Like so many renovation projects, the transformation of Keren and Thomas Richter’s 1850s farmhouse in Pound Ridge, N.Y., involved no shortage of surprises.
When the couple, partners in an interior design firm called White Arrow, found a rundown house in late 2017, they assumed they could refresh it with a cosmetic renovation, and that it would serve as a bucolic weekend escape from their primary home in Brooklyn. Both of those assumptions turned out to be wrong.
“We would often come up to northern Westchester on the weekends and drive around, and we were always so charmed by how it felt like you’re in the country, even though you’re really only an hour away from the city,” said Ms. Richter, 40, who appreciated the fieldstone walls, old homes and generous lots.
After the couple decided to act on their dream of owning a home in the area, they quickly found their house: a structure of peeling clapboard, with three sections built over the course of a century, on five green acres. The house had charm, but needed work. It appeared to have been last updated in the 1950s, with worn linoleum and Formica. Unruly shrubs had taken over outside.
“It was in estate condition,” Ms. Richter said. “Since we do interiors, we thought it would be a great opportunity for us to restore something and give it our own touch.”
Such a time-consuming project isn’t for everyone, so they weren’t anticipating the bidding war that followed. “There were developers interested in it because they could demo it and create two homes on the lot,” Ms. Richter said. The asking price was $650,000, but the Richters ultimately paid $818,000; they suspect that a letter they wrote to the seller, explaining how they planned to restore the house, helped secure the purchase.
As they began examining the house more closely, however, their initial excitement gave way to concern. They knew they wanted to raise the ceilings in some upstairs sections that were so low that Mr. Richter, who is 6-foot-3, could barely stand up. But they hadn’t counted on replacing the foundation under the portion of the house built in the 1950s.
“It wasn’t really built on a proper foundation,” said Mr. Richter, 39. “We hired a structural engineer to look into it, and he said we had to redo the foundation under that part because it was basically sinking.”
They also discovered that all of the electrical wiring and plumbing had to be replaced. Then the septic system failed. Before long, it was clear that the project would involve far more than a cosmetic refresh: It would be a down-to-the-framing and dig-up-the-earth rebuild.
With the Brooklyn-based firm INCA as their architect of record and Robert Lord Construction, the Richters mapped out their renovation plans for a year before beginning construction in December 2018. When the weather was warm, they sometimes camped out there.
“We got a Porta Potty, and our friends came up,” Mr. Richter said. “We had a firepit and tents and camped on the land, because the house was a shell.”
To restore the exterior, they found photos of the house from the early 1900s and aimed to recreate what was there more than a hundred years earlier, including a front porch that had been removed.
Inside, they hoped to create rooms that recalled not only early American homes but also English country houses. “In the beginning, we were sort of joking that we wanted it to feel like a Cotswolds country home, even though we’re in northern Westchester,” Ms. Richter said. “But I do think, in some respects, that is the vibe.”
It helped that a secondhand, British-made AGA range became the centerpiece of their kitchen after they found someone in Montana selling one on Craigslist. “Thomas flew out there and drove it back in a U-Haul,” Ms. Richter said.
“It was the best trip of my life,” added Mr. Richter, who grew up in Germany and had never experienced an American cross-country road trip. “This trip was so epic, and I took a lot of detours.”
Now the range is the prized feature in an expanded kitchen with Shaker-inspired cabinets, beadboard paneling and a custom worktable, all painted a deep teal.
Upstairs, they designed a new primary suite, including a bathroom equipped with a free-standing cast-iron bathtub and a shower under the newly raised ceiling. In the attic, they created a home office for their design studio.
The four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot house also has a sunny playroom, which was of prime importance. The Richters have two daughters, Mira, 4, and Laila, born this past February.
That’s part of the reason the couple decided to leave Brooklyn and make Pound Ridge their primary home. They never did get to use the house as a weekend escape: It was completed, at a cost of about $340,000, just after the pandemic struck last March, at which point they moved in.
Now, with a growing family, they have found that their five acres of field and forest are too irresistible to leave. “It’s much more of a nature-oriented experience than we had before, and it’s just really great for kids,” Ms. Richter said.
And with social distancing rules being relaxed, she added, “we do anticipate our friends from Brooklyn will be here a lot.”
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