Reviving a Classic Mid-Century Home
By Michael Williams
Skaneateles has plenty of homes from Federal, Victorian, Arts and Crafts and other styles of the mid-18th through 20th centuries. You, however, don’t see many mid-century moderns because much of the village’s infrastructure already existed by the 1940s. Of the few instances of mid-century modern style in the area, we were lucky to get this example at 3 Elson Lane built around 1960 on a private lane on nearly an acre of land. This property had just one owner who passed several years ago. The owner also had been the builder, so the home received much customization for the family that grew up in it.
As usual, we have received a lot of advice to just tear it down and start over, but that’s not how we do things!
Demolition of an old house is sometimes just that: removing an old house and replacing it with a new one. Here at Lake and Village, we never have done that although others often advise us to do so. We always can see what is worth saving; it just needs revealing.
This is the philosophy we used for our rehabilitation of 3 Elson Lane. Underneath some additions done perhaps 10 years after the home was built a good, solid house awaited us. The needs of a 1950s family admittedly were much different from the needs of today, so the layout demanded changes. We took down most of the interior walls, installed the proper structural support and opened the spaces to offer a spacious home. The old plumbing and electrical work needed modernization as well. We added new bathrooms and central air conditioning to make this a “like-new” home with new systems that meet modern standards.
Sometimes, rehabilitating a home requires changes that, though we believe them to be necessary, remove some of the home’s character. We try to minimize those changes while staying true to our vision.
Remaking an older home while staying true to its original style doesn’t mean putting up with old electrical, plumbing or heating systems. Almost anything built after World War II offers largely the same construction that is familiar to builders today. Though taking out old gypsum wallboard and removing old wiring and plumbing require some labor, these activities are not as intimidating as many might think. We also may mitigate some materials, like asbestos, that we don’t use anymore.
Even this far north, we usually install air conditioning in renovations. Many new systems exist to integrate this much-desired feature into both old and new structures in a rehabilitated home. Similarly, today’s roofing, insulation and exterior materials surpass those that builders installed 50 or 60 years ago.
When we finish its rehabilitation, 3 Elson Lane will give its new owners a comfortable home for decades to come.
3 Elson Lane has challenged us to think beyond traditional home design as we work on details of its rehabilitation. We want the home’s details to incorporate modern materials as well as to respect the homes of the mid-20th century, when many home builders broke free of styles that had dominated from the 1800s through the post-WWII period. Creating the feel of a mid-century modern home means extending wood accents to the soffits, blending marble with ceramic tile on thresholds, and using consistent and spare trim around windows.
A last, but very important, step is ensuring precise carpentry in the stairs. When you’re not using much trim to hide edges and corners, you want your carpentry to be visibly precise!
Work continues on Elson Lane, and now the details materialize. As siding meets soffits, we can see the contrast of traditional wood and modern material siding. Wood also will occupy the majority of the interior’s flooring, but some of the upper-level bedrooms will have carpet, always a nice feel beneath your feet in the winter months. Within the week, we will complete the exterior, and the countertops and flooring will be ready. Yes, we are nearing the end!
This wonderfully rebuilt home on Elson Lane is nearing completion! Lots of details to finish, and here are some teasers.
Thinking of a modern home may bring to mind a certain shape or look of the home’s exterior. Modern as a style of home, however, means much more than that. A modern home may look traditional on the outside but inside adopt new ways of living or modern construction techniques. Both of these adoptions create a look different from homes in the days of limited window choices and slabs of wood for doors.
Though Elson Lane looks traditional outside, we have added many modern touches inside such as window framing flush with the walls, cabinet drawers flush with the framing, and doors with hidden hinges. We have enjoyed making Elson Lane a truly modern home in many ways.
Our rehabilitation at 3 Elson Lane is now complete. The home has come a long way since we started. No longer is the exterior graying and the siding peeling. Instead, the wings gleam with white siding that contrasts with the center’s wood paneling. White trim around the windows and at the joints adds additional contrast while the soffits’ wooden accents capture the feel of a mid-century home. A new wraparound deck provides a good lookout for surveying the yard and a pleasant place for hosting family and friends.
Inside, the home boasts all-new plumbing, such as the tub in the below photo, as well as stainless steel appliances in the kitchen. The foyer features cubbyholes both above and below the bench for organization. A new lighting fixture adds whimsy to the dining room. Large windows in the bedrooms allow plenty of light and provide excellent views of greenery. Even when the greenery vanishes and snow falls, the bedrooms still will be cozy thanks to new heating and large, efficient windows open to the sun.
With these modern amenities and its mid-century character, 3 Elson Lane will be a home to enjoy for many years beyond the middle of this century. We have enjoyed rehabilitating this home, and we look forward to the next project.