certainly more projects on the horizon, such as solving the awkward layout of a bathroom that adjoins the master bedroom with the guest room (privacy please!), but they are content with the tranquility and connection to nature that the space affords them. When they aren’t busy working around the house, Jeffrey, who has a background in design and fashion, runs J.M. Generals, an online store showcasing American Cashmere along with an array of American-made lifestyle and body care products. Clayton is an actor working in film, television and theater, currently finishing Off Track Betty, a film he wrote and directed to be released later this year. —Shannon