Where history speaks

By Mary Shustack

Photographs by Bob Rozycki, Tim Lee and Courtesy The Denton Family

Presented By Houlihan Lawrence

At Hall Christy House in Pawling, the voice of the past lives in serene harmony with the present.

And it’s all by meticulous design.

For every pane of original glass or plank of 18th-century wood, there is a cleverly hidden Jacuzzi or the convenience of central air.

The main house, which traces its roots back to 1747, has spent nearly the last three decades under the thoughtful ownership of Kevin and Lynne Denton.

Their loving stewardship has allowed a way of life from another era to again thrive in modern times.

The story behind the restoration of the Hall Christy House goes back to the time before the Dentons were married, when the couple came across the main house during a country drive.

They passed the Dutch frame saltbox, situated along the road and boarded up. Both lovers of history and antiques, the Dentons would find their imagination captured by the neglected house filled with history.

Fast forward a few years and reality would soon get under way as the Dentons were able to buy the historic home in the mid-1980s.

When a vacant lot later became available in the Quaker Hill area of Pawling, the Dentons sprang into action. They would move the original home, built by Peter John Hall, from storage to its current site. In doing so, they became the first family other than the original builders and their descendants to call the house a home in more than 250 years.

“Near as we could see, the last resident was around World War II,” Kevin says.

The main house was originally built by the Quakers in the Hudson Valley Dutch style of architecture. The Dentons would go on to spend years to make it their own, all the while respecting and celebrating its history.

OUT OF THE ORDINARY

The work to Hall Christy House – and the way of life the Dentons have created – is truly unique.

Original details would be retained throughout, from the paneling in the parlor to the original paint in the dining room and most of the hardware.

“We try to think in an 18th-century manner by recycling as much as we can,” Lynne says.

Replacements, when needed, have been either antiques or faithfully created reproductions. Most lighting fixtures, as well, have been made in the Hudson Valley.

The couple, who long admired and collected antiques of the period, have filled the rooms with decorative objects that evoke the period in fitting detail.

The Dentons have chosen to live in two of its rooms only by candlelight. (They assure, though, that contrary to some local talk, the home is fully wired; many electric switches are simply hidden and rarely used).

Throughout, furniture and memorabilia related to the original owners and their descendants are found, much of which will remain with the home to maintain its connection to the past.

“There’s so many little details left in the house, it’s amazing,” Lynne says.

For the Dentons, every glance reminds them of work they put into the home.

“We scraped everything,” Lynne said. “We scraped all the beams. I’d scrape until 2 o’clock in the morning and then Kevin would get up and do the morning shift.”

There are tales of bricks laid one by one in the courtyard, of trucks filled with objects to be moved, of plans made to eventually even connect the property’s two main structures.

Kevin, an attorney and judge, and Lynne, who has a master’s degree in American history, architectural training and is a designer, would tap all their experience to bring their vision to life.

That began with placing the house back from the road, a gently winding driveway revealing its singular style.

“There was nothing on this property when we bought it,” Lynne says. Indeed, not only did the couple reconstruct all the buildings but also designed all the gardens and plantings.

A WALK BACK IN TIME

A visitor steps up to the home by walking on the stones, seeing the “1747” set into the path and becoming enveloped in the weathered wood structure.

A step inside is truly like a step into another era, until the Dentons point out that today’s features are there, if you look.

“The modern doesn’t impinge on the 18th century,” Lynne says. Small original touches add to the personality, such as carved initials on a window that seem to signal a mischievous child of an earlier era.

A “keeping” room has a large fireplace with original paint and a cupboard with butterfly hinges. The parlor is a wealth of exposed beams, a fireplace surrounded by Dutch tiles and the original dogleg staircase.

The elegantly understated dining room, a treasure trove of original floorboards, panes and a Dutch ceiling yields to the kitchen, a workmanlike space where modern appliances blend in and mustard colors echo the original hue.

A library, an addition much more modern in feel, is still historic. The cathedral ceilings and fireplace add a warmth that makes it the perfect space to spend an hour or an entire afternoon.

“It’s more like a 19th-century England kind of room,” Lynne says, sharing a glimpse into a scrapbook that details the meticulous project, room by room, over the years.

The second floor is cozy, the master bedroom a charming escape complete with canopied bed. The walls’ vertical sheathing hides his-and-her closets.

“I call them ‘step-in’ closets rather than walk-in,” Lynne says, though the spaces are indeed ample.

