For me real estate isn’t just a job, but a real passion since I’m combining two great loves of my life—real estate and historic properties. I grew up in a real estate family where both my parents were brokers, and lived in an early area of Fredon Township and then moved to a great Queen Anne Victorian in the heart of Newton’s Historic District. I’ve even been collecting antiques since I was a child and my husband, Kirk, and I have a nice collection of early painted primitives that fit nicely into our circa 1753 Stone French Heugenot bankhouse in Fredon—a home that we used to always quietly admire from the street, but never imagined ourselves actually owning.
We began our search for our first historic property that we could restore to period in 1989 when we had our first of five children. It was then that we saw that we were totally on our own in searching for something with any age or character to it. I was just a “kid” in my 20s, but I felt that it was wrong that no one could help me with any experience or knowledge in this area of real estate. It took two restoration projects and much research to get a good working understanding of vintage homes—what to do and what not to do. The first was a 1790 Colonial Saltbox in Stone Church, PA, which needed so much work that we only lived in the first floor for the initial 2 of the 5 years that we were there. When we were done, it was complete down to period gardens and a c.1790 Connecticut barn which we reconstructed on the old empty foundation that had been there, and it was home to our Jacob Sheep which are on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s list of threatened historic breeds.
Next we restored a c.1860 home in Lafayette that actually proved to be a great learning experience since we had to reconstruct a part of the house that needed to be removed, but we used some really nice local antique materials such as early windows and hand-hewn beams to make the open space work very well. Here we also had a wonderful garden, but I experimented with raised beds for added warmth since there was so much shade from the original oak trees.
Our present project, which is definitely our last since we adore the house and the area, is the c.1753 stone house in Fredon. We actually received our Letter of Eligibility from the State Historic Preservation Office about two years ago for the NJ Register of Historic Places. The house qualified under nearly every category and Robert Craig from the NJ SHPO made a field visit since it’s such an exceptional example of early American vernacular architecture. Although it still needs extensive work, both my husband and I have found that the longer you live with an early home, the better you are at discerning what actually needs to be done with it. We could have made some serious errors if we had had enough resources to do the entire project immediately. I’m really happy that didn’t happen, although sometimes we do come to a grinding halt. When that happens, we look at all that we have accomplished so far and are in awe, so I know that someday it will be fabulous, although they are always a work-in-progress. I feel that with architecture like this, the owners are really just stewards of these special properties. We really need to take our time while we restore and preserve these pieces of American Architectural history. Either through your own research, or the use of a professional is the best way to do what’s best for the structure.
I love the Historic Preservation Program at Drew University. I’ll probably just always continue to attend classes and workshops there since I’m always learning something new and exciting. With instructors like Andrea Tingey, Principal Historic Preservation Specialist at the NJ SHPO, it’s a great experience. I was also certified by the National Trust for Historic Preservation through their Real Estate Program in 2001 with Dwight Young who also feels that this program is a “marketable advantage” for dealing with historic properties.