How I Built This
Writer Lisa Przystup and her musician husband Jonathon Linaberry always turned to Upstate New York when they wanted to escape the city, so it was only natural they’d eventually catch the real estate bug and start searching for a nook to call their own. But after looking at more than 18 lackluster homes within Lisa’s budgeted two-hour radius from the city, the couple decided to expand their search towards Bovina, Delhi, and Andes—a trio of pastoral towns three hours north of New York. It was in Delhi that they found a handful of houses which all passed muster. One in particular—a cute house on a hill—called their name.
What were you looking for in an Upstate home? Did you know much about renovating before you started? We had a very clear vision of what we were looking for—our tastes definitely skewed towards old farmhouses, but we were on a tight budget and those types of homes didn’t exist within our monetary constraints. We looked at fixer-uppers but we ultimately decided against buying a gut renovation-type home because we just don’t have the time. Jonathon is a musician so he’s often on the road and I work a full-time desk job—we didn’t want to find ourselves in a situation where we didn’t have a home for two years. Even with the minimal work this house needed, it feels like it has taken a long time to get simple things done. We didn’t know anything about renovating before we dove into things but I’ve always been an interior design junkie and it felt like all the magazines I had hoarded and the hundreds of screenshots I had taken over the years finally had a purpose.
How did you know this house was “the one”? When we first saw the house, we weren’t head-over-heels. We didn’t have a “this is the one!!!” moment, but we knew we liked it and saw how we could make it ours. And we were lucky—we didn’t have to use much of our imagination when it came to spotting the home’s potential because it was already quite lovely. You could tell that so much love had gone into it already. It definitely wasn’t a gut-reno type of situation. Most of the changes have been stylistic tweaks and a lot of painting—we whitewashed the shit out of it. At this point we’ve painted about 70 percent of all surfaces (floors, walls, trim, wainscoting) in the house and Jonathon put up a tongue-and-groove ceiling in the kitchen, which is beautiful.
How long did it take to finish? What were the biggest surprises? It’s still happening...it will probably still be happening five years from now. Probably 10 years from now. It’s impossible to convey just how many little projects end up popping up and also how your priorities and tastes shift. On the list for this year so far: renovating the downstairs bathroom (taking out the tile floor, putting up shiplap), knocking out a big old wall—it’s of the load-bearing variety so we’ll be bringing a contractor in for that, and lime-washing a wall or two.
Between the two of us and YouTube (Jonathon is incredibly handy and determined—he went to art school and knows his way around a wood shop), we’ve managed to figure a lot out on our own. But about six months into home-ownership we discovered (despite an inspection) that the porch was crooked—the posts were basically being supported by stacks of stones. Both the retaining wall and porch were professional jobs. We’re into doing as much of the work as we can ourselves, but sometimes you need to put your pride aside and hire someone who knows what they’re doing. There were permits and red tape that both those projects required and we just didn’t have the bandwidth. The only wall we’ve knocked down at this point was a small little wall that was created by drywall surrounding the chimney. We also had a retaining wall put in in the the backyard to help redirect water from the unfinished basement (dirt floor, exposed stone foundation, lots of spiderwebs). The house is situated at the base of a hill so every time it rains or when the snow melts the back wall of the basement would weep with water and the floors would be wet.
Advice to others looking to create their dream Upstate home? Get a good home inspector—one that will double, triple check everything. We would have saved a whole bunch of money on replacing the porch if our inspector had actually gone back to inspect the exterior of the house like he said he was going too. I’d also say YouTube is your friend and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Sometimes paying a professional to come in is worth it because in the time you might take to figure out how to do something, then spend time doing it, then fuck it up, then try again, then get it to a point where a professional now has to come in to fix what you tried to do, you’ll be out time and then also double the money when you could have just gone with someone who knew what they were doing from the get go. Also: patience. We’re two people who know exactly how we want things to be done, and we want them to be done now. But it’s important to be kind to yourself and realistic with your expectations. Things move way more slowly Upstate than in the city, so whatever amount of time you think a project is going to need, double it.
At what point did you start thinking about decor? Did you fill the rooms as you went, or did you have a clear idea of the aesthetic you wanted going into it? I started thinking about decor when we made an offer on the house—even though I knew we shouldn’t get attached, my imagination threw caution to the wind and started putting furniture in rooms. We both knew we wanted to keep it minimal and the fact that we had only a handful of pieces when we moved in pretty much guaranteed that we’d have that aesthetic whether we wanted it or not. I knew I wanted to paint the floors white—I had been dreaming of that for years already but as a renter, I’d never had been able to do it. I was over the moon to finally be able to have my hugely impractical but stupidly beautiful white floors. They made it feel easy to fill the space. There’s something about white walls and floors that make almost anything you put into the house look purposeful and striking—they really put the pieces you have center stage, even if it’s a junky thrift store find they suddenly look like magic.
That being said, it is pretty overwhelming to go from a small railroad apartment to a three-bedroom house with an attic and living room and kitchen and dining room. In our Brooklyn apartment, the spatial limitations dictate where pieces end up. The dresser/bed/kitchen table lives against that wall because that’s the only place it fits. It was tough to know where to begin with the house—the feeling was akin to staring at a blank piece of paper. The trick is to just start. Put something in a room and work around it, knowing that you will probably end up rearranging your home multiple times and that’s okay. The longer you’re in a house the more you’ll realize what it needs, and what does and doesn’t work for the space.
Did you have a renovation budget? Did you stick to it? We didn’t really have a budget per-say because we really didn’t have that much money in the bank to warrant one. It wasn’t like we dropped one lump sum on the renovation, it happened (and is still happening) slowly. Paint is cheap. So we had that going for us. You can change a lot about a house with a fresh coat of paint. If you feel capable of doing things on your own, do it. There’s no need to hire a painter. If you do hire a contractor find out what you can do to shave off some of the cost (doing the demo work yourself will often take a chunk off the final bill). If you pitch in labor-wise, that helps too. Jonathon prepped all the boards for our porch to help mitigate the cost of that project. We also thrifted. I’m always on the lookout for pieces in unexpected places, on Craigslist and in yard sales. There are a lot of amazing antique stores in Hudson but there’s no way I can afford anything in them. One of our favorite pieces is my husband’s childhood bedframe. It had been living above his uncle’s garage for years until we snatched it up. It’s a beautiful spool frame, and the fact that it has sentimental value is just the icing on the cake.
How much did the “Upstate” aesthetic influence your home’s final look? We’re both really drawn to the sparse simplicity and dusty, earthy colors of the desert so that sort of ended up informing our palette. Our taste skews towards antique and vintage pieces so I guess in that sense that feels a little “Upstate.” I think we’ve always gravitated towards that vibe, even before we bought the house, so it was really more of a case of synchronicity. Lately I’ve been really digging juxtaposing modern pieces against a more rustic look. The Stonehouse is wonderful little nook of a store on Main Street in Delhi that has beautiful things from around the world (moroccan rugs! textiles!). Something a little quirky helps offset some of that heaviness.
What is your favorite part of the house now? The kitchen. I just found a lamp to put on a little cabinet that we just got, and it adds so much warmth. Lighting is everything to me. If a room has terrible lighting it makes me crazy. I cycle through different light bulbs on a quest to find the perfect one—not too warm but not too cold. I’m like the Goldilocks of illumination. I love Vintage Wire and Supply, where you can buy lighting parts piecemeal and build your own light (you have to be somewhat handy but it’s not rocket science).
Lisa Przystup + Jonathon Linaberry’s Delhi Hideaway
Photos Courtesy of Lisa Przystup