A master bath, created to evoke the spirit of a vintage dressing room, is a study in surprises, with a shower and Jacuzzi tucked behind doors. Two adjacent rooms serve as extra bedrooms, easily converted to other uses.

A basement houses the necessary workings, from laundry to furnace room, exercise room to surprisingly vast storage space. A onetime animal pen has been converted into a wine cellar.

BEYOND THE MAIN HOUSE

The second building, originally called the Skidmore House, is a circa-1750 Dutch gambrel house that was made of brick and stone. It, too, was dismantled and reconstructed on site.

“Originally, we just took that one down for the parts,” Lynne says. “It had to come down anyway. We liked the shape so much we just said ‘We’ll make it the garage.’”

Now housing a garage on the first floor, the second floor (entered through the most charming of courtyards) hosts a potting shed and guest quarters/office space. Historic details include the fireplace surround and window trim, while additions such as a built-in cupboard and period doors finish the look. Over time, the Dentons have collected Skidmore family documents and furniture, which shall also remain with the space.

It’s no surprise that the home has been featured over the years on tours devoted to both historic homes and significant gardens.

Most of the fields of the five-plus acres have been left in their natural state, with the entire property surrounded by deer fence, artfully camouflaged to avoid spoiling the vision. Those with an eye toward green living will further delight in the cistern, which catches rain from the roof, pumping it to areas of the gardens.

The courtyard – which contains lily pools, a perennial garden and shade gardens – is the home of a near-hidden heated, Gunite free-form swimming pool. A gazebo, elegantly appointed on a recent morning, serves as both dining and sitting area complete with chandelier and sound system. The natural surroundings seem endless, with meadows, a small orchard with an herb garden, a kitchen garden and hidden pond area in the woods.

That last is an area Lynne calls her “secret garden,” and indeed it creates a serene retreat filled with vignettes, levels and moods.

“This was designed to sort of have different ‘rooms’ in it,” she says. “In the spring it’s amazing. You have all the bulbs.”

Lynne, in most designs, is inspired by her travels, in this case to Inverewe Garden in Scotland. Apple trees create “an umbrella of blossoms,” in springtime, she adds.

“You take a little of this and a little of that,” she says of her varied natural and architectural inspirations, which range from a bridge in Prague to a bus station in Virginia.

A small barn near the pond, built of old parts to echo the 18th-century Dutch barns of the Hudson Valley, adds yet another touch of history that pervades every inch of the property.

“I almost feel I should put in a gift shop,” Lynne jokes about the home’s museum-quality restorations.

AU REVOIR, HUDSON VALLEY

Clearly, Hall Christy House has meant years of hard work, but also much enjoyment for the Dentons, who have often entertained family and friends.

“This house is so warm and inviting,” Lynne says.

The couple, though, is now hoping to find a home both far from Dutchess County and the 18th century.

“We’d like to move to France,” Lynne says. “We’d like to get earlier architecture. It would have to be very different to move from here.”

So as the Dentons plan a move overseas, dreaming of another restoration of a home even older than Hall Christy House, they hope their home of nearly 30 years finds someone who will share their appreciation.

As Lynne so perfectly sums it up on a blog entry on hallchristyhouse.com, the Dentons’ site devoted to their property:

“There are so many old houses out there to be purchased and lived in and to have more life added to their rich legacy. Living in one creates a subtle absorption of a more creative way of thinking, a depth of being and thought.”

For those with whom that sentiment resonates, Hall Christy House awaits.

For more information, contact Linda Finn at Houlihan Lawrence at (845) 222-2587, (845) 279-6800, ext. 305, or lfinn@houlihanlawrence.com.

 

HALL CHRISTY HOUSE at a Glance

• Pawling

• 3,152 square feet

• 5.37 acres

• Bedrooms: 3

• Baths: 3 full, 1 half

• Amenities: Eat-in kitchen, exercise room, fenced yard, fireplace, guest/caretaker cottage, horse property, lake/pond/stream, master bath, patio, pool, powder room, privacy.

• Price: $1.75 million

1 Comment

  • Pat Outland says:

    I am sitting in our apartment in Paris, a one month rental, looking with such fondness at the Christy house, where we have enjoyed many extraordinary parties large and small, in the warm and lovely rooms of the main house, and in the magical gazebo set among ponds and wonderful gardens. The Dentons have exquisite taste and respect for the history of the home. Words cannot express how grateful we are to have shared this eminently liveable 18th Century gem and how sad we are to have them and it move on. But wherever they go, unparalleled ,taste and respect for history will follow.

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